Open mouths and closed minds in open source

Summary:We all have our own frames, our own assumptions of hero and villain, and our first instinct is always to respond in terms of that frame. We close our minds, even in open source, and that's a problem.

The recent legal dust-up between Oracle and Google has me engaging in a little self-criticism.

We were all very ready to condemn either side, even before we understood the issue. Paula and I leapt to the defense of open source. Others leapt to the conclusion that the suit would destroy open source and good riddance.

Neither is the case.

(Maybe nothing is as it appears. This is the logo of a popular southern California food blog. It just spoke to me as a statement about open source, and open source attitudes.)

Now it's true that legal language is hard and deadlines are constant. When anything happens, we are all under enormous pressure to get something out, now, before someone else grabs our page views. And it's best that we have a take, because heat is so good for powering the Internet machine.

But it turns out that Google didn't use the GPL version of Java for Android. They used a proprietary version instead. Then they modified that version and distributed it, again not under the GPL.

So maybe Oracle had a case. Sometimes a commercial dispute is just a commercial dispute. There are no great philosophical issues at stake here, other than the fact that Oracle used patent claims in making its case.

It may be that last which got us all going. The Roberts Innovation Tax is already doing its dirty work. Patent trolls are multiplying like cockroaches. It's just like the Obama Stimulus, except all it's stimulating are waste and legal bills.

I am not making a political point here. (Please put those rants against the President away.) I'm saying we all have our own frames, our own assumptions of hero and villain, and our first instinct is always to respond in terms of that frame.

We close our minds, even in open source, and that's a problem.

It's easier in coding. Philosophical arguments tend to resolve themselves. Either the code works or not, either it has value or it doesn't.

But all coders know colleagues who may be annoying, hard to work with, or just in over their heads. Getting around them in order to get the work done can lead to heavy drinking.

Unfortunately, in discussing issues of open source, right or wrong aren't so clear as they are in code. Would that they were. It's a lesson we should all remember next time news breaks. While writers might forget it, I hope you readers won't.

Topics: Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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