Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Myth of FOSS Community

by Dietrich Schmitz

Let's get real Folks.  No matter how much you twist it and turn things around and no matter how much hand-holding, singing the Coke song or Kumbayah isn't going to change it:

There is no community.

Ta dah.

Stare at that for a few moments, if it helps.  And, just like in the Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home", you can never go home either.

When you roam around the Interwebs, and see references to how wonderful Linux is because of the FOSS and community behind it, it's all rubbish.  Don't believe it.  Why?

Because, for the most part, and in application, it doesn't exist.  Decision making is never done collectively.  Even our fearless leader Linus Torvalds calls the shots when it comes time to pull the trigger on the next kernel version.

No, we have on our hands a class of fiefdoms, tribal in nature, operating on the false premise of community participation and the notion that everyone has input into how a project should be developed.

The reality is quite different.  Only a handful of individuals along project lines makes any kind of important decisions.   The interests of one group over others sometimes run parallel, are often intersecting and even totally divergent tugging groups in different directions all at the same time.  A lot can get done, or, in some cases much time is spent doing little as conflicts arise.

In the case of Fedora, even Red Hat has appointed the Chair to the Fedora board with right to invoke a veto on anything that comes along.  Which is to say,  We don't care what the community would like, it's our way or the highway.  That's business, not community at play.

Debian has its own shell game going for itself.  Only they insist that it is democratic.  But it isn't. Someone is calling the shots and we are chumps if we believe otherwise.

For the most part, that is how the business world operates.  And, when you see commercial enterprise in action, they obtain results or management objectives and reach milestones, because if they didn't, they would fail.

When you see the word community and FOSS, don't get too misty eyed.  The community and the Free only go so far.  Nothing is really free.  There is a cost exacted even in FOSS development in bringing a group of people together into a loosely grouped rag tag organization.  But in that organization, you can still sing Kumbayah, hold hands, if you will, and believe in sharing, because sharing is still going on to an extent.

You may not like this.  But, one of the big problems as I see it for Linux and particularly on the Desktop is coming to terms with this myth of community.  When there aren't disputes, there is cooperation.  When there are disputes, you have factions, intransigence and in some cases it becomes intractable to the point that one project dismantles entirely and often a fork occurs, because the software terms of a license allow that to happen, or an organization chooses to write their own project from scratch to gain full control.

We have labeled ourselves a loosely cobbled together organization of community with implied cooperative work, but human behavior contradicts the notion and the need for authority will prevail and be given to only a handful, appointed or voted onto a board who determine our future.

So, don't despair.  It's better that you know that like there really isn't a tooth fairy and Santa Claus.  That's part of growing up.  And unless we grow up collectively and see things for what they are, Linux on the Desktop will be forever mired in turmoil spinning its wheels.

Wake up and smell the moca java.  FOSS Community is a myth.

-- Dietrich
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