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The Linux Community: Wear Your Hearts On Your Sleeves - page 4

Facing Realities

  • August 30, 2000
  • By Paul Ferris

The Linux experience is about long term growth. It isn't just the product features that are introduced as new, it's the underlying standards for automation and powerful scripting tools that provide for a bullet-proof foundation. It means that today you can make a customization that is good pretty much forever and for a product that is in a constant state of improvement.

If it stops improving from a feature point of view, it usually improves in other ways, such as a portability or efficiency standpoint. Linux, although never quite "done," paradoxically provides places to hook in that never change. The end result is that groups of people can build upon the work of the Linux community dependably--literally forever in the fast changing world of the Internet.

Contrast that with the life of a proprietary software developer working with development tools from a vendor who may someday end up being the primary competition. In this scenario, the tool supplier can covertly change or even eliminate a "standard" or API without any kind of consensus. The change can be sprung upon the dependent developer and their customers as late as a new product release and their revenue stream can be completely destroyed without any easy remedy.

The open source experience is more than being about features and product release dates. It's about providing an honest avenue that true long term technical growth can be built upon. Who wants to be the next product innovator for an entity that cannot innovate for itself? Who wants to make the next Netscape--to be not just easily copied, but easily destroyed as well? Who wants to use software that puts them at a technical disadvantage?

No one does. The Linux and Open Source movements in general will provide APIs and application frameworks that are hard to sway by nefarious intervention. The "heart on the sleeve" of the Linux community will be its strength and curse, they are two sides of the same coin. Like my condition, there is no choice in the matter. Once you're born with it, it's with you forever.

The corporations that build around and on top of these philosophies will have it as part of their foundation. How well they embrace this kind of life will determine whether or not they're going to be here next year. This is a new idea right now. Tomorrow, it will be as in-grained as any other culture change.

In the meantime, some members of the press continue to cast Linux and Open Source as a nebulous group of system crackers who can't spell and are somehow creating open source products out of Microsoft-envy drive. It's easier, and what the heck, we don't have an advertising budget so what are we going to do about it anyway?

I'll tell them, if they're listening--we're going to slowly, inexorably, change the world. Tomorrow, when you wake up, open source software will be in your phone. It will be on your desk, it's already running some of your favorite web sites. It will run your mainframe and your watch. The people who are truly innovative in this world care too much to let it happen any other way.

It will grow without advertising and PR budgets. It will take a market and that market will remain taken for a very long time. For all of the mention of "Freedom to Innovate" by some corporate bodies--the Open Source community is not asking for that freedom, it's using it.

The pieces of Linux and other open source projects are continually getting better and are really never "done". It's a paradox, but corporations and people alike see the value and it's way higher than predicted. The value is strong and continues to improve. The value is in the freedom, the user empowerment, the lack of planned obsolescence. The lack of high procurement cost.

The journey to this new world is a difficult one, and we're just getting started. But what a start! The web and embedded spaces will not be taken over, and the desktop, though a ways off, will someday have a significant Linux share.

The Open Source Way

Open source today provides technologies that are modular, scriptable, scalable, powerful and based solidly upon open standards. These values run contrary to singularly developed corporate alternatives, in which the producing corporations would like to extract a toll for every feature that rises above the commodity needs of the average user.

Example: "Need over 10 or so users to access that server?
We've made an artificial limit so you have to pay for each extra user!"

Wow, what a feature.

Example: "Need to develop software for that computer?
We have all of these proprietary tools that change in the wind so you won't ever be able to compete with us, the so-called standards bearers."

In both scenarios the software development direction and product features can be easily tilted in favor of the dictatorial body that governs the underlying technology--all at the expense of the people who depend upon the software.

What about the tools that the user base needs so that they can innovate for themselves? Where are they? Gone, by intentional design. The user's vote in this process? Gone, it runs contrary to the needs of the share-holders. The public debate over the features? Gone--no one will be paying attention, even if the public outrage over the missing or derailed features rises to a fevered pitch.

Where's the right of the public to innovate in this scenario?

There is no one asking for that right in the Linux community--it's inherent, and they're too busy doing the innovation to care, much less debate, whether or not they have that right. Go and look at some of the bug lists for a project in progress. There you will find the innovation missing at Microsoft. There you will find the future innovation and the truth of the matter.

Does the press cover the netcraft survey results, which show Apache at an enourmous lead over all proprietary competition? Of course not. Apache, as a free product, likely doesn't bring enough ad purchases to the party. The story is huge, but no one is talking about it. No, better talk about how Microsoft is being beaten up by the Government and how their revenue stream is thousands of orders of magnitude larger than that of open source companies--that's the real news for the mainstream press.

Better to make a big deal out of the quirkiness of Richard Stallman or the fact that Eric Raymond likes guns, or complain that Linus doesn't answer his phone like he used to. There's the news about Linux and Open Source software.

In the meantime the big news goes unnoticed: The real freedom to innovate is right in your back yard at the local software retailer, it's in the links on this site--it's on the net, it's in the CD carrier of your next door neighbor. There's some real freedom and a real good story for any reporter, but it's holding a distant candle to the light being shed by the greed that has captivated the hearts of corporate America.

Wearing your heart on your sleeve is a painful thing, when you look at it this way. As heavy as the cost is, the benefits are long-lasting and extremely satisfying. The open source way gives the user back the territory that that is taken by innovation-hobbled software. Because it's so flexible, so deep, so powerful, it gives the users back their dignity as well.

It's not just the OS, all the pieces of the OS as projects yield a granularity of control and choice for a user not allowable in monolithic, singularly designed and corporately controlled alternatives.

It's due to the competition and openness that this is possible. It's due to the way the community guides the development. It's because we wear our hearts on our sleeves as a community, ultimately.

Ultimately the world changes as it grafts Linux into places that were occupied by proprietary non-standards conforming technologies. Choices open that were not present before, and this newfound power empowers the user or corporate customer to growth that wasn't possible before.

This is our strength. We as a community must be proud of it. We need to wear it like a badge, in fact. For sure it's nothing to be ashamed of.

Despite downturns in stock and all the corporate cage rattling that the media doles out, the open source steam-roller continues to grow, to widen, to scale--to gain converts. The danger it creates is for the people who have been influenced to think it's a corporation or a group of people who have only short-term financial gain to aspire to. To begin to obfuscate, to compete unfairly, to change desktop APIs so one project suffers at the hands of an unfairly leveraged other. The weakness is in that kind of ignorant non-interoperability. We need not look to anyone as our "competition". We have but ourselves to compete with.

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