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Mea maxima culpa

September 1, 2011 2 comments

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!).

My friend Amber Graner, an editor at Ubuntu User magazine, took Jim Zemlin out to the woodshed over the topic of yesterday’s blog item, saying yesterday in a Google+ post to me:

“I take issue with leaders in the community using the word ‘idiot’ to describe users who don’t give back. While I realize the article was pointing to business at first glance the casual end user may think, ‘I use Linux but I’m not giving back yet?’ ‘Am I an idiot because I don’t know how or where my skills are needed?’ But maybe that’s just me reading everything through the lens of an end user. I think this message could have been conveyed differently without the use of name calling.”

Granted, I’m not a “leader in the community,” but I’m sure this scolding was levelled at me as well. That’s OK, because Amber is right, and I’ll apologize before I clarify.

Mea culpa, folks.

The word “idiot” is a little over-the-top in this case. “Myopic” may have been a better choice for Jim Zemlin in the Network World article quote and, afterward, for me in my blog item. Though “Don’t be myopic” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, it’s probably more accurate. Also, while I agree with the sentiment behind Jim Zemlin’s quote, this sentiment is generally reserved for those who, for all intents and purposes, have been around for awhile and freeload on the FOSS paradigm’s dime.

Amber is right about the use of harsh words intimidating end users, putting them on the defensive; especially new users. I can’t speak for Jim Zemlin, but I think his quote was aimed at business users of Linux and I don’t think he meant to call out new users who have yet to contribute. Speaking for myself, it was not my intention to be off-putting; rather, I had hoped that my item would be a rallying cry to volunteer. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your distro can do for you — ask what you can do for your distro.”

The reason I wrote my blog item yesterday was to point out there is a lot to be done and, with an increasing user base, hopefully a lot more people to do it.

If you’ve been using Linux and FOSS for awhile and are comfortable in some area — graphics, documentation, “people” stuff — then step up. If you’re a new user and you don’t know where to go, take your time to get your proverbial feet wet in Linux and FOSS and, more importantly, get used to what’s generally known as “the community.” With the exception of some “bad apples” you’ll encounter from time to time (mostly in Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, channels), most people in the community are willing and able to help you along.

One thing new users can do immediately is file bug reports when you find something wrong or when you find a glitch in a program. Most distros have a vehicle — Bugzilla or something along those lines — where you can point this out. Try to be as complete as possible in your description, but if you feel you must contribute right away, that would be a good place to start.

Also, as Juan Rodriguez commented in the last blog, you can always donate money to those distros and/or FOSS programs that have a mechanism to collect donations (usually, there’s a “donate” button on their site). That’s always a useful resource.

So contribute where you can, how you can, when you can.

You’d be myopic 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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Don’t be an idiot

August 31, 2011 10 comments

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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Blog-free November

December 3, 2010 2 comments

Larry the Free Software Guy — who doesn’t really like to refer to himself in the third person, but would rather do that than start this a blog post with “I” — gave you all a gift with a blog-free November.

Sorry to yank that out from under you, because there’s a lot going on in the FOSS world as we race into the commercially driven holiday season.

First things first:

Support Partimus: Six schools (so far) in the San Francisco Bay Area run GNU/Linux labs thanks to the efforts of Partimus, a nonprofit organization that provides repurposed computers running free software to students and schools which need them. Partimus is holding its first fundraising event on Dec. 15 from 5-7 at the Creative Arts Charter School, 1601 Turk St., in San Francisco. Register here, and even if you can’t make it, donate anyway — be a benefactor and fill in what you can afford — since it’s the kind of project that lifts FOSS and makes it more ubiquitous.

Sharpen your No. 2 pencils: In a little over a week, the Call for Presentations for the Southern California Linux Expo SCALE 9X closes. December 13 is the deadline and if you’re inclined to give a talk, submit your proposal here. Judging by the resounding success of my presentation at the Utah Open Source Conference, I have submitted an updated, new-and-improved version of “User Groups 2.0: Noob Morning in America” for SCALE. The laser show introduction is something that is not to be missed.

[Note: OK, so there's no laser show, but the presentation is a good one, in my humble estimation.]

Back home again in Indiana: Another expo that has arrived on the FOSS scene is the Indiana Linux Fest, which recently announced its dates and location. The inaugural Indiana Linux Fest will take place on March 25-27, 2011 at the Wyndham Indianapolis West hotel near the Indianapolis International Airport. The growing number of shows is a testament to FOSS’s strength and growth, and for those in the area — or even if you feel like heading to Indianapolis in a month other than May — you can race on over for ILF.

Saluting the kernel: The Linux Foundation released its report on development of the Linux kernel, and Red Hat still leads on the corporate side of things. Red Hat contributed 23,356 changes to the kernel since the release of version 2.6.12 on June 17, 2005, according to the report amounting to 12.4 percent of the total. Among corporate contributors, Novell was next with 13,120 changes (7 percent), followed by IBM (13,026, or 6.9 percent) and Intel (11,028, or 5.8 percent). But the greatest number of changes, the report notes, was made by people who were classified as being of unknown affiliation (35,663, or 18.9 percent). Another category of developer, of “none” affiliation, also made a sizeable contribution – 12,060 changes or 6.4 percent.

[A certain corporate entity based in Malta seems to be missing from this report, and you can read the PDF verison of the report here and determine which one that might be.]

So, did you miss me?

There’s a lot more where that came from and a lot of developments going forward. Watch this space.

[FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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