Sunday, July 29, 2007

The ethics of Open Source FUD

When I was a kid, I was bullied by the son of the headmaster. My notes were perfect and although I never bragged about them, he thought I had to be learned a lesson. After all, he was the son of the headmaster, wasn't he? Of course, I tried to reason with him, explaining that these actions were inappropriate and futile. Unable to call in a higher authority, I began to master the art of self defense and it didn't take too long or I was able to beat the cr*p out of him. So I did. I haven't resorted to violence in almost thirty years, because I still believe that diplomacy is the way to resolve conflicts and violence is in essence primitive and barbaric.

I don't have to argue here that the FOSS community has been the victim of FUD tactics a number of times. To name a few myths: no support, open to attack, unprofessional, viral licenses and so on. Each and every time the community has answered in a appropriate, accurate and responsible way. But how effective has that been? Well, not. We're fighting it every day.

The main problem are the media, the large 'professional' websites. These are the websites managers read. And what do they read there? "Is Linux ready for the desktop?" or worse: "Linux is not ready for the desktop".

Long haired College Dropout and Self-Confessed Hippie Hacker Wants to Create a Communist IT Landscape and Destroy a National Industry

And not your average blogger, but editors. Guys, if this had been the fifties, we'd all be shaking hands with Senator McCarthy and his committee for 'Unamerican activities'.

Our response is usually on Groklaw, LXer, and LinuxToday, to name a few. Those people don't read what is posted there, so they never read our response. We all agree to some extent that we've professionally countered all arguments and we're very satisfied about ourselves, but our message doesn't come across.

All we've accomplished so far with our 'measured responses' is that we've moved from "religious zealots" via "flaming Linux bigots" to "Open Source advocates". There are still lots of 'editors' who claim that it is impossible to publish any story about Open Source (read: a bunch of FUD) without getting flamed to death (read: getting comments). If that isn't FUD in itself, I don't know. And pointing the finger to a group doesn't make it any less personal. Note 'they' didn't have any problem to make it personal. Remember what has been written about Richard Stallman and in particular about Pamela Jones of Groklaw. Those accusations weren't even true.

Obviously, reacting in a professional and responsible way doesn't get us any prime time. I make an offer to any editor that is afraid to do a FOSS story. Select a well-received article that responds to yours from any of our major websites and publish it in its entirety – not just a link. Give us a fighting chance to react. There are so many well-researched and well-written articles on the web, exposing the vulnerabilities of Windows, the 'Get the facts' campaign, the 'dangers' of Open Source licenses, etc. Why do these need to remain hidden in the bowels of the Google cache. Why are these not of 'general interest' or 'suited for a large public'?

And give us some acceptable editors. Why does Neil McAllister do "Open Source" at InfoWorld, for Pete's sake? Why can eWeek have his Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, and not ZDNet, for instance. IMHO, if it needs a little FUD to achieve that, I'm happy to pay the price. But this imbalance in news coverage must be fixed, one way or another.

The FUD doesn't seem to stop and it doesn't stop at these so-called 'professional' websites. In the previous blog, I've shown you how closed-source companies try to tighten their grip on the press even further. The bullying goes on, and although subtle and hidden from the public eye, we haven't seen anything yet. I'm deeply concerned about this and the effects it might have for our community and our projects.

DC Parris wrote: "The other thing is that I'm not sure we (our community) should stoop to the level of others, i.e., spreading FUD about them just because they spread FUD about us. I strive to achieve a higher level than that". It may surprise you, but I agree with him. We have our ethics. If we find a bug or a vulnerability, we fix it instead of lying about it. We listen to our users and try our very best to accommodate their enhancement requests. We don't make the easy choices, but try to make the best ones. We will not obfuscate our programs, change our protocols or patent our inventions. And we will certainly not go closed source!

And even if we do write 'Open Source FUD' every now and then, are we really that bad? Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I challenge everyone to read my recent blogs and find any misrepresented facts. I like to think of myself as an integer person, who gives a great deal of thought before he makes a decision or writes a line. I always check at least two independent sources before I use any information and when I can, I provide the links. I don't manipulate results and I certainly don't lie. Everyone can and may comment (even anonymously), the comments become visible right away, I don't edit them (apart from inappropriate language) and I don't remove them. I can't say all websites have the same policy.

We are always defending ourselves, reacting to the attack of others. We're in our stronghold, on siege. In military science, that is not a favorable position. For almost fifty years the Soviet Union and the United States had a massive amount of nuclear firepower pointed at each other. Still, no shot was fired during that period. It was a MAD situation, but it worked. MAD means "Mutual Assured Destruction" and that is exactly what is was. Nobody moved, because they all were afraid of retaliation.

We've been nuked for years now by lawyers, spin-doctors, publicity moguls and politicians. And you still want me to play mr. Nice Guy?

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