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Author:  Hollow
November 28, 2008



 

 

Does a purist attitude hurt the development of Linux?

When you have something like Linux which is available FOR free and IS free, you have the inevitable issues of people taking advantage of the situation and giving nothing in return. This is something that unfortunately is just a fact of life, if you offer something at no cost, people will take it, however if you offer something that is free “as in liberty”, not everyone will want it, nor will they care, if you combine the two you’ll attract both types of people. This is why Linux appeals to so many people already and why it’s user-base and developer-base is expanding daily. You have the people in this world who are idealists and want everyone to be nice to everybody else and be ethical, you have the freeloaders, the cheapskates and the pompous, then you have the realists, like me. Linux manages to cover all these people quite nicely, with Red Hat, Canonical, Debian, Novell and the volunteer only operations.

Red Hat does not have a purist attitude

As far as the purist attitude goes, Red Hat shouldn’t really exist, or if they do, they certainly shouldn’t charge for what they do. In the purist’s eyes, Red Hat is a corporate company, capitalizing on the freedom of Linux and other GPL software, even if they do give back development. The truth is, without corporates, money, trade and a marketplace, the world would almost literally stop rotating, and then we all float off into space and we can’t breath anymore, that’s not a good thing in case you were wondering. To the best of my knowledge, when Linus, Richard and the other Open Source pioneers invented their respective softwares and laid down the rules & regulations that became the GPL and the “mantra” if you will of Open Source Software, there was nothing said about being unable to charge for the software, or for services pertaining to it, the only rule that came close, was that it had to also be available freely and you had to provide the source code with it, along with any copyright notices, the GPL itself and maintain the credits of any original works. So is Red Hat a bad company? Not in my opinion no, they provide direct competition for Microsoft in the server market and they don’t really do all that much in Desktops, except at the “Super Corporate” level.

Is it wrong to be a freeloader?

Not entirely no. Freeloaders are actually required in order to make anything grow, let’s face it, without all the people who use Linux and other GPL software on a day to day basis, that don’t have the knowledge or expertise to do anything other than use it, there would be no reason for the developers to improve things so much, on such a regular basis. This is almost the same as asking if money is a bad thing, it is in many ways the root of all evil, but the fact is, without it, there would be very little motivation for people to make things, invent things or develop existing creation. Now don’t get me wrong, things would still get invented, developed and refined, it’s human nature to do these things, the difference without money and/or demand though, is that the motivation to do these things is much less. Without companies like Canonical and Red Hat for example, who ARE in it for money, regardless of how much or how little they actually make at present, the current state of the Linux Desktop would be NOWHERE NEAR what it is today. If companies like these weren’t out there, constantly trying to develop a product that they can use to make money, in order to compete with the ultimate corporate (MS), the desktop would still get developed, but it would be done at a very slow rate in comparison.

Without compliance there can be no harmony

So the purists believe that we should rid our systems of anything proprietary, that includes NVidia and ATi drivers, it also includes any proprietary software such as Adobe Reader, Flash or Photoshop, not to mention the various other programs that are required to do certain jobs, which I’m sorry, there just isn’t an equivalent for in FOSS sometimes. One of the things Symsys does for it’s customers is produce ready to print images, these can be for anything from articles in a newspaper or magazine, to a flier, brochure, business card, car graphics or even a 50ft billboard advertisement. Unfortunately, as much as we adore FOSS, Linux and all that is GPL, we have absolutely no choice in some of these situations, but to use proprietary software to get the job done. Before the purists jump on their bandwagon of, “You just can’t be bothered to look for the software”, we have, we found some in certain circumstances and it either didn’t do the job at all or it didn’t do it anywhere near well enough, quickly enough or without a severe amount of intervention, now that’s not FOSS fault, it’s not the developers fault, it’s the proprietary software developers fault, for developing industry standards and not giving anything away to the FOSS developers to work with, regardless of your views on how imoral that may be, they have the legal right to do so. Unfortunately if there just isn’t any FOSS available to do the job, we need to find software that will, or turn the job away to a competitor, that just wouldn’t be good business and unfortunately feeding my family is my number one moral.

We use FOSS where and whenever physically possible, we even custom write software occassionally to make it do what we want, but that isn’t always practical, possible or financially viable with deadlines, customer expectations and workloads. The fact that I run dual 19″ screens and our designer runs dual 22″ screens, means that without Nvidia drivers we’d be running one screen each, because getting them working, to a standard that is acceptable, usable and productive, would be completely futile in terms of time, money and resources to make it happen in-house. Instead we use NVidia drivers, we want the functionallity that comes with using Adobe Reader to read PDFs and we want the compatibility that you only get when using Flash player to watch Flash movies, Gnash is great but it just isn’t Flash.

Purists are doing the very thing they supposedly hate

In expecting every single user of FOSS to return something, they are themselves demanding the software be paid for in some way, collaboration and co-operation is imperitive to FOSS and the world itself, the fact is though, so are freeloaders. Without freeloaders there is less demand, without demand, there is very little production, simple. Most FOSS is developed initially, because it fills the purpose of the person developing it, or the person that hired them to develop it, later though it is developed further because a demand exists. The developer chooses to make it freely available to anyone, anywhere, anytime and they also make a conscious decision that they allow people to do what they want with the source code (for the most part), change it, make addons for it, convert it to different platforms etc. and in doing so they also acknowledge that people can go and sell it as a boxed product and make money from it, even though they’ve done nothing but burn it to disc and stick it in a box. People and companies are also free to charge for services pertaining to that software, no matter what, they didn’t have to develop it, change it in any way or even have anything to do with it, up to the point that they advertised the service relating to it. If they didn’t, the adoption and spread of Linux would be far slower, thus lowering demand, thus slowing production and development.

Purism itself isn’t evil, it has the best of intentions

There’s nothing wrong with idealism, there’s is certainly nothing wrong with purism if you can obtain it, however preaching about purism in the open media and insisting that everyone follow your lead, makes you seem very much like a cult/religious evangelist, and certainly makes you seem very immature and unrealistic. Trying to enforce your views and your methods on the rest of the world around you, that just isn’t groovy baby and it certainly isn’t the way of FOSS. The ability to make Open Source business models financially rewarding and viable, is imperetive to FOSS development, as is the ability for people to use it freely, with no investment whatsoever, be that time, money or skills. Without these two primarily and unfortunately “unfree” attributes, FOSS would surely be underdeveloped. To enable the adoption of FOSS and reduce the market share of proprietary software, FOSS must first keep it’s enemies closer than it keeps it’s friends, it must enable it’s users to interact with people that have not yet seen the light, in order that they might see it in the future. When looking at things practically, without the ability to sell services for FOSS, I wouldn’t be in business, without the ability to use NVidia drivers, I wouldn’t be able to use Linux productively and without the freeloaders, Linux wouldn’t even be developed enough for my customers to want to use it so I’d have no target market. The previous paragraph may sound selfish because I’ve used my own business as an example, but I need freeloaders, Linux and FOSS needs freeloaders, Red Hat, Google, Canonical, Novell, they all need freeloaders and so indeed does the world itself. I admire purists for their ability to make themselves completely vendor independant, to make their own choices without detrimental effects to others and having such a clean concience, they need to realise though that not everyone can do that, no matter how much they may want to.


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