September 14, 2000

The cynical view

Author: JT Smith

By Emmett Plant
NewsForge Columnist

Speaking of GNU/Linux

Someone somewhere is making money off of Linux, and some people who have
put work into the operating system aren't being compensated. Or are
they? In the new world of Linux as a big business platform, are unpaid
developers getting shafted by not being paid, or does the acceptance of
the OS mean an overall victory at any cost?I don't know; I'm not a developer. There are a lot of questions when it
comes to Open Source and Free Software. Because we can't make money
selling the software, we have to make money in support and through
other "revenue channels." Isn't that a strange phrase? There's nothing
good on MTV, Bob -- turn it to the Revenue Channel. Stupid TV references
aside, where is the huge community of volunteers getting compensated?

There are a lot of different answers. Of course, the ideologists will tell
you that the greater glory of open and free software is all that really
matters, and that their endless hours of giving and volunteerism are
justified because it helps them sleep at night, knowing they've given back
to humanity. Most of the ideologists have really cool jobs already, and
are being paid very well for whatever it is they do.

This is cool, and that's great, and I'm glad it happens. A wise man once
said that the people in the Linux community that whine and complain
constantly are the ones that aren't doing any real work for Linux, and I
tend to agree. There are a lot of whiners and cynics out there who feel
that the volunteers who put Linux together are being screwed by the big
Linux companies who have made entirely unrealistic amounts of money in the
stock market. I think one of the very real dangers to the community will
be in listening to the whiners. I'd like to think that this won't happen,
and that cooler heads will prevail. Talk to a Linux developer, they'll
tell you that they really don't care. Ain't that grand?

People get all caught up in this, and it's really kind of scary. One of
the dangers with painting Microsoft as the enemy is that Microsoft is a
shining example of big business. If Microsoft is a business, and Microsoft
is bad, then all business is bad. All men are Socrates. It's not quite
true. Members of the Linux community read things that Microsoft has to
say about Linux, and they get really upset. My friend Chris was seething
over something he'd discovered on Microsoft's web site, and he couldn't
stop talking about it. He was really angry. The problem here is that Linux
users have come to mistrust the words of big companies, and no matter what
the situation is, Linux afficionados always take the most cynical view
possible. It's sad, but more often than not, it's true. The good thing is
that these people aren't the people doing the real work.

Was I scared when business put their ear to the Dolby Digital sound of
Linux? Not really. I sort of expected it. You can't have years of
Microsoft's stuff going on without hearing something about an insurgency
somewhere in the industry. It's a good thing for the computer industry
that Linux doesn't suck. I've always said that. The industry has been
looking for a good, cheap competitor to Windows for so long that it didn't
matter what it was. Fortunately, they got Linux, which is free and has a
good story about the college kid from Helsinki behind it.

Moral of the story? Try not to be so cynical, kids. Focus a little more on
the software and the job at hand instead of what you think other people
might think.

See you in seven.

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