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A Contrarian View of Open Source 262

Bruce Sterling's OSCON speech is now online - fun, light reading. And a reminder: the Global Civil Society design contest (which we mentioned before) is ending soon.
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A Contrarian View of Open Source

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  • from the open-arms-and-a-threadbare-tank-top-and-unbuttoned -jeans dept.

    Unbuttoned jeans? I thought that was a San Francisco thing, not a Slashdot Editor thing. Shows what I know.
    • Shows what I know.

      Actually, it shows that you didn't read the article/speech.
    • The funny thing about the "Linux Girl" line is that there was indeed a little slip of a hippie girl (wearing the requisite Birks), who does indeed attend MIT, sitting two seats to my left.
  • I can't believe people could go that long without refreshing /. or checking email.
  • *disclaimer*This is a re-post of a comment I made a while back.

    I was a sysadmin for 7 years, the fact that lusers would never heed my warings, read the documentation, or flat out needed things repeated to them 20 times in a row made me decide to quit being the McDonalds coke and a smile "Hi How may I fix your computer today?"

    Near my 7th year, I became frustrated, started telling people how stupid I thought they were to their face (Usually after the 8th time of explaining something) And generally degraded into the self absorbed irritating prick that I am today.

    2 years later i'm still recovering. Where I used to fix my friends and families computers for free I now charge the shit outta them till they don't wanna come back. Everytime the phone rings my hair still stands up on end because i'm afraid of yet another person saying, "Hey toq just wanted to ask you a quick question!" No it's never a quick question, it's a gateway into a line of questioning not even the worse murderer would be subjected to in a police interregation.

    And you dare say was I ever a sysadmin, jeesh. I'd bet money I could w00p your arse in a contest of skills any day of the week. Trust me kid, you just haven't burned out yet, but you will. And when you do, that's where open source with the lack of stupid people and politics will be waiting.

    • i used to work in desktop support for my university, back in my college days. after a couple of years or really trying to help people, i started testing limits. like...
      student comes in: "My teacher says my engineering ID should work to get me into the general PC labs..."

      me: "your teacher is on crack. NEXT!?"
      after a few talking-tos by supervisors, but no real punitive damages, it just got worse. i became a jerk. still am a jerk. and i was a nice guy before working there. a really, really nice guy. the kind of nice guy that never got the girl. so i became a self-centered, stupid-people-hating jerk. and got the girls.

      god, i don't miss college.
  • I suffered a temporary -1 to my intelligence.
    • Copyrights are not a free market property right, but a bullshit government granted monopoly that cause all sorts of incompatabilities, and stagnate innovation. In fact most big corporations are not free market at all, but feed off of similar government regulations, special treatment, and bullshit. (including the federal reserve, he didn't say that but I put it in for him)

      In the copyright area, Linux gets arround this by being free and transparent, but that makes it a threat to the other people who make a living by fscking the ignorant when it comes to software. However, most people don't have the intellectual or personal balls to say that copyrights are bullshit - so instead they all bicker over stupid things (eg Lessing)
  • This gem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Tuesday August 06, 2002 @02:13PM (#4020190) Journal
    In general, if there's a point in here beyond the Eric Raymond-ish hand-jobbing of the audience, it was entirely lost on me. This chunk particularly stood out, though:
    So, I let Cory convince me and I installed Mozilla on my Mac. And its bug-track completely wrecked System 9. So I stopped fighting with Cory Doctorow. Not because he was winning the argument, but because his fucking Open Source solution cost me three days of desperate effort to restore my files! So I took the further trouble to install System X, and I backed up everything of course, but I still don'tget it about System X quite frankly, and neither does System X. It never knows what it's running. There are chunks of Microsoft code in there like giant lumps of black putty just lying to you about what they are doing on the Internet. It's like trying to wade through drilling mud running this thing. It steers itself by committee.

    You know, there's not even a pretense of sense there. It's purely words strung together for effect.

    • It's purely words strung together for effect.

      So is this:

      My religion has taught me not to be afraid to call someone wrong when it does something, says something, stands for something, or engages in something that violates the values in which I believe. Let's review the errors in Slashdot's statements in order. First, I'm oversimplifying things a little here. Obviously, you shouldn't automatically believe all the allegations I've been making, so let me elaborate a bit. Time has only reinforced that conviction. (Actually, Slashdot's left hand doesn't know what its right hand is doing, but that's not important now.)

