Bart Schouten <> writes:

> When people insist on using a form of "client" or "customer" what they
> want is for the developer-user relationship to be recognised and not
> faded away by saying "there are no users, there are only developers".

The relationship absolutely exists.  But it's not a customer relationship.
It's much closer to the relationship between a gift giver and a gift
recipient.  If you use that as a guide, I think everything becomes

But if you act like a customer and attempt to guilt me into feeling a
sense of obligation towards you for my hobby activities, I for one am far
more likely to react with hostility, and to stop listening to you
entirely.  Not only is this unpleasant for both of us individually, but it
also destroys your ability to get *any* fix made by the developer going
forward, so it's not in your best interests.

I *have* to severely limit contact like that if someone starts trying to
guilt me into a sense of obligation, just as a matter of personal
boundaries.  This is something that I'm personally susceptible to, and
that people have in the past used to manipulate me in ways that were
unhealthy for me.  So I have to maintain some pretty firm boundaries here
for my own well-being.  From talking to other open source developers, this
is a *very common* problem, and others make similar decisions (or, at
least in my opinion, suffer from not doing so).

> When people take up positions or create software they become the
> originators of that software and also obtain a certain responsibility if
> their goal is for other people to use it as well; ie. if they distribute
> it.

I think responsibility is a confusing word here, and the situation becomes
clearer when you look at gifts.

(Disclaimer: this is from a very American concept of gifting, and I
realize that gifts work differently in other cultures.  I don't know
enough of the overall anthropology to be able to translate; hopefully the
concept is still clear.)

If I give you a gift, I have no *responsibility* for that gift continuing
to work.  I might feel a *desire* for that gift to continue to work, and I
may want very much to help you and may continue to give you more labor to
try to make it work, usually because I'm enjoying that process at some
level or enjoy the idea of you using my gift.  But it's not a
responsibility in the sense that I can also decide not to do those things,
and you can decide to discard the gift, give it to someone else, or just
not use it.  It's a gift.  That's how gifts work.

If you want a *support contract*, which is what you're describing, that's
not something that usually comes with a gift (unless someone explicitly
gave you a support contract as a gift, which is part of what I'm arguing
that Debian should not promise to do because we're not actually capable of
following through on such a gift reliably).  If someone gave you some new
electronic device, you would not expect them to answer questions about it
and help you with it into the indefinite future.  If that electronic
device became incredibly useful to you and solved a deep problem that you
had to the degree that you couldn't live without it, you would of course
expect to have to become expert in it yourself or hire someone else who
was.  That's *way* too much burden to put on the person who gave you the
device as a gift in the first place.

For example, someone gave me a Fitbit fitness tracker as a gift a year and
a half ago.  It no longer holds a charge.  Should I contact that person
and complain about that problem and ask them to fix it?  Of course not!
Most of us would be appalled at that, since it's a serious breach of
social etiquette.  It's on me to either get it repaired, buy a new one, or
decide to live without it.

> Once you put something out into the world, you become in a sense
> responsible for it, because you have allowed other people to use it and
> now they are dependent on you.

Maybe, given the above, you can see how weird this looks for you to say
this about someone who gave you a gift.  What you're essentially arguing
for, perhaps not intending it, is for us to abandon volunteer free
software entirely.  You're saying that it's not possible to give a gift,
that all gifts create an expectation of future support, and therefore the
only people who can give gifts of free software in the world are the ones
that can promise to support it indefinitely.  In other words, companies.
So the only Linux distributions that should exist are ones like Red Hat or
SuSE or Ubuntu that are supported by companies.

I think you'd understand why I'm not in agreement with that.  :)

I realize that you're trying to moderate this position a bit, but your
frame is still entirely wrong, in my opinion.  You're putting an
obligation on me and then saying that, well, you might deign to relax that
if something makes it impossible for me to maintain software, or if other
challenging situations come up.  If you think my reasons are good enough.

But you don't get to do that.  I refuse to grant you that sort of
authority over my life; I find it intrusive and, despite your generally
polite phrasing, exceptionally rude at its core.  I don't think you're
intending to be rude, but that is the result.  Just imagine saying these
things to a family member who had given you a gift, and I think you'll
understand my feeling.

> Maybe the goal is for them to be independent, but you have allowed for
> them to become dependent on your skill, particularly if the program or
> product is broken or contains bugs.

I do not "allow" anyone to become dependent on me.  You are a human being
with free will.  If you choose to become dependent on a piece of free
software, that's *your choice*, and you don't get to move that choice to
someone else.

We all become dependent on things, sometimes without realizing it, and it
requires introspection and attention to recognize what things in life are
critical to us.  This can include becoming dependent on gifts if those
gifts are given regularly.  But they're *still gifts*, and gifts, if the
word is to have any meaning, have to be given freely.  How they are used
is the responsibility of the person receiving them.

In other contexts, if someone chooses to become dependent on regular gifts
(such as, say, money from relatives), the common advice is to cut them off
at some point and force them to take responsibility for their own life.
This is something the people giving those gifts *have* to do for their own
personal boundaries, or the resentment and unhealthy dynamic of that
"obligatory gift" colors and even destroys the entire relationship and can
cause serious impact on the life of the person who was trying to give a
gift.  This comes up *all the time* in financial issues inside families.

Free software is no different.

It's a testament to how healthy, vibrant, and effective the free software
community is that people *can* take free software for granted and assume
that people will just fix any problem they have without requiring work on
their part.  This is great!  But I think it means people also lose track
of the real nature of the underlying relationship and assume that because
this normally happens, they have a *right* to *expect* this to happen.
This is not the case.

Please don't be that entitled person who assumes other people are required
to volunteer their time to continue to help you just because they have in
the past.  Instead, please treat gifts as gifts, accept them for what they
are at the time, and don't assume that just because someone has given you
gifts in the past that you have any right to gifts in the future as well.
Otherwise, other people *will* stop giving you gifts, just for their own

Russ Allbery (               <>

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