Watch Out for That Meteor, Stallman.

Richard M. Stallman (RMS) the founder of the Free Software Foundation, has labeled prominent Open Source software developer Miguel De Icaza a "Traitor" for  joining the Board of Directors of Microsoft's CodePlex Foundation as well as for his creation of the Microsoft .
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Richard M. Stallman (RMS) the founder of the Free Software Foundation, has labeled prominent Open Source software developer Miguel De Icaza a "Traitor" for  joining the Board of Directors of Microsoft's CodePlex Foundation as well as for his creation of the Microsoft .NET-compatible Mono software development framework. While RMS's hatred of all things proprietary has fueled the FSF's and GNU's mission to create Free software alternatives for what seems like eons, the overwhelming desire for interoperability between open and proprietary systems makes this narrow-minded Cretaceous world view ripe for extinction. (Artwork by Spidermonkey)

As I have said in previous columns, I live as a citizen of two distinct worlds with diametrically opposing software development ideologies -- the world of Microsoft, Windows and 3rd-party vendor developed proprietary software and systems, and that of Open Source and Free Software.

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I suspect that this is the case for the majority of enterprises and end-users, in the world where folks just want stuff to work. While I have no doubt that many people and a number of large organizations do and can exist on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) alone, the reality is that a lot of enterprises and people are like me have to and want to use both.

Their world, like mine, is heterogeneous and in order to live that way, they require interoperability between Open and proprietary systems. We have evolved as hybrids, able to adapt to demanding business needs by applying the best of breed and right tools for the job, regardless of their ideological origins.

But some people, particularly our Free Software leaders, are so mired in their hatred of Microsoft and proprietary systems that they will use only Free and Open Source software for the sake of ideological reasons alone.

One of those people is Richard Stallman, who for the past 30 years, has been campaigning with his Free Software Foundation to promote "Software Freedom". I'm not going to get into the long and drawn out history of his movement and not-for-profit organization, which started many of the projects which we now take for granted as part of the GNU Software Stack that forms the basis of Linux distributions and many other Open (and not so open) systems, including flavors of the UNIX operating system, such as OpenSolaris and BSD that it was originally designed to replace.

Suffice it to say that Stallman is a booming voice in the Free Software community, and when he makes statements, many people listen but we don't always agree with him. Like a highly revered modern techno-ascetic monk, we knew we all couldn't live and operate like Stallman, but we respected him for it because of his tremendous contributions to our community for his thought leadership and software he has written.

So when he insists that the Linux operating system be referred to "GNU/Linux" because Linux is the missing kernel to the entire GNU Operating System as it were, we all laugh a little chuckle and forgive him for his indulgences in beating dead horses.

This week, Richard Stallman finally made the transition from Free Software sage and occasional chucklehead to full blown arrogant ungrateful lout. I'll quote blogger, Ubuntu developer and Ubuntu evangelist Martin Owens, who was there in person at the recent Software Freedom Day in Boston to ask Stallman a few questions after his speech at the event:

Miguel de Icaza “is basically a traitor to the Free Software community” This was in response to my question about the new Microsoft “Open Source” labs. He went on to say that Miguel’s involvement in the project doesn’t give much confidence as he is a Microsoft apologist. The project looks to be concerned with permitting “Open Source” programs to work on the Windows platform and thus divert valuable developer time away from free platforms such as Gnu/Linux. He also went into an interesting story about Miguel and the FSF (as Miguel used to sit on the FSF board), but I’m hoping there is a good transcript of the event thing somewhere online.

Mono framework is not so much of a problem, but C# shouldn’t be used in core apps as legal problems would be hard to work around. Recommends uninstalling any apps using C#.

Now for those of you not familiar with the accused, who did Stallracasaurus Rex call a Traitor? Miguel De Icaza is the co-founder of the GNOME project, which is the collection of software that comprises the most prominent GUI for Linux and open UNIX operating systems.

