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Abiword: Support Expectations 412

bockman writes "Abiword developers have put up a letter, explaining what they expect from their user community and what the community should (and should not) expect from a volunteer-based open source software project like theirs. A much needed reality-check in these times when a large number of non-developers have joined the Linux users world." This is a must read for anyone who uses any open source software.
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Abiword: Support Expectations

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @04:53PM (#2695255)
    If I were Microsoft, I'd link to this letter without comment. As a business user, I'd be sore pressed to consider anything but Commercial software after reading this.
    • by ethereal ( 13958 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:02PM (#2695321) Journal

      That's funny, because it appears to me that the "you get what you pay for" ratio is still in favor of Open Source projects, as opposed to Microsoft. I guess it depends on how happy you are with your last Microsoft purchase versus your last use of software downloaded for free. I know which one I'm happier with.

      See, if AbiSource was like Microsoft, they would be promising a completely secure and easy-to-use product in a couple months, miss their date by almost a year, and have recurring security issues (all of them completely denied, then considered "features", then patched quickly so as to break other parts of the product) up until it was time to release their next bloated version, and then repeat the whole cycle. So I don't really see where AbiSource has anything to be ashamed of, unless complete honesty with your user base is some sort of black mark against you.

      • That's funny, because it appears to me that the "you get what you pay for" ratio is still in favor of Open Source projects, as opposed to Microsoft. I guess it depends on how happy you are with your last Microsoft purchase versus your last use of software downloaded for free. I know which one I'm happier with.

        To each their own. At work, we run several key services on Linux boxes, due in part to the lack of security we've experienced in MS products in the past. However, our IT guys seem to have far more problems with keeping the Linux boxes up and running on a day to day basis. In terms of time spent supporting a product -- which is far more of the cost than the initial purchase -- Linux is lagging waaaaay behind Windows-based systems at our place. We use it for the security, not the cost.

        • That's most likely a problem with your IT guys or the particular software you are running. You can't throw out a statement like that without qaulification. Odds are your guys are from a Windows support background (you did say that you're using linux now based on Windows expperiences in the past) so they are predisposed to handle Windows problems regularly whereas they don't have the experience with Linux.

          Your also neglecting the fact that your running "key services" on the Linux boxes and not the Windows boxes. How much of a load difference between the two boxes? And while we're talking on load differences, whether you believe you're doing things for the cost or not you are. Those linux boxen are performing more efficiently than the Windows boxes can even dream about, unless of course your S&N guys really botched the install.

          • I'm going to reply here, although this reply really covers issues mentioned in several of the responses to my previous post.

            First of all, why does everyone assume it's the IT guys' fault here? We're a small software house. Half of the guys here have been playing with computers since they could type and could set up a Linux box in their sleep. And those are the developers. The IT support guys are, obviously enough, much better with sys admin stuff. They certainly aren't MS-trained McSysAdmins.

            It's true that we're running some key services (in our case, public-facing web, FTP, e-mail, CVS, yada yada) on Linux boxes. However, we're also running other key services (file servers, database servers, all our backups, etc) on Windows 2000 boxes. They get way more absolute workload than the Linux boxes, with the possible exception of the CVS host. As I mentioned before, the reason we switched to Linux for the public-facing systems was a "near miss" involving MS security, and a subsequent investigation by management and change of policy.

            I'm sorry to disappoint the Linux advocates here, but I'm comparing several properly set up Linux boxes with several properly set up Windows 2000 boxes, both administered by skilled people. The simple fact is that the Linux boxes aren't staying up for months at a time, and the Windows 2000 boxes don't just fall over every five minutes. Both systems are reasonably reliable, but when the Linux box falls over, it consistently takes longer to track down the problem and get it back up and running.

            In that respect, Linux is costing us more for maintenance than Windows 2000, as I said in contradiction of the first post I replied to. The saving is in terms of reduced security risks, and hence reduced risk of both an expensive-to-fix breach and a priceless loss of customer confidence. We consider this to be worth the extra effort to support the systems.

        • Beats me what kind of IT guys you have. I revamped someone's network and I spent 100 more times patching the 4 NT servers than I did the Linux box. For one thing, RedHat conveniently puts the patches in one place. Microsoft uses about 5000, because there are too many to put in one place. The Linux box, BTW, just stays up. Period. Before I patched it, it had been up for about 180 days without administration of any kind. And the FreeBSD firewall I made just keeps running. Period. I don't want to even think about the number of times those NT machines - well-configured or hellish messes too important to reinstall anytime soon - go up and down.
    • If I were a business user, and I needed support for a program, I'd pay for it. Whether that's in the form of hiring a coder to be our in-house OSS keep it together geek, or contracting with a company that provides support for said product, or actually getting a piece of commercial software and the support that comes with that (typically little).

      In fact, the support I see for most OSS projects that have some steam rolling is very impressive. People tend to be polite and try to be helpful if you seem to be having a real problem that isn't caused by dismissing the manuals and how-tos. Sure, sometimes there's flame wars, jerks, trolls, and other assorted assholes. That happens. If I'm not paying for the support, I don't mind too much. How many customer service horror stories do we all have? And that's for products and service that we actually paid money for! There's something really wrong when the customer service track record for free stuff is better than that of stuff that I paid for.

      Whoo, I just got trolled. :-)
    • by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:45PM (#2695543)
      As a business user, I'd be sore pressed to consider anything but Commercial software after reading this.
      As a business user and manager, I approve deployment of all kinds of software. Some commercial, some free. Some with support contracts, some without. Some with huge userbases, some with 5 other known users. This page describes pretty much what you will get from any software vendor, free or commercial, with or without a support contract. Calling a commercial tech support line, for which you have paid big bucks, is not much different than spinning a roulette wheel. That's the facts of life in the software industry, paid or otherwise. At least with this product, if I were really deperate I could hire a programmer to take a look at the source code and see if a fix is possible, which isn't the case with closed source products.


    • As a business user, I'd be sore pressed to consider anything but Commercial software after reading this.

      Word charges $339 per copy of Word 2002.

