Time to Write About Something Besides Redmond

I plead guilty to past transgressions. So, call me a hypocrite if you will. I don't care anymore. I refuse to get stuck in the past because the present and the near future is fun.

Indulge if you will in recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images experienced as intrusive and distressing. The obsession with Microsoft in Open Software communities is excessive and unreasonable and a product of the mind. My only hope is that such thoughts, impulses, and, or images can be expunged by logic or reasoning, which is contrary to the notions in the psychiatric community.

I have a pretty good idea what transformed me. Toward the completion of "Linux System Administration" the world got intense. My friend and editor, Andy Oram, began pressing and pressing and pressing. The deadlines became untenable. For three months, I didn't sleep much, I didn't have a break, my best friend was Ethiopian coffee.

Bill and I turned in the final chapter and I felt a great sense of relief. In fact, I took a deep breath and sighed. Shortly afterward, I started getting e-mails from Andy; fix this, where's the image for figure 2-31, rewrite these two pages, reformat the template because it won't work in Framemaker.

That was intense - really intense. I turned everything requested by Andy back to him. He assured me we were finished. Shortly afterward, the next wave of demands made their way to my e-mail inbox. This time, the people in the production department began what seemed like a deluge of requests.

Andy assured me we were really done this time. But within a few weeks, we got 12 pdf files that my friend called galleys. After a decade or so of writing books, I knew about galleys. I thought the digital age of reason had eliminated the need for galleys. Not so, we had to read the book cover to cover and look for typos and errors of all sorts.

I turned my galleys back to Andy with the thought that something else would make its way back to me. But, Andy called and said that the book went into production. They began printing it.

I spent two years three months twenty one days and fourteen hours researching and writing that book. I felt like Forrest Gump when he decided to quit running.

I remember sitting on the sofa in the living area when a call came in from a close friend. He had some news about something Microsoft did with Novell. He seemed incensed about it. I remember my reaction vividly. I said, I don't care.

After installing numerous servers and getting OSS applications to play nice together I felt exhausted. The Open Source community has so many developers, I find it remarkable. But, projects where 98% of the volunteers develop leaves a wide gap in documentation. You can have all the wikis you want, but if people don't write in them, edit them, publish security problems and instructions for installing and using applications, then those wikis are useless.

Bill and I spent a majority of our time getting standard Open Source applications to work. Bill found bugs in the code and fixed them. I found errors in documentation and fixed those. We looked through mailing lists, archives, called and wrote friends and developers we didn't know. The documentation sucked.

I suppose in a state of pure exhaustion I realized the time had come to get our own house in order and forget about Microsoft. You know the old Alcoholics Anonymous saying about having the strength to change the things I can and accept the things I can't and the wisdom to know the difference.

If you can't write code and contribute in that way, then either learn to code, file real bug reports instead of feature requests, or write documentation. Otherwise, the state of Open Source will remain the same. We'll have plenty of developers and we'll miss Subject Matter Experts, documentation specialists, defect trackers, regression and performance testers, mailing list managers, sysops for Forums
and QA teams.

Redmond? So what. Let them do what they do. We need to do something other than write about all their transgressions - real or imagined.


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Time to Write About Something Besides Redmond

pdreidenbach's picture

Hear, hear!

My 12 year old once asked me, "Do you hate Microsoft?" I thought about it and then answered him, "I have no reason to, because they do not control me."

Like all open source geeks out there, I initially underwent an initiation of MS-bashing and Halloween Documents. The 'crusade' was a lot of fun! But I realized eventually that the best strategy for either side is to come up with the best product, whether it is open source or not, Linux-based or MS manufactured.

an agnostic from the Philippines

Rest is earned, but don't give up

RalphG's picture

You wrote a fine book and the effort shows. In some ways, I say just relax a bit and rejoin the fray soon. But, maybe you have a better idea. We can't always be reactive to the convicted monopolist. We need to figure out how to show people that our product is better. Maybe part of it is documentation, but I suspect it will really be some edge that MS can't easily match.

