Over ten years have passed since I first encountered the marvel called Linux. My first experience of what parts of the world fight out to their graves to call either Free Software or Open Source. Frankly, although I personally use the former term I have never considered the people preferring the latter to be my mortal enemies. But this is not the only facet of what I am speaking about today, so more on this age old war a bit later.
Today was a day which passed to fast for my liking, but as it drew to a close, I came across a book on the life of Bill Gates. As I leafed through, I thought of why, despite all the roadblocks he faced, and with half the intellectual world turned against him as if he was the devil's cousin, he managed to build the largest ever personal fortune and one of the largest business empires in the world. Even that on a concept considered flawed at best and fascist at worst.
As a FOSS enthusiast, whatever that is supposed to mean(ever heard of people developing or popularising the use of ATMs being called ATM enthusiasts), I strived to understand why, despite the best efforts of some of the best minds of today, GNU/Linux never quite faced a formidable threat to the quintessential, albeit repressive, MS Windows.
GNU/Linux was the first great attempt at a free OS that I know of(no, I'll not humour certain people by explaining what free means), giving end users extreme usage flexibility and security, but with great power, as they say, comes great responsibility. I feel(repeat... I feel) that most contributors to free software have been found lacking in this respect.
The previous statement may sound blasphemous given my own humble status. But it is not a statement I am making without rhyme or reason. I had once attended a talk by Richard Stallman, the guy who started it all. At that time I was not aware of the so called factions in the Free Software community. I found his words on freedom and its moralistic aspect in software development very inspiring, and there was hardly a point one could disagree upon. However, since then I have come across several people putting forward the same views, but their words, instead of further convincing me, rubbed quite the wrong way.
This is because of two main reasons, one being that they spoke of issues like nomenclature, which any end-user would consider secondary, if at all, the other being that they offer arguements of RMS, never their own.
RMS, in his own right, can argue all he wants, followed by his infinite contributions, but people with no idea of what he means menacingly echo his words at grossly inappropriate places at even worse times. This in turn scares away potential new users and angers(pisses off, rather) developers who have much more pressing matters in their minds. If all this effort was spent at developing more software or going out and telling new people about this wonder, I think these ends would be much better served. If it was all about freedom, should people not be free to call stuff they have helped create, whatever they want to? Moreover, it would go easy on those people who are entering this world if instead of bickering within, someone bothered more about welcoming the newcomers. After all, isn't the whole idea pointless if everyone fights over it and no one uses or improves it. The humongous wastage of precious time and bandwidth recently on the openSUSE-marketing mailing list angered and saddened me to no end. But then, everybody's free to their all important opinion, even if it messes up the very things the perpetrators purportedly stand for.
In all that I said, Gates' success was attributed primarily to our failure as Free Software evangelists. But to say that this is the only reason would be unfair to both him and his detractors.
First: Bill's side:
His enterprise and vision are exemplary, but in his own words - "Vision is free, so it gives no competitive edge whatsoever". He worked hard, mostly because he wanted to make money, which I must say is not so great an incentive for Free Software people, but at least a bit for the love of it.
Also, his one track mind focussed at making his company huge, helped - "Microsoft looks at new ideas, they don’t evaluate whether the idea will move the industry forward, they ask, ‘how will it help us sell more copies of Windows?".
So did his egotist attitude, which helped him believe he was right, even if it meant that the rest were all wrong - "It's possible, you can never know, that the universe exists only for me. If so, it's sure going well for me, I must admit.".
This, though helpful to his bank balance and stock prices, is not necessarily a good way of looking at it, but it sure pays good. Bill Gates did what no one seems to do in what could have been a much better FOSSworld, got his priorities right, and minded his own business(all meanings intended)!
So, time for some introspection, I guess. It is in our hands that we have our future. Will we, in our blinded views, lose our way, or show the way to the 7 billion others, who look to us for deliverance from proprietarity(btw, is that a word?)