      If 12 people work on it, that means that if only 3000 copies of AbiWord were sold for the same price as Word, all 12 of those programmers would be able to work full time on it with very comfortable salaries.

      Kind of makes you think about the price of software.

    • As a OSS advocate I's tell the business user that he's a moron and link from my page to a description of UCITA without comment. It's almost the same thing, except that software companies under UCITA have made it legal for software you PAY for to not do what you want.
    • Yeah, but if you're a cynical person (as everyone should be when reading news from a biased source) you'd wonder why Microsoft is linking this... Obviously it is supposed to make the reader think, "Wow, Open Source sucks! They admit they aren't as good as Microsoft!" But then, as a cynical person, you realize if Microsoft wants you to think this obviously there is some reason- maybe because they feel threatened by Open Source? The way I look at it if MS wants me to read this and think that you have to look behind it and see their true motives- make Open source look bad.

      That's a little disjointed, I hope I came across OK.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @04:54PM (#2695267) Homepage
    Please oh please update the webpage and test rpm builds.

    If a person were to want to get abiword and downloaded their redhat 7.1 rpm, they'd be instantly ranting on the mailing list as it does not work for any possible install of redhat 7.1.

    In fact they need to remove all rpms except for the gtk version as that is the only rpm that actually works.

    also, add a list of all libs that are needed in order to use the product.

    I am glad they make abiword, but having rpm's or packages that dont work for anyone except the deveopler that made it causes most of the grief I see on the mailing list. 90% of all pissed users are users that cant get it to work because of the bad rpm's and packages.

    hey, if you guys dont have time for keeping the website up-to date, I volunteer to do it.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      you might consider going to their mailing list and actually volenteering to do it instead of talking about doing it on slashdot... it would take about the same amount of effort.
    • ABIWord is not even at version 1.0! A user who is pissed because they can't get a nicely packaged thing they can drop into their system should either look for another solution or learn how to deal with a tarball.

      I run a Debian Potato system, and when I tried the *.deb package there were a bunch of errors. No problem, I'll get the source and compile it. There were a bunch of missing liraries, and I had to fix those. Finally, it was compiled. It core dumped. I figured out that it had to do with the fonts not being handled properly on my X server. Did I complain? Hell no! I used CVS to get the latest development release and tried that. It worked. The fonts are screwed up, but am I upset? No, I'm very happy. I have a word processor that is already excellent, and it's getting better every day. When Woody stabilizes, then I'll upgrade. That will give me the right Xserver to allow ABIWord to display and print nice fonts. I can live without them for now.

      The lesson here is that if you are dealing with software that isn't even at version 1.0, then you'd better be prepared to go to the lengths I went to. That's not harsh, that's not mean, that's a fact of life. Versions 1.0 of anything cannot be expected to do anything more than dump core. Less experienced people should see this as an *opportunity* to learn how to get around problems on their box.
      • Excuse me, but as a user and commercial and open source developer I do NOT consider it acceptable that *any* _release_ would break at step 1.

        I can accept this for a CVS snapshot or a beta test build but certainly not anything that is labelled a "release". I would be horrified at the thought that thousands of people were downloading one of my releases only to find it didn't work at all.

        My definition of 1.0 is something I wouldn't mind paying for. Anything before is bound to be buggy on some level but to crash on startup? And to consider that (long-term) acceptable? Unreal.
        • If I recall correctly, AbiWord *requires* XFree86 > 4.0. The parent is trying to install it on a potato system with the stock 3.3.6 version, which is what is causing the errors.
        • Unlike proprietary software development (Amokscience appears to be a proprietary software developer who does not understand how the bazaar model of open source development works), where companies go through extensive SQA before making a release available, open-source development releases a pre-1.0 release, which the public SQAs.

          If AbiWord was a proprietary software product, the only people who would be using AbiWord right now would be SQA testers. Thankfully, AbiWord is open-source, which allows people like me to use it before its formal 1.0 release.

          - Sam

        • Linux 0.1 wouldn't even compile. Linux wasn't even stable in many other versions. Hundreds of thousands of people were using Linux before the magic 1.0 release. Hundreds of thousands of people had their systems crash on them. Hundreds of thousands of people understood that they were damned lucky to have something else to fight with other than Windows 3.0 running on top of MS-DOG v. 5.0.

          For pete's sake, my first Linux system was built and maintained by hand, all by my lonesome. If I needed software, I had to find the source somewhere and compile it myself. AND I also had to port it from SunOS, or HPUX, or ATT&T UNIX, or wherever I found the code.

          The situation is the same. This is not commercial software here, and that's the point of the article. Just as Linux wasn't for regular users when it was at 0.99.12, ABIWord isn't for users at version 0.9.6.
    • If a person were to want to get abiword and downloaded their redhat 7.1 rpm, they'd be instantly ranting on the mailing list as it does not work for any possible install of redhat 7.1.

      Over here, the GTK versions of the Abiword RPMs install and run like a charm on this RedHat 7.1 box.

      - Sam

  • by TechnoVooDooDaddy ( 470187 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @04:59PM (#2695302) Homepage
    don't go flaming the programmers, FIX IT! the source is all there ready to be tweaked. You got what you paid for, and that's nothing.. The good part is with a MINOR amount of tweaking, fiddling, etc. (compared to writing something like AmiWord yourself) you can have a FANTASTIC word processor for FREE! Behold the wonders of open-source.

    Then you can post your fixed version and get flamed too..

    • You're pretty much right.

      OTOH, it would be appropriate to replace non-working rpm's with a tarball. And a list of dependancies would certainly be a real useful feature. ...

      That said, I haven't checked. Perhaps they do have a tarball. Perhaps the comment about non-working rpm's was an overstatemtent. And maybe it works on most people's systems (though in that case one wouldn't expect it to cause a full mailing list).
    • Of course if you have to be able to fix the source to get stuff to work (even if it's only a minor fix), then you can't argue with the people who claim "Linux isn't ready for the desktop - you need to be a programmer to use it." You can't have it both ways.
    • The problem is that a gazillion people bought the CD with the broken RPM. That means that it has to be fixed a gazillion different times.

