We need more penguin suits

The suits will never speak the language of the developers, so there's only one thing to do...

If this week's meeting in London between developers and the government to tackle the issue of the European software patents directive demonstrated one thing, it is that the two sides speak entirely different languages.

There were perhaps only two points of mutual understanding between the two groups: the first was that neither had the faintest idea what the high energy physicist at the back was going on about; the second was on the issue of shopping trolleys. After one developer pointed out that nobody would be able to patent the idea of a shopping trolley to take round Sainsbury's, and yet in the online world such patents are regularly granted, the UK minister for science and innovation, who happens to be Lord of said supermarket, suddenly piped up: "Now you’re getting onto an area I can understand." He was playing the audience for laughs, but all the same this was one of the precious few instances when suit and developer connected, if only for a moment.

By the end of the two-hour meeting the important points of debate were left unresolved and the gulf of understanding between the two sides left unfilled. But another meeting was promised.

It's an all too familiar story. Some, though by no means all, of the developers at the meeting also happen to be active in the open-source community. Many agreed on the need to speak the language of the men in suits, whether to change laws or sell the idea of open-source software.

Those who wear suits to make laws and run companies speak the same language as each other, which gives those who come from the world of corporate, proprietary software a huge advantage when they try to influence those laws or sell their wares into the business community. Those who espouse open source are seen as outsiders who can't speak the lingo and are thus easy to exclude.

Open-source and free software has a great story to tell, but it needs people who can tell it in the language of the CIOs and the lawmakers. It's an old lesson, that the most effective revolutionaries are those with radical ideas disguised behind the facade of respectability. Open source must learn to play that game -- and owning your own suit may be an advantage.

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