      Because there is no time and little temptation for those who work hard on their jobs and their responsibilities to clear forests, strip the topsoil, and turn a natural paradise into a dust bowl through a self-induced drought, it therefore stands to reason that its attempts to bury our heritage, our traditions, and our culture are much worse than mere opportunism. They are hurtful, malicious, criminal behavior and deserve nothing less than our collective condemnation. Let's consider for a moment, though, that maybe the only effective and responsible course of action is to warn the public against those brutish, xenophobic cretins whose positive accomplishments are always practically nil, but whose conceit can scarcely be excelled, -- an often frustrating prescription, to be sure. Then doesn't it follow that no one today believes that Slashdot is merely trying to make this world a better place in which to live? Although chimpanzees can be convinced to wear clothing, understand commands, and even ride bicycles (if well paid for their services in bananas), it would be virtually impossible to convince Slashdot that its subordinates' thinking is fenced in by many constraints. Their minds are not free because they dare not be. On the other hand, every time Slashdot tells its cohorts that it knows 100% of everything 100% of the time, their eyes roll into the backs of their heads as they become mindless receptacles of unsubstantiated information, which they accept without question.

      If you want a better opportunity to get a job, raise a family in a safe neighborhood, have a better chance at a good education, and lower the taxes on the money you earn, then I ask that you help me confront and reject all manifestations of communism. Slashdot may vilify our history, character, values, and traditions right after it reads this letter. Let it. By next weekend, I will set the record straight. Let me close by reminding you that Slashdot uses the word "literally" when it means "metaphorically".

  • mussolini (Score:5, Funny)

    by sfraggle ( 212671 ) on Tuesday August 06, 2002 @02:24PM (#4020277)
    quote: "The result is 95% market domination by Microsoft. But that's not a market economy. That's not even capitalism. That is a state-capitalist, state-sanctioned monopoly that Mussolini would have smiled on."

    Carefully using a comparison to Mussolini to avoid Godwins Law [] I see :)
    • You just demonstrated Miller's Paradox.
    • Re:mussolini (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FreeUser ( 11483 )
      Carefully using a comparison to Mussolini to avoid Godwins Law

      Or perhaps he was simply more knowledgable about history than the average usenet poster/slashdot reader:
      "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of State and corporate power."

      -- Benito Mussolini
      Fascism wasn't limited to just Germany then, and though it is largely absent from Germany today, it is most definitely not absent from the world now.
    • quote: "The result is 95% market domination by Microsoft. But that's not a market economy. That's not even capitalism. That is a state-capitalist, state-sanctioned monopoly that Mussolini would have smiled on."

      Remind me, exactly when was it that the governments of the Western world united in declaring that competing with Microsoft was illegal and punishable by confiscation of property and criminal sentencing? Remind me when taxpayer's money was used to subsidise Microsoft products, and the tax system was skewed to punish their competitors?

      Oh, wait, that didn't happen. In fact, several nations are actively trying to help Microsoft competitors.

      The whole speech was like that: playing to an easily-pleased home crowd by repeating the same old platitudes about how great everyone is.
      • I suspect the "state" is Sterlings analogi is Microsoft.

        But in any case:

        Last I wrote to a member of the Danish government (an argument against an "opt-in" spam law), the answer came in form of a MS Word document. So the state requires that I posses MS software in order to participate in the democracy.

        Jon is currently being prosecuted in Norway for developing software that would weaken the MS monopoly. While that is not the formal charge, that is the formal effect.

        Small isolated fragments of the government of a few nations are trying to help liften the Microsoft monopoly, while the vast majority of the governments everywhere are actively or passively helping maintain it.

        And no, Sterling basically flamed everyone in his rant. You are just being blinded by your own prejudices to see it.
  • by A Cheese Danish ( 576077 ) <> on Tuesday August 06, 2002 @02:26PM (#4020286) Homepage Journal

    I wouldn't have called it "contrarian", as I personally agree with most of what he was saying, and I know a lot of people who work with me would as well.

    What I found interesting was his comparisons of both Microsoft and of the Linux community as a whole. Granted, they were both skewed to the extremes, but I did notice something that I think applied to most people.

    I consider myself a relative above-average user. I understand how to set things up, and general low-level techie questions about certain things are no problem, but anything more technical than that confuses me, and what's scary is that the average user is worse.

    However, the average computer user really doesn't have a choice between the two. Microsoft runs most all the software (both apps and games) that anyone is familiar with. Sure, there is FreeCiv, the now-defunct Loki, StarOffice, and so forth, but in the end, it comes down to brand names, and people don't know Red Hat, or StarOffice, or anything. They know Windows and Office.

    The other side of the story is that most Linux users I know are extreme power-users. They tend to get so wrapped up in their exploits of compiling the latest distros that they tend to talk over everyone's (including myself) head. Even though computers are complicated by nature, that's not what sells, nor will it ever sell. Look how complicated the RIAA/MPAA is trying to make digital downloads. They're getting no where fast that way.

    The only other thing that this article brought to mind was a question about what the Linux community wants to do with Linux. Say it upseats Windows. Say it takes over on both the server and the desktop. Say that 95% of all computers now run some distro of Linux...

    Haven't we then just painted ourselves into the same corner that Microsoft is in, and wouldn't Linux receive the same amount of critisism for a variety of other things?