      What should have happenned is that the distro shouldn't have been sent out with a broken RPM.

      But given that it was, what Abiword should have done was put a big bold link on their web page saying that "Red Hat 7.1 shipped with a completely broken RPM. Click here to fix it." That link would take you to a page with two instructions.

      1) download _this_ ( with a link )
      2) rpm -i /path/to/file/

      Instead users poke around wonderring what the problem is and how to fix it. The version of Abiword online is much more recent but it talks about all these depends and stuff and so people aren't sure if it will work for Red Hat 7.1 or if they will have to mess around to fix it. Users don't want to screw around with that and so they just decide to save often and hope that it doesn't crash.

      Also, it could be that Red Hat packaged that software themselves, I don't know.

      And Red Hat's bug tracking site is not as easy to navigate as debian's.

      And Red Hat doesn't do enough to educate users about how to update their packages automatically. With Debian it is the first thing that users learn how to do.

      I respect Red Hat a lot. They hire many great programmers. They have done a lot for the Linux community. But they really need to work on user interface issues better.

  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:03PM (#2695325) Journal
    I can sympathize with the AbiWord guys. Given the volume of stupid emails I get, and that they must get orders of magnitude more, I can see why they're frustrated and it's commendable that they're as courteous as they are.

    Still, it's also easy to see why users have expectations. After all, they've been told by journalists that Linux is Ready For The Desktop. They've read spewing by zealots about how fantastically superior Linux applications are and how there's limitless free, quick support available from The Community. They've read the stuff on the Red Hat or Mandrake box and spent money for it. They've invested time in installing Linux and in creating work on it. I can understand why they're annoyed to be told, "It's free and it's my spare-time hobby so deal with it."

    I accept that dealing with a desktop Linux installation is a hobby in its own right and that you have to spend time to make it work and deal with some things that justa aren't there. But it's easy to see why a lot of users don't realize that.

    Then there are the free software whackos who think that they're owed the world on a silver platter. But that's a whole other issue...

    • I can understand why they're annoyed to be told, "It's free and it's my spare-time hobby so deal with it."

      I know which direction you are going, but I don't think that the article is addressing those type of people that go to the local store, see a Red Hat (or insert your favorite retail linux here) Linux display and purchase it.

      Those people get to call Red Hat for support (that's why you *buy* the retail version) and to complain. The article is addressing the people who downloaded a linux-iso, installed it and are now expecting a free version of M$ Word. It's not going to happen, and the article is trying to set those people straight....IMHO :-)
    • Um 95% of all problems I've had in the past year have been solved not by companies support staff but by other people like me on official and unofficial forums.

      Their Help page [] needs a good forum for its users to help each other in. That way anytime you answer a question it is

      1. Able to be searched for by DIY knowledgeable users
      2. Allows the amplification of any official responses to multiple users. Mailing lists are fine and dandy for this but unless someone was subscribed to the list at the time they will never see the message, forum software solved this limitation. Faqs don't have to be updated as often as people can respond "on the fly".
      3. This is the most important by far. Users help each other out the majority of the time and you build a viable support community around your product. 3.

    • by sheldon ( 2322 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:37PM (#2695509)
      Now wait a minute. Based off your User # you've obviously been reading slashdot for a while.

      Don't you realize you are speaking heresy?

      I think you've hit upon the fundamental problem with Open Source. It's not that Open Source is a bad thing, it can actually be quite good. But it's ridiculous to assume it will ever completely replace the commercial software market. Or even have a signifigant impact upon it because of consumer expectations.

      I've never used AbiWord and don't know what it's like. But imagine what these guys could do if instead of giving it away for free, they sold it for $15 off their website.

      It may not make them rich, but I'll bet that could provide a steady income for a handful of people who could work full time to continuously improve the product.

      Furthermore, by charging $15 for a product, they limit their user base to only those people who feel the product is worth something. But they also will realize that it's substantially cheaper than Word and won't expect quite all the same features.

      I think one of the problems with catering to just the whackos who think everything should be free, is that these people think stuff should be free because they identify no value with the product or really the developers time.

      It's the old complaint about Welfare. When people receive $500/week from the government for not working, they don't see any value in actually working. Now not everybody thinks that way, but there is a substantial sub-culture of the world that does.
      • by chihowa ( 366380 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:53PM (#2695598)
        Actually, by charging $15 for their product, it ceases to be a free-time/hobby contribution and starts to be a product.

        If they are only making $15 per copy, they can't quit their day jobs, but now they need to cater to the people who want a $15 MS Word replacement. If people are actually shelling out money for a product, they can feel better about demanding support or immediate bug fixes or the like. Small business doesn't get the same benefits of large business (being able to say, "Screw off, we don't want to add those features. They are plenty of other customers, you're no loss.")

        At least until AbiWord get to 1.0, anyways, they really shouldn't charge anything for it. Maybe they could sell support, but I feel that involving money is a bad idea here and will only make things more hairy.

        People really should learn what to expect from things that cost them nothing. When I get something for nothing, I appreciate when it helps me at all, I don't bitch when it doesn't constantly impress me.

        Just my 2c, anyway
        • "Actually, by charging $15 for their product, it ceases to be a free-time/hobby contribution and starts to be a product. "

          Well this is certainly true.

          I think from the perspective of the AbiWord developers they certainly may not wish to work on a project and are satisfied with working on this as a hobby. I know the few open source projects I have worked on, such is the case. It's a good learning experience, it kills some free time, etc.

          Certainly charging brings forward a certain responsibility that one may not want.

          But therein lies the paradox that is Open Source. If it is a hobby, you have unlimited freedom to do that wish you please. But this is not what consumers are going to accept or expect, they want support and continued improvements, bug fixes and such in a timely manner.

          So it all goes back to the zealotry and overselling that the original poster commented on.

          I simply offered the alternative reality of essentially shareware.

