Design and Taste in Open-Source Software

I had a email conversation with Jeff Waugh a long time ago about design and taste in open-source software, which Jeff encouraged me to blog about. However, every time I tried to put the email into a blog article, it lost the original feel of what I was trying to say. Kathy Sierra’s superb keynote at 2007 on Creating Passionate Users inspired me to publish it more-or-less verbatim here so it wouldn’t be delayed for any longer. (Perfection being the enemy of Good and all that.) As such, here ‘tis:

… something else that I’ve been musing about in the past week is that there’s a really interesting culture difference between the Mac OS X community and the Linux community.

The Mac community thrives on shareware applications: things that cost anywhere between $5-$50. RapidWeaver, a $40 Web application creation program, is apparently used for over 3000 Web pages… There are plenty of Mac shareware developers who make enough money from their software that they can do it for a living, professionally. Wil Shipley, the author of Delicious Library… claimed he had $50,000 in sales of his first day of Delicious Library.

The interesting culture difference is that the Linux community tends to put out small, useful little programs, but with little polish. This is not a criticism: there’s a lot more programs in the Linux world to do what you want to do, and even though they’re not polished, they do work, and they’re open source whereas Mac software generally isn’t. However, it’s a completely different class of programs to Mac shareware: now that I’ve done a lot of work on a program where the UI is the really important thing, I truly admire the amount of polish and sheer effort that goes into the majority of Mac shareware programs. The icons are beautiful, every part of the workflow is accounted for, and the integration with the rest of the system is superb. That’s what you pay your $5 to $50 for, and the authors charge this because they’ve put a hell of a lot of time and effort into all these things.

The attitude difference is quite a contrast: probably the best way to sum it up is that the Linux community tends to produce cheap’n’cheery tools that they’re very happy to give away and share, whereas the Mac community has a much slower rate of production, but their production values are superb: they are completely unwilling to release stuff that isn’t up to the developer’s highest standards.

What approach do you prefer? If you’re a Linux developer, are you willing to put into practice what Kathy Sierra has to say?

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