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Tempest, meet teapot

July 16, 2013 5 comments

Yes, I can read a calendar. I know it’s only Tuesday, not Sunday, but I thought this might not wait until Sunday.

The “Linus being Linus” issue comes up occasionally, and often with a hue and cry about how mean, nasty and ugly he can be. I’ve called him on things in the past — not that he cares (he doesn’t), but at the time I thought it merited discussion. But back to the latest edition of the blow up, which can be found here, here and here, and you’ll see wherein lies the rub.

Tempest, meet teapot.

This morning on a forum on which I’m a moderator, this issue came up with a statement that Linus Torvalds is “not the hero we may want, but the hero deserve.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I do want to talk a little bit about the “hero” thing.

First, in the links above, I can see the merit to both sides of the argument. I fully agree with Linus when he says, and I’m paraphrasing, that we’re not here to please others but, in fact, to do a job and we’re not all here to make each other comfortable. Be who you are and I’ll be who I am and let’s get this done. I can also see Sarah Sharp’s point where behavior interpreted as intimidation and verbal abuse have no place in the process.

It’s a tough call.

So it brings us to where “hero” enters, or doesn’t enter, into it. I respect and honor Linus Torvalds for what he has done, but he’s not my hero (neither is Richard Stallman, but we won’t be dealing with him here). Linus is just a really smart guy who, apparently, has little time for petty nonsense; you might find how he handles that is unsavory. But I don’t because he wants to get things done. He’s not perfect, but he lives with whatever flaws he might have (as we all do, or at least should) and moves forward.

Let’s not forget we’re all here because of what he did in 1991, and that has made all the difference in the world as far as Free/Open Source Software is concerned.

Seriously. Think about the time when some people 22 years ago considered the Linux kernel to be nice, but a stopgap solution until Hurd gets developed.

Then ask yourself this: How utterly, completely, royally, painfully and absolutely fucked would we all be — the entire digital world groaning under the oppressive yoke of Microsoft for loss of a free alternative — if the “prevailing wisdom” had been to wait for Hurd, which finally might be ready, if Debian Hurd is any indication? Arguments for any of the *BSD variants swooping in to save the day in Linux’s place are welcome, but the point remains that without these viable alternatives the entire digital world, and arguably the real world as we know it, would be far worse off than it is now because of Linus’ kernel.

There’s a misconception that the FOSS world is one big kumbaya with hugs all around, daisies floating down from heaven and endless Grateful Dead concerts where Phish or Widespread Panic open for them. Nope. It’s a better world, true, but it’s still the real world where things have to get done and sometimes motivation — even if it’s portrayed as a in-your-face, boot-to-butt modality — still needs implementing by people who have no time for nonsense.

There are thousands of heroes in the wider FOSS realm. They are those who do the work, those 10 percent who chop the wood and carry the water, in a digital sense, for the other 90 percent who range from not ready to contribute — but ideally and hopefully will once they are up to speed — to those who are too lazy to contribute. Today’s heroes in FOSS are not only those in the panthenon of Linux or GNU/Linux — not only the Linus Torvaldses, not only the Richard Stallmans, and certainly not the Mark Shuttleworths (especially not the Mark Shuttleworths) that get put on pedastals by themselves or by others — but those who get the job done. They are far too many to mention here, but you know who they are by their actions, not by the hype.

Want to find a hero? Look in the mirror, and contribute to your favorite project or projects if you’re not doing so already.

See you Sunday.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang 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.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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