          I think all these models can, and have been, successful and do not see why one model must dominate over others. You evaluate the needs and the risk and use what is acceptable to you.
      • But it's ridiculous to assume it will ever completely replace the commercial software market.
        It's not meant to. Watch out for confusing words []. Commercial, free software is a success -- it's what Red Hat and others do. Experienced users may not need it, but it can be nice. I know I'm distinctly less happy working through the various non-commercial installers for Linux and {Open,Net}BSD versus a nice commercial, free installer from Red Hat or someone similar.

        On AbiWord specifically, $15 would slow down development due to a lack of users. It's several man-years of development away from being worth that much, given the competition of 1) MS Word being installed on almost all new Windows boxes (and under $100 if it isn't there), 2) WordPad being part of Windows, and 3) KWord being installed on a lot of new Linux desktops. They might get a couple hundred dollars, and lose nearly all users and developers, because if a free GTK+ word processor project didn't exist, it would have to be invented. No offense to anyone who works on AbiWord or thinks it does what it needs to do, but the bar is set too high these days.

        A word processor, like an OS or a web browser, has become a product you have to give away to get more than a handful of users, and freeing your software is the only way to afford its development if it's in one of those categories. Opera [] seems to be hanging on as an exception, mostly from a rabid fan base built before browsers fell into that category and a lack of diversity in the free choices.

  • I think the AbiWord people are in a bind trying to catch up with something as complex (you can read that as crappy) as Word. That's a tough task for such a small group, and it's a thankless task (as their letter indicates has been the case) because you end up with luser unhappiness.

    On the other hand, OpenOffice seems to do a much better job with the Word documents (limited set, mind) that I've worked with. That's probably the result of the corporate heritage of Star/OpenOffice which meant that, for some time, serious resources were thrown at the problem, and someone dug in and did the crap work required.

    In short - AbiWord is getting crap because they bit off more than they can true, on a product whose user base tends to be whiny. They certainly have my condolences.

  • by bunnyman ( 121652 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:03PM (#2695330)
    In my experience, there is a significant number of users that expect open source software developers to provide free product support. Product support is something from the commerical world. You paid for the software, so you are entitled to get help making it work for you. But open source software does not work that way. The users are expected to make an effort to read the documentation, to try to solve their own problems, and whenever possible, provide patches to fix bugs. You are not paying for the software with your money, so you, as a user, are not entitled to free support, or even software that works right. But when the software is good, and you make an effort to read documentation and solve your own problems, you will be rewarded with the knowledge and experience to solve your own problems again in the future.
    • Yeah, real insightful. No offense, but your post should be photocopied and handed out to any CIO thinking of going open-source at any level, from the server room to the desktop.

      If I offered free house painting, then slopped the wrong color all over your house and yard, and then said to you, "hey, it was free, don't complain", would I be much of a professional? Of course not, and that's why open source will ebb and flow, but never truly dominate modern software.
      • That's an incredibly silly analogy; painting someone else's house doesn't line up with open source in any way I can see.

        Perhaps one could make the analogy that open source is making your own paint to paint your own house, and then giving away the paint (or the recipie). If someone complains about the color of their house, you tell them to complain to whoever selected the paint and color, not you.

        OTOH, if you DID paint their house for them, then you are to some degree responsible for the results -- and if you install Linux on someone's computer, you'd better be sure it'll meet their needs. But Linus isn't responsible if it doesn't; you are.

    • And you've just eliminated 95% of the user base for computers. Maybe it's wrong, but it's Reality. We've become accustomed to firing up the machine and it works (mostly) thanks to Windows. Most of Windows is (on average) pretty user-friendly. There are no references to command line utilities (except in extreme special cases) and there might as well not be a command line. This is the reality that users are used to - NOT digging around in source code and learning a computer language to make sense of what has gone wrong with some application.

      The biggest mistake in Open Source is trying to sell it to the common user when you know that they don't need the full power of Linux and never will. So your Joe Sixpack is going to buy Linux eventually and then the same problems that occur in Windows are going to occur even more in Linux (imagine how many people are going to leave their mail repeaters wide open or will accidentally expose it because they don't know not to).

      This is Reality. Get used to it.
  • by Xunker ( 6905 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:04PM (#2695332) Homepage Journal

    I can't say I got that from the letter, but it is nice to see developers standing up from themselves. Especially in this day of "Free Software can compete with Pay software" it's great seeing someone telling it like it is. My favourite sentement:

    Microsoft ... can spend a fortune on getting good documentation written, new features, debugging, installation process made smooth and generally polish the thing till it shines. In comparison, AbiWord development is driven solely by a small group's volunteer effort. We work on AbiWord after work and in the weekends when "life" doesn't demand our attention elsewhere. We do it for fun. (emphesis mine)

    The problem here is expecting too much all the time. Many of the more visible free software projects have made huge leaps in the past, and to many users that then makes them expect that sort of delivery to be the norm. If you deliver the best most of the time, it's expected all of the time. And as a developer, I'm flattered that users belive in a product and like it so much that the want to be able use it better. But as much as we love code, we also love just relaxing after work sometimes. The Abiword dev's want the software to get as good as it can be, but they also need to have time to work at their day jobs, cut the grass and walk the dog.

    Perhaps in the future people will start paying for "free" software. That day, my friends, will be a glorious day.

  • by blkros ( 304521 ) <> on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:05PM (#2695336)
    These guys make a great product, and put it out for free (beer and speech). They work hard for no money, and this letter is right on the money. If I don't pay for something, I'm not gonna expect tech support, or changes on my schedule. No one else should, either. It's like someone cooking up a meal for you, and serving it for free, and you picking it apart. This ain't Burger King, baby. If you want to have it your way, you need to help out and be patient. Hurray for Abisource making sure that people know where they stand
  • In Other Words (Score:4, Interesting)

    by quakeaddict ( 94195 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:05PM (#2695339) get what you pay for.

    Guess what, the general public doesn't want excuses. Corporate IT folks dont want excuses.

    They just want to get their work done.

    The general public simply does not care that a small group of developers spends an amazing amount of time developing Abiword.

    They just want it to work, and they want to call someone when it breaks. They want some hope that someone will fix it or can tell them how to fix it, or more likely, how to do the same thing in a slightly different way.

