Sunday, March 30, 2008

Open Source Compared to Terrorist Cells

I was recently sent a link to read a blog entry concerning Open Source. I am almost reluctant to send you to that page because of how utterly wrong this person's view and analysis is. But I feel I should be fair and give you a chance to see both sides. My response to this gentleman's views follows.

First and foremost, the open source movement is to some degree a rejection and opposition to the direct capitalization of software but is perhaps more specifically and correctly defined as the rejection and opposition to what is perceived to be a “unipolar, capitalistic superpower”, in this case Microsoft. This appears to be a widely accepted attitude within the open source community as there are endless quotes spanning a large number of open source projects to the effect of “the enemy is Microsoft”.

I disagree that Open Source is a rejection of the capitalization of software or a superpower. Open Source and closed-source entities derive their impetus from two very different philosophies. Many Open Source projects aim to be profitable via a different business model. Leaders of major traditional vendors disagree with this new model and have made it their unspoken mission to sabotage Open Source. Open Source's objectives are not to overthrow any one particular vendor. Rather, the Open Source community believes they can make money by offering services around a particular product, but the product itself is free for users to download, install, use, copy, modify, and share in compliance with a very liberal license. This business model has threatened the monopolistic interests of some companies, yet many others have seen the incredible potential and have joined the Open Source community. I wonder if the record will show that attacks are more often originated from traditional vendors and not from the Open Source community.

Second, the open source movement is organized as a loose confederation in which a relatively small percentage of highly skilled and charismatic leaders exert influence over legions of faceless, and often fanatical, volunteers. Individuals such as Linus Torvalds and Eric Raymond are the leaders who admittedly serve as “benevolent dictators” and nearly everyone else is, well, a faceless minion.

It is easy to turn a common project-management model into some sort of terrorist-organization model. So, is that to say that committees and subcommittees in schools and countless other organizations are also equivalent to a terrorist organization? There are thousands upon thousands of volunteer groups that work in a fashion similar to Open Source projects; our whole society would be seriously crippled if we stopped using the "loose confederations" referenced in this commentary.

Third, the open source movement by and large uses crude propaganda and hate-filled rhetoric to defame and demonize its opposition. For example, this third point can be easily demonstrated by the coarse language used by Linux proponents when debating or characterizing peers that utilize Windows-based technologies. More often than not, Linux proponents and other open source advocates go out of their way to characterize their opponents as “stupid”, “ignorant”, “retarded”, “evil” or much, much worse. If you don’t believe me, go browse any forum frequented by Linux or open source proponents. In addition to the name calling and hate speech there is even advocacy of sending Windows users to concentration camps or purposefully spamming their email with viruses.

In any movement that is based on serious philosophical concerns there is bound to be some fanatics. The same thing that Linux proponents are being accused of doing can be said of any other group. Fanatics of some religions have attacked (verbally and otherwise) those that did not agree with their views. Such has been the case with political parties, governments, etc. You cannot generalize based on the actions of a few members.

Fourth, a favorite tactic of the open source movement is the use of fear as a weapon. Again, this can most readily be seen by Linux, Apache and Firefox proponents that tout the perceived security of their systems while attempting to instill fear, uncertainty and doubt in those that use Microsoft technologies by claiming that Microsoft systems are inherently insecure or inferior in terms of security.

The Open Source community does not use fear as a tactic -- they simply reflect facts. And the fact is that Windows systems have been more vulnerable to viruses and other malware than other operating systems. That is a fact that can be demonstrated. It is a fact that any experienced computer technician will testify to (and profit from). Anyone that has been in a PC support role (formal or informal) will tell you so. I have been in that position and have fought the virus wars. Some even think that these security weaknesses maybe in the Windows system by design -- it gives Microsoft partners a great market for products that are rarely needed in other OSes. FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) is a tactic used by many dominant entities. It was used by monarchs for centuries to dominate their subjects. It was used by Hitler and the Nazi party. It has been used by many vendors since the 1980s to influence their profitability.

Fifth, the open source movement often skirts the boundaries of the law with its open disregard and disdain for intellectual property rights (patents), association with criminal hacking elements (whose primary motivator is also often an attempt to damage or humiliate Microsoft), open advocacy of harm to Windows users (outright support or at least turning a blind eye towards Windows virus creators) and even outright theft, such as Bruce Peren’s self-admitted “stealing time from Pixar to work on Linux”. As a side note it might be interesting to conduct a study regarding the cost in unproductive time to corporations who employ developers that also work on open source projects.

Laws are many times passed by those in power to favor their causes. I believe most Open Source organizations try their best to abide by the law or use available loopholes to achieve their goals. And let's not get on a high-horse and claim a moral superiority for major industry vendors. Many of these corporations have done their best to not only skirt but to outrightly crush laws (and competition).

One last point. In his article the "Objective Observer" claims that Linux and other operating systems are hard to use. Although the origins of some operating systems have been marked as user unfriendly, the same thing could be said of of any OS. Windows was not all that great at first, but it has grown to be user-friendly (sometimes because so many capabilities were taken away). Linux, Free-BSD and others are just as user-friendly now at the application level and, in many respects, at the system management level as Windows. Look at the huge success of Ubuntu and its derivatives and you will see that it has achieved complete success on both the user and system management aspects.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Laws, Laws, Laws

If a government breaks the law to enforce a different law, should the law they are enforcing be nullified? What if the government creates new laws that break higher laws to protect a lower law or rule? Should governments spend huge amounts of resources (money and people amongst them) to protect the interests of a few corporations? More and more, governments everywhere seem to be violating their citizens rights to enforce things like copyright laws. Sadly, those resources should be used for more important things, not wasted on chasing after kids, moms and grandparents that maybe linked to MP3 downloads. If we have the resources to spy on citizens to catch them downloading music or movies, why can't we use those to solve serious crimes like murders? Or use those funds to improve society to prevent crimes? In the grand scheme of things, MP3s and movies are insignificant specs of dust that should not warrant our attention as a society -- wasting huge quantities of government resources most definitely should elicit our attention and action.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Are we being killed by artificiality? I recently became re-acquainted with a dangerous fact about artificial sweeteners -- they can be harmsful! Many years ago the manufacturers of saccharin were forced to add warning labels to their products because of cancer-related risks. But other artificial sweeteners came about. The most famous of these is aspartame. We can find this substitute in everything from diet sodas to flavor powders to pancake syrups. But is aspartame safe? We have been warned that aspartame becomes unstable at 86F -- so we should not drink, for example, a diet drink that has been sitting in a hot vehicle for several hours. But what happens when the chemical is heated inside our body? Many believe that it is poisoning us. One of the many websites that advocate the banning of artificial sweeteners is the Douglass Report, published by Dr. William Campbell Douglass. Of course, there are many other reports that claim the warnings we read and hear are nothing but a hoax to scare the public. So which one is it? I encourage everyone to read on the subject, do your homework, and make up your mind. I believe we are being poisoned by these artificial sweeteners and I have seen evidence of their effects first hand.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Education Pays? — Part 2

Michael Robertson has a follow-up article/blog on how profitable it is for young people to attend college. The new facts he presents show that college is not for everyone, at least not from a strict Return On Investment view. However, one of the points that comes to my mind as I have read his recent exposé is that the economics are only part of the equation. Whether one can profit from it or not, the reality is that many employers demand a college degree. Sadly, employers sometimes take a college graduate with little or no experience over someone without the credentials and with practical knowledge. This has been a reality for sometime. Mr. Robertson's analysis is still very worthy reading.