My colleague Bruce Byfield made some good points in his recent
blog entry "Conspiracy
theorists and free software." In it, he outlines his concerns
that there is a vocal faction in the free software community that
is too obsessed with a certain proprietary company, and that their
rants and raves amount to so much rabble-rousing, which ultimately
hurts the community at large.
Byfield, who I think is an excellent writer, by the way, may be
projecting a little bit of his own defensiveness in this entry. I
know he's been on the receiving end of some harsh criticisms in the
past, and I know from personal experience it's pretty
disheartening. Even if he is not writing out of pique, he's not
saying anything that hasn't been said before. I've said it myself:
not everything wrong with Linux is the fault of some other entity.
Sometimes a problem is Linux' problem.
It is, admittedly, very easy to put the blame on companies out
to do harm to Linux, free, and open source software. Because
sometimes that blame is justified. When Mandriva's CEO called
Microsoft out for attempting to co-op Mandriva's deal for
pre-loaded Classmate PCs in Nigeria last November, the evidence was
Now, there's suddenly a lawsuit against the One Laptop Per Child
(OLPC) project in that same country, claiming patent infringement
on the part of OLPC, and demanding $20 million. "Conspiracy
theorists" might say this is just one more attempt to protect
Microsoft's desktop share in Nigeria. Heck, I could get really
crazy and point the finger at Intel, now that they're on the outs
with OLPC. Or even... (hushed whisper) Mandriva. We know how evil
In all honesty, I have no idea what's behind this lawsuit. It's
probably just for money, in the classic ambulance-chaser style, and
I will let it go at that until I hear differently.
Byfield would have the people who accuse Microsoft or any other
company of deception labeled as conspiracy theorists. That label
has a negative connotation, but I understand its application in
this instance. Where I disagree with Byfield is how bad such
accusations and speculations really are.
First, let's understand something: I am not arguing for or
against the accuracy of these types of allegations. As a reporter,
I tend to ignore them, because they are unsubstantiated. But
sometimes thinking about things that are off the wall to most
people does generate lines of thought that would not occur to the
group at large.
Polite society is too quick to dismiss the ranters. Their style
of argument, their seeming obsession... it makes a lot of people
uncomfortable. Many times, that's the whole point--to jar people
out of their comfort zones. The problem is, such repetitive,
obsessive, rude behavior does not always make such folk right. They
could be, and are, way off the mark.
Sometimes, however, they are right. Or they're on the right
track. For that reason, such arguments deserve to be heard and not
dismissed out of hand.
Would I be happy if all conversations regarding free software
were civil and polite and only reasoned arguments were used? Of
course I would... I think such discussions are ultimately more
But I do not think that all uncivil, emotionally reasoned
arguments should be completely ignored, either. They may not be
pleasant, but the truth can come in many forms.
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