    If Linux wants to be on alot of desktops then this type of memo isn't going to get it too far.
    • Many of the projects would be willing to supply personalized support for a suitable retainer fee. For enough, you can even get your particular gripe moved to the top of the "must fix" queue.

      Or, of course, you could do it yourself.

      AbiSource doesn't gripe me. The ones that gripe me are the ones that charge, and still produce software that doesn't work (on my system). It's worse when they doen't even have a decent way to report bugs.
    • Guess what, the general public doesn't want excuses. Corporate IT folks dont want excuses.

      This is a fact regardless of whether the software is OSS or commercial.

      When MS Office crashes its not like my PHB can call someone at Microsoft to complain about it and expect great customer support. Do they really listen anyway? Do they have to? No, the EULA makes sure that they are not liable.

      Yes, with OSS you get what you pay for, with commercial software, you don't get what you pay for either.

      Abisource = free, community support.
      Word = Expensive, expensive support, which makes you go get community support anyway.
    • Not at all. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:22PM (#2695423) Homepage
      It's not that you get what you pay for. That's a lie told us by those selling the more expensive products. It isn't (necessarily) true in general, and more often not in free software.

      It's that if you -do- get what you pay for, you can't complain.

      AbiWord is much more useful than it's cost, but some people take that to mean they can just then start making demands. And people also don't know how to ask for the support that _is_ readily available.

      And seriously, who the hell are these people calling when their software breaks? I've never even heard of someone having Word break and then picking up the phone to dial Microsoft. And if they did and started being beligerent to the person on the line, how much help do you think they'd get?

      Reading this memo as an excuse of any kind is just wrong, because you don't need an "excuse" to not be able to hand the world to people who are irrationaly demanding it of you.
    • Guess what, there are developers out there who couldn't care less
      about what general public and corporate managers want. They care about
      what *they* want - that is a huge difference, and IMHO the key point
      in the success of Free Software.

      The "Free" in Free Software is actually not only about licensing
      issues. That's the part about it that's nice for the users, but FS is
      also about the freedom of the programmers themselves. These guys code
      because they love it, not because some suit won't pay them
      otherwise. That's a huge difference, and this egoism does indeed lead
      to better code. That's why most open source/ Free Software products
      are not the buggy bloated pieces of crap you you would expect from the
      average commercial software company, they can afford to write code
      that is simply *right*, and furthermore *elegant*, instead of caring
      about marketing.

      Of course, after The Hype[tm] there are loads of buggy bloated pieces
      of crap that happen to be open source/ free software - but most of
      them (think of OpenOffice and Mozilla) are free only in terms of
      licensing - the programmers are mostly hired by some "evil" company
      (be it AOL/Netscape, Sun or any hip dot-bomb) and about as free as the
      COBOL grinder at the bank next door.

      Heck, I really think now that users of Free Software are not
      necessarily developers themselves any more, one should really start to
      think more about the freedom of the people *writing* software, not
      just their licensees!
    • You'd think,
      - give away the software (abiword)
      - then make money by running a support center (bugs / hand holding)

      well, we have seen all the 'services' companies with LInux go down the drain. why? b/c people who use Linux are already clueful. They know if something doesn't work
      - fix it themsleves (this hardly happens)
      - wait for the next release / rpm (this is where 90 % of the people are)

      I don't think any one is converted to Linux just becaseu they saw a shiny 19.95 box on Best Buys.

      There are however successfull LInux desktop deplyoment stories within Slashdot. Just do a search.

      SO how do you make an IT dept adopt Linux? have an IT manager who is clueful. It is like when you choose an ISP, should you go for AOL or some niche isp who would let you run your own sendmail. We are talking about the AOL crowd here. Sure it is easy choice. But you grow out of it soon.

      how do you make money off by offering value-add services to freesoftware? I haven't figured that out yet. If I did, I wouldn't be writing this from my office computer!

    • get what you pay for.

      Guess what, the general public doesn't want excuses. Corporate IT folks dont want excuses.

      They just want to get their work done.

      Then pay for it. Don't make excuses. Either fix it yourself, pay some one to fix whatever problems you have, or go whine somewhere else. Use some other WP. If it costs money and requires another OS that costs more, pay up. You just want to get your work done, right?

      I'd suggest you go buy computers with everything you need pre-installed. You're going to have a hell of a time getting Linux installed on 100*N boxes, and then installing AbiWord or anything else on them all. (Although some folks invest the time to learn what they're doing, and replicate clusters in 15-20 minutes per box, it doesn't sound like you want to.) It could be worse. You might have to install Windows and Office on all those boxes yourself.

    • If Linux wants to be on alot of desktops then this type of memo isn't going to get it too far

      Linux doesn't want anything -- it's an operating system, silly! Do you mean "if the programmers who write software for linux want it to be on desktops..."? Guess what: that's a diverse group including companies like Redhat, who undoubtably wants linux to be on a lot of desktops, and the people from Abiword, who just get their rocks off by writing neat software.

      The authors of Abiword aren't responsible to "Linux," or Redhat, or RMS, or anyone else to maximize the user's desktop computing experience. If IT managers and John Q. Public don't want to use it, then fine. No skin of Abiword's back. They aren't after market-share.

      That's the beauty of it. Nobody needs to tow the linux company line. If the author's of Abiword, first and foremost, wanted to make sure that their software was fit for all users and for corporate deployment, then they wouldn't have written their memo, and would quit their jobs and work on Abiword full-time, hire support personnel, etc., etc.,.

      I don't think you should generalize about what the goals of linux programmers are.

    • get what you pay for.

      And MicroSoft is cheap at only a penny for each bug...

      But seriously, the only thing that makes sense is to determine if various packages have the features you want, and then determine which costs the least. If you want only a small set of features, then go for a program that has just the features you want.

      AbiWord does have support, as they mention. It's just that it doesn't work over the phone. The people doing it are probably easier to insult, due to doing it just because they want to, but they're also only motivated by solving your problem, so they care more, assuming you're pleasent about your problem.
  • low expectations (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jodonn ( 516010 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:05PM (#2695342)
    We seem to have the opposite problem--expectations that are too low. I work as a software consultant doing J2EE applications. Often when we find ourselves dealing with a client who needs a small-scale web application done, we lay out their options for servers and pre-built solutions and they automatically reject all the free ones.

