Why does open source need a villain?

Why does open source need a villain?

Summary: Jobs' Apple simply does not pose the same threat to open source Gates' Microsoft did back in 2005, when ZDNet launched this blog.

TOPICS: Apple, Open Source

Cesar Romero as The Joker, Batman TV show 1960sBill Gates has been in "retirement" for less than a month (heading his Foundation may be harder than being Microsoft CEO) and already open source advocates have settled on a replacement.

Steve Jobs.

As I wrote earlier this week, "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Now Jobs is rich, he's powerful, and he's the same age as Billy and me (53). But in terms of the threat Jobs poses to open source, it's like going from Heath Ledger's Joker to Cesar Romero's (above).

Jobs' Apple simply does not pose the same threat to open source Gates' Microsoft did back in 2005, when ZDNet launched this blog.

Microsoft had a lock on the desktop, it had a strong position in the server space, it had a real position in online services and mobile. It even had its own TV network. Not to mention lawyers and lobbyists talented enough to beat the U.S. government.

Apple has a tiny desktop market share, nothing in the server space. Its power lies in gadgets -- the iPod and iPhone -- and the network services feeding them. That's it. That's all.

My view may be unpopular (it may even be wrong) but I see Apple's legal manuevers as supporting open source arguments, not threatening them.

So why the obvious upset? Why is the Free Software Foundation thundering that the iPhone threatens freedom? You want freedom fries with that?

I suspect this has more to do with human nature than business reality. Gates always focused intently on one enemy at a time, and always felt himself the underdog. This was part of his strength.

But open source is not a company. Open source is a lot of things. A movement. A business model. A development model. A legal framework. (Insert your view here.) But not a business.

My own belief is that Jobs' absolute belief in the proprietary model will, in the end, be his undoing. He lost a six-year lead in desktop technology because of it. The iPhone could easily fall to the same hubris.

Don't make Steve Jobs out to be more than he is. Stop worrying about what he's going to do to open source.

Make him worry about what open source is going to do to him.

Topics: Apple, Open Source

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  • It doesn't need a villian

    It just needs competition. And Apple provides some, but they also leave the door open for F/OSS given their restrictive policies.
    Michael Kelly
    • I agree

      I have just been struck, especially in the last week, with how vociferous the open source community has become in attacking Apple, in attacking Jobs personally, and in perceiving a threat from Apple.

      We are free to innovate our way out of any problems which the iPhone brings, but the clock is ticking. I don't think we have 6 years, which is how long it took Windows to equal the Mac in basic functionality. (Mac fans -- I said basic.)
  • villain or hero?

    <a href="http://www.time.com/time/europe/hero2006/torvalds.html" target="_blank">Linus Torvalds</a><br>
    <font color=grey>"By giving away his software, the Finnish programmer earned a place in history"<br>
    "Some of Torvalds' supporters portray him as a sort of anti-Bill Gates, but the significance of Linux is much bigger than merely a slap at Microsoft."</font><br>
  • Open source has identity crisis

    The "Open source" movement needs to quickly decide whether it's about producing freely available code (some of it great, and some of it directionless and sloppy -- just like commercial software), or if it's a generally applicable philosophy.

    If it's just about coding, then the war is lost. No one cares if the software inside their PDA is GPL2 3, or commercial. You can spin that any way you want, but it's the truth.

    If it's about philosophy, then things get interesting. Imagine if this was applied to pharmaceuticals: any discovery funded by public dollars becomes public domain, and any products made from those public domain discoveries are freely available and unpatentable. All drugs become generic.

    I think open source needs to broaden it's horizons in order to get more people to make the mental leap that it isn't just about software.
  • RE: Why does open source need a villain?

    Because linux users aren't happy unless they are complaining about something.
    Loverock Davidson
  • Why does open source need a villain?

    So they can feel superior to the unwashed masses?
    Duke E. Love
  • OS doesn't need a villain, the blog writers do.

    Otherwise they would have no way of driving up their page hits by incensing the ABMers, NBMers, Mac Faithful, and long-suffering *NIXers.

    Just my $0.02 USD, your opinion may well vary.

    • Meet Jon Doe

      Curses! You're on to my evil plan!

      Actually I have been struck by how easy it is to gain traffic to a blog here with a readily identifiable villain, by personalizing things rather than going into any kind of technical detail.

