Depoliticizing open source

Depoliticizing open source

Summary: Much of the commentary on John Carroll's piece about Third World open source movements was political. (The illustration is by Linda Herzog of Vista, California, a member of the Nature Artists group.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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When Pigs FlyMuch of the commentary on John Carroll's piece about Third World open source movements was political. (The illustration is by Linda Herzog of Vista, California, a member of the Nature Artists group.)

This is not surprising. It seems nearly everything is political these days.

But it is distressing and totally unnecessary.

The GPL is a license. So is a Microsoft EULA. They are commercial artifacts. They are business agreements. They are market mechanisms. Karl Marx is dead.

One reason EULAs are treated as political is that they are difficult to read, and most people don't read them. EULAs are written by lawyers. Legal language offers precision, simplicity is sacrificed. Thus contracts, like software, become feature-laden, understood only by experts.

Every so often a movement arises to simplify software. Blogging represents such a movement. But then new features are sought. The first software I used here was very, very simple. Our new software has more features, and can do more things. It can also be harder to use.

The point is a balance should be struck in both contracts and software, between simplicity and ease of use.

We've written here before about how OSI is trying to winnow the number of open source licenses down to a manageable number. I would hope they might also consider simplifying license language as well, so we all better understand our rights and obligations.

It would be nice if companies like Microsoft could do the same thing, create a standard EULA that real people can understand, one they will be happy to agree with.

When do I expect this to happen?

Perhaps now you understand the illustration.

Topic: Open Source

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24 comments
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  • The only way to depoliticize it

    is to take the economics out of it (sorry but the word "deeconomize" just looks too weird).

    I gravitate to GPL software not so much for RMS-type political reasons, but because it give better bang for your buck. Yes, the fact that most of it is "free as in beer" helps, but even if I did have to pay the cost for a boxed CD set of SuSE rather than do a free FTP install it would still be more bang for the buck than Windows is to me. People who prefer Windows obviously think MS does give them value for their buck, and if that's how they feel, then I'm ok with their decision.

    But the reason I am ok with it is because I do not have an economic interest in what other people's choice is. People like John Carroll do, which explains why they get so politically motivated (many on the open source side of the fence do the same thing, so John does not stand alone). It also explains why they make unsupported statements about the opposition, then do not offer a proper counterarguement if someone points out the flaws in their statements, but rather they ignore that person's key points and repeat their original arguement with a bit more fervor. That is exactly how many political pundits act (both Republican and Democratic).
    Michael Kelly
    • Not just economics

      Economics may certainly play a part, but I think there are two other factors at work.

      One part is peoples' feelings of "justice not being done". A lot of people seem to feel that (for example, not to start a lame pro-anti Microsoft thread) Microsoft didn't "get what it deserved" out of the anti-trust trials. This is also evident on a larger scale; look at how many people lack faith in the judicial system today. When people feel that the "bad guys" are winning, they become extremists. When people feel that decisions about their own lives are taken away from them, they become polarized.

      Another factor is the perplexing elitist attitude that has arisen in recent years. At the risk of opening myself to political rants, this attitude was seen among many Liberals during the last election. Note how many Liberals were honestly confused at how the "great unwashed masses" of middle-America refused to heed their (obviously better informed) advice on who to vote for; that confusion almost exactly followed the Red-Blue boundaries. As a result, fully half the country is now branded as "morons" by the other half. How many Liberals have threatened to leave the U.S. as a result, refusing to co-reside with such ignorant people? Perhaps I'm sheltered here in the heart of the country, but I haven't seen a similar atttude among Conservatives. I've seen moralistic blathering, but not elitism. And such elitism leads to a feeling of oppression, which leads to resistance (look who was elected).

      To me, economic factors can be mitigated or overcome, but feelings of helplessness and oppression are much more difficult to address.

      Carl Rapson
      rapson
      • Economics drives those issues as well

        [i]One part is peoples' feelings of "justice not being done". A lot of people seem to feel that (for example, not to start a lame pro-anti Microsoft thread) Microsoft didn't "get what it deserved" out of the anti-trust trials.[/i]

        That may be true, but why did they care in the first place? For most people, it was because they had to spend money needlessly on MS products they did not want or need. So because they feel they were screwed economically, it added the necessary fuel to the fire.

