May 15, 2012
IM Contact Blocking In Linux, A Rant About The State of the Linux Desktop

This is a bit of a rant, but after reading the last reply to the bug #2939 Blocking does not work properly on MSN I’ve really almost had it with Linux and the Open Source folks.

The short story is this. Using the default IM client in Ubuntu (arguably one of, if not the, most popular Linux distribution) you cannot block contacts. This is a bug that’s been around since (at least) 2007 and the last reply (a year ago) to the bug was “Patches welcome”.

I appreciate that this is free software. I understand that I can get the source and fix it myself. But if you’re a “real company” making a linux distro you’d think that after 5 years someone would have done something more than “patches welcome.

The scenario is this. Every morning I put my IM client online. Immediately I get 3-5 messages of “hey hows it going” or “I’m bored, what are you up to” from like addresses. I go to the contact menu, select block, and close the window. Sometimes the contact is already blocked. The next day, or the next time I go online, I get the same messages, from the same (or similar) contacts. I block them all. It does nothing.

A while back I tracked this down to a bug in libpurple, the core IM library used by Pidgin and Empathy, the core IM clients used under Linux.

There’s Bug 551911, reported 2008, last update a few days ago (2012-05-07) with someone with the same issue. There’s also Ticket 2939, reported 2007, reporting a similar issue, with the last update being 12 months ago with this update:

Changed 12 months ago by salinasv milestone set to Plugin Suggested Discarding messages form a blacklist can be done in a plugin. If you prefer a privacy option, “Patches welcome”.

Most of the replies regarding the issue in both bugs seem to be either:

  • [othertool/library] doesn’t implement this so we can’t yet”
  • “Doing this right is hard and there’s incomplete documentation, results, etc”

I don’t have this problem on any IM I use on the Mac or Windows. I appreciate that it’s hard to get it right, but the end result is that the end user (me) is getting spam, getting annoyed, and my overall Linux desktop experience is diminished by this. I echo the sentiment of a comment from 13 months ago by “cydon”:

Seriously now, I appreciate very much the effort open source developers put into programs with no compensation whatsoever but this has been ignored for 4 years. I have been waiting for this to be fixed for 3. The only reason I was not impatient is that I very rarely use the block function. So, the question is this. Are you ever going to fix this or will I have to (regrettably) change my client? To hell with winks, handwritten messages and voice clips. We are talking about basic functionality here that creates huge privacy problems when its not implemented and you only find out when you test it. Are you serious about creating a client for the MSN as well or not?

The…. “challenge” that open source software has, and has always had, is that doing things like implementing contact blocking isn’t sexy. Making an IM whiteboard is sexy. Voice chat is sexy. Implementing a complete new desktop paradigm is sexy. Squashing bugs isn’t. Making the whole new desktop paradigm more usable isn’t.

I love linux, I really do, I’ve been a user since 1993 and an advocate of the “Year of The Linux Desktop”, but it seems more apparent that lately Linux is doing what the Mac did in the 90’s when Apple stopped innovating and let Windows beat them. Linux was equal, if not ahead, of the Mac and Windows desktops in terms of features, speed, usability, and other areas up until the GNOME 2 timeframe, but then it wallowed in a world of looking like a really great rip off of the Windows 95/98 look and feel when the rest of the world moved on. Linux advocates (and I put myself in this category) seem to have an aversion to looking at or using anything but, perhaps because it looks far cooler to laugh at “Micro$loth” and “CrApple” than it is to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, someone else has a better system than [Insert your Favorite Thing Here].

I’ve heard Linux advocates proudly proclaim “I’ve never even seen MacOS” right after telling you that it’s crap. It’s this same attitude that I believe is holding Linux back from the desktop (ignoring of course that Linux is Android and Android is used by a ton of people, probably more than Linux on the desktop). I’m not saying that Linux desktop developers should blindly follow Windows and Mac desktops, but ignoring them completely, or worse ignoring what makes them popular (ie: attention to detail, easy developer tools to use, etc). It’s not all like this, Ubuntu’s desktop has definitely borrowed from MacOS with some of their UI elements, and they’ve also gone a completely different direction with Unity, which I give them full kudos for doing something different, same as I do for Microsoft for going their own direction with Windows Phone.

Anyway, long rant which is a roundabout way of saying “gosh I really wish I could block MSN spam on my Linux desktop”.

Posted by Arcterex at May 15, 2012 09:31 AM