Sunday, July 29, 2007

Who understands the OSS community?

There are only a few ways to make me mad. Personal attack isn't one of them. You can call me geek (which I certainly am), madman (true, I don't have any political or diplomatic skills), fanatic (guilty where OSS is concerned), sexist (and proud of it, just kidding ;-) or anything else and I won't even blink. But attack my work and the wrath of the Nerd will descend on you.

Whether it concerns a private project or a professional project, it doesn't matter. I take pride in my skills and I'm perfectly aware of what is only a few pages of code to me, is a tool others have to work with every day. I find that a great responsibility and after 20 years in this line of work I'm absolutely aware of that fact.

And I know that I'm not the only one. There are a lot of OSS programmers that feel the very same way. We might not always agree on certain (technical) issues, but we are proud of our work. That is a big difference with the code slaves that work for closed source companies. They have very little influence on the work that they do, give up their intellectual rights the moment they lift their fingers from the keys and get badly paid. And when closed source program is horribly made, the true artisan in us is disgusted.

When you're doing a OSS project, you do it because you like it. Because you have an itch to scratch. And if your humble project is of any use to the outside world, you're are emotionally involved to say the least.

There is no central OSS or Linux company. What we usually call "Linux" is actually a bunch of loosely connected OSS projects. There is no board, no CEO, no stock holders, no PR department and you don't have to apply for a job. If you want to work, go ahead, start right away, we're happy to see you. Maybe you will acquire some status over time, but there is no promotion. Let alone a raise.

I won't argue that the OSS community is a good representation of the population, or even of those working in the IT industry, but it is a very mixed crowd of people to say the least.

I recently reread a previous blog of mine and thought I had been a bit harsh to Iain Ferguson. Iain, I humbly and truely apologize. But I remember very well why he drove me this mad. And he is not the only one. What drives me really mad is that these editors obviously haven't any clue how to address the community.

What do you expect what happens if you write stuff like that, Iain and Simon? That there will be a board meeting? That we will issue a press statement? That all of a sudden the community will change its corporate strategy? We have none of those things! It just feels like a personal attack on the things we do and love. "Gosh, why do we get flamed each and every time? Duh??" What feeling do you get when you read a quote like that? That it is said by a clueless moron? Well, that is the impression that you make.

Jim Morrison once said "You can't petition the Lord with prayer". To paraphrase that it I'd like to say "You can't address the OSS community", because it is much too varied to be addressed. Let's assume that 10,000 people of that community are reading your column and you're flamed by the 1% idiots that are obviously there. One hundred flames is quite a lot, true. Next time you write a column saying that all the good people that work on OSS are all "bigots", "zealots" and should "shut up", "take a back seat" or otherwise disappear from the window. Like there is a CEO that will issue a memo saying that all employees should refrain from all public comments. What do you expect? More flames, because it is not nice to be insulted.

Now I've read Iain's column again I'm catching his drift, but it is so badly put to words that he should seriously contemplate if he is the right man for the job. For instance, he could have considered to investigate what the OSS community is all about. He could have addressed the subject that corporate CEO's don't understand how to communicate with the community either. Ok, I'll tell this once more, so you editors are all gonna get it: WE ARE NOT A COMPANY, SO DON'T ADDRESS US LIKE ONE!

If you get flamed, get over it. We all face that music, even amoung ourselves. You're not talking to a PR department. Please, make these CIO's understand that if you want something done, contribute, we're not changing direction just because some hotshot tells us to. If you want a Windows version, make a port. If you want a Swahili translation, make one. Even Linus once admitted he doesn't have a clue where he is going, he just goes with the flow.

Instead of flaming us in your blogs and columns, play by our rules and help those clueless CIO's understand they have some learning to do. Because they have. CIO's still think we are a bunch of crazy programmers, artists and translators working for free. Wrong. We just have a different currency. The currency is contribution and involvement. You can't just stay on the receiving end and make demands. What are you, a bunch of corporate freeloaders? ;-) Where are the millions of lines of good "internal" projects that are left on the shelves for one reason or another?

I assure you, if you highlight these points you will still get flames, but less. The first step in diplomacy is understanding. "We" don't have to understand anything. "We" will just continue doing what we're good at, which is making programs, either for ourselves or the whole world. "We" don't need ignorant, pedantic editors telling what "we" got to do, think or write. "We" won't change our ways. "We" use Linux and know what it is all about and why "we" use it and continue to use it. And if you step on our pet project or insult us, "we" will continue to react. Because "we" are only passionately doing what "we" do best. That is to serve ourselves and all others who take an interest in it.

So, now I've said it. I honestly hope you understand. I've made the first step, not "we". Where we (you and I) go from here is a choice I leave to you.

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