        [i]Another factor is the perplexing elitist attitude that has arisen in recent years.[/i]

        Well sorry to say you did open yourself up to political rants, but being an open minded liberal I can say you are correct that it was the elitist attitude that did the Democrats in the last two elections, just as RMS's elitist attitude works against him. I do think you make a mistake, however, in assuming that just because liberals like me may side politically with Gore or Stallman that we think you are as dumb as they do. Do some feel that way? Sure, but those people are as dumb (actually ignorant is the better word) as they think you are. Now I will say that I think beyond a shadow of a doubt that Gore and Kerry were both smarter than Bush and both are better qualified for the job as far as having the professional skills to do the job. But I also know that there are other factors when voting for president (such as issues... *GASP*), and Gore's and Kerry's arrogance far outweighed their professional skills. Plus I do have to admit that Bush has surrounded himself with a pretty sharp group, even though I may not agree with them politically, and voters notice that.

        Also, maybe you don't notice it because you agree with them, but there IS a condecending attitude from many conservatives in power when it comes to religious issues. Take the Alabama judge who refused to take down the Ten Commandments. The law ruled against him, yet he was STILL arrogant enough to think he could no wrong, when all he had to do to effectively promote what he believes in was to comply with the order but take to the press why he disagrees with the decision. That's really scary when a Chief Justice of a State Supreme Court has the attitude that he is above the law. When that happens, it's no wonder why Corporate America sometimes thinks it can get away with some of the things it gets away with.

        [i]To me, economic factors can be mitigated or overcome, but feelings of helplessness and oppression are much more difficult to address.[/i]

        But the helplessness and oppression, in the open source matter anyway, are due to economics, not
        laws. People felt oppressed by MS in the past because there was no other choice in buying a computer than to have Windows on it. Now that is no longer the case, but people still bear grudges.
        Michael Kelly
        • Thank you

          I was wanting the word "arrogant" but I couldn't come up with it. I prefer that to "elitist".

          "Also, maybe you don't notice it because you agree with them..."

          I'm afraid you may be falling into the same trap I've been talking about. Why do you assume that, just because I criticize "Liberals" (or Democrats, for that matter), I agree with Conservatives and/or Christians? I happen to agree with you about the relative intelligence levels of Gore/Kerry vs. Bush, for example, and also about Bush surrounding himself with sharp people. And I completely disagree with the mixing of Christianity (or any religion) and politics, except as far as one's religion drives one's convictions. Even Liberals can't claim that their motivations aren't predicated on some moral/ethical foundation, and Liberals are just as bad as Conservatives at using the force of the government to support their view of morality. It's just that Conservatives/Christians are in power right now. What I find interesting is all of the people who were so quick to tell Christians to "shut up and take it" over the past few decades are now complaining.

          I can see your point about economics being at the root of this. I can't say I completely agree with you, but thanks for taking the time to explain it further. And grudges don't accomplish anything (except maybe provide more hits for ZDNet's advertisers).

          Carl Rapson
          rapson
          • You may have noticed, but...

            There are no ads on this section of the page.
            DanaBlankenhorn
          • You guy's have ads?

            Haven't noticed in almost a year now...
            In_the_end_I_Win
        • Maybe it's a generational thing..

          ..People felt oppressed by MS in the past because there was no other choice in buying a computer than to have Windows on it....

          Just because the world isn't exactly the way you'd like it does not oppression make.


          Joe
          seosamh_z
          • True, but

            if you are forced to buy something you do not want or need, that IS a form of oppression.

            Let's not widen the analogies to the point where they become irrelevant.
            Michael Kelly
          • Lnguage is very important

            ..if you are forced to buy something you do not want or need, that IS a form of oppression....

            But that's the whole problem.
            You're argument is based on the 'good' versus 'bad' paradigm. If the opposition is the bad guy (oppressor) then you must be the good guy (oppressed victim in need of redress/revenge).
            Same applies to political discussions.
            You can't agree to disagree with an oppressor, you must beat them.

            ..Let's not widen the analogies to the point where they become irrelevant....

            But your anology is already irrelevant/wrong and hence any further discussion based on it would be equally misdirected (more important in the political realm where there are real problems masked by the framing of the argument).


            Joe
            seosamh_z
          • I'm not following you

            How do oppressors/oppressed compare to proprietary/OSS or Republican/Democrat? When there is an oppressor, there IS a good guy vs. bad guy. When talking about proprietary/OSS or Republican/Democrat there is no right or wrong, only differences in opinion.

            The MS situation was a situation where you could not buy a fully built computer without Windows. That was a form of oppression to those who did not want or need their software. This situation does not exist anymore due to government intervention, so obviously at least THEY considered the situation to be a form of oppression as well. But even though that situation does not exist anymore, those who were affected still bear grudges. Personally I do not, I just simply prefer other software.

