Free Software Promotion vs Bugs

Here comes another itchy post from me to the Free Software community in general, based on a bunch of true, sad and stupid stories.

As many may know, I was recently traveling through Guatemala in the LibreBus tour, where we visited 3 cities giving talks and all, promoting Free Culture, Biodiversity and Free Knowledge, Free Speech and, of course, Free Software. Given the roaming characteristic of the trip, and given the fact that my network manager applet is unable to connect to new wireless networks (other than the ones already remembered by my NetworkManager before some unknown point in time), I was mentally prepared to hack around using CNetworkManager which I have come to love since it's the one utility that currently allows me to connect to new networks. The problem with that was that it looks extremely hacky to:

  1. Log into my KDE Session so that the NetworkManager DBus providers can be loaded properly
  2. Open a terminal to connect through cnetworkmanager, which will fail in the first try but will give me the process id that must be killed in order for cnetworkmanager to work
  3. Kill the aforementioned process and try cnetworkmanager again (probably missing some parameter, but I must say I'm starting to master the whole tool now)
  4. Then going back to KDE where many other things will not work properly until you restart the KDED process that will bring up a bunch of required services

All of that... because of a bug in the Network Manager applet. Furthermore, at some occasion a Mac User saw me doing the whole process and asked me "do you like to do everything in the terminal?" and I had to choose my answer wisely: I do prefer to work with the console when I need fast/automated results of batch processes, but I wouldn't mind using a click-here-click-there applet to do something as basic as CONNECTING TO A WIRELSS NETWORK. So I told him I didn't, but there was a problem in my wireless card that forced me to do the connection through the console (which is not entirely false, but that's the content of another  post).

But meanwhile, we should all be promoting Free Software, right? We should all be talking about the  advantages of using a software that is built and maintained by a community that cares about you and all that stuff... but you can't connect to new wireless networks. Sounds logical to you? For me, it doesn't. And then there are beta versions and the like, and that's all good to me: I'm beta-testing much of the software I use and promote, like Firefox, Eclipse, KDE, KBibTex; and I, of course, expect bugs to come out while beta-testing those. But I DO expect to be able to CONNECT TO A WIRELESS NETWORK WHEN I NEED IT. But I can't.

And I thought  it was only me, but last week I read a number of posts in identi.ca about people complaining of the same behavior. And then I read a post from Joon that basically said "it doesn't work, use anything else". And it's of course not Joon's fault, he's actually trying to help, but the whole KDE community is unable to use their own Network Manager applet and are recommended to use Gnome's one, and I have nothing in particular against the Gnome project, but that just  sucks.

So, the question is, how come this bug has survived all this time? I've been having that issue for at least two months now, adding an extra layer of pain to my already painful wireless experience in GNU/Linux. And that adds up to a pile of other bugs that are keeping me from using my laptop like a normal (probably Mac?)  user like the ever-living 16:9 bootsplash artwork in Sabayon that is keeping me from promoting Sabayon with my laptop because it makes it look ugly on the boot process.

These so-called trivial or minor details are the ones that at the end will keep us from promoting Free Software before the end user, who is all so used to computers that just work (and I'm of course not talking about Windows here, but Mac). If we keep marking those as trivial, long-living bugs we are attaching huge extra burdens to the Free Software movement that in the long run will trash any other importance it may have. Whether we like it or not, the technology is a pillar of the movement and it should back us all in the promotion of it.

And at this point, you are of course asking what am I doing to help besides posting inflammatory stuff. Well, I didn't have the time nor the hardware to give that bug a stab, but now that I finally have a bit of both, I'll be trying to fix it (that is, if it's not already fixed in the Git repository) and see if I can contribute to a better desktop experience we can all promote.

2 comments for this entry

  1. Lamarque says:

    Hi, until recently most KDE friendly distributions (OpenSuse, KUbuntu, Fedora) shipped a very outdated version of Plasma NM. Some packages on those distributions used a Plasma NM version from last year yet. This year I have fixed myself tens of bugs in Plasma NM, a bunch more have been fixed by other people. A recent Plasma NM snapshot should work much better now.

  2. dMaggot says:

    Those are good news, it's great to see the developers of the community are interested in these kinds of posts because it means that, despite the problems we face, there's still a clear interest in improving. On the other hand, I wonder what took us so long: shipping one-year-old NetworkManager applets sounds very compromising even to the most conservatives of the distros. Maybe that's something every distro should analyze internally, and see spaces where we can all improve as a community.

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