[sf-lug] FOSS community attitudes

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Oct 16 13:19:02 PDT 2008

Quoting Jesse Zbikowski (embeddedlinuxguy at gmail.com):

> On Wed, Oct 15, 2008 at 8:23 PM, Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> wrote:
> > Quoting Jeff Bragg (jackofnotrades at gmail.com):
> >> I found this article (found on DZone <http://www.dzone.com/links/index.html>)
> >> interesting and cogent.
> ...
> >
> > 2.  In particular, he assumes its objective include
> >    unity, "providing an alternative to proprietary software",
> ...
> > care only very distantly whether
> > users generally have "an alternative to proprietary software", and
> I agree that this is not a goal in its very general sense, meaning we
> need a free alternative to every proprietary program. If we don't have
> an open source expert system for locating oil reserves, or free
> anti-lock brake control algorithms, that's not a high priority for me.

Linux mailing lists (Web forums, newsgroups, IRC channels...) are
regularly besieged by some guy who says "Linux needs to do [proprietary
thing X] or else it's no good", and tries to con the rest of us into
proving that Linux can do that.  This very mailing list has even seen
people who've gotten deep into major Linux deployments without bothering
to do requirements analysis, then charging in here and saying "Help me
and my clients by solving [proprietary-app problem he should have
anticipated but failed to do so]."

And that just gets really old.  We're a community of people with
generally similar interests, not a free-of-charge IT consulting firm.

All-open-source Linux environments have met my needs well enough since
around May 2001, when improvements in Mozilla Communicator starting with
v. 0.9x finally made it practical to lose Netscape
Navigator/Communicator, the last piece of truly essential proprietary

After that, yeah, I'm sympathetic to people who want open source expert
systems for locating oil reserves, and lots of other specialised needs
including all the gamers and A/V freaks who think DRM is a trivial
obstacle, but I'm not going to bust my ass solving their problems,
especially when they come charging into my community forums with an
attitude problem.

> Of course for the software we both use every day (browser, OS,
> development tools, etc) we both care that there are free programs.
> That is basis for community.

At minimum, it's the basis for convergence of interest.

If you're an LWN subscriber, you can read
http://lwn.net/Articles/302545/ .  (Non-subscribers will have to wait a
week.)  Fair-use-aspiring excerpt:

   The reason is the Linux community's values. In particular, the
   community prizes technical merit above all other considerations -
   including small things like what any company or user would like to have.
   Also prized is passion; code supported by a developer who clearly cares
   about it will generally fare better in the review process. If the code
   quality and the passion are there, the community does not care about
   much of anything else. Factors like the source of the code or who might
   benefit from its incorporation don't really matter.

   In particular, contributors to the kernel are not required to sign on to
   any particular belief system or any specific view of freedom. A
   contributor may have an FSF-like belief in free software, or, instead,
   be a corporate developer who does not care about software freedom at
   all. Even the BSD community requires acquiescence with a specific view
   of freedom. A Linux contributor, instead, need only be willing to
   contribute the code under the share-alike rules of the GPL.

   As a result, anybody can play with Linux, regardless of philosophy or
   corporate status. We have a community which is defined by contributions,
   not by a specific set of values regarding software freedom. That has
   allowed the formation of a very diverse community with a specific shared
   interest: creating the best kernel we can. 

As I myself like to say:  "In the end, what matters is code and
licensing, licensing and code."

> Evangelism can be very tacky, but I think it is important to expand
> the Linux (or other free OS) user base.  The platform still needs more
> recognition & support from hardware & software vendors; those folks
> only care about the size of your user base.

"Recognition and support" from hardware vendors is almost always utterly
useless.  Complaints about lack of drivers for, say, the newer Nvidia
fakeraid SATA-II chipsets accumulate, with company representatives 
steadfastly denying that there's any "demand for Linux drivers" (i.e.,
lying) until a bit flips in the brain of some Nvidia executive, who
orders release of "drivers".  All that then results is some proprietary
binary-only sludge with zero hardware documentation or sample code,
which then briefly works (often i386-only) and then breaks unfixably
after the first time the kernel's internal interfaces change.

And then the Nvidia executive says "See?  This is what we get when we
try to be nice to Linux users", and they refuse to deal with the matter
again for at least another five years.

What would be useful, but what the executives either stupidly or
"tactically stupidly"
(http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/lexicon.html#tactical-stupidity) fail to
get is that, really, only a decent kit of hardware documentation and
example code is either necessary or useful over the long term.
"Support" in the (usual) form of crappo proprietary drivers is long-term

At least now, Greg Kroah-Hartman has made the difference between what's
useful and what's a waste of time and effort _really_ hard to ignore.
See:  http://www.kroah.com/log/linux/linux_driver_project_kickoff.html

"Recognition and support" from software vendors happens when/if they
see a market, or are afraid of being rendered irrelevant by open source
or other competitors.  It does _not_ happen because a sufficient number
of Linux users abase themselves to beg for Linux releases (e.g., the
utterly undignified and futile Internet "petitions" that the clueless
periodically run).

And no, the vendors do _not_ care about the size of your user base.
They care about perceived market opportunities.  If user base were what
mattered, every coder would be attempting to write a word processor for
Win32.  Why aren't they?  Because of the lack of a market opportunity in
that space.

So, no, the idea that "If I can get a thousand more desktop users
running Linux, maybe Corel Corporation Limited will re-release
WordPerfect for Linux" is, to borrow the late Douglas Adams's phrase,
is a load of fetid dingo's kidneys.  Because (alleged) user count 
and perceived market opportunity are just not the same thing.

Software evangelism also has other problems, beyond being annoying, and
also clueless in open source context:  It's the traditional lever by 
which party X attempts to redirect everyone else's attention to alleged
problem Y, where nobody but X necessarily particularly gives a damn
about Y at all.  It's come to be a warning sign of con jobs, sort of
like when Professor Harold Hill arrives in your town and tells you about
how his latest business scheme is going to improve your life.

> Get 25% market share for a free OS and you can look for better
> laptop/wifi/video support, ports of applications people need for work,
> etc.
Available market share and size of userbase are different and only very
loosely coupled concepts.

> I like his point that we should sell outsiders on the large-scale
> benefits of open source beyond the software per se. 

I don't.

It sounds like someone trying to sell me on a tiring and expensive
ideological cause with no benefits to me whatsoever.  Which is about par
for the course for ideological causes casually suggested by reporters
for adoption by strangers.

> How about more transparency and accountability from government?

Seems orthogonal.

> Freedom from spying?

Using only open source makes your computing, in very general terms,
greatly more resistant to _some_ forms of spying, yes.

> Freedom from government/corporate control over digital broadcasting?

Fat chance.

> Having documents and media in formats that can be opened forever?

An important concern, yes.

Cheers,                  "My generals are always right about other people's 
Rick Moen                wars and wrong about our own."  -- LBJ
rick at linuxmafia.com  

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