Open source guru advocates ideological shift
August 20, 2006 Leave a comment
I have to admit I was a bit surprised after reading this article, which include the following:
Eric Raymond has told the community that painful compromises are needed to the way it deals with closed source platforms and formats to avoid losing ground on desktops and new media players.
Raymond said the community is not moving fast enough to engage with non-technical users whose first-choice platform is either an iPod, MP3 player or Microsoft desktop running Windows Media Player.
Binary drivers are considered an evil for open source because of their proprietary nature, however Raymond called support for them in Linux “a necessary compromise.”
Raymond, a champion of all things open, said it is vital to the future uptake of Linux that the community compromise to win the new generation of non-technical users aged younger than 30. This group is more interested in having Linux “just work” on their iPod or MP3 player and “don't care about our notions of doctrinal purity”
Take a moment to process that. Now, while I completely agree that Linux too often does not engage with non-technical users, that's sort of by design and ingrained into the hierarchy of things. To be fair though, that's changing. Since Linux historically was a “by programmers, for programmers” kind of project, the non-technical users really didn't have a voice. With the entrance of companies like Novell and Linspire, that's no longer really the case. What I disagree with is the assertion that “The end of the 64-bit transition happens at the end of 2008. After that the operating system gets locked in for the next 30 years.” I honestly don't see how a move to 64-bit is going to lock any OS in. There's just no logical progression there. People (especially on the desktop) just aren't clamoring for the 32->64 conversion right now. It makes sense on the server, but the real benefits just aren't applicable to the average desktop PC. What I'd guess we'll see is a slow transition where by people will get 64-bit by default as the upgrade their PC – and they won't even know it happened. Because they won't know it happened, I'd hesitate to call it a “major architectural shift”. At least not when compared to the painful 16->32 change. That's why Linux OEM deals are so important… the average user simply doesn't care about their OS.
This brings us back to a topic I've discussed before. What are we, as a community, willing to give up to get mainstream adoption. I completely agree with ESR that “painful compromises” will be needed to gain more desktop penetration. Probably very painful compromises. I still question if the Linux we'd end up with is a Linux we'd all still be so passionate about. In the past I've indicated that I was unsure. Unfortunately, I'm still not. It's a very precarious thing, and I don't think people appreciate that there's a very real chance that Linux could end up being a victim of its own success in many ways. Luckily our communities are varied and resilient. While we're divided on many topics, in the end I hope we have the fortitude to persevere.
This article brings up a couple other topics that I'd like to break out into other posts (and will soon), including binary driver, Linux with an iPod and working with commercial and proprietary software vendors.
ESR, Linux, Open Source, OSI, FSF