Trivial Patches
Open source ratchets up

I sent a patch to Michael Kerrisk, of Linux man-page “fame”. It was absolutely trivial, but it was a race condition the I noticed in readlink(2) recently.

If you are Linux programmer, I suspect you too cut/paste example code from the man pages, and massage it to fit your purposes. I know I do, multiple times per week. I know what I’m doing, so it feels okay, but this perhaps is the Linux equivalent to the IDE’s nasty habit of spitting out boilerplate code. (At least we Linux people massage and understand our starting point.)

Linux Community

The crazy thing is that I realized I’d cut-and-pasted this code twice previously, and the NULL-termination case never made sense to me. So I stopped, thought it through carefully, concluded that the man page was not precisely correct, and submitted a patch to improve it.

It was accepted, and will be in the next release. Yay. No biggie, but I’ve scratched my itch, finally.

Windows “Community”

At work, I’m porting some Windows code to be cross-platform. The first target is, of course, Linux. Obviously, then, I’m looking up WIN32 functions on MSDN constantly to be sure I understand them. And many times on MSDN, I encounter comments with suggestions and corrections that have been languishing, ignored, for years. Very quickly the difference between Linux (open-source, world-improving- and ego- driven) versus Microsoft (closed-source, profit-driven) becomes painfully apparent.

Many people have noticed this before me. Here’s just one, from 2009: msdns-community-features-really-suck. He’s complaining he can’t get anyone at MS to listen. Google and you’ll find many more. It’s the nature of the beast.

Corporate Churn

Over the years, I have also have noticed on MSDN what I will call “tagging”. Currently, MSDN seems to be tagging content with respect to the current hotness (XP? 7? 8? RT? …?) Each time a new reclassification push seems to take hold, the old comments are flushed. (I haven’t carefully tested the hypothesis, but I do notice that the current MSDN pages that classify the API applicability against currently selling OSs tend to have comments that are similarly current.) Perhaps it’s a valid point that MSDN isn’t a reasonable place to give feedback… but, then, where else? The feeback there gets ignored and then eventually flushed.

This is corporate churn. There’s always a new profit target, but the small community complaints never get addressed.

Ratcheting Up

On the other hand, open-source incorporates even the smallest improvements as it moves forward. There is not really the corporate reorganization or refocusing, which whole-sale drops things.

I’ll take the open source model. Far less frustrating. I feel like once I’ve done something, it’s done for good. Good coders don’t want to churn on the trivial stuff; they want to ratchet up. Open source lets them do that.

July 17, 2013
465 words





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