    For some reason they have concerns about reliability. They'd rather pay $30K per CPU for BEA WebLogic then download JBoss for nothing, even if they only plan on supporting 100 users. I don't claim to understand it myself, but in corporate circles open source software has this stigma attached to it.

    • You hit the nail right on the head. OR, they think no alternatives exist. People still think that in order to use email, you need Exchange and Outlook, or that writing webpages without Frontpage is impossible.

      Mention IMAP/LDAP and they do not believe you. Show them Apache, and they think its a frickin' office joke. They look at you like

      "If this stuff is so great, then how come we're not using it?"

      "I dunno buddy, you tell me...."
  • Right on! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by burtonator ( 70115 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:18PM (#2695401)
    I wish more Open Source projects would do this.

    I mean it is great that Open Source projects exist, and they really help out a lot of people but it is important that those who are benefited reciprocate.

    It is really a tragedy of the commons.

    With successful Open Source projects like Linux, you have TONS of companies which base billions of dollars of business on these products.

    Yet at the same time the Engineers have NO way of making money just by writing code.

    The only way they can pay the bills is by joining a larger company like IBM that can act as a patron so that they can continue their work.

    There are many examples of this:

    - Linus works for Transmeta
    - Alan Cox works for RedHat

    ... etc

    What we really need to see happen is the users directly supporting the developers of these products.

    Instead of downloading AbiWord for free. Why not donate $2-$5 through PayPal.

    This would provide the ability for a few developers to work FULL TIME on AbiWord (or whatever) without having to worry about corporate bias.

    They would be directly working for the client instead of for an intermediary (like IBM or Transmeta).

    Freenet is doing this []

    I just wish it would catch on...
  • Support System (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ledge ( 24267 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:30PM (#2695467)
    Perhaps the Open Source community needs to impliment some sort of support system to better sort out issues.
    When you call tech support for most commercial products, you get a dingbat on the other end who knows little more than a person who has already read the manual. If this person has no clue about what your problem is, they can escalate your issue to someone more educated in the matter. Has there ever been an email based support system set up to handle something like this? I.E.- an email sent to posts a message to a password protected board subscribed to by x number of support volunteers who provide basic support. These volunteers could escalate said issue to a higher authority, yet another board subscribed to by people who have fielded x number of previous questions, or whatever method you would use to define an advanced support person, or answer the issue on thier own. The advanced board could have subsets, say a group who can deal with RPM issues or something. For example, I don't know dick about solving RPM problems, but if someone was having dependency issues or whatever on a RedHat system, I could forward it to the RedHat users board.
    It seems to me that almost any answer regarding most problems with large scale Open Source software can be found if you know where to look. Therein lies the problem. Most newbies / regular users have no clue where to look. Is this whole idea a pipe dream?
  • by fetta ( 141344 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:32PM (#2695478)
    Everything they say in the memo seems reasonable enough, but they could have focussed a bit more on how much support you can get from the user community if you ask nicely. In most cases, I've found that the "community" provides support comparable to, and sometimes superior to, the support that I get for commercial products.

    When I first began installing and using open-source software, for the first time, I was shocked by the high quality of the support that I received from both developers and other users.

    The first "real work" I ever did using Linux was replacing an old MS Exchange 5.0 server with QMail. (yes, I know about the debates about Qmail's license or lack thereof, but that's not the point here) Not really understanding what I was doing, I posted some (in retrospect) truly silly questions to some of the qmail mailing lists. I remember one particular email that abused me for being ignorant and asking a question in the wrong mailing list (I didn't realize it at the time, but it was more of a general Linux question than a qmail question), and then continued to very clearly and concisely explain my error and point me in the right direction. Compare that to a similar situation with a commercial vendor, where the response would likely have been something along the lines of "the problem you are describing is caused by some other piece of software and we cannot help you."

    In truth, I don't find the support process to be that different for Microsoft and Linux. If I have a problem with a Microsoft product, I search the Microsoft knowledge base, do a google search (including Usenet), and maybe post a question to the appropriate newsgroup. If I have a problem with a Linux or open source program, I search the LDP, do a google search (including Usenet) and maybe post a question to the appropriate newsgroup. The process is almost identical, and the results are pretty darn similar. If I want more hands on support, I have to pay a vendor (MS, Redhat, VA, etc.)
  • by wackysootroom ( 243310 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:32PM (#2695480) Homepage
    I will start out by saying that I do not use Abi Word, nor do I plan on using it anytime soon. Being a developer myself, I actually agree with the Abi development team, but by hyping up the project, users get the wrong idea.

    The first thing that caught my eye when I went to the site was the phrase "Word processing for everyone". With a catch-phrase like that, you had better be able to deliver on your promise. "Everyone" includes those rushed business execs who are too busy to become computer literate and need support *now*.

    Maybe Abi should either drop the slogan, or deliver on it, before they give too many people the worng idea.
    • Whilst I agree with you, I feel that the aim of open-source software should be to create software that requires no support.

      Word processors are great examples of generic page based document editors. They do tables, graphics, TOCs, indexing, and a lot more. This is hard to program, and hard to learn.

      And most importantly of all, most people don't need that functionality.

      So, perhaps AbiSource could release a version of AbiWord called AbiLetter. This would allow people to write letters in a professional manner. Couple it with templates for various letter styles, a method for generating your own headed letter paper within the application, and loads of example letters for various tasks (job application, complaints, etc) and you have a product with value, even if it is specialised.

      The work would be in the wizards in the end. The editing part of the program would be the body of the text only - a few paragraphs most likely.

      Yes, it isn't as flexible as a word processor. But then again, it isn't a word processor - it is a free bit of software for writing professional letters, saving and loading them, and printing them.

      When the user is proficient with that software, they may feel that they are ready for the whole shebang, so they can enable features as and when they need them, instead of having lots of confusing small icons all over the place. So the user is taught how to use the application by using it, without the hard stuff getting in the way until they need it.