GNOME is the default user interface of Ubuntu and several other prominent Linux distributions including Red Hat and Fedora and its GTK+ development libraries make a very large quantity of modern graphical Open Source software that runs on Linux and UNIX and even Windows possible. Without GNOME and GTK+ there would be no Ubuntu, no GIMP, no Pidgin, no Evolution, no Google Chrome for Linux, no Wireshark, just to name a few.

[EDIT: GTK+, which was designed by Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis at UC Berkeley, precedes Miguel's work on GNOME, but De Icaza  became a major contributor on the development libraries in order to build the GUI system.]

Richard Stallman calling Miguel de Icaza a traitor is like the FOSS community equivalent of sending Leon Trotsky into exile during the Russian Revolution. Trotsky called himself a "non-factional social democrat".

It should be noted that this "Traitor" once received the highest honor of Stallman's organization, the Award for the Advancement of Free Software in 1999 for his work on GNOME. Does he have to give it back now?

Miguel's "treason" is having recently joined the Board of Directors of the newly formed CodePlex Foundation, a not-for-profit organization created by Microsoft to promote Open Source collaboration. His high crimes also include creating Mono and the Open Source implementation of the C# programming language, which Stallman and many of his fellow FSF Bolsheviks want to publicly execute him for. STRING THE TRAITOROUS BASTARD UP!

Like Leon Trotsky and due to his desire to live in both worlds, Miguel has by virtue of his recent activity designated himself "non-factional" as well and fully understands that greater interoperability between both the Open Source and Windows worlds is of paramount importance.

Why all this fuss over creating a .NET compatibility layer for Linux and Open systems? And why this displaced anger over Miguel joining CodePlex, a not-for-profit Open Source organization? Because Stallman believes that "Microsoft is probably planning to force all free C# implementations underground some day using software patents" and recommends that developers avoid taking what he describes as the "gratuitous risks" associated with "depend[ing] on the free C# implementations". The fury over De Icaza joining CodePlex is simply an side effect of watching the FSF's prodigal son abandon a failed ideology and becoming a software pragmatist that embraces Open Source and not Free Software.

Stallman and the FSF have gone even further to suggest that Ubuntu and other distributions remove all Mono-poisoned software from their Open Source OSes in the future, for fear of being jeopardized by this evil threat. Fortunately, Ubuntu has taken the practical and sane approach and has told him to go stuff it. Red Hat and Fedora, not so much.

All of this tin-foil-hattering by Stallman and his devout FSF followers is pure speculation and paranoia, particularly given the Microsoft Community Promise that the company has now effectively written in the Google Cache equivalent of blood. Microsoft has committed to this on pain of permanent pariah status, risking loss of customers that require cross-platform interoperability if it decides to use litigation to attack developers of Open Source interoperability software which uses their patented standards and protocols.

Could Microsoft suddenly change its mind and revert to some purist evil, litigious Open Source-hating form instead of the Kinder and Gentler Microsoft that it is trying to create now? Sure, it could. But I seriously doubt it. The genie is out of the bottle.

If we're going to string up Miguel de Icaza for developing Mono, a GPLed software environment, then we probably should start executing everyone else who is evolving beyond the Cretaceous period, like Jeremy Allison and the entire SAMBA group, which is working closely with Microsoft to improve SMB networking on Open Systems.

Or rip out every instance of OpenJDK, OpenOffice.org and MySQL from every Linux distribution that uses it because God forbid, Larry Ellison, the great Satan of Silicon Valley and devourer of Sun, could start suing everyone for Java and MySQL patent infringements someday.

Better yet, let's hang the entire Linux kernel development team, starting with Linus himself, for allowing Microsoft's GPLed code for the Linux Integration Components to be included as part of the upstream kernel source tree. Besides, the "GNU Operating System" can just replace Linux with that wonderful mature OS kernel, the Hurd, instead. Not!

Stallman and the FSF, like his Cretaceous ancestors 65 million years ago, isn't evolved enough to see that his reign is about to come to an end. The Open world needs interoperability, not shut itself off from other standards just because they originate from proprietary sources.

Is Stallman and the FSF's and the "Free Software at all costs" 30-year reign about to be hit by the interoperability meteor?  Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Disclaimer: The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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