I just finished reading Jason Perlow’s article entitled, “Why I’m smarter than an Open Source surrender monkey“. It is an interesting article and I have no plans on trashing it, but I have a slightly different view. It touches on a topic I think is often drowned out by all the noise and outrage from the vocal minority and Legion of Trolls, so I feel compelled to post something myself. Even if no one ever reads it.
First, thanks to @mjasay for tweeting about the article. I have briefly worked with Matt a couple of times in my career and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and his views. He’s also a good source of articles.
Where I agree with Jason is in his view that being an open source software (oss) fan doesn’t mean you can never use proprietary software. There are some (possibly many) in our industry that feel in order to be a member in good standing of the open source community you need to subscribe wholesale to open source software and shun all others whom stray. But this attitude, in my personal opinion, is neither helpful nor – as Jason points out – always practical. In addition, it unfairly discounts millions (yes, I believe it is millions) of dedicated oss users and advocates. Extolling the virtue of an all-or-nothing, with-us-or-against-us philosophy doesn’t help the cause, doesn’t win over new users and leads to monikers such as “Open Source surrender monkey”. It pains me to see people put off trying open source software because of the stereotypical fervent vitriol of open source illuminati.
I personally differ with Jason in that on the rare occasions I use proprietary software I do so out of necessity – not preference. I firmly believe that the best way to develop software is as open source software, and I use Linux every day because that is what keeps me productive. In addition, I enjoy it. It makes me happy. That doesn’t mean, though, I expect others to follow that view, and I respect others that use oss but prefer not to use it exclusively. This is why I think I’m an Open Source Realist.
I have been immersed in oss for nearly a decade, and I admit I have occasionally strayed to the Dark Side. In October 2001 I stared with Ximian as a support tech, and since then have really thrown myself into my work. Open source software and the open source community excited me, and within a couple of years I graduated into product management. As a product manager I had to not only understand my own product, but everyone else’s as well. Red Hat, SUSE, Debian, Mandriva, Lindows, Lycoris, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Linux Mint, FreeBSD, Gentoo, Mac OS X, Windows, Android, ChromeOS, Jolicloud – I have used so many different operating systems. I don’t just load up a live CD or install on an extra laptop. I try (and sometimes fail) to use these products for some extended period of time. This not only helps me to understand the good and bad things about these operating systems, but it helps give me perspective that even the proprietary solutions suffer from some of the same bugs as my products. At one point a few years ago I decided I needed to leave work at work and not use Linux at home. The problem was while using Linux I couldn’t stop tinkering, thinking how things could be improved or thinking about all the bugs I had yet to file. I purchased a Macbook for personal use as what I thought was a reasonable compromise where I could just be a normal person.
It didn’t take long before I realised I just didn’t like using anything but Linux. It felt alien, and quite honestly it felt wrong… I hated how everything seemed to lock you into the Apple ecosystem. At the same time I bought the Macbook I bought an iPod and purchased some music from iTunes. Then I discovered the music was encumbered with DRM and I couldn’t play it anywhere but on my Macbook. I didn’t use Mac Mail I used Thunderbird. I didn’t use Safari I used Mozilla Firefox. I downloaded Adium and Gimp and OpenOffice (NeoOffice?). I finally realised and accepted that I wasn’t really accomplishing my goal. I installed Linux (various flavours, of course) on the Macbook and it took me a long time to migrate all of my personal life back to Linux.
I’m an Open Source Realist because I believe the open source community makes the best software in the world, but I understand that not everyone agrees with me and that’s ok. In fairness to Apple and Microsoft – they also have some great qualities. From what I hear Apple is doing some cool stuff in Mac OS X 10.7 and Microsoft… is getting better.