March 31, 2003

Open Source needs centralized PR, not development

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

It happened again: A complaint was brought up on a free software email list I'm on about the lack of a certain type of open source program, but there are several healthy projects in that area I knew about, and other list members pointed out yet others. Why didn't we all know about all of them? And if we don't know, how can we expect potential corporate open source adopters, who aren't on "inner circle" Linux and open source email lists, to know what's available to them?

I hear cries, over and over, about how developers should stop wasting time on competing open source projects and all work on the "best of breed" in each area. KDE and Gnome are the most-cited examples of wasted effort because of development competition, but there are many others.

I have never understood this fear of competition in open source development. Yes, there are thousands of abandonded projects at, and yes, there is plenty of duplicaton, and yes, there are more command line filesharing programs for Linux then we'll ever need, and we still don't have any decent open source tax preparation software.

So what? The majority of those projects are started and maintained by hobbyists in their spare time. They like to program, and I like to fly kites on the beach. I have never let the fact that there are other people flying kites on the beach stop me from flying mine, nor do I think all the beach kiteflyers in my part of Florida should get together to build and fly one giant kite instead of letting a thousand kites bloom over the Gulf of Mexico. If a thousand kites can bloom, so can a thousand open source development efforts. If we wanted to have just one program for each need, we could all use Windows and Microsoft products, and all the smart developers could go to work for Microsoft and everyone else could go fly kites instead of writing code. This would be highly efficient. And boring. And would almost completely stop software innovation.

You can see kites from a distance

As you approach the beach on Anna Maria Island, you can see kites in the air -- or not see kites, if there is no wind at that moment. You can see what kind of kites people have chosen to fly (different wind conditions best suit different kinds of kites), and choose whether to watch others fly theirs or fly one of your own, and decide which one to fly, depending on what you see in the sky in front of you.

Software is not so visible. The heart of almost every development effort is people who sit in front of monitors, endlessly typing and thinking. In most open source projects (and many proprietary projects) they aren't all in the same room or building but work at home, alone, without even their closest neighbors knowing what they are doing. There is no way to tell from the outside of a programmer's home or office what he or she is doing or whether the work in progress is brilliantly innovative or a wheel reinvention, perhaps being done as a self-teaching project before tackling more useful work.

We need more -- and more selective -- project visibility

Yes, is a vital resource. It gives a fairly complete picture of open source projects as they are updated and who is working on what. But -- by design -- it is primarily useful to "inner circle" people who already use or work on open source software. It is not a useful tool for reaching out to people who have not yet discovered open source, which is -- let's not kid ourselves -- at least 95% of this planet's population.

NewsForge and try to keep up on developments in open source software. We announce and review new projects and products as often as we can, but our resources are limited and -- again, let's not kid ourselves -- most of our readers are already interested in Linux and open source.

Linux International is an organization that is supposed to help spread "the word" but it is has had problems maintaining corporate sponsorships since the dot-com meltdown, and its Marketing page hasn't had a new post on it for over a year. Some of the links on the Corporate Members page are dead.

We see no visible attempts by Linux International to mobilize volunteers to maintain this vital Web site; to make it a central source of information for potential corporate Linux and open source users, let alone curious individuals.

I have always felt Linux International should be "the" umbrella PR organization for Linux and open source, especially on the corporate level. Its President and Executive Director, Jon "maddog" Hall, is one of the world's most effective spokespeople for Linux and open source.

But maddog can't do it all alone. We need to offer help. We need to start sending our commercial Linux success stories to Linux International, and our press releases, and other material. And we need to see this material published on the group's site, visible for all, even if some of us must spend some of our precious free time volunteering with Linux International instead of waiting for "someone else" to do all the work. Either that, or we need to start a new organization that can supply a steady stream of Linux and open source information and press releases to mainstream media and potential corporate Linux adopters.

We need a strong, unified "Linux and open source public voice" supported both by individuals who use and develop Linux and open source and by companies that profit from its adoption. This is more important -- by far -- than a unified desktop, a unified development environment, unified licensing or any other "unification" in the Gnu/Linux, open source, and free software worlds.


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