Is Novell's deal with Microsoft ultimately something that boils down to a corporate agreement to restrict the free flow of information and understanding about Linux? Or, perhaps, could it be that this agreement will actually serve the purpose of getting Linux out to more users? Those are the questions Josiah Ritchie seeks to consider and come up with answers to.
The Microsoft-Novell deal has people blood pumping big time. The deal does present a danger to the community, but I would like you to think for a second about what that danger really is. Let's redirect our focus from a withdrawal from Novell to consider our other options. If there is a better way to advance FOSS ideals, not damaging our own community, don't we owe it to the community to examine it?
The debate, ultimately, is about the freedom of information; there is nothing more at risk in this deal. The freedom of information is the very foundation of open source ideals so we much evaluate this deal from that perspective. With that in mind, let's develop a few diagnastic questions.
Will the fact that Novell has new information in its hands previously locked up mean that information is more free? Novell certainly seems to be arguing a yes; they say will share what they can with the community as a whole. I'd agrue that the answer to this question is ultimately irrelevant to the freedom of information. However, time only will tell what benefits may be given.
Meanwhile, the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) force of MS marketing has committed to flood the market with pro-Novell advertising that will muddy the view of true freedom, a very real danger to that freedom. Their support for Novell may derail the conversation about free software (a form of information) that currently surrounds the Open Source movement. Will this mean that open source software will be used by more people who don't appreciate its freedom than ever before? There is no doubt that it will, but here is an opportunity.
What remains to be seen is if the open source movement will reject this relationship or use it as an opportunity to educate new, and perhaps accidental, members about the ideal of freedom we so love.
This is an opportunity to extend the open source ideals to a new demographic on the tails of MS marketing. If we withdraw ourselves from Novell, we lose the chance of sharing the great ideals that hold the open source movement together with a whole new group of people, one that is bound to be significant and represent a potentially large force in open source support.
Also, if we withdraw from Novell, we loose a lot of great friends of the community, such as Aaron Bockover and Nat Friedman, who are doing great work on the Banshee and Beagle respectively. Great guys like Jeremy Allison, of SAMBA fame, and many others that work on a variety of project would also be lost to us. These leaders of our community would be adversely affected. Do we really want to “shoot our wounded”? They have much more to give, especially with this information behind them.
Finally, we all know that the threat and process of a lawsuit can be damage enough, whether there is grounds for the suit or not. Simply consider the protection money the SCO folks drummed up in the far fetched case they tried on us. Signing an agreement, such as Novell has, is not an admission, it is a protection for its customers from baseless threats much like Novell provided from SCO in the past. Too bad they couldn't do it for the whole FOSS community or Linux in general, but that would have been a bit much to ask.
I submit that we have a unique opportunity to educate Microsoft users who will be encouraged to switch by Microsoft themselves to Novell and will then have the skill set to go to any distro they like. If they choose to stay with Novell, great! We have gained another friend and user in the Linux community. If they choose to dig deeper and really understand what makes this community tick, why people are willing to give of their own time and skills freely to advance it, then we have gained an intellectual neighbor. Open Source ideals will be advanced through sharing, not being grumpy and pushing outsiders away.
Let FOSS do the embracing this time and beat MS at its own game, again!
Josiah Ritchie is an IT missionary with Fellowship International Mission. He has worked with Linux for the last 8 years and been privileged to learn about the importance of the freedom of information as he learned the beauty of the Linux computing platform. His website is http://missions.ritchietribe.net.