Sunday, July 29, 2007

Every dictator fears revolution

Recently, a few misguided people published their rants on the internet. Like Iain Ferguson of ZDNet Australia. Most of these people aren't developers or have used anything else than their good old Windows. They are invited to cool Microsoft parties, where they drink an expensive Bordeaux of the sixties and are entertained by the best artists. I've been to these parties too and it is not that hard to feel important when you're there. Especially when you're not much to begin with.

The Open Source community does not throw parties like that. You even got to pay for your own beer and the best entertainment you will get is people showing of the last version of their software. Which is not very interesting when you're not developing yourself and even more when it is a CLI application.

So when you got to choose your friends, it is not too hard, ain't it? You got to take those 1000-dollar suits with lots of money and their carefully articulated PR-mumbo jumbo more serious than a bunch of badly shaven T-shirt and torn jeans wearing kids. Even more when these kids are insulting your best friends and are naively giving away their stuff, hurting their business. There got to be a way to protect the world from these rascals, isn't it? Let's try "intellectual property" or "patents" or "DRM" or "DCMA". Any which way but loose. Don't these kids know they're destroying their own future? Doesn't anyone fancy a job he's got paid for?

So, shut up until you know what you're talking about! So very sad, so misguided.. I have been in this business for over 20 years and a developer for even longer. I think I know what I'm talking about. I've always gotten paid for what I do. And like everyone else, I'm also a user. And that is where this story starts..

Like everyone else, I've been using Microsoft products for fifteen years, both privately and professionally. I've always been appalled by their quality. Even to this day, I am unable to get any marginally complicated Access application stable. Which Microsoft admits: don't write any serious application in Access! Professionally, I have turned to PHP and a bunch of other Open Source tools to create applications that simply work. All the time.

And it doesn't stop there. Recently, Microsoft admitted that their key asset, the Windows operating system, is so flawed that their have to rebuild it from scratch: Windows Vista. I am not a religious fanatic. Quite the contrary: the Dutch are very practical people. Whatever works goes. Given all the information, it is quite a sign of religious fanatism to stay with Microsoft. Microsoft isn't a software developer, it is a money making machine, just like MacDonalds isn't here to cure obesity.

I've started with Linux in 2000. First in a dual-boot configuration, now exclusively. I've haven't had even the minutest problem. Is it a wonder I've become enthousiastic? I've been able to introduce Open Source at work too. I've been able to develop solutions that simply work for a fraction of the cost. Solutions that are easy to install, maintain and have a very low downtime. I could never have done that with proprietary solutions.

I've been developing Open Source solutions since 1996. Simply because I wanted to return something to the community that gave me that much. I've modified other Open Source programs I downloaded and returned those modifications to the original authors, so others could benefit. Others modified my programs and I still thank them for that. Schools are using my compiler to teach kids how to program. I'm pretty confident my compiler has few bugs, because contrary to my paid hours, I have the time to tune and improve on my programs. First, because I take great pride in what I can do and second because I simply have the time to do so. Time to market isn't an issue.

Linus once said, "the difference between commercial programs and Open Source is that the latter is created with love". That's why the stuff is that good. That's why the stuff will always be better and less bug-ridden than commercial software. Independant research has proven that much already. So, let's get real: it is not about the quality of the software.

Let's analyse the interests here. If you want the truth, just follow the money. If you touch commercial software, you touch their business, which easily translates into stockholders and money. If you touch Open Source software, you touch the community. It becomes much more personal here. A good software developer is an artisan, someone who takes prides in his craftmansship. It has nothing to do with religious fanatism, it is personal pride. It is the thing you made with your bare hands.

In the old days disciples had to make a masterpiece to become a master. They weren't really paid for that, it was just a proof of what they could do. There was a part of their soul in that piece. Our modern Open Source community is made of people like that.

Another point is that they were once users themselves. You don't scratch when you don't have an itch. But Windows was such an itch, so they created Linux. Word was such an itch, so they created Abiword. Visual Studio C was such an itch, so they created GCC. Users that take the course of history into their own hands are revolutionaries, that's true. But those who fear a revolution are usually the dictators.

Iain Ferguson was never someone like that. Those who can do it. Those who can't become editors who visit Microsoft parties and network with the suits. They don't see the grannies who paid 500 bucks for a computer and see it crashing in their face all the time. They don't see the real users for whom programs are tools they need every day and rely on them. I and others see that all the time.

I don't care if I hurt the business of your drunk, 1000-dollar suit, so called "friends", Iain. I don't care if you tell me to shut up, Iain, because I will say the same to you. Shut up, until you know what you're talking about. And I promise you: if you stop calling me a religious zealot, I will not say again that you're a incompetent freeloader. Please note, there are quite tasty vins de pays too.

[Ed: readers are kindly requested to read this blog too]

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