We need to talk about the Python

Garikai Dzoma Avatar

fosssAs a Free and Open source software proponent and advocate I fancy myself capable of answering all questions the n00bs have concerning FOSS. Well, almost everything. I always get stuck when people ask me about the names of some of the programs and why they ever sound so unintuitive. Honestly speaking I don’t get it either so I end up cooking one excuse or another but today is as good a day as any to talk about these issues. We need to talk about the Python, the GIMP and Mongo.

Why in the name of all things holy would someone name a photo editor the GIMP? To newbies the explanation that this is an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program inevitably leads to the the question “, What is GNU?” In response to which they get a cryptic response that this means GNU is Not Unix which invariably ends up with a discussing on recursion and infinite loops. This is hardly suitable material for people who have just learned about that a mouse is not a rodent but an input device. Recursive geek jokes are unlikely to appeal to the wider public and in my humble opinion should be avoided. Compare the name GIMP to the commercial product Photoshop which is aptly named;I think.

Some of the names are plain horrible. Filezilla for example will usually make one think of the Godzilla movie franchise. If you haven’t watched any of them all you need to know is that the Godzilla was not exactly the hero of the movie. Why wouldn’t they come up with a name like CuteFTP. Then there is Python which was supposedly named after some obscure and ancient T.V. show that no one watches anymore.  Even if we are to accept this inside joke the creators of Python have,as a double entendre of sorts, adopted an actual python as their logo. Somehow this is supposed to bring people flocking to the Python fold.

The logos of some software add to the mystery. For the GIMP the logo features Wilber who is a mystical animal called the GIMP thus perpetuating the culture of recursions. How on earth is a new user supposed to know this by looking at the logo of the software. The creature looks more like a cat holding a brush in its mouth than a the logo of an image editor. And in case you are wondering the GNU logo is the GNU head. Which looks more like a sneering bull than anything else. Somehow this is supposed to encapsulate the Free Software movement and all its ideals. Perhaps the GNU head was making a face at Microsoft and its Evil Empire.

You will be forgiven to think Mongo is short for Mongoose. As it turns out it is the name of a very popular database named MongoDB. VIM is not a dish washing powder but the name of a venerable command line text editor. Apache has nothing to do with Indians or (if you have been watching too many action Movies) helicopters. Maybe the feather they use as a logo means it’s light on resources or something.

The truth is that we are not all geniuses and if open source software is to be universally embraced then perhaps name changes should be in order.

As icing to the cake a good number of projects are not so Free either. The Free Software world is teeming with “benevolent dictators” who seem to make major decisions on a whim. For example Torvalds just woke up one day and decided the next Linux Kernel version would be called version 3. Mark Shuttleworth supplanted GNOME with Unity and the Ubuntu team chose Mir over Wayland for reasons I am still trying to understand.

It seems the take it or leave attitude is commonplace in the Free Software world. Although a lot of projects such as Fedora and Ubuntu accept community input the project leaders hold all the power. This is the reason why for the latter we are stuck with the ever present ugly default paper and (for a while) the ugly default brown theme. Projects follow what is called a production oriented approach. They produce it as they want it, call it whatever they want and you are free to use it if you want. This is not an ideal way of doing things in this world of Choice.

I think some of the poorly chosen names are at least partly responsible for holding back some otherwise great open source projects. This is further compounded by the fact that these names are hardly ever promoted in the mainstream media. For the sake of Open source please come up with better, more descriptive names!

Some of the names are well-just dumb.It’s like watching the Big Bang Theory Comedy show. A bunch of geeks, nerds and bookworms snickering at obscure inside jokes. What works and passes as a joke at Nerdfest does not work for the world. People need apps they can understand not lectures on Schrodinger’s cat.


  1. tinm@n

    If I said I will reserve my comments whilst actually commenting… that makes it a contradiction.

    Ah well… that!

  2. chirau

    I stopped at “obscure… T.V show” in reference to Monty Python. If only you researched the cultural relevance of that show in pretty much every American’s(college educated at least) life today, you would have written a better article.

    Perhaps someone will read the rest of this, i don’t know what to call it, will summarize your attempt at reason. For now, i’l stamp it as a FAIL.

