Please. Stop. Removing. Features.

apt-get dist-upgrade is getting a little less fun these days.

It’s not because of a problem with Debian or with apt-get. It’s because of things upstream authors are doing.

It seems that upstreams, for some reason, like to remove features from new versions of software.

The two recent examples to bite me are the removal of the Gnome Terminal features to play the bell through sound card rather than the console speaker, and the recent upgrade to gtkpod — the best iPod music manager out there — which removed the ability to actually, well, play music. Wha…?

Earlier examples where when Gnome removed the ability to type a filename in the Open dialog box (remember that? thankfully reverted eventually.) KDE 4 was infamous for this too, with maybe thousands of instances (and they broke Amarok so badly that it didn’t actually play music from my devices either.)

I don’t understand this. The Gnome people somehow thought that they knew better than I what options I might want, I guess. But I am totally baffled about gtkpod. All it ever did was call xmms (or something like it such as qmmp) with appropriate arguments to play a file. Simple, configurable, and supremely useful. Probably just a few lines of code. And even that is gone.

There is a post by Ingo Molnar complaining that perhaps Gnome and KDE are trying to mimic the Apple and Google result without internalizing the process. Perhaps. It all seems so baffling to me though.

Updated: rewrote introduction.

27 thoughts on “Please. Stop. Removing. Features.

  1. If you can never remove features, you either end up:
    – with a huge pile of conflicting or inconsistent features
    – stagnating because you can’t sanely add any more features
    – with MS Windows

    But I do understand your point about GTKPod.

    1. There is something to be said for getting rid of things that aren’t useful anymore (dselect might be one example). I have no problem with that. But getting rid of things that are useful and convenient — that’s a different matter.

      1. the problem is that what’s useful/convenient and what’s unnecessary is very much in the eye of the beholder. Your Gnome Terminal bell problem for instance: even though I’ve been using Gnome Terminal for 10 years, I was aware of neither the old nor the new behaviour. So a completely superfluous feature – for me.

        My point is, there will always be somebody that depends on a certain feature. Any change will annoy or upset people. Does that mean we should never change anything anymore?

        1. I see you making a slippery slope argument, but I’m not trying to go there.

          I think there is room to refactor software. gtkpod was heavily redesigned recently, and it is fine. Except that it can’t play music anymore.

          If you can appeal to a slippery slope, I’ll appeal to common sense. A music player should play music. Not everyone has a PC speaker anymore (or wants to hear beeps from it instead of headphones). Some people have directories with 5000 files in them and would prefer to type instead of click.

          Linux 2.6.mumble (36 maybe?) removed v4l1. This removed a feature, sure, and broke some stuff. But I think it was a fine decision. There is value to removing stuff sometimes.

          But it needs to have a healthy dose of thought.

  2. Hi John! I’m the (new) maintainer of gtkpod package. Hope it was not my fault with the new package, but there should be a plugin in gtkpod that you have to enable to play music now; and please check the gstreamer libs to eventually install to have it working properly. Hope this helps. If it doesn’t, please let me know so that I can fix the problem (in Debian or even in upstream, asking for it). Thanks.

        1. It’s missing because there’s no libmp4v2 in Debian, like Ubuntu has. License issues, I guess. Since it seems that mp4 support is so important (few other people asked me about that), I’d like to take care of the RFP bug report against it (, only after having gave a look at the Mozilla Public License. Or someone else could do it, if they have same spare time ;-) Or just wait for me to find some.

  3. The main problem is not the removal of features per se, but the attitude towoards their users: “We know better. You stfu and get used to the change”.
    That’s what drove me away from Gnome in the first place. And frankly, I don’t miss it.

    Full disclosure: I am the coordinator for Xfce’s Greek l10n team.

  4. “The Gnome people somehow thought that they knew better than I what options I might want”

    This rant suggests that you think that the gnome hackers target their desktop at you solely. “But couldn’t i get a switch so that i can decide for myself!!122”. That sort of “freedom of choice” is a smoke screen. You can’t cater for all needs. As a programmer you will HAVE TO try to make compromises if you don’t want to end up with interfaces that looks like this:

    1. Isn’t that just an example of poor UI design rather than too many options? With the use of tabs, expanding boxes, drop-down lists, etc, that seems that it would be perfectly usable.

    2. Also, I think Stavros had a good point. Lots of people told Gnome folks that they were making poor choices. Even Linus himself. They didn’t bother to listen to the users of their software, which is a big mistake. I *DID* get a “we know better than you” attitude from them.

      1. “The users of their software” is the key point. I think they’ve developed a strategy of continually focussing on users they don’t have yet; and that is leaving the existing users in the dust.

  5. Waitwaitwait, what? KDE removing features? Can you say that with a straight face?

    Tell you what, let’s play spot the difference. Here’s a screenshot of KDE 3.5.x:
    And here’s a screenshot of KDE 4.6.x:

    Pretty similar, aren’t they? Look, there’s the panel, with an application menu, and application launcher icons… and a pager, the task manager, system tray and obviously a clock… and there’s KRunner, showing off one of its new features (completely contradicting your statement, by the way)… yup, looks pretty similar to me.

    Gnome 2.30:
    Gnome 3.0:

    1. Oh yes, KDE removed features. I wrote this back in 2009 at regarding the new Amarok:

      “Version 2 has mysteriously lost: the ability to see an iPod’s playlists, the ability to store a playlist in an m3u file and automatically keep it up to date, the ability to sync the Amarok statistics to an iPod, and more. Reminds me of the Gnome print dialog fiasco. “We’ve removed features. It’s better! Really! Oh, and we won’t support the old version either.””

        1. I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to the user that something was removed because of a rewrite. All of a sudden the software is “new and improved” but your playlists are gone. Oh, and the old version is now considered unsupported by upstream. Rock, meet hard place.

        2. The user doesn’t need to understand why a rewrite was necessary, just needs to trust the developers about it.

          Rewrite is necessary > first new version lacks stuff > following versions bring the old stuff back AND other improvements.

          I’m very grateful to the developers for everything they do. The least I can do is to be understanding of their procedures and the problems around them. And if I can, I’ll help. That’s what free software is about.
          Some people prefer to bitch, apparently…

        3. I’m a developer too, so I understand that side of the equation.

          Here’s the simple thing to do in that situation. Don’t stop supporting the old version. Mark the new one beta until it’s done. You don’t have to do a lot of active development on the old one, just make sure it still compiles. And above all, don’t tell everyone that you’ve done it because you know better than them what’s best.

      1. That makes sense, but when resources are limited, you have to choose between your option (new very appealing to support old stuff with no future) or “full speed ahead”, putting all efforts on improving the new thing.

        They chose the latter, and, even if communication about the plans wasn’t enough, I think, in time, paid off.

        Do you have any problem with the _current_ state of KDE Plasma or Amarok?

  6. You have to enable the ‘media player’ plugin for playback via playlist. But I preferred the old system which enabled a music player like audacious to link with gtkpod for great flexibility.

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