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[balancing linux's ideals]


How does Linux win? Not by brandishing a larger sword, though brandish a sword we must. Nor by building a better product, though build a better product we will. Winning can only be accomplished by the right balance of humility, responsibility, and technical superiority. Current user interface models, such as the classical "desktop", are increasingly challenged by the accelerating distribution of computing resources. These challenges can defeat Microsoft's dominant desktop paradigm. But these same challenges can strengthen or defeat Linux, depending upon the maturity demonstrated by the Linux leaders as well as the community as a whole.

Today, Microsoft's 9x/NT operating systems enjoy the support of the vast majority of corporations and consumers. But the classical user interface which dominates the architecture of these OS's cannot survive a paradigm shift where computers are everywhere, have no desktop, and developers are truly global. Desktop-oriented products provide ill-suited and expensive support for the technologies required by universal distributed automation. Furthermore, global economies based on full automation will increasingly refuse to pay royalties to proprietary vendors -- it's simply too expensive and it's no longer necessary!

Computer networking saw a similar paradigm shift. TCP/IP was propelled by the emergence of ubiquitous networking. Just as proprietary communications protocols inherently conflicted with the interoperability demands of universal connectivity, proprietary operating systems will conflict with the goals of universal automation. When whole societies are based upon the automation of their essential processes, any single company solution becomes a potentially expensive bottleneck.

Automation will permeate everywhere. Linux, by its very nature, has the opportunity to dominate universal automation. Over the long run, the evolutionary track of software created by interested users is stronger because any software survives according to the degree it fits into its ecological niche. Linux consumers build Linux. As long as the community can sustain sufficient self-organization, adaptive success is guaranteed. The ecological strategy of proprietary vendors is far different. These vendors try hard to adapt their products into ecological contexts they control, manipulating the consumer by positive marketing as well as by more disingenuous tactics. While carefully reading the tea leaves of user preferences, they cook the leaves with calculated marketing campaigns.

How does Linux lose against the interests of these proprietary vendors? One good way to fail is to lose touch with the very community Linux is being built for and by. This effect can be discerned in the disorganization brought about by disrespect and infighting amongst key groups and individuals of the open source and free software communities. Self-interest leads to survival, but out of balance only narrows the relevance of Linux and may even lead to its downfall. As often as not, the Linux community is its own worst enemy.

Fortunately, the Linux community can promote its own defense. First, standardization can provide agreement and strength in what should be preserved as common. Second, the divisions in the community can be softened by adopting a greater sense of humility together with recognition of Linux as a long-term work in progress.

The unchecked myopia of some in the Linux community may be corrected by standardization efforts aimed at a more disciplined cooperation amongst competing factions. This has already happened in many large and important areas of software engineering including communications protocols and multi-media graphics formats. Linux standardization efforts promise to provide the same benefits of availability, stability and interoperability independently of any one corporation or distribution. At the end of the day, Microsoft and its customers can only rely on Microsoft. If Linux standardization is successful, then Linux users will be able to rely on an entire global support industry.

A natural antidote to exaggerated self-interest is humility. Humility allows the Linux community to recognize its shortcomings and to learn from its weaknesses (for example from the Mindcraft or PC Week benchmarks). In the long run, to be accepted onto the raised floor of mission critical corporate applications, current Linux weaknesses (chiefly kernel scalability) must be resolved.

A lack of humility can lead to negligence of responsibility. The more powerful a technology vendor becomes the more it seems to want to dominate the world. There are many in the Linux community who want this same unbridled power by replacing Microsoft at the top of the food chain. However, Linux ought to be less about trying to control the world than about enabling the world to control it. A better ideal for Linux is to empower people rather than to dominate them. This is the responsibility engendered by success. It requires a revision of the model of the food chain. Imagine a common resource from which everyone cooperatively harvests the fruits of computer science and engineering. The responsibility on the part of all successful consumers of this bounty is to ensure that the supply is kept healthy, can be replenished and is distributed to all who need it. The proprietary model is to develop specialized, exclusive technologies and then to hoard the supply of products into controlled channels from which to distribute the products only to those who can afford them. This model prohibits worthy large scale software projects such as patient care in developing countries. This model also weakens the basic software infrastructure, because there are fewer varieties of software technology which can then adapt to new conditions.

Therefore, let disciplined cooperation and humility balance the natural self-interests within the Linux community. Standardize what should be held common. Learn from our shortcomings. Assume responsibility to contribute to the greater good, and use the technology potential of Linux to empower the entire world through universal automation. It is only by balancing self-interest with humility, discipline and responsibility that Linux will truly be the better operating system choice.


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