When people buy a software product, they say they get a sense
of security they say is missing from opensource and free software. Not
only is this myth-information at it's worst, but it also betrays an
old-world thinking that misses the point of open source software.
There's a common argument against open source software which is typified
by the following quote:
... free software is sometimes
not very well maintained. I buy the Eudora package from Qualcomm so I
can feel justified in complaining to them when a bug needs fixing, for
example, rather than using the free version.
With all due respect to the author, this Eudora story is missing the
point, it's spreading un-called-for FUD, and at best betraying an
"old-world" way of looking at our software ownership.
There is only we
Ok, this is advogato, so I'm preaching to the converted to some degree,
but bear with me. There's a point which a lot of us need to take home
from this, and one which many of those seeking to "make money from free
software" seem to miss: Free software is not about selling a
service, it is about a community activity, a shared commons.
If some software we are using is broken, or needs work, like any
commons, it is our failing, not a failing of the
There is no "vendor" in this world, there is only "we".
That the users don't participate, that is the crime, that is
the sad omission. We are so accustomed to being sold to, we don't
recognize when a neighbour comes up to shake our hand.
Helping the Helpers
Say your community shows up to build you a barn, and you sit on the
porch drinking lemonade, criticising their carpentry and pestering
them for a completion date, well, just how ludicrous is that
scenario? Yet this is exactly what we are doing when we sit
back like some ancient king, expecting free software served to us,
taking what we you need, giving nothing in return except maybe
money ... or "advocacy". Sigh
Even if all we can do is serve them lemonade, or do the little
grunt jobs for the apprentices, carry the lumber, hold the chalk-line,
mix the paint ... at least we're helping ease the load.
Paid-for Sex is Better(?)
This comment about Eudora is also guilty of propaganda, even if only
naiively. Commercial software, if anything, is equally guilty
of not supporting or maintaining their products. The commercial world
has no monopoly on professionalism, just as the private sector
has no monopoly on efficiency.
That one can get results from Qualcom is not in question, but
for every Qualcom in this world there are ten more who
just dump products on the market and take the money and run, and who
will insult you if you call on them (a certain large vendor in Redmond
Washington comes to mind). Equally, for every ten GTimers in the
Opensource/FreeSoftware world there is a Postgres or a Ruby or an
Evolution or an XEmacs who take being neighbourly quite seriously.
The Things Money Can't Buy are Free
Of course, just as with the barn raising, which neighbour do you suppose
is more likely to get future assistance, the one drinking lemonade, or
one weilding another hammer or brush? If you don't mind Christian
mythology, consider the story of the Good Samaritan and the question
Jesus asks, "Which one is the neighbour?"
Here's where this all comes home to the Advogato crowd: This paradigm
shift out of colonial thinking of being sold to, of being passive
wallets that product is pumped into, and into becoming part of a whole
community, this is probably the single biggest obstacle to the
widespread adoption of open source software. It's a tough nut to crack,
too, as it is not just the users of the software stuck in this mindset,
but too often also the producers of the open
source who still seek only to colonize the user's IT.
Community means an Ecosystem
Old habits die hard. It's time both sides realized that this truly is a
commons, and that, as custodians of the park, it makes more sense to
encourage our visitors to pick up their own trash than to invent more
elaborate cleanup machines. Ok, bad metaphor, but the point is, unless
we can engage the user-base, we are pissing in the wind. Ok,
not much better, but you get the picture, right?
Perhaps the real issue is that when someone has Linux installed, it's
often installed with the tools that the installer would use, rather than
the fun /useful stuff the end user would like. The question "How
do I do word processing under Linux?" should never really need to be
asked. After all, if the person doing the install is doing it properly,
they should ask exactly what the end user wants to do with the machine,
and stick $wordprocessor  on there, ditto doom, quake, UT, and
People rarely want to destroy any tool that does most of what they want,
reasonably well, and if an end user find that their install of windows
has more stuff on it that they want than their install of linux, then
the choice as far as they are concerned is a no-brainer.
Obviously the person doing the install cannot put everything the user
will ever want on the system, but as long as there is enough stuff on
there to get the end user interested and keep them interested, they'll
stick with it. If they have doom, they'll know that sort of thing is
possible, and will look for quake/ut/whatever, and if they have abiword,
they'll know that sort of thing is possible, and will look for a
complete office suite, if they need it. Etc, etc, etc...
 not wanting to start a "don't install this, install that thread"
salmoni: Yours is an argument I most often hear, second maybe to "I
don't have time, my time is money" yet anyone who's contracted even a
carpenter knows you get better service if even all you offer is a cup of
There's lots the non-technical person can do, even for something as
elaborate and deeply technical as the Linux kernel. You can proof-read
the documentation and comment on where it was confusing for you; as a
novice, you have something the developers have lost, ie your innocence.
I produce docs all the time which state things I think obvious
but which totally confound my readers. My guide for emacspeak for
non-technical users (http://emacspeak-guide.sourceforge.net) tried to
de-mystify Emacs (talk about doing something impossible before
breakfast!) and would not have got as far as it did were it not for kind
comments from several novice users.
The point about proprietary systems that go bankrupt is a very good case
in point. Here at TCI, we use the old MetaDOT portal software as our
Intranet; all we use is its ability to put RDF boxes into a page and
update them on a schedule, but now that this opensource project has
vanished are we out of luck? No, I just maintain the perl code myself,
best I can, to keep it current to our requirement. Contrast this with
our last major purchase for Windows, S-Designor which had the Y2K bug
and now no longer works with post-Win98; I've had to simply abandon it.
Ditto for our photo-scanner from EasyPhoto.
Someone once proposed that companies going bankrupt should just dump
their sources to an archive and GPL it on their way out; were I Emperor
of IT, that would be my second decree, right after the decree that "no
one shall compose software they themselves do not use"