      I am aware that this is even more effort to program - software that adapts to the user's proficiency - but it can do no end of good for the reputation of free software in my opinion. Coupled with some good documentation in PDF, PS, HTML format (etc) which would require a large effort as well, and someone with decent layout software (FrameMaker, for example) to write it.

      All I want it AbiWord to support better fonts and font smoothing. I like the interface, and it looks quite solid. Editing text is not a pleasant experience however with illegible fonts... maybe this has changed in the latest version...

      • The problem with that approach is the same problem that most "lite word processors" have. You often hear reasonable-if-guessed figures like "90% of word processor users only use 10% of the features." It's almost right. It's more accurate to say that 90% of word processor users use about 15% of the features, and that extra 5% changes from user to user. If you make a word processor with only that 10% everyone uses, almost everyone will applaud you--and they'll keep using Microsoft Word anyway. And just to make things more difficult, to get a significant number of users away from Word, you're going to have to duplicate the majority of its functions, to be able to get as many different "five percents" as you can.

  • by Proud Geek ( 260376 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:45PM (#2695548) Homepage Journal
    A lot of people don't have a clue what goes into a commercial software project. For example, Red Hat has only about 600 people. That is spread out through management, sales, marketing and support, as well as development. Now, Red Hat developers may be more productive than volunteers, since they are able to work on projects full time, but the vast majority of the work that goes into a new release of Red Hat Linux is in software written by the community.

    Microsoft's practices are harder to determine for an outsider, but they don't put in the huge amount of effort that the Abiword people think. For example, the Internet Explorer team is much smaller than the number of people working on Mozilla (in fact, it is smaller than the team working on Mozilla/ Netscape full time). The MS Word team is probably larger than the Abiword team, and support comes from a different group of people. However, if you email them and say, "Get this feature by tomorrow or I'm switching to something else!" they will have the exact same response as Abiword.

    The days of 200 people working on a shell script to change directories using a web page went away with the end of the .com era. They are not missed, either by OSS or Free software developers, or by profitable companies.
  • by skrowl ( 100307 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @05:46PM (#2695550) Homepage
    at 3 AM at Perkins or Dennys... I'd be rich.

    This is THE major problem with Open Source software. Since you can't make money with it, you can't commit yourself to it full time. Therefore you get a whole bunch of people who sorta work on it rather than a real programming team.

    What does this get you? Products like Abiword that, while nice, admit publically that they can't compete.

    What you linux kids need is a micropayment system or SOME kind of way to support your "Forget capitalism, I must give away the product of hours and hour of my work" attitude. If you could make $40K/year while working on your open project, you could do it full time! THEN we'd see some nice word processors, web browsers, etc. for Linux and *BSD. Please don't moderate this down to troll or flaimbait as it raises very real points.
  • These are the key words in the document, which I found Interesting, Informative, and even Insightful. For fun! They're not trying to cut M$' marketshare; they're not trying to show up StarOffice; they're not trying to build the Next Big Thing and retire gazillionaires; they're just building it because they want a nice, free word processor.

    All y'all who are complaining that this means they're not commercial-grade, etc.: You're right! But it doesn't matter! These guys don't care about that, and they don't need to, because they're spending their own time on it. Use it if you like, don't if you don't, life goes on either way.

    • It's amazing what people can create for fun, as opposed to what they create because some marketing group said so. I'm a firm believer that when people are having fun creating something, it shows through in the end product, in nearly-always positive ways!

      Remember how Linux got started and Linus' continuing philosophy- he continually says that he's doing Linux for fun and to scratch his personal itches, and not to fuck Microsoft over or because he wants to save the world or something.
  • I wonder if a fellow could pay the rent with an IRC support channel and a paypal account. I should look into that...
  • I've been working as a typist/word processor/document analyst for years now, and I HATE WORD! Word Perfect in its latest incarnation is nothing more than a Word clone, so it's not an option. I wanted to use only true open-source software, not proprietary like StarOffice, and I didn't need a whole suite. So I chose AbiWord. I'm a Linux newbie, and I was able to install AbiWord from the binaries (on Red Hat 6.0). The simplicity of the software is a refreshing change from all the packaged crap that wants to try to do everything for you (which is why I switched to Linux in the first place -- I've been working in Windows wayyyyy too long)! After reading the AbiSource letter, I signed up for both the developer and user mailing lists. If there are bugs in AbiWord (I haven't found any yet, BTW), I want to help fix 'em, not just whine about 'em -- maybe my years of being an end-user will finally amount to something!
  • There may not be prebuilt binaries for your platform. There aren't prebuilt binaries of commercial software for most platforms. AbiWord is probably ahead of MicroSoft here, and there's a chance that you can build binaries yourself if you need to, unlike with commercial software.

    Complaining about bugs and missing features to places other than the proper channels will get you nowhere, and being rude about it won't help either. This is certainly true of all OSS. It's not true of MicroSoft, reportedly, but that's just because MicroSoft's proper channels are ignored by their programmers.

    Getting support from programmers is difficult, in general, because they're busy programming. MicroSoft won't even let you talk to them. You can't demand a feature or to have a bug fixed from the makers of any software: what you want may be too difficult, or there may be more important things on the list.

    The reduced functionality is what you'd have to expect from a newer program from a smaller group. It doesn't really matter whether the motivation is financial or not, a small number of people will write a program with fewer features than MS will. Hopefully the features that AbiWord has are the ones you want, and the features that are missing are ones that would just get in your way.

    The letter is particular to AbiWord, but it applies in most of the parts to everyone, including MicroSoft.
  • by big.ears ( 136789 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @06:21PM (#2695821) Homepage
    This rant is totally reasonable. My question is--who can I pay for supporting Abiword? Let's say I'm a business, and want a Free word processor, and Abiword fits the bill perfectly. But, I know that my secretaries will need some questions answered. And occasionally, I might need a feature implemented (e.g., I'll need some document conversion done for my old dos-based word processor WinWord) Let's say I'm willing to pay for this. Who will take my money, and enter into this contract? Dom? Ximian? Who?
    • Very simple - you'll have to hire in house support. Much of the power of linux is that you can have in house developers and techs add features and support to products w/o any problems like being a licenscee.