    Just a thought. I'm sure it's been mentioned on here.....but just in case.....and I knew I was going somewhere with this......oh well.

    • > Haven't we then just painted ourselves into the
      > same corner that Microsoft is in

      Nope. The corner that MS finds itself in is the diminishing returns associated with a saturated market. Linux as a "dominant" platform would not suffer from this as it does not require that a particular patron survive. If MS goes belly up, WinDOS will likely go with it. If Redhat goes belly up, all the other distribution vendors would just carry on.

      Eventually, the common consumer will realize that they don't need to pay for this week's version of Office or Windows. Once this occurs, Microsoft will be in a very "interesting" situation.

      "Software is a tool" is as relevant to business models as it is to the end user interface design.
      • If MS goes belly up, WinDOS will likely go with it

        Hardly. MS has enough market saturation that, if the Feds decided to fine them 100 billion dollars (and thus bankrput them), their trademarks & code would be bought by someone (maybe Apple, or Ted Turner) within a quarter, and back on the market within a quarter after that.

        The only way "WinDOS" & Office are going anywhere is if alternatives to them achieve enough market saturation to render them irrelevant--like what happened to the pre-MS Office market leaders.

        If MS inc. goes bankrupt, expect "Ted Turner Windows" and "Ted Turner Office" to come out shortly.
    • Haven't we then just painted ourselves into the same corner that Microsoft is in, and wouldn't Linux receive the same amount of critisism for a variety of other things?

      Don't forget, Microsoft appears to do things for the benefit of Microsoft, not for its customers. This generates a lot of ill will.

      The open source model has the users making the changes. Granted if everyone used Linux the percentage of users who also code will go way down. But the ability to make the changes that you want, even if you have to hire someone to do it, will alleviate the feelings helplessness and of lack of control. And this will help keep complaints to a minimum.

      Steve M

    • The only other thing that this article brought to mind was a question about what the Linux community wants to do with Linux. Say it upseats Windows. Say it takes over on both the server and the desktop. Say that 95% of all computers now run some distro of Linux... Haven't we then just painted ourselves into the same corner that Microsoft is in, and wouldn't Linux receive the same amount of critisism for a variety of other things?

      True, Linux / free software will receive growing criticism as it becomes more mainstream. The difference is that problems will actually get fixed. Compare to say.. all those "Windows Annoyances" type sites where folks moan and groan about problems they can't fix or offer half-baked solutions that sorta kludge out a solution. Yes, constructive criticism of free software is a good thing and should be embraced. Creative criticism is even better. And yes, that means that a lot of today's haughty, elitist free software coders are going to have to humble themselves a bit if they want to effect further progress in developing useful community software. They're going to have to treat users of their code with respect, accept new ideas, and bow to wishes other than their own. And they're going to have to learn that free software needs to be further commercialized as a service industry of consulting and specialization. As an aside, I think a great example of Open Source development breakdown is the Gimp--everyone's favorite free image editing tool.. oh wait.. it's the ONLY free image editor. Apparently, its developers needed a tool for doing nifty web graphics but then stopped just short of creating a truly versatile, quality program. So now, several years later, the Gimp is still only about par with roughly Photoshop version 3 or 4 and the project is seemingly stagnant other than converting to Gtk2. Frankly, I've used a lot of graphics tools in the past and Gimp pretty much sucks for anything but the most basic tasks. True, you can get most of the same work done, but it's a hastle and takes twice as long. Where are the features that have been direly needed for all these years? The dynamic layers and objects? (ie. if I scale a layer, it should apply a transform to the original data, not overwrite it) How about user-defined colorspaces? (ie. for print layout) Or maybe some simple CAD-style drawing tools? Writing software to meet one's own needs / desires is not good enough unless you're helping meet others needs as well. In many cases, business enterprise is the perfect way to do both at once--just specialize in your area of greatest interest. Some free software doesn't need this extra boost, other does. It's time we geeks get our asses in gear.
    • The problem with calling this "Dennis-Miller"-ish is that Bruce often knows what he's talking about, and certainly more often sounds like he knows what he's talking about, than Dennis Miller, who seems to use 'big words'(for his studio audience) for effect, and not to better explain any concepts he might be trying to put across.

      Besides, Dennis Miller is like that annoying guy you knew from college, who dropped out because he couldn't handle "The Man" telling him what to think, and who comes over, drinks your coffee while telling you how evil you are for being a consumer, makes lame (and obvious and/or misguided) cracks about current affairs and celebrities, flirts with your girlfriend (or boyfriend) and then tries to sell you some weed. Bruce Sterling, briefly, is like a friend you like to go visit, because sometimes he'll show you some new toys, and he usually has cool stories to tell.
  • by SideshowBob ( 82333 ) on Tuesday August 06, 2002 @02:33PM (#4020334)
    Go ahead and mod me to hell, it has to be said: that was the stupidest thing I've ever read.

