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Care and feeding of open source programmers


[Update: Brian Ganninger of Growl and Adium fame has posted on his strong disagreement with the HandBrake manifesto.]

Since HandBrake got back under one open-source roof, the attention to everyone's favorite Mac DVD 'archiving' tool has heated up, and with said attention the volume of end-user feature requests has apparently risen. Over at the HandBrake forums, back on March 6, Rodney posted a manifesto called "HandBrake and Open Source - an end-user must-read," pointing out what he sees as the differences between F/OSS and commercial software when it comes to user-driven feature priorities. I quote:

"Open source software is exactly what it sounds like: It's software written by a (usually small) group of highly-dedicated people that solved particular problems they themselves had and thought others might find useful as well. Like most things that are free, it comes with no warranty: If it does what you want, that's great - that's exactly why it was offered to you. If not, you have the freedom of choice to either modify it to suit your desires or find another software package that more closely meets your needs."

The core of Rodney's message, as I read it: if you want something weird or customized, either pay someone for it or code it yourself -- don't knock on the glass with your crazy "why doesn't HandBrake do X?" requests, unless you're willing to pull your weight, 'cause everyone here is a volunteer. I don't agree with him on all fronts -- certainly, 'big kahuna' open source projects like Firefox, Webkit or OpenOffice are highly focused on the needs of the end user -- but for apps like HandBrake with a small core of developers, it definitely pays to ask very politely if there's something you desire, and to accept the fact that your priorities may not sync up with the developers' areas of interest. Now, off to learn C -- where did I leave that copy of Kernighan and Ritchie?

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