Antifeatures Talk

The recordings for Linux Conf Australia 2010, held this year in Wellington, are finally online. The recordings include a video of my keynote on Antifeatures.

I was deeply honored to be invited to give a keynote at LCA and, as a result, felt more pressure than usual to put together something that was novel, relevant and entertaining and that spoke to core issues and problems facing free software.

Although it’s always hard for me to watch myself speaking, I’ve made it through the video and am reasonably happy with the result. Although perhaps it’s a minor distinction, I think this lecture is probably the best talk I’ve given given to date! I hope to give the talk again so, as always, I welcome comments and feedback.

If you’d like to watch it, the talk is available in a number of free and non-free formats:

5 Replies to “Antifeatures Talk”

  1. An interesting talk; thank you for sharing it.

    I would like to ask a question related to the last “just protecting our users” question asked by the audience member.

    Apple’s restrictive practices on iPhone software development and deployment have, quite rightly, caused concern about the lack of freedom on that platform.

    However, it is a very successful platform, not least because their restrictive practices have hugely raised the minimum quality bar for apps. Naive users can install novel apps with minimal risk of malicious code, data-loss or time-wastage.

    Yes, a wrongly-labelled, phone-melting battery-pack may be prevented by consumer-protection laws, but it is unlikely that crappy open-source applications will ever be outlawed on a truly open platform. (I am not suggesting all open-source applications are crappy, but Sturgeon’s Law applies.)

    Apple’s limitations are clearly an anti-feature (from the developer’s perspective) but could be also be seen as a feature (from the consumer’s perspective) that clearly wouldn’t be sustainable on an open platform.

    Do you consider this an anti-feature? How would it look in your anti-feature-free utopia?

    Sorry for the question length, but it was something nagging at me throughout the talk.

  2. Seth Schoen touched on some of these issues during his lightning talk about a Free Software App Store at LibrePlanet.

    I don’t think there is any contradiction between an open platform and high-quality applications.  The person running a Free Software App Store could herself make unilateral decisions about which apps to include, or could institute a rating system whereby “advanced” testers take on the risk of trying out updates, and rate them such that only the secure and stable ones are presented to people who aren’t interested in taking on the risk.  As that community made good decisions about which apps are the most valuable, more people would settle on that community’s App Store as being more useful than competing App Stores that failed to achieve this.

    It’s definitely a good question, though.  As Seth pointed out, the App Store does many things that everyone involved with it finds compelling, even as it denies the freedom of its developers and its users.  We should strive to emulate the good and not the bad.

  3. I’ve been through 80% of the video, and one thing that riles with me is your insistence on referencing cost — that we’re ‘paying’ for something which has positive costs attached to it for the manufacturer. But that’s not the point is it? I mean in oligopolistic markets, there is little relation between costs and price and what they are really doing is reducing you reserve price on the item. Is that really wrong?

    I appreciate your basic point about this particular strategy existing, and it’s even worth analyzing, but I don’t like the notion of attaching to it connotations of being ‘evil’.

  4. Julian: I’m not opposed to the idea of an appstore that offers vetted, curated, or guaranteed applications. I am opposed to the idea of a phone that will only install applications from an appstore or tries to put the non-appstore applications at a disadvantage. I’ve got far less problems with Android (which has an appstore but allows you to install from outside) than with the iPhone (which has an appstore and bars you from installing from outside).

  5. Abhishek: I think that intentionally designing technologies and taking advantage of law to keep users from modifying their technological is unethical. I say as much and explain my reasoning in my talk. You don’t have to agree that this is an unethical abuse of power, but it’s what I think. I’m glad you seem to have still gotten something out of my talk in any case!

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