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The Linux Community: Wear Your Hearts On Your Sleeves - page 6

Facing Realities

  • August 30, 2000
  • By Paul Ferris
The people calling the Mozilla project a failure have not been able to discern the difference between corporate interaction (Netscape) and community interaction (Mozilla). They want to point to corporate goals, time-lines and market share as indicators of success and failure.

Mozilla's goals are long-term. The project is about far more than a browser--it is about making a product in the open source space that will hold true to web standards and promote true open protocols. If Mozilla ends up with a 25% market share in the long run (a conservative estimate in my opinion), it will have accomplished the same thing that Linux is currently accomplishing. It will hold a share big enough to make web developers hold to a standard that is not controlled by singular corporate interest.

That's one of the pleasant things about a truly open standard--it cannot be easily hijacked and ruined by one company. Mozilla has the potential to not just comply with web standards--but to create a market big enough to ensure that web sites comply as well.

Much has been made of the project and its delays, as if it were a proprietary product churned out by a corporation gone awry. It's not, and the delays are what they are, and nothing more.

The Mozilla project isn't working in secret. It has had public defections that in a corporate setting would simply go unnoticed--this is the simple truth of the matter. For the media to make much of these things as if they were big news is not just irresponsible journalism, it is sad sensationalism. Few stories have been written about defectors in the proprietary software world, or how those defections brand the companies products as "failures".

It's as if there's a rule book that says that for the Linux and Open Source movement, you can make big news of an error or change, because you can find out the truth behind it. That makes it a story. If it's a corporation, the same thing can happen behind the scenes and it's not as important because the facts are hidden. I'm sure it doesn't have anything to do with the fact that they've also got a paid staff and a PR department to contend with. If you can't see it, it's not happening.

It's like the old joke: "Does the light go out in your refrigerator? You can't tell--the door is closed." The status of the light in the open source refrigerator is easily determined--we have a glass door, you see. We wear our hearts on our sleeves.

It would be nice to have a 2.4 kernel to use right now, but I actually am comforted by the fact that the delays are there--they are doing the right thing for the right reasons. It's not delayed because some marketing firm thought that the early delivery date would thwart the competition's buyers. It's not delayed because they are hopelessly without clue, building some enormous code base or bloated, multi-million line boondoggle--it's delayed because they're trying to do a great job at something they believe in.

I could write an article: "Apache 2.0 is delayed. It's just like Vaporware".

It would be a lie. It would get attention though, you can bet. It would help me make a name for myself as a "Pundit", as people are always looking for some kind of dirt and this would be similar to that, only it would stink more, if you catch my drift. It would also generate some seriously large flaming--I've never written a line of code for Apache, but I can tell you that people who did do it believe very much in their product.

The whole thing would be totally without merit in the truthful world, and ultimately as Apache 2.0 emerged and people found out what a terrific product it was, I would look seriously stupid in the eyes of the community that used it. In this case, an enormous share of people delivering web content. An important bunch, if you ask me.

If the Apache group was doing what it's doing as a corporation, it might have announced the 2.0 release in 1995, to stall any market decision involved. Its public relations firm would be coming up with all kinds of excuses, and no one on the outside would truly have a clue about why the product was delayed. They would, however, hear excuses. God and a few developers inside this hypothetical corporation would be the only beings who would know if those excuses were the real ones.

Businesses attempting to plan for the future and users eagerly awaiting the release would learn over the long haul that things were not really what they seemed, as the products delivered would not truly deliver or would end up being too little, too late. They would shrug their shoulders and say things like "Oh well, that's the Apache Group!". Ultimately, as a free product (the true Apache, which we don't need to fantasize about, because it's already here) emerged, they would end up switching to that, for the reasons outlined above.

The open source community obviously doesn't have this problem.

For the record, I've used the 1.3.x Apache products a lot, and they seriously rock my world. Like Linux, Apache is a success story in its own right, and the developers involved have quietly taken over the world wide web. No amount of rock throwing or misunderstanding can take this away--it's simple truth, as anyone will find out who cares to look.

I've said it before--the Linux community (collective, whatever), is not a corporation. It's a democratic process, and more. For that, and the reasons above, for all its infighting and rock-throwing, for all of its down-sides, it has the best model so far for developing software.

If you are looking for good, quality software that has your best interests at heart it's here now. If you're looking to have a long term solution for your business, if you're in need of real quality, if you're tired of political changes being made to your core technology--the technology that you base your daily business upon--open source software is the rock in the storm.

You can count upon the Linux community in the long haul. It wears its heart on its sleeve, but despite and paradoxically because of that weakness, it remains an unstoppable force in the world.

I will end this by confessing that I've really been enjoying my job a lot of late. I get to work with some of the best Linux people on the Internet, and I get to use exclusively open source software. I get to use the best tools on the planet.

I'm really happy about it, too. You'd know exactly how true a statement that is, if only you see my face right now.

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