How friendly is your corner of cyberspace?

by Dru Lavigne

I receive a lot of email. And, barring the rare inbox disaster (I actually had one last week so don't feel bad if I didn't write you back!), I usually manage to reply within a few minutes to a few days, depending upon the overall hecticness of that particular point in time.

My replies, though, often contain questions. Which is to be expected from someone as curious as myself. Curiosity compels me to collect massive amounts of data in order to correlate it into a personalized Grand Unified Theory of Geekdom. It also expresses itself in any of the dozens of projects I always seem to have on the go.

As serendipity would have it, my questions are now starting to focus on the "soft" side of open source computing. And, I'm starting to believe that the answers address the larger question of "what is the future of open source?".

My experiences with open source have, for the most part, been positive so it's not surprising that I've burrowed a little niche for myself in the FreeBSD community. Would my niche instead have been in closed source operating systems (or not even in computing at all) if my over-all experience had been negative? After all, computing was not my first career. And Unix was not my first operating system--I had already been immersed in the Novell and Microsoft worlds for a few years by the time I discovered FreeBSD.

As I review my own experience, my main obstacle was isolation, partially due to my geographic region. Any tech conversation attempt was guaranteed to evoke a glassy stare. Occasionally I'd stumble upon someone who had heard of Linux, but even they hadn't heard of BSD. A year after moving to a larger center, I'm still amazed at all of the people and companies who have not only heard of BSD and open source but who actively promote it! I can also appreciate the giant steps taken in documentation and user group support since I've joined the open source scene.

As I've spoken to other people, I've heard a mix of good and bad. Sometimes the bad is geographic or cultural; there are still countries in this world where geeks of any nature aren't exactly socially acceptable. Sometimes the bad is due to the rudeness and arrogance found on some projects' mailing lists. Sometimes the bad results from having an obviously feminine name--apparently some people still view asking a technical question in a public forum as a request for dating candidates.

I've also seen first-hand the positive steps average users are taking to promote open source in their little neck of the woods. These are the unsung heroes whose efforts often go unseen or underappreciated. I'm talking about those who take the time to pen polite and helpful emails. Those who drive across town to help someone install or troubleshoot a system. Those who donate time and expertise to create open source labs at their local school, volunteer agency, or seniors home. In short, those who provide a welcoming presence for open source.

So, my questions to you are:

-what positive and negative experiences have you had with open source?

-what actions or comments in particular turned you on or off to open source?

-from your experience, how does the future look for open source?

I'd love to hear back from you. Also, if you'd like other readers to see your experience, post a comment to this blog.

I'd like to end this blog with a short example of the positive impact of networking. In the past year, I've heard many a comment regarding the Mac community and how many of its "goods" contrast with many of the "bads" people have experienced in other computing communities. This morning, Robert Pritchett of maccompanion emailed me to let me know his review of BSD Hacks was included in the September edition of the ezine.

Now, BSD Hacks only contains one overtly MAC OS X hack (#88). But Robert understood the spirit of the book which is hacking, or using the tool at hand to solve a problem. The actual tool (FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, MAC OS X, a Linux distro, Solaris, etc.) isn't important. For that matter, neither is the proposed solution! I've rehacked many of my hacks since writing them. Hacks are merely a bit of logic meant to kickstart the readers own imagination, to look at solutions to problems they perhaps up to that point didn't know even existed.

Robert gives an example of transcending one community and embracing another (one of those goods that doesn't always happen in open source). Take some time to look at his site. Click on Info and check out "About Us!". Check out "Companions" and see what types of resources are available to the Mac community.

What positive and negative experiences have you had with open source?


2004-09-05 22:05:39
A Lowly College Student's Perspective From The Midwest
1. What positive and negative experiences have you had with open source?

I spent all of high school using Windows and becoming proficient with it. Yet I never really liked using it. Part of it was the BSODs, the errors, the frustration. But what drives me is to really look at something and understand all of its internals, the way it really works. I was exposed to Linux in my freshman year of college and was so impressed that I immediately focused all of my attention on it. I love how hackable it is, how I can fix people's problems rather than wait for a patch or how I can look at how something really works. These are the positive things for me. The only drawback I have is that not enough companies, particularly video game companies, understand the potential open source has and act on it (id Software, may you lead the pack). Though my predominant platform is now Mac OS X, I still have a special place in my heart reserved for all open source operating systems.

