I got some letters about yesterday’s article. 🙂
The piece really was a political/sociological analysis of a political situation.
Sorry, folks. This is a political situation. Call it Linux/open source/free software/P2Ping/whatever, they all represent a spectrum of belief which represents an ideological alternative to the regular capitalist/democratic system. Some forms of it are benign, but some are not.
Being an ideological beast, it acts like one, and it mutates like one, also. Among other things, it spawns more extreme offspring who take some of its points and carries them to their logical conclusion, and the results are sometimes bizarre.
For instance, it’s a pretty big mental jump going from a capitalist to a communitarian approach, and saying that it would be better for people to share the intellectual property they make to make it easily accessible to all rather than be bought and sold and protected.
It’s a much shorter mental jump to go from that to saying that protected content is a social evil, and another short jump to conclude that something should be done about that evil.
And many, many others short-circuit the whole process and think this ideology justifies being Robin Hood.
So when item one may be perfectly fine, its spawn may well not be fine at all.
Let me answer some of the major points raised by those who write:
How Do You Know Linux People Write Viruses and Steal Source Code?
This rather depends on how you define “Linux” or “open-source” people. If your definition of such is “if I say I am, I am,” that covers quite a bit of ground, including some that have never come within a mile of Linux.
The point I was making was that the Linux/open source/whatever ideology inherently tends to spawn extremism. One can say that about any ideology.
I did not say all or most Linux users were extremists; I don’t think they are. I did not say all or most virus writers were ideologically inspired. I did say that ideology might inspire some of it. If human history is an example, it would be very surprising if it didn’t.
Is this a warped, distorted, perverted version of how, say, Linus Torvalds thinks? Sure. But they’re there, and they’re spouting your language. Are many, perhaps even most of them, people just using this movement as cover? I don’t doubt that, either.
So why do you let them spew that, and not challenge them? You want to disavow them in front of me, fine, but that’s not where it’s needed. You need to disavow them to their faces in the trenches.
People didn’t much like that comparison, either. Perhaps I should have emphasized that the analogy was economic in nature, and an explanation as to why Linux doesn’t work on the desktop.
Nonetheless, within those confines, it’s a very valid comparison. You can have all forms of communism, a monastery in its way is communistic, too.
If you like, call it a charitable enterprise, if words like “communism” have too much buzz for you.
But if you look at Linux versus the Windows world, not just Apache, not just server software, the cupboard is pretty bare compared to the Windows world, especially on the desktop, and I would suggest to you that economics pay a big role in that.
That doesn’t make it evil per se; it just makes it ineffectual for the same reason that no big city has a volunteer police force, or supermarket, or any other kind of store. Voluntarism goes just so far. Paid professionals in general can do more and better than those doing something in their spare time.
Again, if you throw all those resources into a handful of projects, sure you can have successes there, but what about the rest?
Let’s take a few desktop examples not often mentioned. Let’s take WINE. WINE has been in development for ten years, and to quote the folks themselves, “Wine is still under development, and it is not yet suitable for general use.”
Mozilla is one desktop more often mentioned, but how long did that take to get version 1.0 out? Four years, and that was with Netscape/AOL financing most of the work. They fiddled while Netscape burned, and it’s not like the tide is turning back.
Another aspect of Linux which rather parallels some communist societies is its relative lack of concern for its customers, or rather, non-geek customers.
Much has been made of MS’s vulnerabilities. However, when you find the Linux “answer” to that is to force people to go into “root” to execute anything, that is no answer for Joe Sixpack. Joe Sixpack isn’t going to hire a system administrator to tell him what he can or cannot do; those days of computing are over. If he’s determined to click that file, he’s going to click that file.
If you look at MS’s vulnerabilities, you’ll see that the root cause of many of their sins is a desire to make life easier for the customers. Perhaps unwise, but understandable, and not necessarily evil or incompetent.
I don’t hate Linux. I’m just very skeptical it will ever amount to anything on the desktop, among Joe Sixpacks, and I’ve said why.
