A Contrarian View of Open Source
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Quite a spread, isn't it? You wouldn't think relationships could be so full of pitfalls!

And then -- there's the Open Source Model.

That Linux Girl. That little slip of a hippie girl.

She's barely noticed at first. She lives in a little trailer shack, and her address at MIT is 666 Infinite Corridor. She's got this mad geek stare in her eyes. She's got open arms, and a threadbare tank top, and unbuttoned jeans. Free Love, that's what it's all about for our Linux Girl. Free like freedom, free like beer, free like, whatever.

She's playing old, sentimental, Linda Ronstadt albums ... "You and I travel to the beat of a different drum" ... Love, Peace, and Linux ...

"I love geeky guys," says the Linux Girl. "All geeky guys, I love ALL geeky guys. And I'm not ready to settle down. EVER!! I don't do that AT ALL!! Washing your socks, ironing your shirts, HA HA HA, let me offer a light little hippie-girl laugh here! Just cruise on by the trailer, handsome! I'll take my clothes off. No, it's better than that. I'll take my RIBS off! You can see RIGHT THROUGH ME! I've got nothing whatever to hide! I am open all the way through!"

The A&R guys from the industry are dropping by ... "We may have a star here boys, I'm liking this Janis Joplin thing ... But wait a minute, Janis here doesn't do anything but free concerts! And I guess her code looks pretty tight and shapely, but her body is completely transparent! You can't get anybody to pay to see a woman sing when her body is clearer than glass! It kinda defeats the whole purpose, really! It's like some kind of totally academic thing she's got going on here! She's like the Visible Woman! There's something creepy and medical about her ..."

Free Love as a policy is sort of okay. I mean, people will kinda overlook it when you're young... Because they expect you to die, of VD or AIDS or something! But the Linux Girl just laughs at viruses. "HA HA HA! Only debutantes from Redmond get viruses!"

And then she starts having children. Any guy's children. She'll have your child, as long as you're not particular about giving it your name. She's got a whole brood of kids, like Sendmail, and Postfix, and Apache, and Perl. And some of 'em die young, and some are mentally retarded. But the hippie earth mother is just hitting her stride here. She's a one-woman demographic boom! She's having litters of kids, kids by the dozens.

Cops are coming around, and stuff ... "Is this your trailer park, ma'am?"

"Not really, officer!"

"Could we see some ID, please?"

"I never bother much with any official papers!"

"Are you from around here, ma'am? You don't look very American."

"Actually, I'm Finnish, officer! Look at this old birth certificate!"

"We'd better run her in for questioning ... Whoa! I can't even get a grip on her! It's like pitchforking mercury! It's like she's made outta mirror sites!"

And the guys from Redmond come by and roll down the smoked glass in the back of the limo... "She's DISGUSTING! She's a cancer on our community!"

Now the very earth is starting to crack where this woman walks... She's as big around as a bus! She's got children in places other business models can't go, places they've never even heard of! She's got children like... Red Flag Linux.

This Chinese kid, in a little Mao suit. "Thank you for the free software, Mother! We will destroy the running dogs of Wall Street now!"

"No problem, Red Flag, they're doin' it to themselves! He's such a polite and disciplined little boy, my Red Flag Linux!"

And then there's the Simputer. He speaks Telugu and Hindi and Urdu, and he costs only two hundred bucks!

"I love you Mom! I am the future, Mom! Demographics and birth rates are on my side, Mom! My new President is an atomic rocket scientist Mom! Someday you will die, Mom, and I take you to the Tower of Silence for a Parsi funeral where the vultures will eat your flesh, and then the future of computing will be mine as far as the human eye can see!"

"HA HA HA, oh my Simputer boy, he's so imaginative!"

In conclusion: these are some pretty hard times.

In times of adversity, you learn who your friends are. You guys need a lot of friends. You need friends in all walks of life. Pretty soon, you are going to graduate from the status of techie geeks to official dissidents. This is your fate. People are wasting time on dissident relics like Noam Chomsky. Professor Chomsky is a pretty good dissident: he's persistent, he means what he says, and he's certainly very courageous, but this is the 21st century, and Stallman is a bigger deal. Lawrence Lessig is a bigger deal.

Y'know, Lawrence, he likes to talk as if all is lost. He thinks we ought to rise up against Disney like the Serbians attacking Milosevic. He expects the population to take to the streets. Fuck the streets. Take to the routers. Take to the warchalk.

Lawrence needs to talk to real dissidents more. He needs to talk to some East European people. When a crackdown comes, that isn't the end of the story. That's the start of a dissident's story. And this isn't about fat-cat crooks in our Congress who are on the take from the Mouse. This is about global civil society. It's Globalution.

I like to think I'm one of your friends. That's easy enough to say. But one of the true delights of the world of free software is that it's about deeds, not words. It's about words that become deeds when they're in the box.

And boy, what kind of deeds are we seeing this season! Cybersecurity, the terrorspace, information warfare, pirate panic ... and Mickey Mouse as an armed enforcer with a Congressional license to stalk and whack P2P networks, mafia-style? As Worldcom has lost more money that the gross national product of Hungary? You're gonna see who your friends are before this is over. You have a lot more friends than you think.


Bruce Sterling is an author, journalist, editor, and critic. He has written eight science fiction novels, three short-story collections, and two non-fiction books, including The Hacker Crackdown: Law And Disorder On The Electronic Frontier.

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