Turds in a Broken Free Toilet

An astounding blog post just appeared in my RSS reader (indirectly, I don’t subscribe to the feed). I won’t link to it; perhaps by reading this you’ll know which one I’m talking about. The author discusses his attitude towards supporting his open source software and Grails plugins and clarifies what he’d alluded to a few earlier times that I’d seen online. Those included half-demanding that others fix his bugs for him or pay him to fix bugs in his software. Hmmm. Ok.

I haven’t used this author’s software for various reasons, but now I’m committed to avoid it completely. I see an implicit if weak contract between someone who provides software (whether OSS, commercial, or anything in-between) and someone who uses it. We use or buy it because we don’t want to, don’t have the time to, or can’t implement it ourselves. It’s disingenuous and selfish to claim that since you gave it away for free, you have no further obligations unless that’s made explicit from the beginning.

Grails plugins make up the extent of my open source contributions. I have many reasons for creating and releasing them and these include giving back to a community that’s given me a lot for free, and also the warm fuzzy that comes from having people use something you created (and occasionally thanking you for it). Users do complain about bugs, missing features, missing documentation, etc. Some have provided patches that fixed a bug or implement a feature and I greatly appreciate those. But I find it amazing that someone would demand this.

I’ve talked to other Grails users about writing and supporting Grails plugins and I half-jokingly caution them to not release them. It’s work. It’s a product. People will find issues with it. There’s a high probability that your plugin won’t work with a new Grails release. Supporting various Grails versions can be frustrating – there are people using Grails 1.0, 1.1 and even early builds of 1.2, so it takes time to support all of them. But I’ve gotten a lot out of developing these plugins and the benefits have far outweighed the costs.

Another Grails plugin developer who has been rather prolific (although not so much lately) stated with the release of a couple of his plugins that he wouldn’t be doing any further work on them. I’m fine with that – it’s honest. It’s somewhat annoying – support yer damn product 🙂 – but I know what the risks involved are in using those plugins. If one breaks, well, like the old story, I new it was a snake when I picked it up. But software released by someone who acts like they’ll do the right thing but then doesn’t is a snake you can’t see, a turd in a broken free toilet.

10 Responses to “Turds in a Broken Free Toilet”

  1. Tomas says:

    Thank you for your perspective on this, Burt.

    Let me say that I really appreciate the hard work and effort you put in your plugins and the effort you put in helping people out in the mailing lists.

  2. Bob Herrmann says:

    I think I agree with you that his approach to open source is a bit atypical, but it’s a big tent. I think he just needs to be clear up front about his intentions are. Lots of opensource projects get started, most of them wither on the vine. He’s at least explaining his rational…

  3. Burt, I think he does make it clear from the beginning that he won’t support it. As he says in his post, he releases his code under the WTFPL – a license which is extremely loose and basically says “Here you go, do what you want with it, don’t call me”.

    Open source is a spectrum. At one end, yes you have a product, and products require work. Large frameworks like Grails are products. At the other end, you have a guy putting up code that he found useful so that other people can use it – no obligations either way.

    Open Source the movement needs people at all ends of the spectrum. If we don’t have the freedom to dip our toe in a little bit, then you’ll have less people willing to dive all the way into the deep end.

  4. Burt says:

    @Robert that’s not true; wrt his Grails plugins, 1 or 2 use WTFPL but the rest use Apache or none at all. You’re trusting him to tell a balanced story but it’s at its core a self-serving post.

    You’re also trusting that all of the requests were unfair and unrealistic, but a request to fix a genuine bug is pretty reasonable IMO.

    The point of my post wasn’t that open-source authors should respond to every user request, but rather that I was surprised that he was bragging about extorting users to fund bug fixes and enhancements.

  5. faenvie says:

    somehow i can understand the arguments of both,
    but i tend to like burts point of view more. i think the community has a keen sense for things like that … positive or negative vibrations.

  6. Don says:

    For Pete’s sake would you please give us the link!

  7. Jeff Brown says:

    Agreed. Thanks for the post.

    See you soon (http://springone2gx.com/).


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  9. […] source is a solution to a problem. It’s a product. This kind of mindset is demonstrated by Burt Beckwith’s “Free Toilet” response2. You can really hear the voice of the consumer-developer mindset in these snippets: We use or buy […]

  10. […] @ 5:29 pm Recently (or rather over the course of the last half year or so), there has been quite some discussion about how the Grails community responds to open source contributions, mainly with regard […]

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