A free software project such as the many projects under the KDE umbrella do not need users, they only need more developers. A user which is not able to develop is useless. Because of that it is totally acceptable that you demand that user’s should start learning programming to fix the bugs they report.
Of course such an opinion is as ridiculous as users demanding that bugs get fixed or insulting the developers who spend hours and hours of their spare time to produce an awesome product.
What I want to indicate is that the relationship between users and developers in a free software project is very special. And we need both: we need the developers and we need the users. What’s the fun of developing if nobody is going to use your software? How do you get new software if there are no developers?
A recent incident on a mailinglist and similar incidents before motivated me to finally write this blog post which I had in mind for quite some time. I hope this can help users in the interaction with developers. Now I have to add that I am not an expert in that area and most of the things I put down here are based on my personal opinion and experience.
The Value of Free Software
Free Software is something incredible: hundreds of developers write software in their spare time and not only do they give it away for free, no they also give you the right to do whatever you want with the source code. Furthermore you are allowed to give feedback directly to the developers: through bug reports, through mailing lists, through blog posts and many more possibilities. Each user can interact directly with the developers. There is no expensive support hotline in between. Keep that in mind whenever you have the urge to communicate with developers. It is one of our greatest values and it would be a pity to lose it.
Developers are not evil
No developer is going to destroy his software. No developer is going to introduce bugs on purpose. No developer is ignoring bug fixing. Whatever you think, developers are not evil. They are more interested in a successful product than you as a user. It’s what they invest time for, it’s what they like doing. If a developer is not fixing a bug or not even reacting to it, it’s not because he does not care, it is more likely that he did not see it, that he does not encounter it, that he just does not have time or something else. It’s never about ignoring the user. Also developers do not remove features to harm their users. They have to think about more than just a collection of features. Sometimes it is required to remove a rotten log in order to get something better. It might be worse for you, but in general it’s better for all. Developers don’t change for the sake of change – we are lazy.
You are not a Developer
Remember that you are not a developer. You should not try to discuss about technical details with developers: you cannot win. No matter how good your opinion is, no matter how smart you are, the developer is most likely an expert in his area and has a better view on issues. If he tells you something is not possible, it most likely is. If he tells you he cannot fix a bug, that’s the case. If he has to remove a feature, he has to. Please accept it, don’t argue, you will make a fool out of yourself.
Developers might be busy
Even developers might be busy: they have a day job, they might have to learn, they might have to write a thesis. Accept that they cannot answer to your bug reports instantly. It may take some days, maybe even months till there is a response. It’s not optimal, but that’s the way it is. Please also respect the private life of the developers: don’t query them in IRC without asking, don’t send them private mails asking for bug fixes. At least for me it’s a certain way to ensure that the bug won’t be fixed any time soon. Just think if everybody would send their bug reports via private mail, it doesn’t scale.
Bugs belong into the Bugtracker
It’s obvious, right? A bugtracker is the only available tool to ensure that the bugs can be tracked. A comment on a dot article won’t fix your bug, a mail to a mailinglist will be ignored. Use the bugtracker. Even if it seems to be a dumping place, it’s the best we have.
Don’t state the obvious
A unresolved bug in the bugtracker is not fixed. You don’t have to repeat in each minor release that it is still not fixed. If it were fixed, it would be closed or you could close it. Repeating the obvious just causes even more mail in my already overcrowded mail account and it does not increase the chances that I fix the bug for the next release.
Not all bugs are equal
Just because you have a bug which really annoys you, don’t assume that anyone else has the bug. It’s possible and likely that no developer is using the same workflow as you do. So the very obvious bug might be completely hidden to the developers. Also developers run a different version than you do: they run the latest development version. They might be not aware of a bug in an old version. So don’t assume that everyone sees your bugs.
Everybody has his pet bugs
Yes, you are not the only one having bugs. At the time of this writing the KDE bugtracker lists 23374 open bug reports with a rate of more than 400 new bugs per week (more gets closed). So every user has his personal very important bug which has to be fixed. Also there are many more open bugs than the developers could fix. Yes it’s software, yes that is normal. So don’t rally for the bug to get fixed. I as a developer decide which bug I’m going to fix and if I see that you think your pet bug is more important than the pet bug of someone else, I go for someone else pet bug.
It should be obvious but it isn’t. Don’t insult the developers. It won’t help your case. Do you really think I’m going to fix your problem (which I do not experience) if you are insulting me? It is contra-productive and harmful. Remember that we spend our spare time. If I get insulted in my hobby, I might pick a different hobby. Your problem is never that important that it is worth the risk that developers are leaving the community.
We are not going down the GNOME road
It’s the argument I hate most when it comes to adding new features or removing existing ones when needed. Nobody is going down the GNOME road and it’s a very insulting statement towards the awesome GNOME developers for whom I have great respect. Such arguments are not going to help you: you want a feature and you try to convince me with such an argument? If you need a feature convince with real arguments under consideration that the developer has to take care of more than just collecting features.
Features are Expensive
Each added Feature means more code to maintain, more code paths which could break, more time to spend, less users which actually use a given code path and by that worse testing. There are valid features, there are not valid features. If the developer decides against your idea, please accept it, he has to take care of more than adding a bunch of functionality. Also please think about how likely it is that you find a new great idea which has not yet considered in the past? Please also use brainstorm.forum.kde.org to suggest new features. Everything else is most likely to just be ignored.
Developer Mailinglists are for Developers
It’s great that users can follow the development process directly by reading the internal mailinglists. But please remember that this is the think tank where the developers need to speak freely. There they exchange their ideas, there they might post controversial ideas on purpose. Don’t jump in and tell your opinion on how stupid the developer is. The mail was not intended for users but to get valuable feedback from other developers. Respect that, don’t destroy the discussion by pulling it in the wrong direction.
Don’t mention the war
Yes KDE 4.0 was a bad release, not ready for productive usage and aimed at developers. There is no reason to bring up KDE 4.0 in a discussion about a present bug or missing feature. It is our past and we cannot change it, especially not the developers who joined after 4.0. If you keep mentioning the state of 4.0 people will ignore you, even think that you are a troll. So just forget about it.
You don’t need to learn C++ to help
Everybody can help, so please give something back. It’s the best way to convince developers to fix your bugs by becoming part of the community. There’s documentation which needs to be written, there are translations which need to be done, there is a marketing team which needs help, there is user support which is lacking supporters, there are designers who need more clones, there is the bug tracker which really needs to be cleaned up. Especially if you hate that your bugs don’t get fixed, help the developer team by taking away the burden of going through all the useless and duplicate bug reports.
I hope these items help to keep KDE the friendly place which it is and helps to keep the relationship between users and developers healthy.