Red Hat vice president Michael Tiemann's line that "volunteer hackers" still drive open source continues spinning around the news-osphere, over two weeks after it was said.
His point is one I agree with. Volunteers are crucial to growing open source projects. They help drive companies down what I call the "open source incline," that series of licenses that run between proprietary and GPL code. They innovate, they support one another. Volunteers are at the heart of the open source enterprise.
It's the word "hackers" that sticks in the craw, somehow. I am certain Tiemann, who also heads OSI, meant only the best when he used it. The word originally meant someone who liked "a good hack," a well-done, elegant program which did the most work with the least amount of code or fuss.
But to many people in the enterprise space, caught between an impulse to support or discourage open source, the term is loaded. To these people it implies a criminal, at minimum someone who cares nothing for intellectual property, for patent and copyright. It also implies someone young and immature, a high school geek with a pocket protector.
Never mind that the Great Men of modern computing, like Bill Gates, nearly all started out as high school geeks with pocket protectors. It's the image that matters, and the image, to many pointy-headed bosses whose support open source needs, is frightening.
The idea of open source within many enterprises remains a political issue. By using the term hacker, I'm afraid, Tiemann accidentally gave comfort to the other side. The original story on the interview, by John Ribiero, is still being published today.
So Michael, if you're in, call me. Drop me a line. Leave a comment. Have your people call my people. Ciao, baby. It's time for truth to get its pants on.