I started today reading through a Slashdot post on how Richard Stallman was praising KDE and KOffice and suggesting GNOME was a Microsoft shill for supporting OOXML. This seemed to drive a massive amount of anti-OOXML and GNOME commentary despite the fact that GNOME, as an organization, has never apparently come out in favor of OOXML, and in fact has expressed objections to the related Microsoft process.
More and more, the FOSS environment looks to me like really bad politics, folks spending lots of time arguing meaningless points largely based on misinformation. Part of the reason I believe these foolish and pointless conflicts are so visible is that Microsoft isn't taking pot shots at open source anymore (with the occasional exception of the CEO) and isn't effectively focusing what clearly is a very divided group on the common Microsoft enemy. In fact, Microsoft kind of sucks as an enemy if you think about it. It hasn't really done anything truly nefarious in years, it's been moving open source advocates like Bill Hilf up in the company, and has been actively partnering with open source companies in a truly underhanded scheme to interoperate to address IT core needs.
This got me thinking about the true benefit of proprietary software.
Apple and the True Benefit of Proprietary Software
While we often point to Microsoft as the poster child for proprietary software, Apple is vastly more proprietary in terms of what it shares and when. The iPhone, which FSF has berated, in its initial form is a perfect example. Damned if it doesn't work better than any Linux-based phone on the planet, which even pissed off Fake Steve Jobs.
The true benefit is that with the iPhone, you just buy the phone, or not. You take it as a complete offering or you reject it; you don't argue every single decision that went into making the thing. There may have been many arguments about decisions that were made to bring this to market, but you didn't see them, you don't care about them (unless you are on the iPhone team at Apple) and you don't worry about them. Personally, I have enough to worry about.
With open source offerings, and this Slashdot post is a good example, you are constantly subjected to high drama. This person taking shots at that person, allegations of bribery or anything else that occurs to anyone who wants to disparage someone they think they disagree with, even though, in fact, both may be on the same side.
With proprietary software, as with hot dogs, you don't generally know what went into the offering. You just concentrate on the result. If we were to do an open source hot dog, I doubt anyone would actually eat it. (As a side note, if you ever want to go on a diet, just start reading what actually goes into some of the stuff you like to eat. Trust me, you'll eat better.)
Collaboration and Leadership vs. Constant Conflict
One of the things about a well-run company is that there is a clear leader going in the right direction. One of the problems with FOSS is that there is no clear leader and the direction is often (like it was with the GPL 3.0) questionable. Were there clear and present competent leadership, you'd likely see clearer direction, much less conflict and much more progress, but there also would be a restriction of freedom.
However, certain freedoms, in my view, need to be curtailed if successful outcomes are desired. For instance, the freedom to accuse anyone of anything publicly regardless of evidence. We see that a lot in the U.S. elections, and I don't think the result will be better elected officials; in fact, the process seems to promote the least honest of the bunch.
The problem with folks who like to argue is that many just want to win the argument; whether they are actually right is secondary. Inside or outside a company, that isn't a good thing. I know watching all this go on does not give me any level of confidence that what results from OSS efforts will be very good (even though it generally is).
Does FOSS Have to Equal Nasty?
That's the question. One of the things I used to like about BSD UNIX was that the people always seemed very nice to each other, even when they disagreed. Apparently, this wasn't always true as I've been told that the early days of BSD UNIX escalated to near violence, but in later years, it felt more like a bunch of measured practitioners working together to get a job done. This, I believe, is the origin of the saying "Linux is for people who hate Microsoft, BSD is for people who love UNIX."
While it is fun getting the blood boiling and going on the attack, the fun goes south rather quickly when you are on the receiving end. I wonder if there will ever come a time when we'll look at FOSS and Linux and think of folks more like Linus Torvalds and less like Richard Stallman.
I hope so, because personally I'm getting really tired of the constant and largely artificial conflicts that surround FOSS and I'll bet a lot of other influencers are, as well. There are simply better things to do than constantly bicker about trivial things and, at some point, some of us have real work to do.