[lug] The changing Linux Community was Re: cp and rm

Nate Duehr nate at natetech.com
Thu Aug 2 16:58:45 MDT 2001

On Thu, Aug 02, 2001 at 10:51:10AM -0600, Michael Deck wrote:
> At 09:27 AM 8/2/01 -0600, J. Wayde Allen wrote:
> >On Thu, 2 Aug 2001, Nate Duehr wrote:
> >
> > > The one thing that is starting to worry me about Linux is that with the
> > > popularity of the OS, there are an awful lot of end users who never were
> > > indoctrinated into the "community" oriented nature of open-source
> > > software -- many have an entitlement attitude -- "I'm entitled to a
> > > working piece of software because I bought this box at CompUSA."
> >
> >I too have been troubled by the appearance of this attitude in the Linux
> >ranks.  When I first got involved with Linux there was a real sense of
> >community.  People realized that they were using a system that was built
> >by the work of volunteers, and there was a very real sense of cooperation.
> >People worked on and used Linux because it offered the user the freedom to
> >do things however they wanted, and it was quite simply fun.
> It's hard to see how the Linux community can aspire to world domination and 
> at the same time expect every user to 'chip in' and make everything work. 
> Most of the world has neither interest, expertise, nor time to do so. What 
> the community is going through right now is the heartache of trying to 
> figure out whether its goal is world domination or niche occupation. The 
> other big decision for the community is whether it wants to see itself as 
> based around software that is inexpensive and happens to be great, or based 
> around software that is great and happens to be inexpensive.

Very few people in the original Linux "community" had any aspirations of
"world domination" -- those goals were added by the commercialization of
Linux by companies like RedHat, etc.  Read the GNU Manifesto -- its only
aspirations of world domination are predicate on people helping other
people to create free (truly free) software.  But that relies on those
people doing so.  Some of the writings definitely appear to have
grandiose goals at times, but those goals are simpler than people want
to admit -- provide free software that anyone can modify/change/etc.
Those that don't want to modify/change/etc. certainly may have no
interest in helping out open-source projects, but they also should not
continually publish trade-rag articles "Is Linux Ready for Prime Time?".

> My feeling is that the commercial distros are going to help, rather than 
> hurt, by making it possible to have it both ways. If I'm inclined to chip 
> in, I can grab a base distro and keep up to date with patches and even 
> contribute. My costs are lower because I contribute my effort. Otherwise I 
> buy a new box at CompUSA whenever I think I need to, I buy add-ons as 
> needed, and I rely on various channels of support. Some of that support is 
> free (provided, as with most commercial software, by a community of 
> interested volunteers) and some of it is not. The commercial distros, armed 
> with my cash, can put resources toward fixing problems that their customers 
> are likely to have; volunteers will fix problems that they perceive which 
> may be a different priority set.

I agree that commercialization of Linux helps in some ways.  For
example, 99.9% of my job is on Linux systems.  But other commercial
Unix variants would have done the job just as well, albeit more
expensively.  Maybe in some cases (performance) better than Linux.

Grabbing a base distro and keeping up to date on patches is standard
system administration, and is required of all software use, including
Microsoft products, commercial Unix, and Linux/BSD type "free" systems.

The contribution portion of the picture is when you had to pay $0 for
the software but are asked to contribute by adding documentation,
helping others, writing code, and/or donations of
bandwidth/machines/etc. for hosting open-source projects.  Nothing is
truly free as in beer.  There's someone paying for all of this
somewhere, just *how* are they paying.  NOT contributing to the
community makes one a freeloader of sorts.

Commercial distros certainly are one way to fix the problem if one is
unwilling or unable to contribute.  Buy Solaris.  They'll provide
patches and at a cost another nice tool to keep all your machines
patched, etc.  Buying Linux also helps, but focuses the monetary
resources into Corporate America(TM) where it may or may not be managed
effectively to help open-source projects.  RedHat is pretty good about
this so they're a bad example, but you get the idea.

I'd rather download my Linux distro for "free" (which as
we mentioned, truly isn't free -- someone is paying for that bandwidth
and server farm, so proper setup and use of mirrors is HIGHLY
recommended) and hire a kick ass Linux consultant who will both fix
whatever problems I may perceive in the systems and also deliver those
patches upstream to the "collective" good.  However, again corporations
twist this into needing to close the source for their "competitive
advantage" -- the GPL helps keep this from happening, but also
specifically allows for companies to keep patches for their own use to
themselves... so if the corporation doesn't understand that by sending
patches upstream they help the entire OS to be better for them and
everyone else at the NEXT release, they're never going to, and the work
is effectively "lost".

> I'm grateful to the volunteers but I'm unlikely to ever be one. If offered 
> the choice between volunteering to help code open-source projects or go use 
> Micro$oft products, I'd probably end up with the latter. I'm already 
> spending 20 hours a week contributing to the community in other ways. 
> Others will find that writing open source software is the ideal outlet for 
> their energies.

It's definitely up to each person as to how they contribute.  But
there's also not much room to complain about completely open/free
software that doesn't do what one wants if one is not going to "pay" for
the priveledge by contributing.  In your case, it sounds like you
definitely DO contribute, and even just sending a good well-researched
bug report upstream to someone "interested" in coding for a project is a
great help.

> I like having the choice between commercial 'buy-ware' and volunteer 
> 'share-ware'. And I'm pleased to see the level of required philosophical 
> and ideological 'indoctrination' required to participate in the larger 
> Linux community declining. When using an operating system requires you to 
> take a loyalty oath, you know something's wrong.

Isn't buying something commercial a loyalty oath in itself?  How many
people are running Word 5 these days?  There's an exchange of loyalty
even in the so-called simple transaction of buying software for cash.

Nate Duehr <nate at natetech.com>

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