Open Source could use a face lift.

Posted by salparadise on Oct 7, 2005 8:31 AM EDT; By Neil McAllister
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Recently a reader took offense at a comment I made when I suggested that a well-defended trademark could help win Linux "a seat at the grown-ups' table." "What makes a commercial product inherently more 'grown-up' than its open source counterpart?" the reader asked.

The answer, of course, is nothing. It isn't hard to come up with examples of industry-leading software born of the open source world -- for example, you could argue that there isn't a Web server in existence that's more mature than Apache.

Still, open source in general has an image problem among business customers, and it's not hard to see why. To give one example, even --InfoWorld's --own gossip hound Robert X. Cringely took notice of the indignant harangue Eric S. Raymond leveled at a hapless recruiter who offered him a job interview at Microsoft.

Raymond remains one of the foremost names associated with the open source movement, despite the fact that he's becoming better known for this kind of egotistical rant than for the cogent reasoning of his landmark essay, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar." He does it so often that there's now even an online comic strip devoted to the subject.

Like it or not, this is the public face of open source. No matter how warmly vendors such as IBM or Novell might embrace Linux, their marketing departments must still contend with the fact that, in the eyes of many customers, the movement as a whole is inseparable from the tirades of Eric S. Raymond, the radical politics of Richard M. Stallman, or that great cafeteria food fight of popular opinion known as Slashdot.

That's what I meant by my reference to the grown-ups' table. That table isn't hard to spot: It's the one where nobody's throwing rolls.

What makes a software project "grown-up," in short, is the same thing that makes a person grown-up. A lot of it boils down to priorities. When you're young, you have the luxury of being free to engage in very idealistic or radicalized thinking. As you mature, however, other concerns take precedence.

You must start paying off those student loans, for starters. You begin a career. You might pick up a car. A mortgage. Insurance payments. A family whose safety and well-being are your responsibility.

The care and feeding of an enterprise is no different, save that the stakes are even higher and the issues play themselves out on a far grander stage. In a business setting, there is simply much more to consider when it comes to IT purchasing decisions than which software package someone else thinks is the most politically correct.

"Microsoft is evil"? That's a college kid's argument. It does nothing to further the case of Linux and open source in the business world.

Instead, new faces are needed -- articulate spokespeople who can explain how open source can address the myriad needs of the enterprise. Moreover, they must actively combat the perception that the open source movement is nothing more than a loose coalition of hobbyists, college students, and zealots such as Eric S. Raymond.

Bruce Perens is good at that. JBoss's Marc Fleury talks about open source in the same language used by proprietary software vendors. And it's hard to argue with the unbridled enthusiasm Novell's Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman have for quality software. But we need more like them.

IT decision-makers want to be reassured that open source software can substitute for its commercial equivalents in a way that's cost-effective, secure, and sustainable in the long term. That message must become the new public face of open source. In short, if open source wants to be treated like a grown-up, it must talk like one. ............................................................................................................................

I can see what he's saying. On the other hand, the free, open discussion of morality and politics which goes on in the Open Source Community is one of it's strengths. Big corporations tend to take the line "we don't do morality, we do profit" and a whole lot of people have absolutely had enough of it.

Capitalism doesn't work. It mostly benefits a select few and offers "enough" rewards to the "middle classes" to keep them quiet while they act as police and money collectors for the few. It encourages competition to the point of insanity and utter contempt for life, the environment and human dignity.

With all my heart I don't see why we should ape this in order to gain favour with the select few. If inviduals/companies want to play in that market then that's their call. But it doesn't mean we all have to pretend to be who we are not.

Anyone for a food fight?

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Capitalism doesn't work? Maybe we can put it another way. tadelste 6 2,387 Oct 8, 2005 1:47 PM
where is this grownup's table? tuxchick 3 2,386 Oct 8, 2005 4:45 AM
The more I see the less I think of arguments like this. dinotrac 0 2,279 Oct 7, 2005 7:05 PM

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