  3. anthonysomerset

    apache has come a long way as a web server but i’d hardly say that its light on resources – time and time again i can run same traffic websites on less server specs with nginx compared to apache

    i want to argue your point though “Projects follow what is called a production oriented approach. They produce it as they want it, call it whatever they want and you are free to use it if you want. This is not an ideal way of doing things in this world of Choice.”

    firstly – choice is what FOSS is supposed to be about – you have freedom of choice
    secondly – actually yes while these bigger projects have Project managers (or other similar job title) i’d’ argue that PM’s are very much needed in order to bring order to the chaos that is open source development in general – otherwise products wouldn’t get shipped at all,

    thirdly i’d argue that you still can make a difference, its just less obvious with bigger products like ubuntu – the solution is, submit bug reports, submit feature requests, fix bugs that affect you if you can, provide as much info as you can in bug reports, the list goes on – PM’s are not deaf to your requests – if they were they wouldn’t have the job very long… chances are what you want is very much an edge case in which you are then encouraged to change it and do what you like which is a fundamental freedom and right with FOSS and even distribute your own version!

    i’m still trying to work out the actual point of your posting today – seems very much like a ramble and a rant about names and icons rather than a constructive article about open source software

  4. anthonysomerset

    oh and if you want to slam open source names as not being thought out or descriptive

    try this one, Apple MacBook – or Apple iMac – mac isnt particularly descriptive for someone unfamiiar with the desktop or notebook computer scene…. and thats a Commercial product not FOSS

    not having a go at mac products (i’m personally a mac user) but if you want to pick apart names then at least be even handed

    to give an example of an OpenSource project with a good descriptive name – look at LibreOffice (used to be OpenOffice)

    also GIMP stands for “Graphical Image Manipulation Package” – how is that not descriptive

    i have to ask did you do enough research on this article or did you literally google popular open source software and took the first 5 names that came up?

    1. Garikai

      Touché! But I only said some projects not all of them and also GIMP does not expand to Graphical Image Manipulation Program. It stands for GNU image manipulation program.

      1. tinm@n

        What’s in a name? Wouldn’t it be ignorant if I said why wasn’t your name Garainesu instead of Garikai.

        Like yours,every name has its history and reasoning surrounding being chosen. GIMP has a reason why its called so.

        Suggesting otherwise just because it does not sound right to you sounds silly to me.

      2. Tapiwa ✔

        Add these to your list of software that needs “more descriptive names”: Excel, Dreamweaver, Visual Studio, DirectX, Access, Lync, Skype, Firefox, Linux, Git, Android. The names are really holding them back </s>

        1. re-a-list

          Adobe. just had to include this one

      3. anthonysomerset

        my bad but the point is still the same i just got one word wrong 😉 the name is very descriptive if you realised what it stands for

  5. Tin Tin

    “Even if we are to accept this inside joke the creators of Python have,as a double entendre of sorts, adopted an actual python as their logo. Somehow this is supposed to bring people flocking to the Python fold.

    I’m not sure what gives you the idea that the name ‘python’ or any other name for that matter will lead people ‘flocking’ to that ‘thing’…

  6. fiend

    Shallow article of the year

  7. Tapiwa ✔

    if open source software is to be universally embraced…

    I’m yet to see a FOSS project whose mission statement/aim is “become popular and universally embraced”. Maybe, just maybe, that’s not the point, no matter how much you, in a fit of zealotry would like that.

    If you think your vision is superior to that of the current maintainers, Open source software has an inherent mechanism that allows you to put your ideas to the test: forking. I strongly urge you to fork the Gimp and call it “PicEditPro”, and see how that goes.

    P/S: branding is not as simple as you potray it (it’s not just about the name), I see no difference between ‘Python’ and ‘Firefox’ or ‘Chromium’ – none of the names are descriptive, but the respective projects succeed/fail on their own merits.

  8. Ndoro

    True bro,

    I voted Zanu PF, because it starts with a Z. They only time I would vote for MDC is if I was in Malawi or Macedonia.

    I had a Samsung galaxy phone until a Samson snatched my baby mama, now I roll with the Asha, cos i’m goin out with Aisha.

    You see, I’m like you bro, the name of a product/service means a lot to me.

  9. Tariro Tobaiwa

    just stop it Gari, this is just ridiculous…

  10. jorjun

    open source marketing next? Hmmmmm not a bad idea actually..

  11. re-a-list

    you where just itching to write something and u did to that effect. if i knew any better this looks like an attempt at trolling. i certainly dont use binu because it sounds like it has something to do with trash. There are millions of users who use it because it simply works for them.

  12. 🙂

    I have never liked Gari’s pieces much but this one is just horrible.

  13. Mongomery Burns

    You didn’t mention Emacs or Richard M. Stallman? What the hell man?