I don’t know if you, dear readers, have gotten this feeling recently; some people around the blogosphere seem to want to bring back the old troll of open source vs. free software. I would not really mind if these people were not prominent bloggers, journalists and professionals. After all , the old rant on “open source is business, free software is freedom” has been around for a long time.
This time however, I am afraid I don’t understand why people like Matt Asay keep on bringing this discussion back on the table. Perhaps Matt Asay wants to look reasonable, business-minded, or simply pettable by the grand corporations of this low world. I am merely conjecturing here. But Matt’s blog is becoming thoroughly disappointing.
First this old discussion is, well, as old as Free Software and Open Source themselves. It disappoints me that Matt would want to recycle old stuff for an obscure reason. Really: Open Source vs. Free Software, let’s write something old, like, “oh those free software zealots”, and these open source darlings. How much easier could this get for anyone now to join the CNet staff? Next rant: what size do you think Richard Stallman’s beard should be? Who in the FLOSS (note the Free/Libre & Open Source Software acronym) community does still buy into the fiction that open source people do business (and are, therefore, serious) while free software hacktivists (let’s refuse them the simple notion that they could be regular people with jobs or even a company to run) are dangerous extremists whose grand master lives somewhere in
Second, and that’s what I do find really disturbing about this discussion: Since when do people like Matt Asay feel empowered to tell an entire community of people that 1) they don’t know how to work or make money 2) what they should do and think about values such as freedom? I think Matt’s points concerning open source marketing are quite misplaced. He is really telling us that CIOs don’t care about freedom and care about good old fashioned value. He’s probably right, but it also depends on how you define freedom. You can have a fully open source enterprise software, but be the only one to provide support and outsource its development to China. Where’s the freedom in that? Where’s the choice for customers? Where’s the genuine attention to provide something valuable in return for a fair price? It’s nowhere to be seen, and that’s very much what people care about when they buy open source solutions. No one cares about a source code that is undocumented, not understandable, not maintained but that comes with heavy support fees. That’s Casino Open Source. I’m disappointed Matt seems to have taken that path and frankly enough, I know proprietary software solutions offering better value than that.
What’s more, barriers to freedom exist in ways that we constantly need to discover and take into account. How does Matt handle issues stemming from joint copyright submissions for instance? I hear no word of that. How does Matt advertise the existence of FLOSS to people? Matt rather seems to be ignoring them. It might be said that once you wrote “people”, the word freedom isn’t usually far off the corner. So let’s take Mozilla marketing for instance: I don’t think that telling people about freedom has hurt them a lot. Instead of this, Matt Asay has decided to tell the world that freedom was definitely a dangerous idea to use. We should therefore think about money, value for the money and customers. The rest, according to this interesting doctrine, is non-existant.
I will try not to add anything else to what has struck me as being largely a one-way debate. What I would like to do, however, is to try to offer a -hopefully- more innovative way to look at both Free Software and Open Source in my next post. Full disclosure: I don’t believe Open Source and Free Software can be separated, both organically and historically. These are two sides of the same coins, and you can’t have one without having the other. Until then… always be aware of the people splitting hair in half.