February 3, 2001

Linuxworld: The people who do it for free.

Author: JT Smith

With all the focus on the big names at Linux World, you might think that this was an event for only PR people and suits. However, there was a place that was the "center" of the community at LinuxWorld, and that was the .Org pavilion. Its "headquarters" was a easily-missed booth labeled the ".Org Information Booth," which was for the most part manned by the NewsForge staff in their swank shirts and Fedoras. Behind this booth, however, were a nest of booths that were for the people that really make a difference -- the people who do it for free.
The .Org pavilion is a haven for the big names in Open Source -- not VA Linux, Redhat, or IBM, but rather WindowMaker, NYLug, and Debian. These are the people who without which the Open Source community would die. Sure, Linus and Alan Cox do the bulk of the Kernel work, but Linux is no longer just a kernel, it is a movement. This movement is lead by these people, who do it not for money or for fame, but because it's what they believe in.

Yesterday, I met a couple of people from the NYLug who were there because they wanted to be. Since they had no corporate sponsors, or anything along those lines, the only reason they were there was because they were in the area. They were two in a crowd of many who think that Open Source is the future, and something that they want to be a part of. I say this because in the face of big money and corporate goals and ideals, these people manage to "keep the faith," and not be tainted by corporate strategies and other things that many people believe have no place in Open Source. While convergence of Open Source and business is the obvious end to the Open Source movement, while this happens we stand to lose a lot, too. I remember installing Slackware from a box of 3.5" floppies on my 386SX machine. I remember thinking over what I great idea Open Source was, and how I wanted to be a part of it. This is why I made my eventual move to write about Linux hardware, because the community did not really have anyone covering hardware under Linux, and I thought maybe in my small way I could help out. In the end, that is what it should be all about -- helping out.

The most amazing thing is that I am starting to see evidence of small non-profit organizations of volunteers start to cooperate in positive ways with big companies in various projects. The companies even contribute workers to the projects, and full-time programmers can seriously help smaller projects. This is positive, because these companies are learning to work with these projects without swallowing them whole. This gives me hope that while some say the Open Source movement has lost out in this movement towards corporate acceptance, it may acctually be gaining quite a bit.

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