Keep Politics Out Of This


I came across this BBC article earlier in the morning and my first thought was "Great. Another clueless journalist betting on sensationalism and catch phrases".

Then I did some googling and remembered who Bill Thompson is (the photo, alas, did nothing to jog my memory). Okay, so he's not your average clueless journalist, but the very same article is posted on his weblog (which kinda reminds me of something, if you're Portuguese and catch my drift...).

The first issue I have with the article is that casting Microsoft against the Open Source community in a "Cold War" mould is typical Slashdot flame fodder and an approach that I, for one, can't consider BBC-worthy material.

It's not just the way the SCO suit (and Microsoft's purported backing) is cast as a manifestation of totalitarian regimes, or the repeated mentions that "Open Source is not communism" (which are likely to be misinterpreted and repeated ad nauseam as being some sort of denial of the "obvious" by its opponents). No, the one sentence that made me click away in disgust was

It is time to accept that both sides cannot co-exist peacefully, because open source offers a fundamental challenge to the business model of the closed source, proprietary software developers, one which they must resist if they are not to go out of business.

Bollocks. Open Source can coexist just fine with closed source solutions, and this attitude is only likely to make it worse for reasonable folk to use Open Source in an enterprise setting. As an inflammatory remark, the sentence above is just as idiotic as the next

It is rather ironic that Microsoft and other closed model companies rather resemble the Stalinist or Maoist model of a command economy with complete centralised control.

...which can only come from someone who doesn't know how Microsoft (or any other large corporation) works these days. No large corporation can afford not to push decision-making and innovation further down the hierarchy, leading to distributed decision-making processes and product designs.

That's precisely one of the reasons there are separate roadmaps for server, desktop and office software groups (to name but a few), with the occasional hiccup as development tools fall out of step with server toolkits and whatnot. Of course there is a (reasonably) coherent marketing effort, and Bill Gates makes a far more tasty target than a couple dozen division managers, so the unwashed masses grab the clichés the press puts out and make an intellectual run for it.

Now, a similar set of points can be made against Open Source development, but most of them are misplaced - its saving grace is not the development process in itself, it's the high quality of the finished product in the few projects that made a difference (like Apache and Linux) - so you can't actually compare both worlds in terms of focus, efficiency or even target markets.

(And ideology is totally besides the point. This is all about technology and economics, not about "free information" and suchlike drivel.)

All in all, I cannot consider this article as "balanced". It is somewhat restrained in the sense that it is not your average Open Source zealot fodder and makes a sincere attempt at bringing to light some of the real issues surrounding the SCO case, but it narrowly avoids being truly unbiased and relies too much on clichés, even to the point of picking up the oft-misused argument for Open Source use in governments in the name of public interest.

Having seen all of this before (in the years I've spent patiently weaving "mixed-source" solutions into shape in corporate environments), I can say that nothing good will come of it. The ages-old UNIX/Windows wars don't need to be aired publicly, they need to be made irrelevant by interoperability and open-minded people.

And sadly, open-mindedness is often the first casualty of any opinion column.

Let the flames begin.


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