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A Contrarian View of Open Source
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

The stark moral choices that underlie all this ... they just keep getting starker. There's nothing newly created. Even free software guys, who like to spend a lot of time talking about grand community-building schemes, spend most of their working time aping commercial products. That's what they do. "We've built something that can interoperate with Microsoft!" That's like sticking banderillas in a bull, when the world really needs at this point is something like ... a piping-hot catfish dinner.



Open Source Convention Organizer: I'm sorry, sir -- we have to move your room.

Bruce Sterling: You have to move my room?

Organizer: Yeah. Sorry.

Bruce Sterling: Can't you just throw out half the audience?

Audience: (laughs ominously)

Organizer 2 (soothingly): It's just right next door, though.

Bruce Sterling: It's "just right next door?"

Organizer 2: Just right next door.

Bruce Sterling (to audience): Are you guys gonna rebel at this?

Guy in Audience: Open up the walls!

Organizer 2 (hastily): No, they can't open up the walls. They're gonna move that one in here. That room next door is bigger. More people will be able to sit down. It'll be more comfortable for everybody.

Bruce Sterling: Maybe I should just wind this up.

Audience: NOOOOO!!

Bruce Sterling: You're really going to get up? Like the waters of the Red Sea? Okay, let's see you do it. I'm the last man out of the room.

(tape break)

Bruce Sterling: I know lunch is coming, we've got to eat ... But I'm still venting my ever-growing fury!

There's a noticeable lack of basic creativity in the free software world, that is alarming and not very flattering. People in free software still have a basically piratical state of mind. They want goods without working for them. They still have a cracker state of mind. "How can I look through that closed bedroom window?"

"GNU's Not Unix." Okay, you're "not Unix" -- but what are you really? Why do you have to live in that shadow? The shadow of this other enterprise. There's something basically juvenile about that. Something that is unworthy, creatively feeble, childish.

But it's not as bad as the scene in commercial software. There's no reason to buy Microsoft .NET stuff that spies on you and installs digital rights management gizmos against your will. Why buy into that? Do you want to get sucker-punched? Do you want to make Jack Valenti the king of your box and Mickey Mouse his commissar?

Plus there's those virus horrors. And why people are willing to do this to the people they love and trust best in the world is beyond my understanding. If you had some kind of sexually transmitted virus, and you woke up in the morning dripping pus, I would hope that you would understand that there was some kind of moral need for immediate action. Even if it was kind of inconvenient and humiliating and personally degrading.

But if you're running Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, it somehow seems kind of okay to spew Klez-H, Sircam, Klez-E, Magistr-B, Hydris-B, Magistr-A, BadTrans- B, Vavidad.E1, Yaha-A, and MyLife-J.

And you're not just infecting your girlfriend, boys. You can hit your mom, your grandmother, your maiden aunt, your ten-year-old daughter! "Gee, why didn't you teach your ten year-old not to click on the attachments?" Because she's ten years old, you moron!

I had a long argument about this with Cory Doctorow. He and I were really going at this hammer-and-tongs, over the growing spam and virus crisis. And I thought that there needed to be some kind of political and legal solution. Like building a galvanized steel cage in Cuba and throwing all the spammers and virus writers in there as unlawful combatants who are clear and present deadly enemies of humanity.

Audience: YAAAY!!! (Applause)

Whereas Cory is a techie, and he wants a techie solution. So he's a fan of stuff like Vipul's Razor, and he doesn't mind if the traffic on the Internet is 96 percent fraud, malware, and evil garbage, as long as none of it gets on his feet.

So, I let Cory convince me and I installed Mozilla on my Mac. And its bug-track completely wrecked System 9. So I stopped fighting with Cory Doctorow. Not because he was winning the argument, but because his fucking Open Source solution cost me three days of desperate effort to restore my files! So I took the further trouble to install System X, and I backed up everything of course, but I still don't get it about System X quite frankly, and neither does System X. It never knows what it's running. There are chunks of Microsoft code in there like giant lumps of black putty just lying to you about what they are doing on the Internet. It's like trying to wade through drilling mud running this thing. It steers itself by committee.

And Microsoft Internet Explorer and AOL, they desperately hide the realities of the Internet from you, so that they can profit from your growing and ever-more-permanent confusion.

As opposed to the sparkling lucidities of the free software developers! Free software, basically congealed by people who have some vague idea what they are doing, and are loathe to spend any time writing down specs, when they could be writing new features.

Another Guy in Audience: Preach it, brother!

"Don't like it? Hey, just reconfigure it yourself, don't bother me!" It's the Hippie Squat Model of software architecture. "If I want to paint the doors and floors bright blue and put the toilet right into the kitchen, why not?"

It's very offensive to user sensibilities and it is as ugly as a sack full of penguin guts. But, you know, that is a vital systemic advantage. Because that catches the eye of the committed crusader. It actually brings people in who will stay and work hard for no money.

It's like life in a refugee camp. If you want Doctors Without Borders to show up, you don't want to have yourself any kind of really nice refugee camp. With some flowers, and a safe place for old ladies to knit. You want that inferno of starvation and disease that looks really good on CNN. Because if you actually organized a refugee camp, then you'd have stuff like taxes and gas and electricity and police protection, as opposed to what one gets in squatters' camps, which is incessant internal quarrels. Because there's never just one gang trying to run the anarchy. You get bitter quarrels, between Free Software and Open Source, between the Stallman hero-model and alternative business.

And, that's an interesting discussion. But, nevertheless, it's an industrial model, which is in practically every sense much less attractive than the one of the early 1980s, when there was a genuinely functional computer industry with some actual competition in it and room for real innovation.

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