    It was the weirdest mish-mash of mixed up metaphors I've ever seen. Did it even have a point? Was this man high as a kite at the time he gave this speech?

    If this is the best contrarian viewpoint on open source that the convention organizers could rustle up, then they're either myopic to the point of blindness or intentionally self deluded.

    Why couldn't they get someone who was serious to provide the oh so important counterpoint? Someone who would actually, you know, talk about real stuff like open source economics and how I'm going to make a living if the world ever does move to 100% open source software?

    What a waste of (my) 15 minutes.
    • Thank god it wasn't just me -- it was the dumbest thing I have seen in some time. I hope people don't tie this jackass to open-source in any way, shape or form.
      • Indeed. And let's hope no one ever ties Dickens to reforming the industrialized wasteland that was England. Oh, wait...

        And let's hope that no one ever ties Steinbeck to the uplifting of the downtrodden. Oh, wait...

        Sterling is one of the finest writers of the era. Let's hope that he is remembered for his writing and that his future readers tie him to the software freedom movement.

        And let's hope that no one ever ties Stephen King to Windows.
    • Well, hmmm. I thought the speech was actually fairly poetic. And I thought it was what I would expect from a self-admitted novelist and a self-deprecating non-programmer-type.

      As I read and re-read the speech text, I noticed a parallelism in his metaphors. He compared Open Source with nearly everything:

      Open Source And Religion

      Open Source And Microsoft

      Open Source And Politics

      Open Source And Sex

      Open Source and Noam Chomsky

      The last comparison is particularly revealing, since Noam Chomsky is a linguist and political dissident. And he's an MIT professor. Perhaps the speech was more of a rhetorical homage to Chomsky rather than a relevant discourse on the state of Open Source. The title of the speech does mention contrarianism.

    • (And I won't bother pointing out that it's not a "speach" either. Oops! Just did.)

      It was an entertaining, thought-provoking rant. Did he offer an executive summary, or action items? Nope. He made some colorful comparisons.

      What was his point? Other than to entertain -- which BTW seems to have been the first, second and fourth priorities -- it looks like he wanted people to question the assumptions that have taken root in the OSS community. Some people apparently don't want to question those assumptions.
      • (And I won't bother pointing out that it's not a "speach" either. Oops! Just did.)

        Ahh well.. its hard to not have typos every now and then.. I did spell it correctly in the body of my post, you will note... But thanks for pointing that out, it really added weight to your argument.
    • by MadAhab ( 40080 ) <slasher&ahab,com> on Tuesday August 06, 2002 @03:40PM (#4020948) Homepage Journal
      "Stupidest speach ever" gets modded to 5? OK, here's a contrarian viewpoint, then: you are too illiterate to offer a legitimate opinion of the speech. Not that I rest my case on your spelling; not that I need to when you offer up this gem:
      Someone who would actually, you know, talk about real stuff like open source economics and how I'm going to make a living if the world ever does move to 100% open source software?
      What, first you insult him, now you want him to give you a job?

      The entire speech is about the economics and politics that arise from open source! First he said that traditionally, we've been working with bad metaphors. Cathedrals and bazaars make some kind of sense, but a real writer would never choose those metaphors because so many of the resonances of the symbols are just plain wrong. So he talks about closed-source software and users like it's a really bad girlfriend/boyfriend relationship - you know, where each person has something that the other one wants (hint: one of those things is wealth). Then he talks about the VALUE PROPOSITIONS that keep these bad relationships together. Go back and read those value propositions again if you seriously want to know the answer to your question. Remember that everyone has flaws, so which flaws are you willing to live with?

      See if you can use your little noodle and work it out from there what he was talking about. Yes, the metaphors are free-form. That shouldn't be surprising, given that this is roughly the outline of the speech:

      "I don't code, but here's a couple things to let you know that I understand how the world looks to people who do... It's not easy to communicate, and that's why people are using some crazy metaphors. The one that is best well known doesn't even work very well, and here is why... Now let's try some new metaphors and see if we can use them to get at what's really going on here..."
      Man, there's not much hope left if y'all don't want to think.
      • I agree... I enjoyed the read, and you're right on target about the girlfriend/boyfriend relationship. The guy's a writer, not a coder, he says so himself. A writer's job is to make the readers think, preferably in a way that gives them a different take on the way the readers usually see things. This is creative writing, not a politcal manifesto. Jeez, it's not like RMS gave this speech. Lighten up, people.
        • This was billed as 'a contrarian viewpoint to open source' or whatever. If the guy just wanted to get up and rant for an hour then they should've billed it as such. If it had been 'Bruce Sterling rants on the state of the software industry' then more power to him (and them), even more so if it was entertaining.

