This is a response to the article "Maintainers Matter" by Kyle Keen, which I'm posting here, since his comment system doesn't work for me.
First of all: I agree with you that maintainers are indeed required and do matter - for users of linux distributions. But I think your world view is a little bit too focused on linux distributions:
Supposedly one of Linux's failings is that there is too much pointless choice, too many K and G versions of things and it divides developer efforts. Why have so many window managers and text editors?
This is no failing, this is good. Who is to decide which WM I'm going to use? A maintainer? You? Why? What could I do if my distribution only provides Gnome but I'm a non-mouse-user and NEED xmonad?
Linux is about choice and it's the choice of the users, not the maintainers. That's why we do have so many different distributions: because at some point maintainers went mad, excluded users with their decisions, so the users had to make a fork of the distribution.
Somehow we've gotten this idea that everyone who writes software for Linux does it for the warm fuzzies.
I am writing software. Free software. NOT software for Linux. In fact, I don't care about Linux at all. My software is free, I provide the source, it runs on most unices, including Linux. And besides it is none of your business, what I'm doing it for. Be it for the lulz, for the "warm fuzzies" or for money - as long as the software comes with a free license which enables users to use it as they wish, it is free and everything is good.
Oh, and from my point of view there's only the developer (that would be me) and users. As you see, users includes maintainers. There's no difference. I do not handle bug reports differently whether they come from an "end user" or some "ubuntu maintainer". And why should I?
More fundamentally, the maintainer is the primary line of defence and interaction between users and developers. Maintainers shield developers from uninformed users, allowing the devs to write software with less support overhead. Non-bugs are caught and filtered out. Low-quality bugs reported to the distribution's tracker often becomes a good bug when the maintainer reports it upstream.
Maintainers may do whatever they want, I don't care. But they're not a "line of defence" or some shield between me and users. Maintainers are, if any, a proxy or a filter. I don't need a "line of defense" since I don't consider users to be my enemies. And even if I would, then maintainers would be enemies as well. So where's the point?
And what is a "non-bug"? Who decides? What if I want to know about it? What if it is not a bug, but just feedback. Why in the world is this hidden from me?
Without distros the ISV would have to carry the full weight of support.
Oh, look at the young one :) Do you know, there was a time when no "distributions" were around? During that time, developing and supporting free software was no burden nevertheless.
This is why Linux doesn't have spyware, doesn't come with browser toolbars, doesn't bundle limited trials, doesn't nag you to purchase and doesn't pummel you with advertising.
Wrong. It doesn't have spyware because it's not widespread. Oh, my bad, that's wrong too. Of course there's LOTS of spyware for Linux. Every android device has it installed. Ubuntu contains spyware. Sanctioned by a "maintainer" of some kind.
For the sake of argument, let us presume that all ISVs are ethical and hold the interests of the community as their utmost ideal.
Again, that's not the point of free software. I produce free software so you can do with it whatever you want, including modifying or distributing it. I'm not interested in your ethical values, your religion, your gender, your education, your location or even your species.
And it's the same the other way around: none of those things about me is your business.
But there's another major misconception here: "the community" you say. Which one? The community of Arch Linux users? Linux Users? Unix Users? Free Software Users? Software Users? Users? In the reality (to reuse you phrasing) there's no such thing as "the community". There are a bunch of people who use Arch Linux, but this doesn't constitute automatically a community. Most of Arch Linux users are unknown to Arch Linux maintainers. They are NOT part of whatever kind of community you're dreaming of. And this is the case for all kinds of users.
As long as people just use something, whether they pay for it or not, they are just users of this thing. Take Zippo users for example. Even if there's some "Zippo Community" somewhere, I am not part of that community only because I use a Zippo lighter!
I am part of a community if I subscribe to some list, apply for a forum account, post comments or opinions, contribute code, documentation or the like. Everyone else is not part of this. Seeing it this way is communist thinking. Free people decide themselfes if they want to be part of some kind of "movement" - not some maintainer somewhere in the U.S.
Could ISVs possibly make everyone happy? They can't. It is impossible.
As maintainers can't do as well. That's why we have thousands Linux distros, a couple of BSD's, hundreds of editors, hundreds of window managers and possibly billions of different ways to combine and configure them. And that's the idea behind the whole endeavor, isn't it?
So, let them make universal packages. Who cares? I'll continue to manually compile emacs and xmonad myself whatever distro I'm running on.