February 17, 2019

GNU/Linux: Too Much about Hate, Not Enough about Pride - page 2

Negative Identity

  • April 7, 2008
  • By Bruce Byfield

One of the aspects of the free software movement that has always impressed me is that it continually confounds expectations. When it started in the early 1990s, the conventional wisdom was that competition and profit drove innovation. The idea that cooperation and pride in exercising your ability could replace these incentives was Utopian, communistic, hippy-dippy, anti-American, naive--anything except practical.

You still hear echoes of these attitudes today. The difference, though, is that while free software was the fringe movement fifteen years ago, now it's increasingly the detractors who are dismissed as unrealistic. Quietly ignoring all the explanations of why free software methods would never work, the community has patiently plugged away, doing what needed to be done. And, in the end, it has proved all the conventional wisdom wrong.

GNU/Linux will never scale, the critics said. Yet for years, the operating system has been a major player in servers, until today it is one of the main drivers of growth in that market. Releasing code makes for insecurity? Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find a security expert of any note who doesn't believe that free software is securer than proprietary code. Free software can't scale to larger applications? Today, programs like Apache are standard parts of the developer's tool kit. Free software can't be user-friendly? Handle quality assurance? Time and time again, the free software community has done what everybody said couldn't be done--not by those methods, or with that idealism--and, for the most part, done it superlatively well.

Admittedly, part of my interest in these accomplishments is a contrarian's delight in seeing what everybody knows debunked. But mostly it's a deep-seated appreciation for the independence and determination of those with the courage to succeed in their own way.

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