          Its like Microsoft offering a 'contrarian viewpoint to commercial software' and then putting Carrot Top on stage to rant for an hour or so instead of getting someone who could actually articulate the significance of open software.

      • The entire speech is about the economics and politics that arise from open source! First he said that traditionally, we've been working with bad metaphors. Cathedrals and bazaars make some kind of sense, but a real writer would never choose those metaphors because so many of the resonances of the symbols are just plain wrong. So he talks about closed-source software and users like it's a really bad girlfriend/boyfriend relationship - you know, where each person has something that the other one wants (hint: one of those things is wealth). Then he talks about the VALUE PROPOSITIONS that keep these bad relationships together.

        Actually, I think the speech was more of a Rorschach test. He basically repeated all the arguments and open source cliches that you hear bandied about on Slashdot all the time, like "information wants to be free" and "Microsoft is a monopoly" and "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", all the time subtlely poking fun at each of them. Since he talked about everything, and you only remember one thing, the speech works like a Rorschach test for what you were focusing on. You didn't even notice that he wasn't even arguing for or against anything in particular. I, for one, thought the first half of the speech was very entertaining, although the second half was boring and I scanned over most of it.

  • I don't know Mr. Sterlings' theological leanings but this part of his speech struck me as interesting.

    I read a some writings by a Biblical scholar Hyam Maccoby (who incidentally is Jewish) which argue quite convincingly--to me anyway, though as I'm a Hindu that may not mean much--that Jesus far from being a rebel against the establishment was a mainstream Jewish Pharisee. The view we have of him today and for that matter the entire religion of Christianity, was largely the invention of St. Paul

    Judaism has never been a particularly otherworldly religion and even ascetic sects like the Essenes were not against commercial activity. The whole reason there were moneylenders in the temple in the first place is that Jews were required to make donation on certain occasions such as the birth of a firstborn son (pidyon haben) and pay taxes for the upkeep of the temple. The moneylenders changed secular coinage into special temple shekels. So it seems pretty unlikely that Jesus the Pharisee would be aghast at such activity.

    Another theory is that the High Priest and his followers were Saducees (a rival sect) and collaborators with the Romans. The crime of the moneylenders was supporting foreign occupation and as "King of the Jews" Jesus would want to have none of that.

    By this reading, Jesus's political views were more Peoples Front of Judea (or Judean Peoples Front) than Bolshevik.

    • One correction: they weren't moneylenders, they were moneyCHANGERS. They did currency conversion, for a fee. Other commercial activities (such as selling animals for sacrifice, saving the trouble of dragging your own along to the Temple) also took place around the Temple; if you wanted to buy a sheep for the slaughter, you would need the right currency to do so.


    • To offer a different reading on this topic, which assumes that the story presented in the Bible is factual, -

      I think that Jesus was rather disgusted at the layers of elitism that the moneychangers were putting between the common folk and God. First, the moneychangers and other merchants there were also "inspectors" that looked over the animals that the Jews would bring to sacrifice, to inspect that they met ceremonial laws. They would then deny the animal a passing status, and would offer to buy the animal, and sell an acceptable sacrifice for an extra fee. Then, they would turn around and sell the animal that they had just denied was an acceptable sacrifice as an acceptable sacrifice. Secondly, they were set up in the court of the Gentiles, taking it over, which basically denied the non-Jewish God-fearers a place to worship.

  • But please. I understand he's gotta be snappy, he's gotta be interesting, or they'll start booking Scott Adams instead, but still...

    Comparing coding to the life-shortening, near-slave labor of diamond mining? I'm thinking the guys down in Windhoek don't GET a choice fat-free lattes, or bitch because they have to walk all 50 steps to the Pepsi machine.

    And then it must be comedic genious for him to then castigate people for then coming up with "farfetched, elegant, literary metaphors to describe this process." Like, I don't know, comparing it to diamond mining maybe?

    I actually LIKE what he has to say in the majority of the speech, but to me he starts on such a bitter and weak note that it distracts from his message.

  • As a quote: "venting my ever-growing fury!"

    As a paraphrase: The whole computer scene just stinks.
  • by eaeolian ( 560708 ) on Tuesday August 06, 2002 @02:38PM (#4020391)
    ...that Sterling's consistent. None of his novels ever really get to the point, either - they just spend all their time trying to dazzle you with imagery, while he desperately tries to find a way out of the corner he's just painted himself into.

    Nothing like being a Troll at a conference, though - I'm sure he was bought a beer or two by some Linux geeks that didn't realize he was cracking on them harder than he was on Gates.

  • by mir ( 106753 ) <> on Tuesday August 06, 2002 @02:40PM (#4020404) Homepage

    I actually really loved this speech, as I think did the packed room, including larry Wall and half of his family [].

