View Full Version : A Word About Poka-yoke

April 2nd, 2009, 05:42 PM
I was reading a story on Slashdot titled "Linux Needs Critics" (http://linux.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/04/02/1317246&art_pos=3) and read the following comment:

As a non Linux guy, I've been interested in installing Linux several times but the community has turned me off. If you go on a forum or something similar and suggest a feature you're often told that you're doing it wrong. That's probably true, but it's poor attitude for growing a client base. Me: I'd like mirrors on my car to assist in backing up. Linux community: The best way to back up is to turn around and look out your rear window. While technically correct, how many people back up using their mirrors?
As an engineer, I've run into this problem many times in my life. Users often request features, only to discover that using said feature means they are not using the product correctly. Users often get frustrated by this, but it's to their own benefit.

The Japanese have a word, poka-yoke, which roughly means "fail-safing", "Foolproof" or "mistake-proofing". The classic example of poka-yoke is the square peg in the round hole. Toyota made poka-yoke (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poka-yoke) a cornerstone in it's production system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Production_System), and is regarded as a reason why their cars have such a high reputation for quality.

As an engineer, I've encountered numerous examples of people who have gone through great lengths to defeat poka-yoke. Being a mechanical engineer, many of these involved very large hammers. In the world of Ubuntu, I've seen the hammers replaced by source code.

Compiling from source code, and tools like Alien, are difficult to use on purpose. This is a poke-yoke to ensure your system remains secure and stable. One of the main reasons why Windows is unstable and has viruses is because people install software of unknown origin. Ubuntu combats this problem through its repository system. The repositories are designed to be very easy to use because they are the best way to install software on your machine.

Please remember, compiling from source is, just like a sledge hammer, a tool of last resort.


April 2nd, 2009, 05:59 PM
Good post. And very true.

Although at first I thought it was about doing the polka with a yoke around my neck...

April 2nd, 2009, 06:09 PM
The issue I have with Mr. Thomas' blog isn't that he's wrong in any particular way, but because of the "herding cats" mentality which is inherent in this being a "bazaar" instead of a "cathedral". How do you change the mindset of a community that is largely in it for themselves, and seems largely not to care about the outside world?

I'm not saying I feel this is true of every individual involved in the Linux effort -- and this may be an area where Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical are key -- but it seems like so many people out there don't want to be "led". If you won't take guidance, and you're a part of a community of volunteers, and much of the community won't take guidance, then what is it exactly you're supposed to do? It's not like the majority of people who use computers are ever going to become coders, yet the "if you don't like it, change it!" mentality makes this kind of essentially useless assumption.

That, I think, is at the heart of what Keir Thomas is talking about, and it's the "problem" which he feels needs to be overcome. While I happen to agree, I don't see it happening any time soon.

April 2nd, 2009, 06:55 PM
The issue I have with Mr. Thomas' blog isn't that he's wrong in any particular way...

I must admit I didn't read the fine article, but I have been critical of Ubuntu on occasion. (http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1086769) Most of the time, the criticism isn't taken very well.

I would say that, before Ubuntu, what I thought of when I thought of Linux was...

"Linux: by developers, for developers"