            I don't mind someone having a different opinion. Obviously John Carroll looks at the computing world differently than I do because he is a Windows developer and I am an end user. That does not make him or me a good or bad guy, nor does it make me hate him. We're just two people who have differing opinions. All I am saying is that we need to take what he says with a grain of salt because of his background. Likewise, you or anybody else may take my opinions with a grain of salt because I am not a developer. His preference comes from his want of simpler programming, mine comes from want of simpler use and administration.
            Michael Kelly
          • Good vs. Bad Paradigm

            That's what I was referring to in my earlier post. It seems that most people today can't accept that others may have differing opinions that are just as valid as their own, especially on the topics of Microsoft, politics, and religion. Anyone who disagress with you must not only be wrong, but must be Evil. By branding those who disagree with you as Evil, you remove the necessity of supporting your views with facts and rely on emotion and morality to convince others.

            Facts are not necessary when dealing with Evil. There was another article recently on ZDNet about Bill Gates, and a respondant commented on how so many "automatically' disagree with whatever Gatessays, regardless of the topic. The response was to the effect of, "If the devil speaks, the righteous should automatically disagree with him". By placing Bill Gates on a par with the devil (and him/herself as the "righteous"), no facts in rebuttal of Microsoft were needed. It's cut and dried -- Microsoft is always and inherently wrong, Republicans (or Democrats) are inherently wrong, Christians (or Muslims) are inherently wrong. No thought necessary.

            Carl Rapson
            rapson
    • Huh?

      [i]People like John Carroll do, which explains why they get so politically motivated (many on the open source side of the fence do the same thing, so John does not stand alone). It also explains why they make unsupported statements about the opposition, then do not offer a proper counterarguement if someone points out the flaws in their statements, but rather they ignore that person's key points and repeat their original arguement with a bit more fervor.[/i]j

      Call me crazy, but I spend most of my time MAKING counter-arguments. It was the reason I started writing for ZDNet in the first place, because I felt the counter-argument to MANY issues that seem to have worked themselves into conventional wisdom wasn't being made. It's why I spend so much time diving into often very unfriendly talkbacks.

      The problem, IMO, is that you don't AGREE with my counterarguments, not that I don't make them. I'm also in a position of having to respond to LOTS of counterarguments. Do I pick what to respond to? Yes, but that's because I can't possibly respond to everyone who responds to me.

      I have opinions on things, but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to be convinced otherwise. My mind has been changed on a number of issues, among them patents (though that one's still a bit fluid).

      Fear not, though. I'm now a regular, and you'll have ample opportunity to explain why I'm wrong. Just don't expect me to agree with you...unless I think your argument is better.

      By they way, my blog posts aren't the first time I've written for ZDNet. If you want to get a broader swathe of my opinions (not all of them are related to open source), wade through [url=http://www.turtlenecksoftware.com/default.aspx?section=8]the columns I've done over the past four years[/url].
      John Carroll
      • The man they love to hate

        ..The problem, IMO, is that you don't AGREE with my counterarguments, not that I don't make them...

        You're right John.
        The screaming and shouting does seem to point to the general inability to debate with an open mind. If someone has a different opinion they are simply wrong.
        You do get the blood boiling for some which makes for a welcome change from 'MS sucks, Linux Rulz' conventional wisdom.

        Joe
        seosamh_z
      • Nobody's saying you are flat out wrong

        only that you have a slant, and that there's a reason for your slant. Hey, there are reasons for MY slants too, and I'm perfectly willing to admit that.

        If you've read through my posts, you'll notice that I have [u]no problem[/u] with your choices. I do disagree with your predictions of the future, but shouting back and forth won't prove you or me right or wrong. The future will decide the future.

        However there have been times when you give out information about Linux, OSS, etc. in which your information is outdated or flat out wrong (remember in your last blog you made a comment about no inherent standards?). That makes me question your current experience with software outside of MS software. That's not an insult, it's a legitimate criticism. If you're going to make a blog article about OSS, at least be up with the times, and if you're going to make a blanket statement about it (like "no inherent standards"), at least back it up with some proof or explain what you mean.
        Michael Kelly
        • No Inherent standards

          [i] If you're going to make a blog article about OSS, at least be up with the times, and if you're going to make a blanket statement about it (like "no inherent standards"), at least back it up with some proof or explain what you mean.[/i]

          You might see the response I posted to your claim:
          http://www.zdnet.com/5208-10533-0.html?forumID=1&threadID=10140&messageID=202405&start=18

          Basically, you misunderstand what I mean when I say "no inherent standards." I'm not talking about the standards which DO exist (I'm very familiar with Qt/GTK). Rather, I'm talking about the need to make standards in the first place. It's more a macroeconomic argument which describes why software is so "winner-takes-all" oriented.
          John Carroll
          • That's where our fundamental disagreement lies

            [i]It's more a macroeconomic argument which describes why software is so "winner-takes-all" oriented.[/i]

            I simply do not agree that software has to be winner takes all. I do believe there is room for competitors to have products that compete with each other while maintaining interoperability. I don't even have a problem with MS Office documents (.doc, .xls, .ppt) being a de facto standard to help maintain interoperability. But then again, since you are a developer, you look for programming standards, whereas I am an end user, and I look for end user standards. And I find those same end user standards no matter where I look, so I want to see some competition, where programmers will see separate standards, so obviously you would want there to be a winner who takes all. So who wins? The developer or the end user? I guess we can debate that til we're blue in the face, but obviously I think that the end user has the ultimate advantage.