I could be wrong, but I’m at the “Where’s the beef?” point, and the only answer is that is a lot of beef rather than bull.
Speaking of evil. . . .
I Can Tell The Difference Between Bill And Beezlebub. Can You?
I do not find some of Microsoft’s practices admirable, not at all. Every ideology springs more extremist offspring, and MS is an example of capitalism breeding monopolism. Eventually, if they don’t change their ways, I think that if MS continues to dominate the desktop (which I have doubts about when PCs for the average person become consumer electronics products), they’ll either be broken up, or heavily regulated, and I think that will be a good idea.
However, that does not make them the root of all evil.
It is understandable that people don’t like the company due to some of its practices. However, many hate MS merely for existing and being successful.
MS is successful not because of their sharp practices. The major reason why MS is successful because they give most people (i.e. Joe Sixpack) what they want, and do a better job at making their lives easier than the competition.
I can hear the screams already. 🙂
If you ask the average person about Windows, the complaints you’ll get is that it is too hard to use and that it doesn’t always work.
What they really want is a consumer electronics product: simple, easy-to-use, reliable. Give the average person a Linux installation, and they’ll toss it before they can judge reliability simply because it’s harder to use.
There’s been some efforts to make Linux more friendly, but they are handicapped by those geeks who rather disdain Joe. They don’t think computers should be all that easy to use, probably because if they were, then their skills would become redundant.
In a nutshell, to beat Windows, Linux has to make Joe Sixpack happier than Windows does, but that’s the last thing most of the culture wants. The attitude is, “This is our OS, our rules. We don’t come to you, Sixpack, you come to us.”
That is why Linux will never beat out Windows on the desktop.
On the other hand, being geeky and hard to use aren’t such handicaps in the server world and provide some important benefits. Those other factors are more important. So it is not surprising that Linux does very well in that niche.
Making things easy to use costs money. That’s one thing MS has plenty of. The Linux folks don’t, largely because the ideology starves them of it.
Why shouldn’t the Red Hat people, for example, get paid all the time for what they make. They do good, honest work, why can’t they say, openly and honestly, “Here’s our product, we want all of you to pay something for it?” rather than have its costs hidden in “documentation” or “technical support” costs?
The irony is, I would like to see Linux become a real challenger to Windows on the desktop. But I know it isn’t going to happen because the ideologues will get in the way.
That’s the real reason why things are the way they are. and many Linux users are happy with that.
However, many aren’t (and more extreme the person, the more likely it is they won’t be).
Some play political advocacy. What that boils down to is that if people and institutions won’t voluntarily use Linux, then they’ll have to be forced to. Generally, you’ll see that happen in government, with advocates seeking government mandates that its employees use Linux. More recently, it’s been argued that Linux use be mandated to help halt the spread of viruses.
This rather repels me. Linux hasn’t needed affirmative action in the server market. All of MSs vaunted strengths have been unable to crush Linux there, indeed, if anything, MS may be losing that battle. To me, that is good.
So why is there a need to force people to use Linux on the desktop? Why doesn’t it come naturally?
But even that remains legitimate. Some go further than that. They need an enemy, and that automatically becomes MS. It’s a slippery slope from competitor to opponent to enemy to anti-Christ.
Once you get to Antichrist status, it’s pretty hard to take the attitude, “Let’s peacefully coexist with him.” So those who believe it don’t. The vast, vast majority do nothing but flap their gums, but in such an environment, is it at all surprising that a few would decide to take matters in their own hands? Again, look at human history.
What was interesting in the responses was that no one who expressed a dislike for Microsoft could bring themselves to condemn the attackers. I see little difference between this and those in the Middle East who won’t condemn al-Queda. It’s the same kind of political acquiescence.
A Good Letter
Here’s a letter from someone who rather disagreed with me, but it’s a good letter in that it helps to enlighten, clarify and further develop the points made in the initial article:
(Writer comments in bold italics, my response in plain text)
You’ve seriously misunderstood the open source movement. They don’t want coercion. For example several prominent open source people spoke up against
Napster, see here. See here for Linus Torvalds’
> view on DRM in Linux (not opposed).
