The Legitimate Hacker


Author: Preston St. Pierre

Having attended many Linux-focused trade shows over the years, it’s really interesting how things have changed. It’s apparent that Linux is out of the closet, no one will deny it. What’s also important to note is that it’s mature enough that the developers and proponents of it are also out of the closet. Often overlooked is the impact that this exposure has had not only on the software, but on the people.

LinuxWorld Conference & Expo, held in August 1999, presented quite a different picture. Walking around the show floor at that time, you would commonly be mixing with the people who were writing the software you were using. Most were employed by companies not using open source or Linux at all. The “hackers” or more politically correct, developers, wrote software for their personal use and to share with others. It was a growing community of people coordinating together to write excellent software and they were attending the show to rub shoulders in person with those they’ve collaborated with over the Internet. There were a few companies represented who were early adopters. Some wanting to get in just in case this “Linux thing” took off, others genuinely wanting to contribute.

Fast forward to the present, August 2004. What you see now is vastly different. Large corporations, from Microsoft to IBM, are exhibiting and presenting in full force. Multitudes of sales and marketing representatives comb the show floor and meetings rooms in search of an opportunity to take a piece of the Linux pie. So where are the hackers?

You’ll still find some attending the show out of curiosity, but a majority of the hackers who work on the software we’re all here celebrating are not in attendance. Most are now gainfully employed working on software that was previously just a hobby. They’re now represented by sales and marketing teams design to propel what they’ve done to the forefront. The former closet hacker is now marketed by suits, presentations, dinners, and collateral.

It’s wonderful how far things have progressed. It’s great that the business world is recognizing the benefits of Linux and open source. As long as the vibrant community interaction that was once a cornerstone of the Linux movement isn’t lost as a result, it’s all good.