If there’s one thing that bothers me about using a ready-made solution like wordpress for my blog, it’s plug-ins. I hate software plug-ins. The first question every support engineer for any software product that supports plugins asks in response to a trouble report is “are you using any plugins?” And when you say “yep, I’m using plugins!” the reply from support is to disable them immediately and see if the trouble goes away. That’s a problem.
What’s worse, if the plugins are maintained by a third party (often the case), there’s no telling whether or not they’ll exist when the next version of the base software is released, or whether they’ll be supported in future versions of the software.
Two examples that touch my daily life are Firefox, and WordPress.
Lately (since around March) I’ve been having lots of trouble with Firefox. I thought upgrading to Firefox 3 would’ve helped, but it really didn’t. Running it on OS X, Firefox hangs frequently enough that I’m actually considering using Safari (I do NOT like Safari). Know what happened right around that time? Ah – I found the firefox plugins for managing EC2 and S3. So today I’ll uninstall those and see if it helps.
With WordPress, there are two things I’m missing: I need to let readers subscribe to comments via email, and I need better Google AdSense for Search integration with WordPress. Both things are kinda maybe supported in one version or another “but should work under…” – whatever. I don’t really want to spend my time downloading, reading the documentation to do the install, doing the install and configuration, etc., and then finding out that it doesn’t work, or worse, having it look on the surface like it works, but then finding later that it fails in evil-but-silent ways.
These two products are by no means exceptions. Moodle, PHP-Nuke, XOOPS, MediaWiki, Twiki, Postnuke… and for that matter, OpenLDAP, BIND, SSH, MySQL, Sendmail, PAM… all have plugins available written by other folks, and all have bitten me at one point or another. Usually when it comes time to upgrade the base software.
I’m not saying anything new here. People have had this problem with lots of different software products for a long time. My question is “why is this still a problem?” I’m not asking this because I have some magical obvious solution or answer, I’m asking because I feel like there’s probably more to it than I’m grasping. I’m not a masterful developer, or even a masterful software project manager, so I’m calling on all of you who are (or are closer than I am) to help me understand the problem. Some day, I might find myself in a position to take the wrong or right path where plug-ins are concerned, and I’d like to be more informed than I am so I can avoid putting users in the position I find myself in when I use other peoples’ software. Has Joel blogged this yet? If so, I can’t find it. Links please?