2. What actions or comments in particular turned you on or off to open source?

Anytime Linus Torvalds opens his mouth is a fantastic moment for open source. Not to decrease what all of the other open source leaders and innovators have done, but Linus stands alone. He is direct, to the point and witty enough with his commentary that there can be no question where his loyalties lie.
Comments that turn me off most prominently begin with "Linux (or the BSDs or what have you) is/are not ready for the desktop". People who claim this make me sick because they shoot open source in the foot. They claim interest, some help with the code and they perform sometimes highly-publisized (sp) reviews. Then they make statements that are sensationalized time and again. We do not need any more opponents than we already have so if you don't think it (insert your platform of choice) is ready for the desktop, do something about it rather than complain about. Even someone like me can help with documentation or testing to make the open source applications like Mozilla and Apache the gold standard they are at their best.

3. From your experience, how does the future look for open source?

I think we are on the verge of critical times for open source. The mainstream public, of the US at least, has seen and heard glimspes about it. Major companies like IBM and Novell are hopping (with both feet) onto the bandwagonand smaller companies are finding out what it can mean to their businesses. That said, I think we have many major legal battles ahead that will make the SCO disputes look like a drop in the proverbial bucket. Furthermore, I (from a business major's perspective) still have not seen a truly solid business plan that allows the programmers that refine and push open source to earn a living doing what they love. Some do, but most seem reglegated to working on it in their off time as a labor of love. I think a new perspective (or business model if you will) is needed to truly ensure that Linux earns it's place in business and throughout the rest of the world.

For my part, I presided over a club at my university that promotes and encourages open source throughout our university and community. I try to remain active in various communities when I can and release as much of the stuff I create as possible with an open source license attached. My best contribution though, I feel, is introducing open source to people that normally wouldn't persue it and show its strengths to those who could benefit most. But again, this all just one lowly college student's perspective and probably doesn't mean much.

2004-09-07 12:56:08
A perspective
-what positive and negative experiences have you had with open source?

Positive: The positive expierences I have had have been in teaching and helping others benefit from the tools that are available.

Negative: irc #freebsd. You feel bad for the people who get on and they start thrashing them when they really need help either caused by a language barrier or a mistake that they got them to a point where they could not learn how to fix it.

-what actions or comments in particular turned you on or off to open source?

I originally got turned off by opensource as I was looking for resources to solve my problems. It took me ignoring all those comments and forcing myself to learn on my own. My reaction was one of wanting to not have that happen for others, but still giving the power to learn for themselves.

-from your experience, how does the future look for open source?

I have concerns as people sell opensource as being community based. The communities have to be willing to offer help to all that asks and be willing and able to assist even if it means that we have to answer a question that could be rtfm'd. I believe that users that need a foundation to start can ask for the help that they need. by answering some of the initial questions it opens the door for them to be able to start learning on their own and be able to start helping others.

2004-09-08 00:47:22
Answers to Your Questions
"What positive and negative experiences have you had with open source?"

Quite a lot. Too many to recall them all at once actually. I recall having used KDE 2.x and liking it so much that I stopped liking to use Windows for day to day work. I also recall having learned tools that I believed could help facilitate a certain task, and finding that they did facilitate this task, and proved useful in the future. (like LaTeX, Web Meta Language, DocBook/XML, etc.).

Another nice thing is that I was able to meet with fellow enthusiasts in meetings of all kinds, and socialize with them.

Some negative experiences involve the various bugs, or lack of features within programs that I ran into. There were a lot of them in the past, and I was able to resolve most of them by now.

Perhaps the most negative experience was seeing GNOME 2.x. I had many expectations for it, but ended up seeing that it chose the "less-is-more" attitude, with many Macisms. There doesn't seem to be a way for me to configure it the way I want. And the GNOME people seem to be incredibly happy about this choice. Thanks god KDE is still sane.

"What actions or comments in particular turned you on or off to open source?"

Well, I am constantly being turned off by the attitude of those people using a certain technology who completely denounce all other alternatives or a very prominent one. Debian is a prominent example. (Debianists tend to denounce all other distributions) As is the attitude of the Arch community to Subversion. Or the Pythoneers constant Perl bashing. (albeit they have calmed down a bit).

What encourages me are either simple thank you's, or other expressions of gratitude. Or favours that I ask people to do, and are fullfilled.

"From your experience, how does the future look for open source?"

Well, without opening the mouth to the devil, I forcast that we have a bright future. Linux is already much cheaper than Windows, and better in most ways. Most people stay with Windows due to inertia, but they constantly hear great things about Linux and other open-source programs. Installing Linux on your hard-drive is an action that everyone can voluntarily do, without having to pay anyone to do that or any other consequences.

I expect the use of Linux and other open-source software to grow in the coming years.