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Things That Bug Me: Item #260199

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(Yeah, my wife says I'm so easy to get along with...)

One of the things I really like about the Linux community is that many members of the community are not shy in expressing how they feel. Many of my fellow journalists, having been on the receiving end of said expressions, might be wondering at this point if I am in need of some kind of intervention.

But I was not referring to flame-fests; the aspect of communication I really enjoy are those writers and bloggers that like to look at a product--play with it, mangle it, or what have you--then put together a review for the rest of us to read.

I like these reviews because it shows that (for the most part), this is a community of self-examination, and is not afraid to point out the flaws in Linux and open source technology. Sometimes these flaws are glossed over, but usually there are enough honest voices out there to balance it out. Just as there writers out there to balance out the opposite effect of reviewers who seem to have nothing positive to say about Linux, ever.

Such introspection, I think, is good for the community and the software being created. If enough people find a flaw, it usually gets addressed.

But I wonder sometimes if the need to review software can sometimes go too far.

Specifically, this morning I opened up my trusty browser and discovered not one, but two, links to reviews about Ubuntu LTS 8.04 (Hardy Heron) Alpha 1, a bit of software that was released on December 1. And now, here I was on December 3, reading some quick reviews. This bugs me, and I'll tell you why.

First, reviewing a product as complex as an operating system in just a couple of days time is a bit rushed. I understand the desire to be first out the door with some bit of news or insight that other sites haven't posted yet. It's fun to post scoops, and I love it when I personally manage to do so. But in the rush to be first, I wonder how many real features or bugs get missed.

Second, and more importantly, reviewing the alpha version of any software is just plain silly. I hate to knock the hard work and effort of reviewers who bust their butts getting alpha reviews written and published, but the fact of the matter is, such reviews of incomplete software are unfair to the reader and the developers of the product.

Readers of reviews get short-changed because they are told about features and flaws that will, in all probability, not be present in the final release. Developers of reviewed products get the added pressure of high expectations and disappointments dumped on them early in the coding process when all they want to do is get the project done right and get it done on time.

Another unintended effect is these reviews give naysayers of the project (inside and outside the community) a chance to say "see, look how many flaws this app has." In other words, they're good fuel for trolling and flaming.

This isn't about just distros--I've seen alpha reviews of KDE, GNOME, Firefox... any popular open source software. And as editor of Linux Today, I have in the past linked to some of these reviews. But no longer: Linux Today will not link to reviews of alpha versions of software. If, by mistake, I link to such a review and discover later that it was indeed covering an alpha version of the software, I will remove the link to that review.

Reviews of beta versions of software will be posted, but not automatically. They will still be checked for completeness and fairness, just like (ideally) any other article.

My goal here is to not shut out any voices... these reviews will still be out there to find. But my hope is that by giving developers and readers a bit of peace from alpha reviews, everyone's expectations will be more in line with the reality of the development process.

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