Home > Fedora, Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation, OpenSUSE, Ubuntu > Don’t be an idiot

Don’t be an idiot

Yes, I know LinuxCon has come and gone, and I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing, the gala party, and with Linus being there and all. The buzz is still going, and that’s good. But if you’re going to a Linux show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

Jim Zemlin of the Linux Foundation is not one to mince words. In an article on the Network World website by Julie Bort, Zemlin says that while there is no longer a moral imperative to contribute to open source software — something I will take issue with later — he says the following: On the issue contributing back, “[It's] not the right thing to do because of some moral issue or because we say you should do it. It’s because you are an idiot if you don’t. You’re an idiot because the whole reason you’re using open source is to collectively share in development and collectively maintain the software. Let me tell you, maintaining your own version of Linux ain’t cheap, and it ain’t easy.”

Veiled or unveiled, this has been interpreted — as outlined later in the article — as a swipe at Canonical/Ubnutu and their much-documented lack of technical contributions back to the Linux kernel and FOSS. Incidentally, Zemlin also makes the point that he’s not calling out Canonical with this quote: “Just to be clear, Canonical staff, engineers, management are not idiots. They get open source well and as they grow, I think it will be in their business interests to give back,” Zemlin said.

We’re not going to go there today, either, except to say this: Canonical/Ubuntu has done an outstanding job in marketing Ubuntu, and there has never been an argument that they have done most for getting Linux in people’s hands.

While I agree with Zemlin on non-contributors being idiots, the issue I have with him is this quote on the “moral issue” of contributing back. He seems to think is no longer important, and in another quote he says: “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care if anyone contributes back.” He may be talking about businesses here, but it’s unclear. For the sake of argument, let’s say he’s not talking about businesses — just in case — and that he doesn’t care if anyone contributes back.

That’s going to be a bit of a problem. On an ethical and moral plane, there is always an obligation to give back something for getting something.

At the risk of being branded a communist, Karl Marx comes into play here: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”

Everyone who uses Linux and FOSS gets from each “according to their need,” and conversely everyone who uses Linux and FOSS should contribute back “according to their ability.” While the Linux kernel is the domain of programmers, and they seem to be covered in this regard, there are thousands of other ways to help out in the distros and/or FOSS programs that you use. Distros and FOSS projects can always use help; some of you are already contributing to your chosen distro or software.

If so, thanks.

If not, then why not?

Can’t program? Neither can I, which is why I don’t contribute in that area — I want distros and FOSS programs to actually work.

Can you put words together to make sense, complete with subject-verb agreement? Help out with documentation.

Artistically inclined? Help out with graphics and design.

Are you a “people person”? Distros like Fedora, OpenSUSE and Ubuntu have ambassador-type communities that promote their distros, and other FOSS programs may have the same kind of programs as well.

Most distros — like Fedora, OpenSUSE, Ubuntu and others — would welcome your help and have things you can do. Same with FOSS programs like LibreOffice. You know what you use, and you can reach them through their Web sites.

The fact is there is a lot to be done and, chances are, you’re the one who can help out.

You’d be an idiot not to.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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  1. August 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Agreed, even if you can’t code and don’t want to contribute with documentation or , there’s always the road less traveled: Donations, as in money.

  2. Bob McKeand
    August 31, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Support something, a distro, a desktop manager, an audio or
    multimedia program, Libre Office, the EFF, FSF, or what have you.

    LtFSG had some good suggestions, and money is always
    good. Some guys wear a tux costume, that shows
    where their heart is.

    It is Community, if you want to belong you have to participate.
    Us and we are going to move Linux/Open Source/FOSS forward.

    Peace, Bob

  3. Mario Praga
    September 1, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Linux saved my Business !

    I don’t know if I can contribute .. at the moment I’m a monk hanging around and try to convince people to use it :-)

    1 billion thanks to Linux world .

    • September 1, 2011 at 9:08 am

      Great, Mario! By convincing people to use Linux, you are “contributing” in a way, so that’s good. Keep it up.

  4. Emil
    September 1, 2011 at 10:01 am

    I think the “Do it or thou shall be cursed” attitude is wrong. The moral argument should be that if you want to, it is good and kind of you to help, but you shouldn’t have to feel ashamed if you don’t. There is a big difference between morality and duty, in that morality is what you chose to do, while duty is what you feel obligated to do. Duty can never come from the heart, like morality. Duty can only come from fear.

    • September 1, 2011 at 10:36 am

      While I don’t agree that “duty can only come from fear,” you make some some excellent points. I would hope that people find it necessary to give back to something they get for free. You’re right in saying they don’t have to, but I don’t think that’s fair.

      • Frustrated Linux Guy
        September 1, 2011 at 6:30 pm

        Really Larry? “Fair” is the only argument you have for that? Life isn’t fair and neither is business, and that’s what Linux is whether we want to admit it or not. Comments like Zemlin’s are what keep people using Windows and OS X. And people promoting that attitude (you) make it hard for those of us who really care one way or another to say, “Hey, look at these examples of people in the community who make a difference, these are the people you can ask for help if you run into trouble with your Linux box”. Things like this really turn people away from the whole FOSS movement. Even Stallman has said some things that make some of us go, “Why the heck would you say that?”

        The childish nature of many leaders in the Open Source community really makes the whole thing look like a bad idea. Instead of calling “non-contributers” idiots, maybe he should provide some kind of material incentive to contribute back, after all, it IS a business.

  5. September 1, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    It seems to me that Jim was far more likely to be taking a swipe at Android, and even more particularly, Android hardware vendors, who all maintain their own kernel forks. They fit what he says far better than Canonical did. There’s an argument that Canonical forked *GNOME*, but they certainly haven’t forked the kernel, and Jim is the head of the Linux Foundation, not the GNOME Foundation.

  1. August 31, 2011 at 4:14 pm
  2. August 31, 2011 at 9:40 pm

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