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Many times over the last few months I have written here about open source politics.
But there is politics involved in open source as well.
The open source movement is divided into two main strains. The free side, represented by Richard Stallman, focuses on the mutual obligations of those who get open source software, to give as they get.
The true open source side,
represented best perhaps by Jonathan Schwartz of Sun Microsystems, emphasizes business issues, business models, finding ways to make money despite showing the code and giving it away.
Open source, in turn, is in conflict with the proprietary world. Not just proprietary software but because of Digital Rights Management (DRM) the world of proprietary content as well.
We can see these conflicts play out when approaching the DRM issue. DRM
has split the open source movement. Stallman and other activists on the
free software side hate DRM out of principle. Linus Torvalds and those
on the open source side say that Linux must allow the development of
DRM under Linux in order for Linux to gain market share.
Proprietary groups take advantage of this split, but they are
also split on their approach. Some (on the software and hardware side)
welcome the DRM side of the open source movement. Others (on the
content side) reject these overtures, calling them insincere, demanding
that DRM either be mandated or Linux be made illegal.
I recently saw another split over a single word – hacker.
It was used by Michael Tiemann, president of the Open Source
Initiative in an interview with an IDG
reporter. Tiemann was trying to praise the volunteers whose bug fixes,
support help and code contributions make open source go. He called them
While the word "hacker" originally meant a programmer who cared about
code efficiency, it is still a code word to many enterprise managers
for kid, nerd, and copyright crook. To them, it means someone you
shouldn’t trust, a pirate, a movie hoarder. And those in the
proprietary area are using this political gaffe to hold enterprise
customers in line.
Thus Tiemann’s words became a political event. Which is important to note.
The growth of open source is not just an economic force. It is
also a political force, at its core. It is being treated that way, by
its opponents, and by its fiercest advocates.
To deny this reality is Clueless. The marketplace of ideas and
the economic marketplace are, through open source, becoming one and the
You can use this knowledge to your own advantage. If you’re in
the open source software business you must be aware of the political
impact of what you say and do. You have to understand concepts like
credibility. You need to know that the people who support you also, in
a way, own you, just as a politician’s constituents own them.
If you stay in touch with your users, if you are conscious of their
views and concerns, if you deliver the business equivalent of good
constituent service, in other words, you can make yourself a lot of
money. If you ignore your various publics – your developers, your
volunteers, your users – you will crash and burn no matter how good a
move looks on the bottom line.