Ian Ferguson at ZD starts throwing fireballs with “Time for Linux bigots to take a back seat”. There is a kernel of a point I agree with in here, but mostly he is just stooging.
That idealism unfortunately manifests itself most often in online diatribes against Microsoft, in particular, and proprietary software, in general.
Gartner analyst Brian Prentice said recently the “flaming Linux bigots” who were prone to hyperbole and religious debates to advance their cause actually impeded the growth of Linux and open source software.
Now, first off, I can’t express how low my opinion of Gartner is as an organization. As a consultancy they are all but worthless and as punditry they represent a more transparent Cash-for-Media organization than anything of which Armstrong Williams could dream. Of course, the irony of talking about “flaming Linux bigots” and then criticising them for being “prone to hyperbole and religious debates” itself is not lost.
This is where there is a slight kernel of truth. Too often in the Linux community there is a gut level response that is anti-anything-outside-our-ideal. The whole GNOME project represents such a response: a backlash against KDE and its underpinnings in the Free-as-in-beer QT library. Of course, TrollTech GPLing QT didn’t change their already formed religious beliefs. I still argue that KDE is the far superior dekstop on *nix for a number of reasons, but that doesn’t stop GNOME from continuing. Indeed, the religious nature of GNOME in many ways continues to hurt the project. Continuous “framework” change before even a generation of apps is developed keeps it from having the kind of smooth user experience that people expect in a modern desktop.
There is also a NIH syndrome that is problematic. As great as the Beagle desktop search and Dashboard utility are, no one expects to see them make it into Fedora Core anytime soon, mostly because RedHat is loathe to give too much credit to Novell for a good product, even if it is “open source”.
Moreover, I think the Linux communities’ (a) rejection of Java on philosophical grounds and (b) lack of demand that Java get tier-one support as a desktop system on Java from Sun has held back more of their ideas than not. Sure, Java now tops SF.net, but I don’t think that is terribly meaningful. I can’t help but laugh that Linux distros don’t seem to have much of a problem including the Flash plug in, for which Macromedia doesn’t even make dev tools for Linux, yet there is still a holy war mentality.
That is the kernel of truth. The rest of Mr. Ferguson’s argument, however, is complete bunk:
However, heading into the new year, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Linux and open source software community can ill-afford the luxury of diluting its message to business and government communities. While significant ground has been made this year in winning broader acceptance, most notably by in securing a level playing field in competing with proprietary software companies for lucrative government procurement deals, Microsoft for one is not taking the situation lying down.
Securing procurement is not “the message” of open source. That is the message of a company. RedHat, Novell, Microsoft all have that message. The “message” of open source is that options are good, you should not be held under the boot of your vendors and that the value of software is rarely the product, but the expertise to make it work how you want.
For one, the company’s massive revamp of its security position two years ago — requiring programmers to take training in secure coding — is starting to pay off, with exploits of problems in Microsoft products coming down. This effort — combined with the increasing frequency at which problems are being found with Linux and open source code — is quickly undermining the Linux and open source community’s argument that Microsoft software is high risk when compared to alternatives.
This argument always drives me nuts. Does “Linux” have security problems? Sure. For years BIND and Sendmail were nightmarish to keep updated. PHP and individual PHP apps have seen all kinds of security holes. The thing is, you need to compare apples to apples. Pretending that all of “Open Source” is the alternative to a Microsoft view is flawed. Fedora or SUSE come with no less than 12 email clients. Does a flaw in one of these count against the “Operating System”? How does that compare with a flaw in Outlook(/Express) that is the only option on a stock Windows install? Moreover, even thinks like the international domain name “exploit” in Mozilla doesn’t really compare with the drumbeat of XSS, sandbox and ActiveX flaws we are pummeled with from Microsoft. No, we haven’t gotten a Teardrop style exploit in a while, but how much damage did Slammer do? Judging incident counts is only part of security.
Secondly, Redmond is likely to step up its efforts to warn customers that deploying Linux and open source solutions could expose them to litigation over patent royalties arising from the use of shared code. (However, the effectiveness of this argument could be blunted if the so-called Open Invention Network — a company formed by IBM, Sony, Philips, Novell and Red Hat — is effective in its intention to buy up Linux patents and offer them royalty-free to Linux developers).
Is anyone taking the SCO thing seriously enough to even buy this FUD anymore. Yes, we need serious reform in the IP infrastructure in this country. However, there seem to be very few cases where this has become a real issue. Microsoft can say it, but that doesn’t make it true.
In addition, Microsoft is likely to continue to aggressively protect its market share, leveraging its incumbency and size to ensure it loses as little ground as possible to its smaller rivals. The business cases presented by sellers of Linux and open source software — both large and small — are going to have to trump Redmond on value for money and fitness for purpose, as well as overcome the innate conservatism of information and communications technology purchasers. A tall order indeed.
Might I suggest reading The Cathedral and the Bazaar? If there is a manifesto to these flaming bigots, that would be it, and it would seem to me that half of the message goes directly to these points.
The message is pretty clear when it comes to the growth of Linux and open source software in Australia. The ideologues are going to have to fade into the background and keep their philosophical debates within the confines of the community while the sharp and commercially savvy deal with the hard reality of winning business contracts.
With even Schwartz explaining the value of Open Source in both terms of philosophy and economics, not to mention RedHat, Big Blue and Novell already there, I am not seeing the problem. Much like certain political pundits like to troll for what one whacko said somewhere on the internet to waive as an example of “the debate”, Mr. Ferguson seems to be trolling the comments on Slashdot or Digg and assuming it actually represents anything important, rather than being the braying of adolescents and people ill informed enough to take it for serious dialog.