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The Linux Community: Wear Your Hearts On Your Sleeves
August 30, 2000
"The problem, Paul, is that you wear your heart on your sleeve." It was one of my bosses who first brought it to my attention, long ago. I had heard the phrase many times, sometimes in reference to my expressions and emotions--but it never sunk in that the people were telling me something key to my existence as a human being.
And then one day I realized the awful truth--I did, in fact, wear my heart on my sleeve. It's a condition whereby all emotions and feelings are expressed in public--I cannot, or rather, not without great effort, hide exactly how I'm feeling from anybody who knows me. Imagine wearing a sign: "Paul is happy," "Paul is angry," "Paul is sad," or "Paul is having a bad day."
For a bit after this discovery, I viewed this as a character flaw of some kind. People around me seemed to drift blissfully through their lives, not having to worry about their emotions at all. It seemed a big advantage.
I almost felt sorry for myself--almost. After a while I found that having people know how you truly feel all the time can be a very good thing in the long run. They learn to trust in you and what you say a lot more. They learn that you aren't faking it, or giving them some kind of false direction.
Of course, not everyone is so keen on the truth, but that's a different story altogether.
The friends that I picked up, they were real friends--people who knew that yes, I was having a bad day. They learned that I was really listening when they had problems. They learned that they could truly trust me, because what they saw, it was literally what they got, emotionally and otherwise.
I'm not trying to imply that everyone is phony, or that most people are running around hiding their true feelings. It's just that the particular condition is, besides being a royal pain to live with in a lot of regards, actually a blessing in disguise in the long run.
And I think the community pretty much suffers the same condition, but in a global sense, not a personal one.
Take the current action centered around the GNOME and KDE .
If this were a corporation where there were internal struggles centered around some technical decisions, not only would no one outside of a small group of folks on the earth know--there would be public relations people on the outside dressing up the delays or events as positive things.
With the Linux and Open Source community, not only do people see the exchanges, they have the source code to the work both parties are referencing. There are no mysteries involved. What we see is literally what we're getting. It would be as if your family feuds were broadcast live over cable television, along with a diagram of the house and where all the weapons were located. It would be as if a small nation itself wore its heart on its sleeve.
It makes for great editorials and pundit-like predictions.
That's us, right now, folks. Some people are looking in from the outside and saying it ain't pretty. My advice to these same people is that if they don't want to watch then don't watch.
If you don't want a group of people that are attempting progress and have their hearts in their work, then look the other way at the alternatives. It's a lot more boring to watch, near as I can tell, and the products being offered have much higher costs in every direction.
You see, without all of this digital democracy, without all of this public debate, struggle and even rock-throwing at times--without that, there is no Open Source. You don't get one without the other.
The GNOME and KDE people, they're in this for a lot of reasons. Some of them are selfish, some of them are passionate--but all of them are ultimately very creative.
The digital domain of the Open Source community brings on many strengths. It brings together large amounts of people that truly know how to harness the power of the Internet. These people can collaborate on massive projects at higher speeds than traditional development models.
But it's also bringing a level of trust to that model that is missing from people offering proprietary alternatives. I predict that the long term effect will that a market taken by Open Source software will stay taken. The products are designed for the long haul, not to be technically obsoleted or financially priced out of a market. Open Source software does not become obsolete for political reasons, such as planned obsolescence with an underhanded goal of killing off the competition.
The Open Source communities don't play by the same rules as a singular corporation. As a matter of fact, there is no play--period. The people do their work to create and enjoy. They're not that interested in "war," except to fend off the stupidity of making things that obfuscate, don't interoperate, and in the long run cost sanity, pride, and most importantly--the ability to be creative and innovative.
Any hidden agendas found will be shouted from the rooftops. If it's a broken protocol it gets fixed. If it's not fixable, programs get created that work with it anyway (think of SAMBA, for example). This isn't about breaking things, or ruining anyone's business--it's about creating and using the best tools on the planet.
That power is one that no amount of bad PR can change in the long run. As more people use and come to depend upon open source software like Linux, their attitudes toward it changes dramatically. They begin to use it for everything eventually. Eventually, the people who were duped by the bad PR learn the truth--and they learn whom to trust and whom not to trust.
They learn that the community that wears its heart on its sleeve is something they can place way more trust in than any singular corporate entity with World Domination as a goal. Dig through Linux Today, and you will find that the Linux community often faces the facts of a situation head-on. There are wins and losses. It can be painful. It can be ugly. It can hurt.
Ultimately, and most importantly, the "It" will be the truth. The facts. This is a strength. The ability to face realities--even harsh ones--and continue on regardless. Without this strength, Linux and a lot of Open Source initiatives would not even be here today.
The media can throw its rocks. It can print the lies, the FUD, and make fun of us all it wants. We will win the trust of the people who were duped this time, tomorrow, next week or next year. It's inevitable because there's a lot of us, we're not going anywhere anytime soon--and we wear our hearts on our sleeves.