Archive for August 31, 2011

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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