Last year I speculated about the growing tension between commercial open source vendors and elements of the open source user community, wondering whether it was a sign that FOSS was heading for a previously predicted identity crisis.
Glyn Moody reminds us that there has always been a divide between purists and pragmatists, and that actually there is value in that divide in that debate helps expose weaknesses and refine arguments.
However, recent events have indicated that the fissure is growing, and spreading in multiple directions. Where once there was “free software” on one end, “proprietary software” on the other, and “open source” somewhere is between the two, now there is “fauxpen source” and “Faux FLOSS Fundamentalists“, and “freedom-apathetic”, and “open washing” and “neo-proprietarists” to contend with.
It’s all getting a little bit silly. And as Matt Asay points out, it threatens to discourage would-be open source adopters.
With all that in mind, it is worth reading Linux Magazine’s interview with Linus Torvalds on Microsoft’s contribution of device drivers to the Linux kernel.
Microsoft has been congratulated for its contribution, but there have been suggestions that Linus should reject the code, simply because it comes from Microsoft. Reading his response to a question about that I am grateful that it was someone as cool-headed and – dare I say it – pragmatic as Linus Torvalds that created the Linux kernel:
“Oh, I’m a big believer in “technology over politics”. I don’t care who it comes from, as long as there are solid reasons for the code, and as long as we don’t have to worry about licensing etc issues.
In fact, to some degree, I’d be more likely to include it because it’s from a new member of the community rather than less (again, I’d like to point out that drivers are special. They don’t impact other things, so they get merged much more easily than some core changes).
I may make jokes about Microsoft at times, but at the same time, I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease. I believe in open development, and that very much involves not just making the source open, but also not shutting other people and companies out.
There are ‘extremists’ in the free software world, but that’s one major reason why I don’t call what I do ‘free software’ any more. I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred.”
Microsoft has also been criticised for serving its own interests in releaseing code that enables Linux to run on Windows. Linus again:
“I agree that it’s driven by selfish reasons, but that’s how all open source code gets written! We all “scratch our own itches”. It’s why I started Linux, it’s why I started git, and it’s why I am still involved. It’s the reason for everybody to end up in open source, to some degree.
So complaining about the fact that Microsoft picked a selfish area to work on is just silly. Of course they picked an area that helps them. That’s the point of open source – the ability to make the code better for your particular needs, whoever the ‘your’ in question happens to be.
Does anybody complain when hardware companies write drivers for the hardware they produce? No. That would be crazy. Does anybody complain when IBM funds all the POWER development, and works on enterprise features because they sell into the enterprise? No. That would be insane.
So the people who complain about Microsoft writing drivers for their own virtualization model should take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves why they are being so hypocritical.”
I think it’s probably fair to say that if it wasn’t for Linus’s pragmatism Linux and open source – and free software – would not have gained the adoption that they have today.
(I wouldn’t normally quote this heavily from a single article but I wanted to include the full quotes, I encourage you to take a look at the original article to put them in context).