      I have mentioned this to my fellow bloggers on more than one occasion, but we have yet to find a solution that works.
      • Hi Dana, pleased to meet you too.

        Now, now, I never accused blog writers of being evil ... but I am sure they know how they get paid and act to maximize it.

        Frankly you'd be crazy not to, especially in the midst of a recession. We all tend to do that which rewards us: call it enlightened self-interest.


        I wasn't attacking you so much as pointing out that much of this demonizing (sp?) takes place in the press, and not so much in the actual open-source community.

        As for a "better solution" to straw-man arguments and ad-hominem attacks, that probably won't present itself until human nature changes. So long as such tactics work, they will continue to be used. For better or worse that, too, is human nature.

        • "they know how they get paid and act to maximize it"

          Ummm....sort of like Bill Gates?
  • the iPhone is an attractive disease

    Read the book;
    then revisit, rethink, and revise
    your own blog post.

  • Riddle Me This, Hack Man

    No, we don't need a villian. We simply want to use the best and most superior OS in the world.

    So I wish ZDNet would stop attacking Linux each and every day!
    • I'm attacking open source?

      Not here, and very seldom. I do know there are many advocates of the proprietary model at ZDNet, among both writers and readers, but I'm not one of them.

      I like the subject line, though.
  • You have Ballmer anyway.

    His bashful persona makes an easy target for FOSS folks.
    • Exactly! Why go after Jobs when we have Steve Ballmer to kick around?!?

      He's a ready-made villain - ill-tempered, bullying, has a nasty tendency to toss chairs when things don't go his way, and is a chickens&#t as heart...as witness his hiding like Bush from 9/11 or Katrina when that Hungarian college student tossed eggs at him! Oh, and he can't even [b][i]mention[/b][/i] Open Source w/out gnashing his teeth, either....

      Like I said, a ready-made villain.
  • Proprietary formats

    You know, Apple is just as proprietary as before and their
    marketshare is climbing at a very healthy rate.

    The old Mac got marginalized because they charged a
    ridiculous premium for their hardware. It was a deliberate
    business policy when Jobs was gone and there was a lot of
    infighting about whether it was wise to do so. The high price
    premium crowd prevailed.

    As to why Open Source needs an enemy? Because when you
    can blame all your problems on the Other Guy, you don't have
    to face them.
  • RE: Why does open source need a villain?

    I've only seen one article recently that tried to make Apple
    out to be a villain in the eyes of open source advocates. The
    article presented the idea that Apple took much more from
    open source than it gave back. I don't know one way or
    another, but I do know that Apple users, and no doubt Apple
    Inc., want Open Source to be successful as it can be.
    Anything that reduces the Microsoft monopoly helps
    everyone else. Open standards help everyone else.
    • That doesn't explain what I've read over the last month here

      Nor does it explain the reaction of ZDNet readers to some of my own posts on Apple of late.

      I have been curious as to why this is so, and so suggested here that open source advocates are replacing Gates with Jobs as their villain of choice.
      • *SOME* open source advocates

        Are going after Apple and Steve Jobs for all kinds of real or imagined offences. Most often imagined.

        These tend to be the most vocal which distorts things quite considerably.

        Which, of course, leads to blogs like this! ;-)


    • The Mr Big Phenomonon

      [i]Apple Inc., want Open Source to be successful as it can be.
      Anything that reduces the Microsoft monopoly helps everyone else. Open standards help everyone else. [/i]

      Apple is only really interested in how much Apple can reduce Microsoft's monopoly. And while open standards would help them improve their selling position, Open Standards is not the same thing as Open Source.

      But back to the title, the reason that people want there to be a Villain opposing Open Source is the same reason why a lot of police movies tend to feature a shadowy Mr. Big who commands crime from behind the scenes and who the good guy detectives can face and take down. It's easier (And often more fun) to ascribe one shadowy villain to explain all bad things than to sort through all the smaller factors that are the real explanation.

      Basically, now that Bill Gates is semi-retiring, it's harder to say "Linux hasn't gained market share nearly as fast as it should have because of Gates." And it's easier to switch to saying "Steve Jobs has stabbed Linux in the back" than to take a serious look at all the small but significant factors making Linux a hard sell for the general public.