Thursday, June 18, 2009

Software Freedom: Sentiment or Cause

So, I just wanted to take a moment to talk about all the issues going on recently in the Open Source community. Warning: this is a rant. If you don't want to read it please skip to the next article in your rss reader, or navigate away now. Last warning.

The most recent stir is Mono based applications, but previous discussions have hovered around binary blobs in Linux distributions, proprietary drivers, and pure free vs. quasi pure free vs. free-as-in-price.

I do have some opinions about this, but no firm convictions. I mean to say that I am moderately educated on both sides of the discussion but that the discussion itself has recently turned into a "pitch fork and torch" kind of affair. I am far more hurt by the conduct from groups talking about these points than the points themselves.

I've been a computer user for many years. Part of my interest in computers as a hobby was the hacking and tweaking to get things just working. It is surprising to me that the tone of voice used by these people is borderline zealot. It feels like most people are missing the forest for the trees because they are hugging them too tight. Let's remember that we can roll with this one of two ways. We ostracize the average user completely or we do what needs to be done to let most folks into the fold if they so choose.

I can honestly say that I don't have the resources to install asterisk boxes on two continents so that my mother and I may speak using home brew voice services. We can both, with relative ease install and use skype. I know that might disappoint a few out there, but if a binary blob in my distro prevents my computer from being an overheated paperweight, then I'll use it. If I rely on an application that is available in the repos of my distro, then I really don't monitor what language the thing is written in, so long as it works when I launch it.

We all have known people in our Linux lifetimes who would be happy to try and switch and give Linux the "old college try", but when they do so much of their hardware was unsupported that they could not justify the loss in functionality for the moral choice of open source software. Why should we condemn our own for something of less importance at the end of the day. I mean really, curse words are the correct way to respond to my choice of note taking application because some programmer used a different language? I know there are issues with this licensing and that, and even further discussions could be had with other programming languages (not mono) if you really wanted to make that such a point.

I would like to make a formal request to the Linux community that if you have an opinion about programming languages or issues with certain licenses, please verbalize your opinion. You can even use words with more than two syllables. But don't make others in the community out to be a villain, or the embodyment of evil just because they don't agree with you. I like to think that we are one of the largest brain trusts on the planet, and it is more than a little disappointing when the best word you use in a debate is "sucks".

I hate to sound like everyone's mother, but grow up. You may be passionate about your cause, but be respectful of those who do not share your view. I think there are many good conversations to be had, as long as they are honorable and mature. In my heart of hearts I feel like we (as a community) come up with the best solutions when we try to solve a problem. But we are also the best at creating problems that aren't really that bad.

Now take a time out, and go sit in the corner while I cool off.


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