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The Seven/Big/Days/Bang Mashup

May 02, 2008, 22:30 (4 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Recently I've taken note of the rise in friction between those who want to create open source software for its own sake and those who want to evolve open source software into something that can be used for commerce.

Let's call them, respectively, Creationists and Evolutionists.

Creationists in the open source community are often (wrongly) labeled as "hobbyists." This name has always bothered me a bit. It's not wholly inaccurate, but it also seems to imply that the developers and users in this category are not to be taken seriously. Their skill in creating really good software (free or open) is somehow diminished by the sheer joy they experience in the actual creation process. I know the term "hobbyist" is not meant to be derogatory, but there is that vague implication that these folks deserve a condescending pat on the head for their effort.

To be fair, sometimes the actions of the Creationists engenders this condescension. The recent musical homage from Theo de Raadt for the release of OpenBSD 4.3 that took potshots at Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation only served to make me wince in embarrassment for the OpenBSD team. Understandably Stallman sets himself for criticism, but is this how OpenBSD wants to be perceived?

Regardless of the actions of a few, the influence and strengths of the Creationists should not be taken lightly. After all, it was these Creationists that are responsible for the formation of the multi-billion dollar Linux industry. So, stop patting them on the head.

Creationists often share another striking characteristic: they are usually very fundamentalist about the "right" and "wrong" type of software. If you are using something than free or open software, they have serious problems with you.

On the other hand, there are the Evolutionists, those users and coders who do nothing but take themselves seriously. To them, open source is almost all about success--usually measured in legal tender--and getting software out to the marketplace. They are good at what they do, which is take open source code and moving it through a business/development process that evolves that code into discrete product releases that can be marketed and sold. They are usually referred to as the "suits," which is a good enough label, though like the hobbyist moniker, it does not completely convey what this group is about.

Unlike Creationists, Evolutionists tend to believe that any software can be used to solve a solution, no matter its license. It's just a tool, after all.

Despite these strategies, the Evolutionists mostly do prefer the core values of open source. More often, I think, than you might suspect. I have talked to folks at Sun and Novell, two companies that tend to give lots of folks in the community the willies, who genuinely believe software that is Open, and they've figured out the best way to make the software better.

Of course, the overarching actions of their employers can somehow drown out the voices of these individuals. Sun, for example, keeps trying to do things on only their terms and wonders why they are having trouble with community building. This is a prime example of the Evolutionists' big problem: they need to take themselves less seriously.

To me, there is a lot of common ground between these two groups: Creationists and Evolutionists all share a love for the software they work with. They simply differ on how and why it's built and what should be done with it.

Hopefully that common ground will be recognized and we can get on with other discussions.

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