            By the way, I misunderstood your original "inherent standards" quote. The way I read it was that Linux was a particular piece of software that lacked standards, not all software. Now that you've clarified yourself I do understand what you are saying, but since my response would take up another article and I'm a little pressed for time I'll leave that for another day.
            Michael Kelly
  • Good luck

    Depoliticizing the discussion about Open Source will be difficult, if not impossible. The religious fervor with which various proponents/opponents argue is only a symptom of a much larger problem in our society -- everything, not just technology, is polarized. And it only seems to be getting worse.

    Few seem to be able to argue from an intellectual standpoint any more, or seem to be able to even accept an alternative viewpoint. It's not the content but the volume that's important. Taunting and juvenile name-calling have mostly replaced counter-points. The first thing to do is brand your opponent as "Evil", and everything else follows from that. There is no middle ground -- one must be either "for" you or "against" you. Your opinions on one topic automatically categorize you on all other topics.

    But I guess it's to be expected, these days. Such polarized "debate" replaces the need to actually think before speaking. And the trend away from thinking seems to be accelerating.

    I am surprised it's taken ZDNet this long to realize it. I'm also a bit disappointed that ZDNet allows so much of it to continue in these talkbacks. It's sad to read such drivel on a supposedly professional web site.

    Carl Rapson
    rapson
    • ZDNet always did realize it

      The more people who read and post to the Talkbacks, the more hits they get, and that's how they earn their money.

      I'm not saying that's wrong. In fact I do like some of the give and take. But you do have to know who and what to ignore, and who and what to take with a grain of salt, to maintain moderate sanity levels. And anyway who wants to read all 200+ Talkback posts on the latest story for or against your favorite adversaries or allies? I just read the ones from the people I want to hear from, and that means both those who I usually agree with and ones I usually disagree with, but it also means ones who bring forth the best arguements. When you cut through the bull you do occasionally learn something, and perhaps even learn how closeminded you have been yourself. Of course those who have a strong political agenda only look for the opposition's weakness, never their own.
      Michael Kelly
      • Echo Chamber Society

        Obviously an ad-based revenue model based on page views benefits when more people view more pages.

        But I think you've hit on something else important, that is the need for everyone to self-select, and the potential impact that has on our willingness to hear. Because when most of us self-select, we're not going to read "ones I usually disagree with." What I've found is those we disagree with are ignored, and the whole thing becomes an echo chamber.

        The echo chanber society
        DanaBlankenhorn
        • Selection bad, but necessary

          The tendancy to self-select those we agree with came to my mind as well. But selection is unavoidable. One problem aspect that leads to the polarization mentioned previously is that we are inundated with information. Unable to handle it all. So we tend to move towards those that echo our opinions, and move away from the center where most of us really reside.

          The problems facing modern politics are nothing new, however. It is only scale that has changed. But Plato and his contemporaries had the same critizism of the tactics of political victory as we have today. And those problems have existed to no greater or lesser degree throughout our history. It is unfortunate that human communication does not scale very well.

          Communism works on only a very small scale. When each person is directly responsible to every other person on a personal level. To large and you get corruption because people know longer feel personally linked to another and their wellbeing. Think small town/large family farm.

          Democracy can work on a larger scale, though in truth they aren't mutually exclusive. But it is more adaptable to different styles of economics which allows it to handle the larger scale.

          Of course the US has a representative republic because the scale is just so large. And in such a situation we lose the ability to really communicate on a meaningful level. There is to much information to share to all. So we elect those to handle decisions for us. And they have their own agenda.

          Because of the size of involvement in open source. Representatives will be selected (Either by themself, or by a group that rallies around an individual.) These representatives have their own agenda and I don't see a way for such a system not to get politicized. Each side wants to stand the center so they label the other as extreme and polarize themselves in the process.

          People call me a glutan for punishment. I try to select those that I disagree with so that I can understand their arguement. I enjoy watching the exchange of two opposing individuals so that I might better learn my own position. I may not be right all the time, but I tend to think about my position more than most, I believe.
          Zinoron