31 Dec 2001 phooky   » (Journeyer)

Reading recent diary entries about the "state of the community", I'm reminded of just how much the free software world has changed in the past ten years.

Free software used to be very neighborly-- hacks written by motivated individuals. Now it's political, with most packages molded by committee. As a result, free software has lost the human face it once had. Not long ago, you'd hunt down individual packages that included README files along the lines of:

Hi, thanks for using [package]! If you enjoy [package], drop me a line! I don't want money for my work, but if you want to give me something, [I/my husband/my wife/my child] collect [coins/postcards/matchbooks] from around the world! My address is [locality]. Enjoy!

Nowadays, the sum of my interaction with the author of a software package is likely to consist of

$ apt-get install foo

dpkg says that I have slightly over six hundred seperate free software packages installed on my laptop. I can name the authors of maybe ten of them. Since everything is precompiled and GPL'd (or equivalent), I have no reason to even look at the READMEs. It's all very impersonal.

It's difficult to get involved now-- or at least, to feel like you're getting involved. You put up projects or patches and you get downloads, but no responses. It's difficult to gauge whether your work is appreciated, or even welcome. So while free software is more popular and widely used than ever, there's far less human encouragement. (Watching a download counter turn over does not qualify as "human encouragement".)

Ha ha! Bring back the gonzo licenses! Up with postcardware! The shareware people had it right all along!

[dumb rant over]

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