Can't understand

Stefano Canepa's picture

Tom, call me a stupid, but I cannot understand the link between your book and stopping jumping on Microsoft.

Can't understand

Anonymous's picture

The link is clear to me. It takes a lot of effort to assemble Linux components and when you hit a snag it takes a lot of time to find answers. I suppose that's why Ubuntu has LAMP already put together in its server. I use to spend days getting it to work. Now, it's already done. If you read articles on news sites like this one then you'd know they have more rant than rave. He seems to be saying that it took a lot of effort to get a few chapters put together on Linux and if ranters would write documentation, e.g., add value to projects instead of trying to become famous for writing the next great swipe at MS, then we would be better off.

That's his opinion and it seems logical, but he underestimates human nature. We'd all rather read how Microsoft is trying to kill Linux than sleep.

Congratulations, Tom.

Dean Pannell (aka dinotrac)'s picture

Congrats on the book.
It's needed.

Thanks for going and plugging holes and filling ugliness.
It's needed more.

Special congratulations on turning your gaze away from Redmond. They are nasty buggers, but falling all over themselves. Vista would be a joke if it weren't just so darned sad.

Free software can reach out to a whole new group of players or can sit back and look a lots of nifty new Powerbooks. Here and now seems to be the time to smile, look up, say "We're here to help", and mean it.

Don't let your guard down

ig's picture

While it may not be a good idea to obsess about Microsoft, we cannot disregard them completely. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Microsoft may be irrelevant to our forward-looking plans, but the fact remains that they continue to pour significant resources into attempts to destroy Linux and Open Source. While it is impossible to destroy the community, they will be more effective at delivering setbacks to us if we are not paying attention.

I won't disagree...

Nicholas Petreley's picture

I won't disagree, but that's because I can't follow your reasoning. You worked real hard on a book, therefore it's time to tell others to write about something other than Microsoft? Huh?

Your opening lines show that you're not just talking about yourself. You're giving advice to other writers. (Including, I assume, the Editor in Chief of the publication whose blog you're using to plug your book?) But then you fail to take your own advice at the end of your blog entry (apply it to other authors, no?).

"So what. Let them do what they do."

Regardless, congrats on the book. I hope it does very well.


Anonymous's picture

Metoo- I don't see the connection between your writing a book and other writers obsessing over Microsoft. Actually I agree with this, to a degree- there are some folks who couldn't get out of bed in the morning if they didn't have Microsoft to hate. But your article doesn't really address this, and you don't differentiate between an unhealthy obsession, and maintaining a healthy watchfulness on a rapacious, ruthless monopolist.


Anonymous's picture

It becomes obvious reading these posts why Americans have limited vocabularies as compared to fifty years ago. You can't read the article. The subject has little to do with Microsoft. The author seems to stress the need for documentation of projects as an alternative to "wasting time" on issues that you can do little about. Additionally, your only audience is yourselves.

He did miss something rather obvious: 99.n+ percent of Open Source project contributors are developers. You cannot count on them to supply professional documentation. I might convey differently this subject. If you have something to say, say it on a wiki about how to use a product or get together as a team and collaborate to produce functional and technical specifications as user manuals.

Dunno, seemed clear to me ...

MAABaum's picture

I don't know, I thought the logic of Adelstein's piece was reasonably straight-forward for a columnist. Clearly you have to discount heavily his negative experience with the book production process, that's just ambience. But the main idea was that he had spent a hugely excessive amount of book-writing time in coping with Wholly Inadequate Documentation for OSS, and that just maybe said WID/OSS was a bigger obstacle to world domination by open source than companies headquartered in Redmond.

Having spent a long time trying to achieve a working Nvidia driver on a 64-bit Linux box, a longer, unsuccessful, time trying to install wine on same, and a faaaaaarrrr looooooooooooonger time trying to reconcile software issues on my trusty Zaurus SL-5600, I have to say that Adelstein might be on to something here.



corbathegeek's picture

I've been complaining about the state of OSS documentation for several years now. I finally did something about it this year and helped edit several references. Even though I much prefer to be programming, it feels good to work on documentation too.