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Editor's Note: What Is Easy and What is Right

Dec 02, 2005, 23:30 (19 Talkback[s])

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Two headlines jumped out at me this week as overly troll-like. I would imagine you can guess which ones.

The first was David Coursey's eWeek article "Bill Gates Is Not the Next Linus Torvalds." Yeah, no kidding. And let's give a big thanks that "Linus Torvalds Is Not the Next Bill Gates" either, or we'd start to see snide little notes from the head kernel developer asking us to stop sharing the code so he can start making money from it.

The second was an even hotter flame: Iain Ferguson posted a commentary on ZDNet Australia entitled "Time for Linux Bigots to Take a Back Seat."

Hello! If this wasn't an article calculated to draw out a flaming mass of vitriol from the open source community, I don't know what is.

I'll let you read the articles, if you haven't already, and let you draw your own conclusions. What interested me was the common thread that permeated both articles, and it wasn't the rudeness. Essentially, the central thesis of both pieces was to tell the open source community to sit down and shut up, you're getting in the way of the real businessmen.

Right. Because real businessmen are so reasonable. They certainly wouldn't call people names, like oh, say, "a cancer." Or throw furniture around. Or launch lawsuits with little to no evidence just to make a buck on their stock options. Boy, there's no one I'd rather buy my software from. Not.

And when the tar brush is applied to the open source community as a bunch of "bigots," "heretics," or what have you, these incidents, along with countless others, seem to not get mentioned. Funny...

But these are just knee-jerk reactions to flames. I know when I'm ticked off. They are accurate reactions, but pretty sophomoric, just the same.

So let's go deeper.

If you analyze these articles a bit, the specific commonality is not such a personal attack: in order for Linux to be commercially successful, these articles maintain, it is up to the business community to interact with the customers so they can provide a single voice to represent Linux for the cool piece of technology it is.

On the surface, that actually seems reasonable. After all, I am not a coder, so I leave it up to the developers and the software engineers to put applications together for me. Separate functionality is a worthy goal for efficiency's sake.

Where these columnists go wrong, I believe, is asserting that the business people should have all of the commercial say and the open source community should be out of the picture altogether. We, as a group, are apparently too potentially damaging for business deals to be left in the process of representing Linux and open source software.

Okay, I will be the first to admit there are times when I would like the Linux community to settle down. But should it just be clamped quiet altogether?

Hell, no.

First off, let's not forget who's work this is. In some degree or another, there is real work and effort involved in putting together the technology that these business people are so willing to sell. I cannot pretend to guess all the reasons why people are motivated to write or work with free and open source software, but I can safely hazard that while many of these participants may not have anything to say about this or that, they will certainly want the right to say something--especially if it concerns the project into which they put their blood, sweat, and tears.

To even hint that these people should shut up just because you might not like want they have to say is nothing more than cowardice. It's taking the easy way out.

Second off, as I snidely mentioned earlier, the business people might not always have it right when they represent Linux. For instance, I personally believe that this whole per-seat licensing model that Novell uses is a throwback to a legacy business method that ultimately handicaps sales of Linux because it is forcing Linux to play by proprietary vendors' business rules. That's not accusing them of being malicious or evil; I just think they're wrong. They may think I am wrong. Is that such a horrible thing?

The bigger issue here is that the traditional business community has no skillset how to deal with the open source community (and vice versa). The business folk either get into a mode of trying to please everyone all at once and they tie themselves in knots doing it, or they think that any non-business person doesn't know anything about business and thus they ignore any input they might have. In essence, they treat the community as a bunch of free workers, ready for exploitation.

If the business community wants to get the "heretics" out of the picture, then start opening a dialog. Not a marketing plan: a real dialog. Where opinions on each side are shared, listened to, and maybe acted upon. Use the Internet, hire open source liasons, start funding projects--the ways you can do this are innumerable.

This will take real effort and it won't be easy. Easy is handing out a bunch of goodies at the trade show booth to appease the great unwashed. Easy is hearing a huge outcry and doubling back on your initial decision to avoid a conflict. Easy is telling the community to shut up.

Listening to the community, being honest, and being ready to say no--those are hard things to do. You might not win over all of the community. But you will definitely earn their respect.

Which is what we all want.

You may or may not have noticed (I sure did), but LT was running a slow this week. Traffic has been going up lately and it was finally taking its toll. So, last night, we moved the site to a new bigger, faster server. (Linux/Apache, in case you wanted to check Netcraft.)

If anyone had problems with the slowdown or the switch, thanks for bearing with us. Keeping up with growth is one of our challenges, but it sure is a nice challenge to have.