Open Source Essay

I read an essay, Greg Ritter wrote on open source. If you follow my weblog, then you might remember Greg as the person who convinced me that I must burn less, reason more – a resolution that lasted about 1 day.

Greg wrote his essay, titled Open Source Zealots Don’t Get it in response to a News Forge item from Richard Stallman (found at Camworld – this is getting complicated), about sending Word files as attachments.

Well, I agree with Greg — zealots usually don’t get it. But I think that Greg lost the point along the way, as he stopped condeming zealots, and started condeming the entire open source movement, throwing in open standards somewhere towards the end in a rather interesting segue related to itches and scratching, and people wanting to work on software that interests them when they’re doing it for free.

I’m not going to get into the usual spiel of the important part that open source played with the establishment of the Internet, Internet protocols, and the web; or open source’s contribution to Unix (not just Linux); or open source’s contributions to specifications and technologies that many of the products you really like, use. And I’m not going into, again, the fact that open source and closed source projects can co-exist on the same planet, and are complimentary development paradigms. We’ve been there, done that before.

But I am curious about one thing — we throw around terms such as “open source zealots” but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use a similar term for closed or proprietary source code adherants; terms such as “closed source zealot” or “proprietary software bigot”. Calling Microsoft an asshole company that’s out to rule the world, doesn’t count. I’m talking about using the term for people who do a blanket condemnation of open source because of the actions of a few; or that condemn open source because it doesn’t have the polish of proprietary software (such as Word or PhotoShop); or condemn open source efforts that aren’t making some company a ton of money.

I’m also curious about something else: Why do people assume that open source advocates are somehow not consumer oriented? Forget the zealots – I’m talking about the average person who helps to create most of the open source in use today. There are people who spend hours a week writing documentation for open source efforts, or providing help on online forums.

Oh the hell with being reasonable. Especially when I read the following:

If consumers want these kinds of tools that are of interest to consumers, but not of use to the geeks who know programming languages, then the consumers are either going to have to learn to code themselves (ain’t gonna happen; we all have other careers) or the consumer will need to pay to have someone else develop them.

Well, the software developers of the products that you condemn as unsatisfactory earlier in your essay — products such as Gimp, StarOffice, GNOME — are doing their best to provide viable “consumer” products. They don’t have the big bucks backing them for the most part; so they have to manage as they can, when they can.

Still, considering that your premise is that geeks aren’t consumers of this type of technology and therefore won’t work on it, followed by your condemnation of the products that you all just got through saying we’uns don’t like to work on, I am confused. Most likely you are, also, after trying to read that last sentence.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, Greg — geeks really like to be complimented. I know, unbelievable but true. There’s few things that thrill us more than to have people who use our software tell us how much they love it. Doesn’t matter if we’re paid for it or not, we want people to like our software. If anything, we’re the ultimate consumer driven profession.

As a geek I hate bugs in my software; I really hate it when someone doesn’t like an architecture I’ll design for a new system; it cuts me to the quick when someone doesn’t like what I build, code, design, develop. Sure I’ve been tweaking the Radio 8.0 folks the past couple of days (and having a bit of fun doing it, I must say) but that’s because of the incredibly excessive hyping that’s going on with the product release. I respect the effort and the accomplishment of what the company has built; just not the hype coming with it. Dave Winer’s a geek (in the complimentary sense) — who just happens to be buried in “…Radio Weblog” at the moment.

And as geeks we want to develop products people need, want, use, and like. The openess or not of the source code has nothing to do with it; that’s just visibility.

I’m curious, Greg — what do you think will happen to the state of technology if all open source efforts stopped? If the folks who labor on technology and standards and open protocols and specs, just stopped one day? Maybe they’ll decide that they should get a career like yours.

You work for Blackboard, what do you think will happen to your company’s product? How much of that product is dependent on efforts that originated in open source? Is it web-based? What programming language is used? What operating system? Unless Blackboard is a pure-Windows based system written entirely in some home brewed programming language and isn’t using any form on Internet communication or open specification such as XML, your product is beholden to the open source effort. To people, supposedly, that don’t have careers To people that don’t listen to consumers.

To all them open source zealots and geeks — damn their altruistic hide.

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