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
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
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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