[horde] Re: response to your continued berating

Marcus I. Ryan marcus at horde.org
Thu Dec 4 15:34:26 PST 2003

Out of respect I won't copy the email to the list that prompted this, but as
you can tell from the subject, it was not a friendly letter.

Who realizes out there that there are people behind these user names and email
addresses?  We have lives that are not part of the Horde project.  I work 40
hours per week at one job, 20 or so hours a week at another job, and try to
work on horde when time allows.  On top of that I have a wife who likes to
see me now and then, and I have things I like to do besides program.

I have spent hundreds of hours writing software for myself, and when I finally
found a project that suited my skills and my needs I finally returned
something to the community that gave me so much joy (most notably the Klutz

Since then I've received little but insult from anyone in the community except
for the core developers, the primary being an accusation of arrogance.  Most
of it comes from a mismatch in expectations and the nature of people.  Many
users come expecting some level of support; what level depends on the user. 
The developers expect a certain level of skill or knowledge on the part of
the user - that is those who install horde (the people we generally server),
not those using it on the end of someone else's installation.

My frustration comes from the expectation of hand-holding support; that is
support where the user says "I don't understand.  Can you just tell me
exactly, letter for letter what I need to do?".  There are a number of major
problems I see with this:

(1) Visibility: We can't see your system.  We can't look at logs, read
configuration files, check file permissions, etc., so we have to ask you to
do that for us if we are to help.  If we have to ask for information before
we can even think about a problem it adds time which usually adds frustration
(see Time further down).

(2) Practicality: Because of its complex nature, horde supports hundreds, if
not thousands, of setups (e.g. at least 2 web servers on 3-4 major OSes with
8+ database backends, 3-4 major IMAP servers, dozens of FTP servers, at least
4 LDAP backends, and so on).  It could take hours to learn what someone's
configuration is, let alone be able to tell them what their specific problem
is.  On top of that, half the time we ask someone what a given log file says,
we get "How do I look at that?".  I use PostgreSQL, not MySQL.  When someone
asks that question for MySQL, is it my responsibility to know the answer? 
I'd have to learn and become a competent admin on at least 4 major database
systems to support all the horde users.  Let's not even talk about the
complexities of SMTP servers, IMAP servers, etc.  We just can't know

(3) Attitude: We have given this software to the world to use for free.  We
ask for no money, no advertising, etc.  Why is it, thus, our responsibility
to further teach people how to use the software when it's been given free. 
Don't get me wrong, I don't mind helping, but often when I don't or I can't
to someone's satisfaction I'm called arrogant at the nicest.  Arrogant?  Do
these same people call their grandma a bitch because she gave them a pair of
socks they didn't like?  They may never wear them, but common courtesy says
that a bad gift is ignored, not thrown back at the giver.

(4) Time: Many of the people who have complained needed what I consider
extreme hand-holding.  "Type this in that file exactly."  Sometimes that is
easy to do.  Sometimes it takes a significant time investment to do, because
again it takes a LOT of questions to learn about which backends they use,
what they want to achieve, etc., before we know what needs to be typed in
what files.  As I pointed out I work 60 hours/week before I even get to
putting time into this project.

(5) Learning: Why is it my responsibility to take time to learn someone else's
system and not their responsibility to learn how to work with another system
they want to use?  If I learn theirs I know it long enough to tell them how
to get past a single problem they have asked about, and I must learn hundreds
of systems.  If they learn Horde, they know it for the rest of the time they
use it; they can solve their own problems, and maybe help others.  On top of
that, they only have to learn Horde (presumably they should already know
their other systems).

(6) Developers: One of my biggest complaints is that I suspect we miss out on
good developers because they can stay silent and wait for things to happen,
or patch their own systems without sharing, because as soon as they share,
the expectations on them increase dramatically.  Frankly, if I had known when
I started the kind of treatment I would receive for what I do here, I would
have seriously reconsidered (and still do now and then...fortunately, Chuck
and the other core developers do regularly express their appreciation.)

Finally, tying several of these together, why do people think we haven't
gotten Horde 3.0 released?  We have limited time, few developers, and more
and more people want us to take even more time away from development to help
them support their own systems.  If the users don't take some responsibility
for their own education and support, the project will stagnate, or we will
receive further insult.  We lose either way.

I'd also like to point out that most of us aren't ESR and friends...we don't
do this to fight for the great cause of Open Source.  We do it because we
can, and when we're not being insulted, we enjoy it.  Knowing there are
thousands of people using our software is a pretty cool feeling, but it takes
a hell of a lot of that to make up for one user tell me I'm an arrogant
prick.  As it is, I've spent nearly two hours fuming over it.  I could have
been developing more features for horde, but someone had to push one of my
buttons, and this is what it takes to unset it.

The real problem is those that will absorb, accept, and understand this
message enough to want to change their ways probably don't need to change
them.  The rest will take it as further proof of my arrogance.

I'm tired.

* Disclaimer *
Whether they agree with me or not, I'm not officially speaking for the
project, I'm speaking for me.

Marcus I. Ryan, marcus at horde.org
 "Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it
 flips over, pinning you underneath.  At night, the ice weasels come."
                 -- Matt Groening

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