    Of course it was over the top, of course it was sometimes cruel and mean to Open Source, of course it made fun of OSX, of course it compared Linux to a trailor park hippie, but it was also twice as mean to Microsoft, it raised some good points, and why couldn't we just appreciate a good rant? It was funny and hit home quite a few times.

    And frankly the end of the speech, which predicts that geeks will be the next dissidents, sounds like a distinct, and scary, possibility.

  • Have you ever seen a cathedral? Cathedrals are medieval religious centers where people do penance and take vows of poverty.

    That sounds about right. I'm sure that penance and poverty come into it, somehow. Not necessarily in that order...

    Sorry Bruce, I think you called this one wrong.
    • No, actually, this is probably spot-on. Bill Gates is the Pope, Ballmer et al are the Cardinals, and every customer is a poverty-vowing, pennance-performing member.

    • The 'Cathederal' that Raymond was specifically taking on when he wrote his now famous 'The Cathederal and the Bazaar' essay was the GNU Emacs development team.

      People can squirm, hem and haw, and pretend it's not true. The original context of the essay has nearly disappeared from the record, and I suspect Raymond wouldn't mind it gone at this point in time. But it's the plain truth.
  • It would seem that the view expressed is certainly contrarian- but to what, exactly, eluded my reading of it (title notwithstanding).

    If Slashdot really does want to post a contrarian view to open source, it seems to me that a suitable article ought to be found.
    The benefit of this forum is that it allows a diverse group of opinions to be expressed. That all goes for naught, however, if the subject matter is not worthy of the discussion.

    A solidly written article that runs counter to the open source viewpoint could stimulate not only a great discussion, it could also help to hone the arguments that folks would use in their support of open source.
  • by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Tuesday August 06, 2002 @02:52PM (#4020485) Homepage
    After reading the initial criticism of Bruce's talk here, I am amazed. Wow! How dare an artist take some of our precious geektime to explain things in a different context! Doesn't he understand that Open Source is serious business? My God, next thing you know, we might actually have to learn that the rest of the world doesn't think like we do and that's OK.

    I really get tired of a bunch of whiney geeks bitching because people want to sully their precious, insulated geekspace with cultural issues (outside games and anime and Libetarianism, which, for some unfathomable reason, seem to be perfectly OK). Is that the key item to being a geek? A uncontrolled but always frustrated little ego that says "Bow down before me in my magnificent geektitude and don't ever mention the outside world because I can't handle that!"? Sheesh...

    Grow up.

  • I'm a big fan of Bruce Sterling, I'm even a big fan of his free-wheeling public speaking gigs like this, but this is just not that great a Sterling rap. He just doesn't know enough about what he's talking about, and -- a rare event, for Sterling -- hasn't suceeded in coming up with any unusual insights into the subject.

    By all means, read it for fun... e.g. note Sterling's attempt at categorizing proprietary software company strategies as relationship headgames, where Linux comes in as this weird hippie chick that likes doing geeky guys... just don't expect too much of it.

    Sometimes I think Slashdot may have painted itself into a corner... they ended up running a link to *this* Sterling rap, because it's about the sterotypic concerns of slashdot, not because it's a particularly interesting one. Try this one: Without Vision, The People Perish []. There's at least a chance that he's on to something there.

  • I have a sneaking suspicion that there was a point to that lecture, but I'll be damned if I can figure out what it is.

    From what I can determine from moments of coherency:

    He hates Microsoft
    He hates Macs
    He hates Linux
    He hates Open Source
    He's not a programmer, nor will he ever be.

    From all I can tell, he finds flaws with every philosophy, so we should probably just trash it all and start over from scratch. I'd read it again just to be sure, but I need to get back to my grueling free code development, lest he inspires me to give it all up.... to ... do... whatever.

  • [[Linux OS "user experience" is] like life in a refugee camp. If you want Doctors Without Borders to show up, you don't want to have yourself any kind of really nice refugee camp.]

    That's not true. I had malaria in Zaire, was staying in a bed, had three meals a day (when I could make it), and there was even beer nearby and Dr's w/o Borders still made two house calls *and* gave me medicine for less than $3 US. :^)

    Think my metaphor's about as on target as most of this guy's? Not so fast... if there's one thing the Mac's about it's UI, and as a long-time Mac user (about 12 years) I'm pretty danged tired of all these converts that say how awesome the Mac is now that it's got FreeBSD up under the hood.

    Sure OS 9 was dated technology those last few years (still not sure how "[Mozilla's] bug-track completely wrecked System 9" for the contrarian, though), but its interface was still head and shoulders above the rest. Not sure why that was bad and OS X is good, but to get the Doctors Without Borders to come to town, you don't need a nasty interface -- you just need to have geeky underpinnings.

