August 31, 2000

Bring me the head of an AbiWord developer

By Emmett Plant

NewsForge Columnist
OK, I'm writing my column for the second time due to technical difficulties. Tension runs high, and I'm already well past deadline -- a place I don't like to be. I try as hard as possible to make deadlines, and it makes me mad when technology fails. Bring me the head of an AbiWord developer.It goes far beyond that, of course. I can only hold AbiWord partially responsible. AbiWord (as it turns out) is a pre-beta piece of software that needs to be tested a lot more before it gets shipped with a Linux distribution. That's cool. The folks that make AbiWord should say something like, "Hey, for God's sake, don't ship this. It ain't ready."

But guess who shipped AbiWord? Red Hat. I'm running on a Red Hat box at the moment, and AbiWord shipped with Red Hat 6.2, as far as I can tell. Either that or it shipped with Helix GNOME, which I run on this machine. So, bring me the head of a Red Hat guy or Helix's Nat Friedman, depending.

If you want Linux to have a "ready for prime time" look and feel, don't, I repeat, don't ship it with software that shouldn't be used. The version number states that it's a "preview release." It should say, "For the love of God, don't use this software ever. It can not be trusted, it can not be leaned upon. It is not your friend."

Okay, it's a "preview release," and I should say, "Hey, this is a preview release, maybe I shouldn't run this, or my work will disappear when it crashes, and I'll cry." But I don't, because I'm a trusting fool. I deserve what I get. But I understand Open Source software, I understand how alpha software works (or in this case, doesn't work). I'm an understanding soul.

The problem is, Mr. Experimentor wants to do stuff with Linux right out of the box. Mr. Experimentor has never even used Linux before. You think he's gonna give a damn if it says "preview release" on the splash screen? Not a chance. He doesn't even read the EULA when the OS is being installed. He doesn't even read the instructions on his VCR. The reason he doesn't is because he feels he doesn't have to. Why should he? He starts Windows, types something up in Word, saves it, prints it. He's on his merry way.

Mr. Experimentor will have the exact same experience that I did, only he'll lose a 22-page article on how great Linux is. He will leave Linux, he will never come back, and he will tell all of his friends exactly how bad Linux sucks. He will become a Microsoft slave because the only real alternative he's been given featured a word processor that killed his work dead. This is a sad day.

People who package software need to act responsibly, no matter who they're working for. I'm begging, I'm pleading. Please don't let Mr. Experimentor get away. He's the guy that will be paying all of our bills once Linux proves itself to be ready for the desktop big time. Mr. Experimentor represents the Packard Bell-using, AOL-dialing guy that the desktop developers just can't get enough of. Do not let him get away. Don't package stuff until it's ready. If it's not ready, do not ship it. Can I say that enough? Probably not.

See you in seven.

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