Tuesday 2 February 2010

I thought OSS was supposed to break down walls, not build them.

Silly me. I've only been using, evangelizing and otherwise involved in open source software for 15 or 20 years, so what do I know?

In reaction to the latest feature article in DistroWatch Weekly, I'm angry. I'm sad. Most of all, I feel sorry for those losers who would rather keep their pristine little world free of outside involvement, especially when that involvement is with the express intent of not making it easy for non-├╝bergeeks to use open source software — in this case, OpenBSD. OpenBSD, like its cousins FreeBSD and NetBSD, is one of the (current) "major" base versions of BSD Unix. While the latter two have had numerous other projects that have taken their software as a base, fewer have branched from "Open" BSD, as can be seen in this comparison on Wikipedia. Recently, two OpenBSD enthusiasts have attempted to address this, only to be flamed mercilessly for their trouble.

The DistroWatch feature previously mentioned concerns GNOBSD, a project created by Stefan Rinkes, whose goal plainly was to make this highly stable and secure operating system, with a lineage that long predates Linux, accessible to a wider audience (who don't use Mac OS X - based (indirectly) on both FreeBSD and NetBSD).

For his troubles, Mr. Rinkes was the subject of repeated, extreme, egregiously elitist flaming, this thread being but one example. He was eventually forced to withdraw public access to the GNOBSD disc image, and adding a post stating that he did not "want to be an enemy of the OpenBSD Project."

Reading along the thread on the openbsd-misc mailing list brings one to a post by one "FRLinux", linking to another screaming flamewar summarized here, with the most directly relevant thread starting with a message titled "ComixWall terminated. Another hard worker with the intent of creating an OpenBSD-based operating system that was easy for "ordinary people" to use, promptly incurred the wrath of the leader of the OpenBSD effort, Theo de Raadt, with numerous other "worthies" piling on.


OK, I get it. The OpenBSD folks don't want anyone playing in their sandbox providing access to the OpenBSD software (itself supposedly completely open source, free software) that might in any way compete with "official" OpenBSD downloads or DVD/CD sales. They especially don't want any possibility of the Great Unwashed Masses™ — i.e., anyone other than self-professed, officially-blessed übergeeks — from playing with "their" toys.

OK, fine. It has been a large part of my business and passion to evangelize open source and otherwise free software as an enabler for the use of open data standards by individuals and businesses. I have supported and/or led the migration, in whole or in part, of several dozen small to midsize businesses from a completely closed, proprietary software stack (usually Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office for Windows) to a mix of other (open and proprietary) operating systems and applications. OpenBSD has historically been high on my list of candidates for clients' server OS needs; if you can manage a Windows Server cluster with acceptable performance and stability, your life will be easier managing almost anything else — provided that you're not locked in to proprietary Windows-only applications and services. In these days of "cloud" computing and "software as a service", the arguments against Ye Olde Standarde are becoming much more compelling.

I just won't be making those arguments using OpenBSD anymore. And to my two clients who've expressed interest in BSD on the desktop for their "power" developers over the next couple of years, I'll be pitching other solutions to them...and explaining precisely why.

Because, out here in the real world, people don't like dealing with self-indulgent assholes. That's a lesson that took this recovering geek (in the vein of "recovering alcoholic") far too many years to learn. And people especially don't like trusting their business or their personal data to such people if they have any choice at all.

And, last I checked, that was the whole point of open standards, open source, and free software: giving people choices that allow them to exercise whatever degree of control they wish over their computing activities. I'd really hate to think that I've spent roughly half my adult life chasing a myth. Too many people have put too much hard work into far too many projects to let things like this get in our way.


Anonymous said...

Many people misunderstood the objections from the OpenBSD camp. In this (and the ComixWall) situations, the objection was purely using our lists to advertise their project. That is inappropriate. You want to make a "more user friendly" distribution? Go for it. But spamming our mailing lists? Please don't.

Unknown said...

Well, I think that the OpenBSD camp was unique in their interpretation. Given that it is their lists and so on, that's their call; nobody is disagreeing with that, as far as it goes.

But I (and I gather other people) do have serious issues with the way this makes the OpenBSD camp look and function with respect to outsiders/newcomers. The fact that they seem singularly uninterested in this, to the point where "go away, don't bother us" messages like the earlier comment are too often posted anonymously, just pours petrol on a fire that was already burning quite nicely, thank you. What I was saying in the original post — and inviting others to do — is to "just leave you alone." You've announced your firm intention to be completely irrelevant to anybody outside your boys'-cult clique, and the rest of the world does in fact have better things to do than massage your egos.

I just got off the phone with one of my recent clients who's been running OpenBSD on 5 servers (without technical issues). He'd been told by his internal "tech guy" about the flame war that's been going on, and the CEO has now directed that all current OpenBSD installations be moved to "any other technically similar, suitable system, immediately." Nobody in the real world has time to play in your sandbox, and OpenBSD, as a movement, will soon be deader than BSD/OS.

Good riddance.