In case you haven’t heard, Linus Torvalds had a bit of a rant at the GNOME developers regarding quality user interfaces. In the course of the exchange, certain nasty words and comments were thrown about — to put it nicely.
Now, I’m by no means a saint, and every once in a while I might get my knickers in a twist about something or other, but this kind of behaviour, on both sides of the coin by various folk, does nothing to further the FOSS movement. In fact, it deeply hurts it. Why? Well, for one thing, the black & white back-and-forth bantering which inevitably follows such outbursts (like this recent well-meaning post that turned into comments about the age-old PostgreSQL/MySQL debate) does little to inspire confidence in FOSS projects by the (oft-ignored) “outside world”.
Secondly, even if there was an ounce of constructive, worthy criticism embedded in the nastiness, it would be missed because of the harshness or abrasiveness of the ranter (and those who stoop to the level of the rant). What the FOSS community needs is more constructive criticism, along with a healthy dose of humble pie, and the willingness to acknowledge the grey areas out there and not just see in black and white.
And … yes, there’s something to be said for simply being nice; simply being respectful. I know that if criticism is levelled at something I have written or designed, that I respond (and generally fix more quickly) those errors which have come from sources offering a respectful discourse. Those folks who cannot, or will not, stand on a respectful platform, regardless of how strongly they believe their viewpoints, must come to the realization that there mean-natured comments will only hinder true progress towards their goals.
Does this mean that I don’t agree with anything the Linus (or the folks commenting on the Xoogler’s post) have said? Absolutely not. But, when I come to argue a case before any “court” (whether it be a jury of my peers, a client, or a determined debater), I know that having all sides of the scenario and issue covered works to my benefit; it gives me a rounder, broader, and deeper perspective of the issues at hand. I also know that if I expend my energy throwing nasty-grams around, I’m not spending that energy listening to what the other camp has to say. That’s the real tragedy, and that’s why I think some of these issues take so long to resolve, or at least to come to a compromise or some sort of useful, insightful conclusion.
Dave Neary put it quite well:
Some people’s opinions *do* count more than others, and a lot of the weight an opinion gets in my mind comes from the level of respect the person across the way has for me, and the other members of [the GNOME] project.