Monday, April 06, 2009

Non-technical work should be more important than fixing "small" technical issues like crashes

I thought to write this since a blog is a more correct place for this kind of stuff than arguing about priority issues in bug reports. The title is one way of explaining the need of FLOSS distributions to shift a bit away from just improving on technical aspects. My controversial claim would be that fixing highly visible I18N bugs is more important than fixing random crashers. People are accustomed to seeing application crashes from time to time, but do not want to be disrupted with non-native language in their basic computer usage. Not all people agree, and neither all people should agree.

I'm quite technical kind of person myself, but I think it's not just proper artwork / design teams we are (still) missing on FLOSS distributions, but that in general non-technical people should get more involved. It will mean the usual ”bah, those marketing/artwork guys” vs. ”bah those nerds only tweaking kernels” discussions will raise, but it is IMHO needed to have more heterogenic group of people making contributions to distribution development. Some more technically oriented developers would still not value I18N or artwork issues as much as application crashes, and that's perfectly ok and those guys rock, but the average (statistically) mindset of a contributing person would shift to treat different kind of issues more equally.

As an example let's take Ubuntu, the arguably most John Doe -oriented distribution there is. It is still far from concentrating enough on non-technical issues, but it is already getting a lot of heat from more technically oriented developers and users by doing the amount it does and being successful with it. Ubuntu 9.04 is going to rock I18N-wise , but the people responsible of realizing the need for most of the fixes (and offering a fix for many of them) are a small group of people between the technical developers and the users, who understand when there is a technical mistake somewhere regarding I18N. Currently the average Ubuntu developer is more interested in point number 1 in the Ubuntu philosophy than the numbers 2 and 3, and that would need to change.

What I see as lacking here is that technical developers mostly still use English on their computer even if it would not be their native language. I would hope that some percentage of FLOSS distribution developers would be willing to use their own distro in their own language. It seems currently rare that this happens, since otherwise we would not rely as much on completely other people to file bugs on things that are very visible, annoying and giving a bad impression about a distro to any non-English user. One way to understand the importance of the problems is to discuss more with ordinary users, since at least I've heard a _lot_ about many I18N bugs from various people, but the same people never mention crashes separately even if those would happen (some may say "oh yes it crashes sometimes but not too often").

In addition to Ubuntu, I hope that other distros will offer competition in the field as well, because competition always yields better results. Fedora is doing some stuff very nicely, and their upstream-integrated L10N services is better than Ubuntu's Launchpad in some ways, but probably because so many developers are US-based, some really visible bugs get even less attention than in Ubuntu.
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