    You might have to reach to see what the guy's saying sometimes, but other than the times when he's obviously going for laughs it's worth the trouble to figure out what he means. If the metaphors don't make sense, try again.
  • From the article: "Stuff like "the Cathedral and the Bazaar." Now, I get it about being the bazaar. I'm a science fiction writer, I got no problem at all with bizarre stuff. But commercial software? Microsoft? As a cathedral? "

    I thought that ESRs whole Cathedral vs. Bazaar thing was that Gnu and RMS represent the "Cathedral" (ie: carefully controlled who gets to contribute, everything falls along into RMSs grand vision, RMS as a fanatic Free-Software religion). And that Linux and "open source" represent the bazaar (ie: looser collaboration on things, some commercial interest is tolerated, it ain't pretty but it works kind of thing).

    Maybe I got it all wrong though...
    • I'm not sure which Cathedral and the Bazaar you read, but the one by ESR likened commercial software development to the cathedral and open software development to the bazaar. The terms "cathedral" and "bazaar" refer only to the process by which software is developed.

      The issue which CatB addresses is the belief that software that wasn't carefully designed and controlled would have lower quality than software which was. ESR's response was that for the most measures of "quality" (robustness, bug-freeness and so on) bazaar-developed code could actually be better. The price you may pay is that the scope of the software, may change from what you originally intended it to be (e.g. fetchmail). On the other hand, it may well be better than you intended.

  • He's not the only one who feels this way.

    I think that many of us are torn between the extreme right (Microsoft, Apple) and the extreme left (Linux). Sorry but we feel like we don't belong in any of them.
  • by freality ( 324306 ) on Tuesday August 06, 2002 @04:23PM (#4021326) Homepage Journal
    I found it refreshing because it's very easy to get down, or confused, about the state of affairs today. A maniacal humorous take is just the right subjective approach. In Terry Gilliam's Brazil, there's like 10 lines of serious social criticism.. but the whole work is extrememly effective as a warning.

    I think the people here, esp. the coders, didn't like the message because it involved so many threads that they can usually ignore. The idea that the inequity of software relationships can be seen from a much larger perspective, and somehow tie in with all of this messy political stuff, like diamond miners in South Africa... well, it's just frightening. Coders aren't diamond miners, after all! We're powerful important people. We aren't used by the man! The man loves us.. he gives us better TV to watch and dental plans.

    Just this weekend on /. a great piece was posted, called "Reclaiming the commons" []. It was long and mainly about non-geek issues. Yet one of the /. editors highly recommended it. Why? It's not News for Nerds. It wasn't about the Sony P3's new chip. Why was it posted?

    Bruce Sterling hit the nail right on the head. The geeks, he is telling us, along with everyone else are going to have to become dissidents, and then activists.

    Because this is a real time of reckoning about freedom and how we may want to change the way we govern ourselves; we all should be prepared. Bruce Sterling's speech is a humorously contrarian introduction, aimed at geeks. But don't stop there.

    Go and eat at an urban McDonalds, get a copy of US News & World Report, watch some MTV skin-flick or FOX News, or try not using your ss# for a while, or try tracking your vote to any actual political action (or comparing your vote to a company dollar), and top it all off with a visit to the local garbage dump, 'cause it's gonna smell better there.

    Then go and read the commons article. Then read, or, or the books "Understanding Power" (Chomsky) or "Empire" (Hardt & Negri) or the Declaration of Independence. Not that you have to sign-up with any political party, but these things will change your mind about how the world works, and your role in it.

    At the end of doing all of this myself, I didn't needed to be preached to anymore. It's not just the software debate. It's not just the music debate. It's not just the accounting debate. It's the way of the world that is systematically confused. "The American Dream": this Ad sponsored by Pepsi and Brittney Spears' bouncing boobs. Is this really what it's supposed to be like?

    I'm reading all I can and planning for a better way of life.
  • by tim_maroney ( 239442 ) on Tuesday August 06, 2002 @05:20PM (#4021757) Homepage
    I'm surprised by all the comments that Sterling's speech was devoid of substance. His verbal pyrotechnics may have gotten in the way at times, but that's Sterling's schtick and he's awfully good at it. Any reasonable person ought to have been able to see through the fireworks to his many substantial points, among which were:

    Open source and free software are largely about their own subculture and the social aspects of that subculture rather than about software per se.

    Software written by and for programmers is unlikely to have mass appeal, but it has powerful appeal to programmers.

    Free software and open source will only become relevant to the average user when they start to take users' tastes and concerns into account.

    The cryptic and balky nature of current open source and free software is a draw to programmers not only because it reflects their values, but because it's in such a sorry state that there is a trenchant humanitarian appeal to help out. (By implication, better software might reduce the amount of help available, and the movement might become a victim of its own success eventually.)

    Another factor drawing programmers to this development model is the lack of responsibility, since they can quit at any time.

    Raymond's cathedral/bazaar metaphor does not seem to apply very well, and on examination, it's unclear what he even meant by it. Microsoft is a bazaar company, not a cathedral company. So are most software makers.

