Be nice. It's a fscking gift

Open source development is usually fun and rewarding. You get to work on whatever you like. No permission required. No "business justification". Here's this thing I've created, isn't it neat? There's a deep sense of satisfaction in making things. Especially when other people find them useful. It's also pretty awesome when people decide what you've made is interesting enough that they want to join in and help make it better. Successful projects often form into communities. Strangers from all over the world turned into enthusiastic users, co-developers. Friends.

The only parts that suck are that:

  1. It is a bit more difficult to make a living purely from open source software. Giving stuff away generally doesn't pay very well.
  2. Some people just don't get it.

For example, a while back someone who shall remained unnamed started e-mailing us privately with complaints that TKLBAM (TurnKey's Backup and Migration software) didn't work right for him. We eventually traced the problem back to a MySQL memory usage issue. It turns out that in some, thankfully rare situations MySQL consumes way too much memory when you restore a very particular kind of database from a mysqldump.

When the user complained this was "a fault of TKLBAM's design" I explained that it really didn't sound like a TKLBAM problem to me because:

  1. If you peeled off TKLBAM and just used mysqldump / mysql command directly to backup / restore that kind of database you would run into exactly the same memory usage issue.
  2. If Ubuntu issued a package update that fixed the bug, the issue would go away. Presto. No TKLBAM fix required.

Besides, even if this wasn't a rare edge case nobody else had run into there probably wasn't much I could do about it without debugging MySQL code - a daunting task.

The best I could do was add an item to my todo list to see if we could look for workarounds that would go into the next version. In the meantime I recommended that the user try using another solution.

Then I went on vacation. When I came back online I discovered an escalating series of e-mails from this user that eventually culminated in threats if we didn't drop everything to meet his demands. And this was no joke. This guy seemed to be dead serious!

Alon, who peaks into my TurnKey e-mail inbox when I'm not around tried calming the guy down:

Just so you know, Liraz has been working offline and on vacation for about a month, if not a little longer. He has not been ignoring you, he just hasn't read your emails.

I can understand your frustration, but even so keep in mind that TLKBAM is open source software, and released under the GPL!

I'm sure Liraz will reply to you once he returns online and finds the time, but even then understand that there is no obligation on his part to do so, except for common courtesy. Making threats is just disrespectful and wasteful.

Another demanding, entitled rant followed. When I finally came back I read through the whole series of e-mails, thought a little bit about what kind of confusion could lead to the (thankfully rare) behavior we were witnessing and put in my final response:

Sorry for the late reply and sorry for the bad experience you have had with TKLBAM.

As Alon said I've been offline for a while. As much as I'd like to help you in a friendly manner I'm getting the sneaking sensation from the demanding tone of your messages that you don't seem to understand how open source works.

The way I see it open source is basically a gift culture where people give the products of their labor away in a vague hope that some people (but probably not everyone) will find it useful. It's a gift, with everything that implies. There are no warranties, explicit or implied. There are no guarantees that it is fit for any purpose.

Even proprietary software you pay for is not guaranteed to fully satisfy you or to work flawlessly (it usually doesn't). The only way to really guarantee that technology works like you want is either to take pains to develop it yourself or pay someone else to develop it for you, in which case you can boss them around when they don't meet your expectations or schedule. For what it's worth I am prepared to offer you a full refund for the free software. :)

Seriously though I do appreciate the technical feedback but please remember that the open source license gives you permission to copy, distribute and improve TKLBAM yourself if you ever feel I am not responsive enough to your needs.

I don't know what I was expecting. A sudden moral epiphany? "Sorry I got carried away". I know I know, I probably shouldn't have bothered. Once a person gets so far out of whack it's unlikely they are interested in being sensible. But I'm a sucker for redemption. Anyhow, it certainly didn't help. A couple of additional e-mails with further demands and threats followed. Oh well, at least I tried.

The moral of the story: Come on, be nice. It's a fscking gift!


Liraz Siri's picture

Thanks for the positive feedback Miguel. We really appreciate it!

Most of the people we've interacted with in the TurnKey community are nice enough that the occasional bad guy is drowned out in the generally positive atmosphere of the project.

Liraz Siri's picture

Hello my name is Liraz Siri and I too have been abused as an open source developer.

Liraz Siri's picture

Maybe this guy was just exercising his god given right to "sample" your support for the software he is "sampling".

Seriously though, the kind of person who has the gall to steal support for a stolen product truly lives up to the pirate moniker. If he could, he'd probably commandeer your website and sell you off to slavery.

