Let me be completely clear from the outset: I am totally unreliable. Yes, really, you shouldn’t trust a word I write or say about free and open source. Perhaps you might be fooled by the dozens of articles I have written on the subject or the small collection of books about Linux and open source with my name on it. See, that is all part of a grand strategy to infiltrate the free and open source community. And you know why I am unreliable? Honestly, you want to know?
Well, I did have two or three interesting conversations with various people working at Microsoft, I even went to visit the Dutch Microsoft office at Schiphol, the Netherlands. On Twitter I follow a few Microsoft employees. To make things worse, I also have various versions of Windows installed on two computers. Windows XP en Windows 7 on my laptop, alongside PC-BSD, Mandriva 2009 and Ubuntu 9.10. And Windows Vista and Windows 7 on my desktop, next to Ubuntu 8.04 and Ubuntu 8.10 (and a small collection Linux distibutions via virtual machines on that box). If this didn’t corrupt me enough I wouldn’t know what else could.
Why this public confession?
Truth be told, it was spawned by the ongoing Mono debate, or rather the continued personal attacks vice versa aimed at the various participants in the debate. From the outset I considered the debate about Mono and the decisions of Ubuntu en Debian to include Mono-based applications in their default releases a non-issue.It is a non-issue. If I don’t like the choices made by a distro-builder, I either remove all crap I don’t want or simply move to another distribution. This is the freedom I have and I like to keep it that way.
However, a tiny minority (of course claiming to represent multiudes of concerned but silent by-standers) took it upon themselves to raise the issue in forums and mailinglists, as well as on their internet headquarters. Not hindered by any real knowledge about the other participants in the debate they banged hammers on anvils, trying to shove their key arguments through the collective throats of Ubuntu and Debian developers. Well, “arguments”. There was and is only one argument that is repeated and repeated again and again: Mono is related to Microsoft, Microsoft is inherently evil, Mono is inherently evil. Though the style of argumentation has decent roots in Greek philosophy, the basic argument is both stale and shallow. But, following this way of thinking, I am guilty by association, hence completely unreliable.
Without proper arguments the Mono debate turned into a ‘mano a mano’ match, spurring the well-respected debater Glynn Moody to call for a ‘cease fire’, or at least to stop the ad hominem attacks. So far it didn’t work.
Advocate of free(dom)
Recently I wrote the article “Embrace and extend: a non-binary approach to open source promotion“. I don’t believe in a simple, binary outlook on life, nor on issues in the free and open source world. I don’t believe in the simple ‘Microsoft is evil’ mantra. Which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep a close watch at what major corporations with huge commercial interests are doing in the world of free and open source. And there are benefits to pursuing a strong debate, based on solid arguments, promoting the case for free and open source software, and open standards.
What I do mind is that a small minority seems to be on a single-minded pursuit of ideological purity for free. Anyone who doesn’t share that pursuit and raises the slightest of criticism is accused of being a Microsoft shill. Using a toolbox which would make the average conspiracy theorist proud, everything is used to prove that the critic is somehow influenced by, related to or -the worst,of course- paid by Microsoft. I guess I saved some people the time to find the evidence.
What is my problem with that single-minded pursuit of ideological purity for free? Am I not an advocate of free and open source software and open source? Yes, I like to think I am. But above all I am an advocate of freedom, in this case, the freedom to make an informed choice. We should educate computer users about the various choices that are possible, both proprietary and free/open, with the consequences. We should not impose a choice upon them, it is their freedom. If someone or some organization then decides it wants to go for a complete Microsoft controlled environment, so be it. If he/she goes for a completely free environment, that is fine with me. Each choice has it’s own pro’s and con’s. Just be knowledgeable, make an informed decision and live with the consequences.
Yet, those who fight for ideological purity want to take away that freedom of choice from me. They want to remove everything that doesn’t measure up to their standard of free. Instead of providing decent arguments they go for the jugular. And I don’t believe for a second that this tiny minority is in any way representative for the free software movement. But it did achieve to stir up a sad debate about a non-issue resulting in personal attacks on free and open source developers we should respect for their hard work over the last years or even decades.
And, to paraphrase the final paragraph from the ‘Embrace and extend’-article, pursuing a negative, almost paranoid campaign against the not-so-pure doesn’t bring new building blocks, creates no new open source software, doesn’t lead to new open standards and won’t convince users to switch to Linux. And then, who will have won?