This describes the situation perfectly, and shows the proper response to that situation. One of the points in my article is that this sort of response isn’t happening enough in the trenches. What you noted here should be the standard response in the trenches.
The kind of people who write viruses or hack Valve aren’t the “open source community”, they’re just assholes.
I’d hardly disagree with that, but don’t you think the philosophy, fine as it is undegraded, inherently tends to attract such people?
There’s a big difference between “I want stuff for free” and “I made this, here, you can have it for free”.
Of course, but that’s a difference that often gets overlooked in the trenches.
The Valve hackers are the first and open source is the second.
The virus/hacker/cracker “community” have their roots in the BBS world which developed in the ’80s sharing pirated software (and viruses) and was separate and different from the UNIX/Internet/academic world that gave rise to open source. To the extent that the miscreants have an ideology it’s “information wants to be free” and suchlike rather than open source. They may use Linux but they don’t contribute much back, and they may confuse
their ideology with open source but very few actual open source/free software writers make that mistake.
I don’t disagree with you, but that’s not what is happening in the trenches, and that’s where the public image emerges.
Let me use an analogy. Pope John Paul II is certainly not in favor of pedophile priests. I don’t doubt most of the Catholic hierarchy is against them, too. Nonetheless, in the trenches, there was a pretty widespread tolerance of the practice.
That’s precisely the situation here. You basically quoted the Linux Pope and some of the cardinals to me. They did the right thing, but that’s not the problem. What they said isn’t coming through loud and clear in the trenches. That’s the problem. (It is possible that the reason why it doesn’t come through in the trenches is because there aren’t that many open-sourcers compared to Free Software and/or assholes around.)
And we’ve already had the big ideological split on whether all proprietary software is evil – people who believe that will tend to talk about Free Software rather than Open Source. See
here . . . .
I’ll plead guilty to lumping all “non-proprietary” folks together in one category. Perhaps the “open-sourcers” are the right-wing law-abiding socialists in all this, and the radical revolutionaries are elsewhere. Nonetheless, one does not see the level of clarification/denunciation in the trenches that ought to be there, and your link above to the Free Software people, who describes non-free software as unethical and a social problem, rather makes my point. It’s a pretty small mental step from thinking something is evil to doing something about that evil. My sin is miscategorization, not misidentification.
Overall I thought your article was bonkers. I would argue about whether Linux is communist and whether it’s sensible to throw words like “terrorism” around but I suspect it might be futile to move from factual to ideological ground here.
I really don’t think you can argue that Linux is communistic (with a small “c”). That in and of itself isn’t bad or illegal; you could call a monastery the same thing, too. I don’t think it can work in the big, wide world, but I have no reason to oppose people who want to try to make it work.
However, does it inherently tend to spawn more extreme offspring? It certainly does, perhaps bastard children, but children nonetheless.
(One can say the same about capitalism and monopolism, too. I also think that if MS continues to dominate the desktop (which I have doubts about when PCs for the average person become consumer electronics products), eventually MS will either be broken up, or heavily regulated.)
In both cases, the answer is that is to challenge and disawow the extremists, and that was the point of the article.
Being Your Brother’s Keeper
This letter expresses a fairly common sentiment from those who believed pretty much what the writer believed, which was, “Don’t lump us in with the loons. We’re not like that.”
I don’t doubt it, and I didn’t doubt it before writing the piece. The problem is you effectively lump yourself in with the loons when they spew what they spew, and you don’t say the same thing to them.
Because they are your offspring (or at least claiming such). You can say they’re illegitimate or bad apples or fakes, and you may well be right, but they’re taking your concepts and doctrines and ideologies and using them to justify their behavior. And, too often, they go unchallenged.
To that extent, you are your brother’s keeper, if only to keep yourself. If they claim to speak for you, and they’re not, you have to make that loud and clear.
You can’t say “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and that too often is just what happens. Too many people stay quiet when they take your name in vain.