      If you think I'm kidding - then ask around how most 'full time' OSS developers get paid. =)
  • by ajs ( 35943 ) <ajs AT ajs DOT com> on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @06:31PM (#2695892) Homepage Journal
    I keep seeing the same thing:
    • Linux kernel version 2.4.mumble has problems and people ask "how can this be releasable". It's not stable!
    • gcc 3.0 is unstable for the first few releases and folks start whining about how this isn't a production-quality compiler
    • AbiWord says that they're not providing commercial-grade support services and everyone gets honked off and claims that open source software can't work
    Can you all just take a step back, breathe deeply and remind yourselves that in any software organization with more than 10 developers there are two versions of the software (at least):
    • The development snapshot (or mainline, depending one your local terminology). This is a stable release from the developers to inernal customers such as Q/A, release engineering and perhaps alpha testers for integration testing and embeded product testing.
    • The release. This is the ready-for-prime-time code that will be supported and maintained by the company.
    Are you seeing the parallel here? When Linus releases kernel 2.4.57, he's releaseing a snapshot that lets Q/A (made up of Q/A groups in numerous companies that sell Linux-based products) release engineering (the distribution vendors) and alpha integration testers (embedded systems customers) begin their test and release cycle. Same for AbiWord. Ximian, Red Hat and many others release AbiWord, but I doubt that they ever release it absolutely as shipped. Their Q/A process only begins when AbiSource creates a new version.

    So, here's the question of the day: why are people shocked when the developers start acting like developers and say "we're not going to hand-hold you"? Well, there's a few reasons. Obviously there are the folks who just wait for an opportunity to slam OSS. Then there are the people who have become confused and don't realize that the Mozilla developers or the AbiWord developers are just that: developers. Then there are the folks who get their priorities confused. They say that they don't want to deal with "big business software", so they go it alone. This is all well and good, but when you do this, you have to expect the other shoe to drop.

    If you're downloading gcc 3.0 the day it comes out because you want the new features fast, great! But, don't be shocked when your code fails to work correctly because you have a hardware combination that was not well tested. If you'd waited for Red Hat 7.2, you would have found the optional gcc 3.0.x binaries with a big old wad of patches. Why? Because they tested it, patched it, and released it.

    Get over it. Software support is hard, and there are people in the OSS world that do it well. But, to expect every project to come out the gate with good Q/A and support is just silly.

    • If you're downloading gcc 3.0 the day it comes out because you want the new features fast, great! But, don't be shocked when your code fails to work correctly because you have a hardware combination that was not well tested.

      And further, don't run off to kuro5hin or ZDNet writing a bitchy, whiny, ranty editorial about OSS not being "production-ready." It's asinine, wrong-headed (ever heard of filling out a friendly bug report?), and besides, takes away from your credibility when you use language constructs invented by Microsoft's marketing department. ;-)

      But, to expect every project to come out the gate with good Q/A and support is just silly.

      Right, and one thing that people forget (or the newcomers haven't learned yet) is that OSS projects rely on their userbase for QA and support as well.

      I'm personally just glad to see that we're nearing the end of the year-long "Linux isn't ready for the desktop" trollwars. ;-)

      Thanks, ajs; you made my day. :-)

  • The big question... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tyhockett ( 543454 )
    At some point in my life as a network administrator, I had to realize that questions from my users were not going to get any smarter. Joe Six Pack is never going to learn how to fix and compile his own software. Never. He will only be able to a) use it or b) complain about it when it doesn't work.

    My heart really goes out to the AbiWord team, and I find myself wondering about a bigger question. Can Open Source software really become mainstream (as in Microsoft/Apple-style mainstream) without help from a for-profit organization to support it? There are tons of new BSD (Mac OS X) users signing up everyday, but it is because Apple is selling it, not because it's great and Free.

    I am not flaming here. I know, however, that as more people download and use AbiWord (or any other OSS), these problems with too-high-expectations are going to get worse, not better. With or without an open letter.
  • I would like to take a moment to thank the AbiWord development team for the termendous effort they have put in to making a truly open-source word processor. I use AbiWord to write papers for my Spanish classes, and have seen AbiWord go from being a good to a great word processor.

    There were three bugs which were annoying me in 0.9.4, and all but one of them was fixed on 0.9.5. The one they didn't fix I was able to fix myself []--an option that I would not have had if AbiWord was a proprietary product.

    The source code to AbiWord is clean and readily readable, the user interface to AbiWord is very professional-looking, and it is perfect for my Spanish-language compositions.

    Speaking of which, I really should get off Slashdot and start working on tonight's paper.

    - Sam

  • Just curious here... A long time ago, the Abiword project refused to become the official (i.e. to the exclusion of "all others") word processor for GNOME. To this day, you can get GNOME and non-GNOME versions of Abiword.

    Why is this assigned to the GNOME topic?
  • by selan ( 234261 ) on Wednesday December 12, 2001 @09:50PM (#2696863) Journal
    I definitely support the hard work of the AbiWord folks and sympathize with what they say in this letter.

    I think that the underlying point is that it's difficult for them to keep up with high expectations when they are such a small group of developers. It seems to me that this is an example of a project that is, unfortunately, not benefitting from the strengths of open source development.

    Ideally, when you have a project whose source is open, all users are free to contribute. The entire user body joins in the development effort and the project almost evolves by itself. That's how I understand the "bazaar" model of development.

    OTOH, from the sound of this letter, AbiWord is not getting the benefit from a large user base. They still only have a small group of their users who contribute to the code or even report bugs through the proper channels. It sounds like they have fallen into the "cathedral" model, even as they are trying to be a bazaar.

    So what's an open source project to do? I think they are on the right track. They need to mobilize their user base to report bugs and encourage more developers to contribute. Again, I don't mean this as criticism at all, but as encouragement. Open source is strong because everybody helps.

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?