Liraz Siri's picture

I see where you're coming from, but you have to understand it is nearly impossible to get everything to work for everyone 100% of the time. If you depend heavily on a free software project you may want to consider purchasing a support package just in case something does go wrong.

Remember that Ubuntu is not only developed for human beings, it is developed by human beings. And human beings make mistakes. That's inevitable. The only way to prevent those mistakes is through exhaustive testing, which is difficult even for a large project such as Ubuntu.

Also keep in mind that Ubuntu tries to appeal to consumers running an almost endless variety of hardware configurations. Testing all possible combinations is not practical. Even if by some combination of magic/luck you get it right 99% of the time, for the other 1% the only thing that matters is that it doesn't work for them ("Ubuntu sucks!").

Ubuntu isn't exactly famous for its stability though, which kind of makes me wonder if it was the right choice for you. It's more famous for snazzy marketing (relative to other distributions - cough Debian cough), making bold technical decisions and successfully pushing out on a predictable schedule releases that include the latest software versions.

If your #1 priority is stability you might want to consider using Debian, which takes more of a "it's done when it's done" kind of approach to releases. In recent years Debian has actually gotten quite a bit better at balancing stability with timely releases but when Ubuntu first came out the project hadn't had a release in years. The release schedule wasn't relaxed - it was glacial.

Liraz Siri's picture

Something along those lines and just as ridiculous, but not as funny.

In consultation with the TurnKey international legal team we have decided not to share the exact details for fear of being sued for violating his intellectual property rights (e.g., "USPTO application #126,433,532: method for communicating over an electronic medium an offer that can not be refused")

Liraz Siri's picture

I can't say fuck on this blog. fsck is something else entirely.

Liraz Siri's picture

As long as she follows the Ubuntu Code of Conduct and doesn't try to turn your kids against me.

Liraz Siri's picture

Volunteering for a good cause is a sacred thing. Abusing a volunteer is the kind of wrong-doing that is going to get you reincarnated as a cockroach. No offense to cockroaches.

I'm curious though, if you don't mind me asking, what type of organization are you volunteering for?

Jeremy Davis's picture

I've just been clearing out my inbox and came across something that I think is almost relevant. Thought I'd share before I deleted (I can't verify it's content it's just one of those emails that does the rounds):

Chutzpah is a Yiddish word meaning gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, sheer guts plus arrogance; it's Yiddish and, as Leo Rosten writes, "no other word and no other language" can do it justice.  This example is better than 1,000 words. Read the story below and then you will understand.


An old lady sold pretzels on a street corner for 25 cents each. Every day a young man would leave his office building at lunch time, and as he passed the pretzel stand, he would leave her a quarter, but never take a pretzel.

This went on for more than 3 years. The two of them never spoke. One day, as the young man passed the old lady's stand and left his quarter as usual, the pretzel lady spoke to him.   Without blinking an eye she said:

"They're 35 cents now."

Liraz Siri's picture

Dear sir, I enjoyed your Yiddish joke and demand that you post another one to my blog by tomorrow. Thank you kindly

Liraz Siri's picture

What part of the benefits section should we rethink?

Jeremy Davis's picture

All virtualised, so then they are totally free.

But if you want to run a Micro server in the cloud then to get access them freely, you need only to refer a friend. By my understanding there is no obligation for them to take it up. Obviouly if you have friends/associates/etc that may be interested in having a play (similar to you) then they would be obvious choices, but failing that, why not your mechanic? Or your mother? :)

Jeremy Davis's picture

I was under the impression that you only had to refer a friend. But now you mention I thought I better hunt through the forums to get some clarity on that. So here's what I found...:

In this post Alon (one of the TKL core devs) says:

The TurnKey Hub provides a 14 day free trial for Micro servers. To get unlimited Micro access you have 2 options. Either invite a friend to the Hub and have him/her complete the invitation, or enable EBS backed instances.

Which seems pretty clear that the friend must actually sign up to the Hub. But then later (in the same thread) Maurice says:

I ultimately, did in fact decide to recommend your service to a friend/colleague.  Upon my first read, it seemed as though it required that a person whom I recommended actually go through the process of registering for me to get the free service. (Which is not unreasonable.)  I didn't want to put pressure on my friend to go all the way thru the Amazon process, so I wasn't sure if I would actually get the credit.  This is why I didn't immediately do it.  However, after making the recommendation, it appeared as though I now immediately got the free service, which puzzled me a bit.

