Sunday, 21 November 2010


There was a recent article in techradar suggesting that the Open source `community' doesn't exist.

Whilst I agree with the statement itself (or at least the way it is generally used), the article itself isn't much more than an ad hominem attack on 'open sauce' advocates. Basically suggesting that (unlike the rest of the IT world?) they're dumb like a flock of birds (or sheep?), and haven't grown out of the partisan arguments of the atari st vs amiga days.

Which is of course utter dingoes nuts. One just has to see the incoherent and emotional responses to any article suggesting the iphone isn't the best thing since sliced bread, or that the wii is only for kids, or that a microsoft xbox 360 is an unreliable piece of junk. This is just human nature. Apart from the sociopaths who like to provoke people for sport, anyone with an emotional and financial tie to something likes to make noise about attacks on their judgement.

Back to the issue of the `open source community'. The relevant definition of community is:
    3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the ): the business community; the community of scholars.

So can this be applied to advocates of open sauce software? Perhaps, but only in the broadest of senses such that is has little meaning. Like suggesting all salt-and-pepper haired men form some sort of a community. i.e. sure they exist, but that label tells you nothing particularly useful about them.

I suspect many that might accept the label of belonging to the 'open source community' might not even fully agree with the open source definition. For some it appears that somehow open sauce generates better quality software, for others it is the cheap labour, and yet others it is just a faux hat-tip to corporate social responsibility. So you effectively end up with factions or divisions, and it all quickly devolves into politics - which apparently the open saucers don't believe in.

Once you start labelling people you start dividing them and separating them from other parts society. Political parties or religions seem to almost exist as little more than a physical representation of their own labels (often utterly failing to 'practice what they preach'). With the labels themselves eventually becoming more important than the ideas they're supposed to convey - well demonstrated by the scene with the `People's Front of Judea' in the movie `The Life of Brian'. The labels don't mean much themselves but are a powerful tool for social and political division.

In the end it's only about one thing: politics.

So I agree - there is no such thing as an `open sauce community', but there are certainly plenty of `open sauce' advocates. And despite one of the founding issues behind open sauce claiming it is all about the code and not politics, once you have a group of people the politics comes along for a ride.

At least the free software movement acknowledges that the politics is there and that it does matter. I would also shy away from labelling those who advocate free software or belong to the free software movement with a general label of 'free software community' too even if they might have more of a coherent political face.

Things are always a lot more complicated than can be conveyed in a single label.

As an aside, reading through the open source definition linked to above one is left a little confused. The 10 point definition -- which doesn't stand on its own without the long-winded explanations -- seems a lot more complex than it needs to be - like some document from the UN or EU which tries to say what it means without offending anyone. Contrast this with the free software definition of 4 self-contained and concise points and the long descriptions filling out the `why' and not merely completing the `what'.

No comments: