The Linux Foundation's "Community" Doesn't Look Very Community
The first annual Linux Foundation's Linuxcon is in full swing, and it sure looks like the face of Linux is still a bearded one, despite the Linux Foundation's grand claims of Community. Perhaps they have a more limited definition of "community."
The Linux Foundation is not Linux, though it is positioning itself as such. They pay Linus Torvald's paycheck, and they are making him the Official Star of Linux. (He is already a bright shining star, so I guess some sort of official star status doesn't hurt.) Part of this was the Fake Linus Contest, which to me was baffling-- what's the point? If you're nattering on all the time about Community, how about having some genuine community contests like coding, documentation, artwork, interface design, ideas for engaging and teaching young people? Something that is attractive to everyone and has some lasting value, rather than yet another exercise in chummy insider-ness.
And check out the winning Fake Linus-- Matt Asay, who I would not characterize as any kind of great Linux advocate; his views on Linux and FOSS change as often as he publishes a new blog posting, which is several times a day. But at least Mr. Asay has some genuine FOSS creds.
Dan Lyons as contestant is just plain baffling. You might recall this is the same Dan Lyons who used to publish reams of anti-Linux trolling and pro-SCO guff for Forbes magazine. So what happened, wasn't Rob Enderle available? Or Maureen O'Gara? With Ms.O'Gara you get a twofer-- anti-Linux troll and your token woman. I suppose it's a play on his schtick as Fake Steve Jobs, which is about as relevant to Linux and community-building as any random celebrity impersonator. A Fake Elvis would have been better, then we would have some cool music to listen to.
We Are Too The Linux Community!
The Linux Foundation makes much big noise about Community, of the Community, by the Community, and for the Community. It's a pretty doggone limited community, check out the faces on the 1st Annual LinuxCon page. Sorry, I must apologize, for it does symbolize diversity-- a diversity of facial hair, from clean-shaven to traditional geekbeard to neatly-trimmed corporate beard to the contemporary I-spent-an-hour-grooming-my-stubble-to-look-like-I-just-rolled-out-of-bed look. And by golly that is a communty represented there-- a corporate community.
The schedule of talks looks a little more enticing and not quite so corporate-driven. Lots of great subjects, a gaping dearth of women presenters.
I'm guessing some of my friends at the Foundation and at Linuxcon might be a bit upset with what I'm saying. They work hard and put a lot of themselves into the Foundation and Linux. That makes us even because I'm upset with them, because in this here year of 2009, well into the new millennium, it's ridiculous to be this tone-deaf towards women in Linux and FOSS. It's no good talking about going mainstream, and big growth, and rosy visions of the future without having a grasp on the fundamentals of the here and now. The here and now is dismal. Linux is hampered by its lack of real diversity and growth in numbers of new contributors: hardly any women, 1.5% according to the FLOSSPOLs study, and any man or woman who doesn't have rhino hide and near-sociopathic stubbornness is not going to stick around.
How do we attract and retain new contributors? By reaching out, and by providing help and mentoring to get new contributors off to a good start. By presenting a variety of highly-visible role models. By valuing all contributors, because coding is just the beginning. Ongoing software maintenance and improvements, ongoing user support, documentation, providing a welcoming path to turn users into contributors, artwork and music, site design, marketing and talking to the press, and on and on...it's not enough to fling some code out into the world and hope something good happens.
Linux is at a crucial crossroads now. We can show some real vision and leadership and create a great future, and show the world how it's done. Or we can stay trapped in the old rut of sink-or-swim, Kevlar hide required, and continue to muddle along in the same old way. There is nothing visionary about ruts.