But then he went on to say:

Not sure if it was this action or another of the previous actions I took yesterday.  (Do you know?)

Unfortunately he isn't clear about what other actions he tool and it seems the devs may have missed that question and didn't answer it.

So just to muddy the waters completely, I found this comment (and response from Alon). Tom says:

You have to invite 5 friends...not just go back to launch a new server, and click the invite button 5 times, each with a different email address in the box.

To which Alon replies:

Tom, your comment is correct - though we are working on streamlining this process.

So it's not completely clear to me... Worst case scenario, you may have to get someone to sign up to the Hub, but they are obviously under no obligation to use it (and you won'tget charged anything at all if it's not used).

flexbean's picture


I just want to thank Liraz and this entire community for your regular attention to excellence. Perfection would seem to require an omni attribute beyond any of us. I've been writing software since 1980 (I feel old) and while I have yet to see perfection in code, I have grown in my appreciation for beautiful solutions to problems. The elegance demonstrated in the labors graciously presented in TKL, the HUB and TKLBAM are home runs from my perspective. I personally prefer to run things out of the hub. It all just seems to work and I like that :-)  Would I prefer access to larger instances? Sure, I’d like to see everything AWS has and every other cloud provider has available. Does this mean the TKL team should make my preference priority? Absolutely not. What if it was real important to my particular needs? Still the answer would remain, no. Why? The choice to use TKL or any of its components was mine and is hence my responsibility. My choice is not the responsibility of the TKL team. Having authority without responsibility is dysfunction; as is, responsibility without authority. It matters not how flailing or loudly the dysfunction is demonstrated. To give in can lead to codependence and looks as silly as a parent giving into the ranting tantrum of a toddler.

Thank you for your transparent and mature response. Thank you also for your continually gracious and generous gifts to us. You are very much appreciated :-)

Jeremy Davis's picture

Makes me feel all warm and gooey inside! :)

But seriously, I really like your perspective and I think your point re authority without responsibility (and vise-versa) is great social commentary that applies very specifically to FOSS but much more broadly in general. I like it lots!

Hopefully once the TKL guys get everything back on track, and have their todo list whittled down significantly - possibly sometime next decade!? :) - another option I'd like to see clearly advertised is the oprion for users to sponsor requested features. While it's not a reliable source of income it could be an additional source of intermitent revenue for the project and clarify the fact that the responsibilty rests with the end-user.

And/or perhaps that too could be opened up? I've seen on some other open source projects an idea where bounties (provided by users) are offered for features (requested by users). Thus connecting members of the community with skills, to members of the community with needs/desires with a cash incentive - and the whole community benifits. That could be quite cool, although probably just more work for the TKL guys setting all that up and coordinating it! And perhaps it erodes some of the feel good stuff generated by the gift culture of open source? OTOH at least then it would bring the responsibilty for the project back to the community - not just the core dev team? I dunno...!? Just thinking aloud again...!

Jack's picture

Completely agree with the spirit of this post. I'm not sure why it bothers me so much -- I've never created something open-source per se, but I understand what it's like to provide something for free and have people become, as Dan said above, "a$$hats" over the tiniest things.

It reminds me -- I find the same thing happens among the fans of free podcasts -- there are always a few people who just pick and complain, forgetting that they're being given a gift. It's annoying, but, I guess on the bright side (?) it's something just about everyone has to deal with at some point. Again, it's only a few people who seem to "ruin" the whole experience of providing something for free. People are also more likely to speak up when they don't like something, I suppose. But it's hard to imagine somebody saying such things to someone who had just physically handed them, say, a puppy as a gift -- "This springer spaniel's paws should really be brown" -- though I'm sure it happens.

Well, I like your post.

L. Arnold's picture

I have a few Backup sets that are very very difficult to Restore from. I have tried to document elsewhere, and yes, I can also understand the despiration felt by not being able to get ones data back.. (an experience that does pass, it really does). .  I just got comfortable in thinking i had a good Cell phone back up this weekend... till i pushed the 'backup button" by mistake a second time on the teaser version which overwrote my paid backup of 5 miniutes before ---SAME DATE BASED fILENAME overwrote the first to my SD CARD and i proceeded to do a factory reset)...

Anyway, this is all great stuff and we really really appreciate it.  It takes quite a bit to absorb all the intricacies and likely this is true for anyone.  Thanks for helping us through the learning too!


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