Subject: Re: business case for mechanized documentation
From: "Forrest J. Cavalier III" <>
Date: Fri, 07 Apr 2006 13:53:38 -0400

Rich Morin wrote:
>>(2) How big is OOo, something that I'd think one talented hacker
>>could have visible impact on?
> One of the interesting things about Open Source is that a talented
> hacker can make a small, innovative change that has substantial
> effects.  For example, the Semantic MediaWiki effort involves very
> little code (relatively speaking), but its adoption could transform
> the behavior of MediaWiki (and thus Wikipedia).

Yes, disruption happens.

But last I looked OOo is SOOOO big that the learning curve to make any
contribution (except plugin type things) is really really steep.

I'm in and out of code bases not written by me very often, but it was
daunting to even start understanding OOo architecture.  And they did
have a "programmer's overview" document.

Second, OOo is in a really mature market for users and the features
they expect.  That makes the any potential benefit to users relatively
small: most users already have more than they will ever need or care
to learn about.

And the "care to learn about" is an important part of lost value.
Adding bells and whistles not only requires programmer effort, but
those additions don't get used (use is a pre-codition for benefit!)
unless a user finds out about them and learns enough to try them out.

Getting attention for just another bell and whistle is hard.

Similar cost/benefit for bug fixes.  You might argue that a bug fix
benefits every user, but in truth most outstanding bugs in released
software (open source or not) affect a very small fraction of users,
or affect a large number of users in insignificant, nearly ignorable ways.

It's romantic to dream that programmer cowboy-heros make huge impacts,
but it is kind of like pro athletes, pop musicians, or lottery winners.
There always are some highly-visible examples, and it's fun to dream, but
is it realistic to plan to grow up to be one, or use them as role models?