From: MyLinkka (
Date: Tue May 26 2009 - 04:57:50 CDT

Hi, Axel,

You've succeeded in letting me know more about the problems and
difficulty in developing
and maintaining an open source project. However, I still believe, for a
software popularity in
its own field is one of the most important measure, and I don't think
people could deny this.
Go to the front page of sourceforge you will see how important these
numbers are. (As to
what these number can bring the authors or community, it depends. But it
will not be nothing.)
Customization for user needs has been an important aspect for the
success of commercial software,
although we do not expect open source software to do so, unless it
becomes a paid service. It is true
for some software developers, to make a new functionality is just to
meet his very personal
need, but this cannot be a long term driving force to guide a project
toward success. lammps
plugin for vmd is one example, I think the author has to response to the
users' urge to adapt it
for the latest dump file format and make it easy to use. Or this project
might be replaced by some other
successor or users will leave vmd and turn to other similar projects if
needed. (Although the author
might not mind this;) )

Anyway, people can have different views on the same thing.
Thank you for this discussion! It lets me learn different opinions.


Axel Kohlmeyer wrote:
> On Wed, 2009-05-20 at 18:58 +0200, MyLinkka wrote:
>> Hi, Axel,
> hi ting,
>> Thank you for the very educational reply! I can fully understand the
>> difficulty in developing and
>> maintaining an open source project. Therefore, there is no any complaint
>> but just some suggestions
>> in my previous email. (I carefully added quotation marks for some words
>> there as maybe you've noticed.)
> yes, i understand them as suggestions, i am just providing my personal
> opinion and i think this is just as valid. it may be a character flaw
> of mine, but it always irks me personally when people wrap their
> opinions or suggestions into "world domination plans".
>> I believe any software author wants more and more people to use his/her
>> masterpieces, no matter for
> i don't agree with this statement. i program first and foremost to
> solve problems, and because i like show off, if i have found a nice
> solution to a problem. of course when working on a "package program"
> like VMD, one has to consider how much the existing user base would
> be irritated by changes that would make it more difficult to use it.
> particularly "more people would use it" is not much of a motivation
> if the software already solves the problem it was written for.
> in my observation, "i did it because i needed it" is far more
> often motivation than "i did it because it would attract more people".
> however, if possible, i try to make my work generally useful, as it
> mostly needs only little extra effort and i also see it as my way to
> pay my respect to those people back that put in the effort to write
> a software package in the first place. the same goes for helping
> people to use it better.
>> what kind of reason, no matter if it is commercial or free. If this is
>> true, then how many users using it
>> does count, unless the software is designed for some particular users. I
>> think this is one of the
>> impetus that one software can become better. Most open source
> i disagree with this statement, too. having the majority does not
> automatically mean that something is the best decision. particularly
> (non-commerical) open source software is the place where one can
> write software the way once is comfortable with and not to please
> as many people as possible. after all there is little financial
> incentive (i don't have any gains or losses if more or less people
> are using VMD or the code i contributed).
>> contributors are software specialists or enthusiasts,
>> but they often overlook the experiences of end users,
>> whereas many commercial software really have to take it serious. (This
>> is not my words, the saying can be found in some review papers of open
> i cannot agree with this statement either. particularly commercial
> software is often written in a "we did it because we say so" way
> and you have to either adapt or not use it. getting commercial software
> changed as a user is next to impossible, unless you have a lot of
> leverage. the development process is frequently different. on many
> levels marketing and management determine how it should look like
> and what it should be able to do. serving the needs of users only
> matters if it fits into the "management plan" otherwise it is just
> an expense that will cut into the profits.
>> source community) I think many of the vmd users are working in
>> (bio)chemistry or material sciences.
> the major issue is not a problem of _wanting_, but rather a problem of
> not being able to do so. there is _very_ little (accountable) credit to
> be had for working on scientific software, thus the number of people
> maintaining open source scientific software is ridiculously small.
> this is why it is so important that more people get involved to share
> the work. sadly the recent trend is that while the number of users is
> growing, the average need for help and support seems to be growing
> while at the same time the willingness to step in and help out is
> declining, at least in relative terms. this leaves more work for less
> people and demands are mounting.
>> Vmd and pymol are often compared as far as I know. Although one may
>> say a person in this field who cannot program is not qualified, I do
>> know many people with very little knowledge of programming or even
>> scripting with tcl or pyhon in this field but they are excellent. Many
>> of them are not using this kind of software to do research directly,
>> but for the publishing or for simple visualization purpose.
>> For them I think I don't have to talk too much about the importance of
>> slick user experience. Of course the software authors could decide
> i think a good user interface has to keep simple things simple,
> make common usage patters easy, but should not try to make complicated
> things _look_ simple, or try to add gimmicks that don't provide any
> functionality, just to please some people who don't want to invest
> a little bit of extra effort to adjust a tool to their needs.
>> their preference, more 'intuitive' or more 'professional'. But I
>> don't think it is that incompatible like oil and water. You are right,
>> to improve the software, people should ask more but also
>> share/contribute more. But to report problems is the first step. ;)
> since the "problems" that you reported were no real problems,
> my challenge to you would be to get busy and have a look at
> the VMD documentation and try to find a good spot where the
> suggestions given to you should be added (and then perhaps some)
> and explained so that your fellow users would not run into the
> same problem. if you believe that attracting more users would
> be a good thing, that you would hopefully agree with me that a
> good documentation is particularly important for this purpose.
> ...and unlike writing software, you don't need to be a trained
> expert to write good documentation. in fact, i strongly believe
> that people that have fewer insights into the inner workings
> of a code are better qualified to explain it to others,
> particularly beginners.
> cheers,
> axel.
>> ting