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When No One Cares About Open Source

Mar 21, 2008, 22:30 (7 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

I considered jumping into the current debate about Bruce Perens' bid to formally join the Open Source Initiative, but seeing as how several of my colleagues have voiced their own concerns on either side of the issue, I don't think there is an original opinion I can offer about it.

Instead, I'd like to point out something that happened to me recently; something that I think is a much bigger indicator of where the future of open source and Linux is going to go than yet another intra-community tussle.

I have mentioned before that I am a member of a southern Indiana university's IT committee. This is a voluntary position, and all it involves is going down to the campus once a year and meeting with the other committee members to discuss the school's curriculum. I first attended the committee in 2006, and last Thursday I took a day off from LT to scoot down there for the 2008 meeting.

When I was first asked to be a part of this group, it was pretty clear that I was on the committee to advocate for Linux and open source. Which was okay, it helped to know where things stood. At the time, the school was considering an entire Information Technology degree concentrating on open source, and some on the committee were hoping I would help push for it, too. Which I did. Alas, for various reasons, they eventually opted not to go for an open source concentration in 2006.

Much of the resistance at that time was for two reasons: a strong sense that open source software might not enable the students to compete in the "real world" and a lack of knowledge for supporting such software at the school.

In 2007, last year, the degree option was no longer on the agenda. Instead, a number of individual courses were recommended to the curriculum that had an open source focus. This time, the committee's resistance was not about the quality of the software as it was in 2006; in 2007, there was far less resistance overall and what hesitancy there was focused solely on how would the software be supported. (On Linux, mind you, the support issue never came up; most of the concern was directed at at other apps, like MySQL.) By the end of the session, most of the courses were approved for addition to the IT curriculum.

Fast forward to last week. It would be nice to say that open source specifically was on the agenda. It wasn't. In fact, having received the agenda a couple of weeks ahead of time, I debated not making the trip this year, since it involves a 10-hour roundtrip drive. But, I decided to honor my commitment and go anyway.

And it was a good thing I did, too.

While open source was not on the agenda, it was definitely discussed. And not in hesitant tones, with people unsure about what open source software was. Now it was all matter of fact.

When the discussion turned to introducing game programming to beginning programming classes just to get the interest up, one of my fellow committee members (who was more prepared than I, apparently) just nonchalantly pulled out a sheath of printouts listing open source gaming MUDs and MMORPGs he'd found out on SourceForge to use as templates. What made my jaw drop was that I know this guy works for a consultancy that's heavily Microsoft-oriented.

Even more telling was the reaction of the rest of the committe--instead of the old "gee, I don't know...", it was all "hey, that's a great idea, we should go with that!"

(I almost got a little insecure about the whole thing. Instead of being the Linux/open source guru, now I was just another member.)

I realize that this is completely anecdotal, and that such attitudes about Linux and open source software are not universal. But in that moment, where open source quality and advantages were just taken as a given and judged on merits such as features and performance rather than licenses or sales numbers, it was as if something clicked. Something that said that here was the future of Linux. Here was where open source was going.

It's not always going to be about politics. It's not always going to be about us vs. them.

It's going to be about the right tools for the right jobs.

Definitely a place I want to be.

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