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Linux is a Community
1 August 2008 @ 19:10 BST
by Paul

Linux is a Community. It's the sort of community that arises spontaneously from people coming together.

People in this community engage in conversations. Some are trivial, but some are momentous. Some conversations can foreshadow major changes in computing.

During these conversations people exchange ideas, sometimes these ideas are turned into code. Some of the code finds its way into major projects, some of it stays on hard drives, on a web sites, or never gets merged to a trunk.

Sometimes, people push for a major change in the direction that software development is taking; these new ideas can gain traction and transform a project. Sometimes, people go off and do their own thing - they fork projects.

FOSS is, therefore, not just software. Its an ecosystem, made of a number of people with different interests doing different things. This makes it a community. When you run free software you are part of this community.

I was moved to write this after the uproar that was caused by the release of KDE 4.0:

what Seigo and the rest of the KDE community may have failed to realize is that, with the recent popularity of FOSS, many KDE users lacked this historic sense -- and, therefore, did not have the sense of trust he expected.

In addition, he says, "There's still very much a consumer model in people's minds and not a participatory one." In other words, some users, rather than trying to contribute to the project, reacted more as customers who had a right to demand satisfaction, and as though the only way they could get their complaints addressed was by causing a disturbance."

This is exactly the point. Usually, anything we participate in, we participate in as consumers. Our goods and services, whether high or low value, come from huge, anonymous, impersonal corporations. We expect bad service from them and lousy products. This causes many people to be hyper-vigilant; we expect complaining to be pointless. Complaints therefore become shriller and more bitter. If we email the company, we expect a form reply of no value, if we get a reply at all. If we ring a 'customer service' number we expect to speak to a drone who has no authority, knows nothing and will certainly not sort out our problem.

Linux and FOSS are not like that. The individuals who take part in the community take pride in their work and often take criticism personally. Sometimes, they take the very human recourse of lashing out in response.

Many new users are starting to use Linux because modern distributions have become far, far easier to use and install. These new users are not used to feeling part of a community. They act as if they've brought a product from a huge corporation.

Some of these new users will come to understand the community nature of FOSS. Many will not. They will never be part of the community, they will be Ubuntu users or RedHat users.

Occasionally, the users will have bought support packages. Then and only then have they bought a commercial product and only then do they have the right to complain that it doesn't do what it says on the box.

So, in other words, only those who have code or money (either as donations or as payment for support) to throw to the project are the ones to whom the developers of an FOSS project are ultimately responsible for issues or bugs with the software.

Also, with this logic, why not only let paying subscribers file bugs in the bugzilla? The freeloaders don't have a right to b*tch or even make a smidgen of a complaint about a project's direction or issues if they don't contribute to the project with either code or money, right?

Finally, let's deem the freeloaders "pirates", since they gain something (FOSS) for nothing (0$ or no code in return). Why support pirates?

I mean, the above is, IMO, a logical extension of your argument that those who don't understand the "community" of FOSS development (in other words, non-programmers) shouldn't complain about the quality of the software unless they've *paid* for support.

Not that I disagree with this logic; sure, it seems fair to give greater credence to those who either have some code or money to spare.

But if this is the case, where the FOSS developers only care about the code and the money to support further coding and packaging (and maybe distribution), then that makes me wonder about the relationship between the FOSS programmer and the user.

In the proprietary software arena, the vendor company serves as the middleman that cushions (and, in the process, blinds) the relationship between the programmer's product and the user's demands; thus, the vendor company keeps the user a user and the programmer a programmer. In the FOSS arena, the companies play less of a middleman role, and the relationship between programmers and users becomes more of a clash of competing user interests, as the programmers are exposed as "users with more skills than the others" and the users are either kept strictly as "lusers" or forced to become one of two people: programmers or vendors who fund the programmers and cushion other "lusers" for monetary revenue.

Is it successful and satisfying for the programmers? Yes: they gain independence and responsibility from the FOSS model, and their skills are used by multiple vendors. Plus, they're part of a community of programmers who have the final say in what goes in and what goes out of each version of the software according to the programmer's own wishes.

Does it empower the user? No: it forces or compels the user to either fund the programmer or become one himself/herself in order to rectify the bugs of the software created by another programmer to his own desire. If the user is getting it for free, then he better be grateful that he's getting anything at all; the strictly-user community is of no consequence to the further future iterations of the software.

So ultimately, neither the proprietary software model nor the FOSS model work for the users....oops, I mean, the "freeloaders". The former treats them like criminals ("don't copy that floppy!") and the latter assumes that they're someone else (programmers) other than what they are ("RTFA").

I don't say that it's not right to identify FOSS as a do-it-yourself model, just that it sucks that it has to be either corporately-maintained or do-it-yourself.

Posted by Guest User on 2008-08-03 20:46:36.
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