Free Software: Dead or dormant? My take on it, from an Eastern-Central European country.
I'd like to offer a different perspective on the ongoing discussion on free software's future. In Hungary, Internet access wasn't available to the masses (i.e. to anyone except universities) since 1995-1996, and thus, the development of free software culture has only started then.
I see numerous problems in the current situation. The number of free software users is low, but even worse, the contributor/user ratio is horrible. To even submit a bug report is most of the time an unheard concept. You virtually can't find someone who has deep knowledge in at least one field: just hang out on #linux.hu, and you will see half-truths, rumors, and even malicious answers to user questions. People who call themselves "system administrators" are complaining that they don't understand HOWTOs written in English. Even if you find someone with some technical authority, he won't have any concept of the political issues concerning Free Software, or IP at large.
The low number of free software hackers does have its upside: for example, since I'm the only active GNOME hacker in Hungary , I've been contacted several times by complete strangers who have heard via word of mouth that I am "the GNOME guy" or even "the C++ guy". So the point previously raised by someone in this discussion about bigger visibility of individuals when the total number of hackers is low, is definitely true.
But even this small hacker population (note that I didn't say community) is more or less invisible to everyone else. Due to the horrible state of the public, as outlined above, I've seen a lot of us slowly migrate away from the Hungarian free software and Linux communities. I am guilty of this myself too. It doesn't happen because you're pissed off. Most of the time it happens by accident: you turn off mail delivery for some reason, and then you realize that you have no compelling reason to turn it back on after a week or two. I have also seen this happen on #linux.hu.
Another part of this invisibility is the Organization of Hungarian Linux Users, or LME. An organization nearly noone of us wants to be associated with. An organization founded by these so-called "system administrators" as mentioned previously, and populated mostly by clueless newbies who want to be "close to the fire". The story about how things got really ugly when governmental money became involved is an entirely different story.
And now for what I believe is the largest problem. Even from this small number of free software developers, only an even smaller subset seems to get it. The others are leftover coders from the demo scene era, where arrogance and diminishing of peers was more or less the norm. But this doesn't scale well for free software development. Take, for instance, the most visible free software project from Hungary: MPlayer . Oh boy do they not get it: the license is ambigious (including the inclusion of other code with possibly conflicting licenses), and the maintainers' are most of the time arrogant beyond words with their users. They are the Gods who gave these puny earthlings the shiny black obelisk.
So this is the point where I'm supposed to summarize and make intelligent suggestions and predictions. I can think of three scenarios:
Downfall: The ex-demo coders migrate to
hip projects as this whole &qout;free software thing"
passe. The others are segregated even more,
and we end
up as 20 isolated groups of one or two hackers each.
Stagnation and maturing: Now that coding is
mastered, culture begins to creep in as well, and as each
gets more users, the maintainers eventually learn how to
them. In five years, we get exactly to the point that
others in this
discussion have outlined: after achieving great goals, we
that we have noone to give our heritage to. This is the
- The users of today become the developers of tomorrow: given all the issues I've explained here, I don't think that's likely without something catalyzing a paradigm shift.
 Not that that's such a low number: given that Hungary has about ten million residents, this would mean 600 GNOME hackers all over the world, which I believe is much larger than the actual number, if you only take those into account who hack on GNOME proper, as opposed to developing applications that depend on GNOME.
 Just for the record, I've never had any personal conflict with the MPlayer developers, in fact, I know one of them from an entirely different and unrelated community. The project is only used as an illustration here, because this is the most visible one.