    People feel increasingly oppressed by commercial software, particularly Microsoft's. They are waking up to the way the software manipulates them against their own interests.

    Viruses have in particular been a wake-up call.

    Free software and open source are largely imitative rather than innovative, or "piratical" rather than "creative".

    Free software and open source have hidden costs, including the cost of needing to become part of a particular subculture to use them effectively.

    Information is not free. Information has intrinsic costs deriving from the social context of the information. Information merchants use particular strategies to make it difficult to change established relationships. Among these are restrictive contracts, brand-specific training, search costs, proprietary formats, durable purchases, and loyalty programs.

    The open source and free software community is facing a social transition from a small geek subculture to a significant dissident standing. This is going to present serious challenges.

    That's scarcely a complete list of the points of substance in this talk. It may not be Sterling's finest hour -- his forte is fiction, after all -- but it is by no means a bunch of insubstantial blather. In fact he touches on many neglected but important issues.

    Tim Maroney
    • Thanks, you should follow this guy around to translate him for those of us who don't use drugs.
    • FYI, the cathedral versus the bazaar is a contrast between the GNU project and most other Open Source development models. The GNU people, including hackers like RMS, are the 'wizards' who retreat, disappear for a few years, and then come out with something spectacular. This is exemplified in the Hurd. The contrast is something like Linux, which is a clammering of a bunch of people continually working on it, in plain view the entire time.
      • Cathedrals were built in public, not in secret. In fact the whole life of a community would often revolve around the proiject while it was going on.

        As for the characterization of the Linux project as decentralized and self-assembling, that's been known to be false for years. Linux is tightly held by a strong central control group, in contrast with the development model expressed in Raymond's essay.

        Tim Maroney
        • The Cathedral is designed in secret. The designing is the important phase.

          Linux is designed in the open, and arguments for and against its various design aspects are bantered in public. Not so with the cathedral.

          • Do you have a reference for cathedrals having been designed in secret?

            Raymond's own take on the metaphor is about centralized versus decentralized development.

            I also think it is highly arguable that major open source projects are designed in the open. Anyone who monitored the decision-making process by which Mozilla first spurned and then embraced native widgets knows that such decisions are often made by an in-group that is relatively immune to outside pressure. The clannishness of the core Linux developers is even more legendary.

            Tim Maroney
            • It's explained quite clearly in "Free as in Freedom", a book on Richard Stallman. Find the part where it starts talking about the schism that developed with the Open Source becoming its own.
            • It happens that "Free as in Freedom" is published under the GFDL (of course), and is available online. Hence, I'm able to provide you with a direct reference, [], starting with the paragraph: "Raymond put his observations on paper"
              • That doesn't say anything about cathedrals having been designed in secret, and it interprets the metaphor in terms of centralization, not secrecy:

                "Eventually, Raymond would convert the speech into a paper, also titled 'The Cathedral and the Bazaar.' The paper drew its name from Raymond's central analogy. GNU programs were 'cathedrals,' impressive, centrally planned monuments to the hacker ethic, built to stand the test of time. Linux, on the other hand, was more like 'a great babbling bazaar,' a software program developed through the loose decentralizing dynamics of the Internet."

                Since we all know now that any successful software project on the medium or large scale requires centralized control, and that Linux and Mozilla are examples of that, it doesn't seem much is left of Raymond's metaphor. You can no more build a serious program without making a plan and enforcing it than you could build a house that way.

                Tim Maroney
  • That was a great speech. It reminded me of the old John Belushi bit on SNL, where he would give an editorial, and get more and more worked up, and finally go nuts and scream and yell incoherently.

    There was actually a lot of interesting stuff in that speech, some of which was true, some of which was not, and much of which was just incoherent ranting, but who wants to hear the same viewpoint over and over?

  • Going way back to v1.0 of tCatB, the Cathedral was GCC and Linux was the bazaar. ESR was comparing two different free software projects. He was comparing the fast, vital development of the Linux kernel with the glacial pace of GCC and (dare I say it?) the HURD.

    The original point was to look at the biological, evolutionary dynamic of the bazaar model -- swarms of coders throwing patches into the ecosystem, seeing which ones live and breed and which ones die on the vine -- as compared to the cathedral -- rigorously planned, multi-year efforts guided by a Supreme Architect and his cadre.

    Putting "closed-source software" in the role of the Cathedral is sheer revisionism.
  • Frankly, based on the responses here it seems he hit a nerver with some awfully thinskinned people who think that they float and gloat ABOVE water let alone walk on it.

    Software is a business. It's not engineering, it's not art or karma or cool. It's product. It's accidently good in spite of itself. And to the extent that it is a good product then it is good. Beyond that it's just sophistry to beat your chests about how great YOU think it is. Because if it was then it wouldn't be anarchy to build it.

    Kudos to Bruce.

Thrashing is just virtual crashing.