Feature Creep – Unwanted Gifts from Developers?


The open-source community likes software freedom (the ability to choose) and gifts (new software features). However, sometimes there are gifts/features that we don’t need, yet we still get them and they cannot be returned. Unfortunately, the open-source community is recently overflowing with such gratifications. I believe the trend is greatly troubling, because many such giveaways are not discussed in the community properly and imposed by minorities.

One of the most common proceedings is that a new piece of software or feature appears and suddenly a very vocal minority explodes with Oh wow, shiz, this is so cool, we need this on every computer! Alas, such occurrences lack a cool-headed member of the crowd, who should instantly retort with Why exactly do we need this? How does this help the community?  etc. One of such vocal minorities (which in fact is not so small) is the Fedora community.

Fedora, a fantastic Linux distribution, is sadly often treated as a test-bed for innovations and has a bad track record of pushing forward features that are not ready for prime-time. Many such innovations have a small scope and I often welcome them with a faint smile and a thought – Oh? that’s quite interesting. However, from time to time comes a gigantic train engine with sufficient force to distort the Linux landscape. I will mention 3 of the most disturbing train wrecks.

GNOME3 was supposed to be a continuation of the GNOME2 project. Yet things went wrong and the designers responsible for the GUI decided that it needs a complete rework. The new version became oversimplified, heavier on resources and with all relevant features hidden away. Many critics claimed that such a move would alienate many users (which happened) and GNOME3 would eventually die. Surprisingly, Fedora picked it up and said it was cool. Next up was openSUSE and Debian (?!). Now, GNOME3 is the official desktop environment for Fedora and despite being very troublesome to work with, it is considered suitable for a serious workstation class operating system. Who would have thought…

Pulseaudio is another such unwanted gift. I don’t intend to go on a rant and complain about how it destroys everything. The Internet is already overflowing with such rants. Also, it is not completely useless as it makes switching between sound devices marginally easier. Regardless, its features are useful only to a small group of Linux users, who deal with sound production and management to a greater extent. For normal users and non-sound proficient developers who just want to listen to some music it’s troublesome, because it hijacks all sound controls, yet still fully relies on ALSA. The drivers and controls are already there – no need for another abstraction layer.

Finally, there is systemd. Lots of fuss, tears and turd thrown around. Even to the point that Debian was forked as Devuan (a bittersweet incident). Unsurprisingly, systemd comes from the creator of Pulseaudio. Just like Pulseaudio, it violates the very one tool per job UNIX paradigm and doesn’t do anything new and revolutionary.

Unwanted gifts can be monetized, returned or given away to others. We have the freedom to get rid of them. Mentioned software features were pushed down users’ throats the same way one fattens ducks before they are killed for meat. In a commercial ecosystem GNOME3, Pulseaudio and systemd would die painfully as they hinder productivity and stomp over established standards. What pains me the most is that they follow the same top-to-bottom approach of imposing features by developers that is prominent in Windows. Have the users suddenly become irrelevant?


2 thoughts on “Feature Creep – Unwanted Gifts from Developers?

  1. Somehow I never thought of feature creep being part of FOSS! But I have to agree, and also with your examples. Specifically, I still don’t understand what Pulseaudio provides that is not already available in Jack? I you were really not happy with ALSA (or even OSS) alone, why not simply make Jack the default (as it is in many multi-media oriented distros)? Why write something new from scratch?


    • Lennart’s intention regarding Pulseaudio was to combine everyday audio use (youtube, audacious, etc.) with professional audio use, because ‘that’s how MacOS X and Windows’ do it. However, he forgot that:
      1. the pro part should be done independently from ALSA/OSS, on specific API level so that the whole Linux ecosystem doesn’t have to suffer, because some people like to play .mp3s over the network.
      2. Linux is not Windows, neither is it MacOS X and the distinction should remain clear.


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