Contributed by ben on from the last-bsd-hippie dept.
BSDCan 2006 was my first conference, though I've been using Unix (professionally and as a hobbyist) for over ten years now, participating in political and tech activist groups all the while. The conference left me pretty well disillusioned, and the idea of principles when it comes to software has been a theme with me ever since.
I used to run into a lot of people who were very political about the software they used, and I've always been one of those types myself, so it was a bit crushing to see so many Macs and Blackberrys and Windows laptops running at that conference, not to mention the crowds of FreeBSD people and their followers dominating the entire scene.
I spoke with many people, mostly users but not all, and their attitudes about software were distressingly similar: they'll use anything as long as it does what (they think) they need it to do, regardless of the licensing or reputation of the commercial vendors they are supporting and (often ostentatiously) advocating.
What I'm left with is the overwhelming feeling that many people, users and developers alike, have become more selfish and pragmatic about the software they use and distribute; it seems as if the idealists have all but died out.
They used to be clustered around Debian, and maybe they still are, but I am not a fan of the GPL or Linux in general. However, I've always had a deep respect for Richard Stallman and his passion for keeping software free from commercialization. So to further demonstrate my disillusionment with the current free software scene: if I had a loonie for every smug comment about Mr. Stallman's personal hygiene, coming from some OS X user (at a technical BSD conference!), I'd be funding this year's OpenBSD hackathon.
Why not follow Stallman around and help his movement instead? Well, it's firstly a matter of taste and secondly a matter of politics. Whereas Stallman's method seems to be that of peaceful protest, I prefer the tactics used by the OpenBSD project, which bear more resemblance to what's often called `direct action' in activist groups.
OpenBSD feels very strongly about the freedom to write and distribute whatever software they wish, for whatever reason, and when something gets in the way, they don't wave signs; they do something about it.
Some may already be up in arms about my reference to FreeBSD with regard to political disillusionment. Well, this is due to their decision to ignore the current OpenBSD campaign to stop binary blobs from gathering momentum and being incorporated into otherwise or formerly free operating systems. Some of these projects, including FreeBSD, have slipped the binary drivers right in; ostensibly so that the user may get right to work on her hardware. No need to worry about the political ramifications of giving money to a vendor that refuses to supply source code or specs for the hardware that they sell. What a hassle that would be! Users just want to get things done, right? Who cares, as long as it runs?
Does anyone else care? I overheard one of the OpenBSD devs asking the BSDCan organizers for a table. Yes, he had to ask for a table, and the response wasn't apologetic: it exhibited obvious annoyance.
Thus, my disillusionment. Maybe it's time to stop caring about software; maybe it's gone too far into the realm of mass media, and my complaints are about as silly as someone turning on broadcast TV and complaining about the commercials. Sadly, I suspect that the majority of the people I ran into at BSDCan would respond to this with: let them use TiVo!
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