Coding and Codeine

I originally wrote this entry in the middle of last month when the news of the moment was that Linus was giving up Bitkeeper. Then I went to and got distracted, and by the time I got to thinking about finishing it off and posting it, it didn’t seem relevant anymore, so I deleted it. Then came the spat about Scott and Ian and I thought I’d post anyway, and went to find a copy I could resurrect.

Anyway, back to the original theme. Linus dropped Bitkeeper not because he’d been convinced the open source replacements are better (he’s not, and he’s designed and written his own more or less from scratch instead), but because he’s been forced drop it to as a result of a fellow free software luminary irking Bitkeeper’s owner just that little bit too much.

Or at least that’s more or less Linus and Larry’s side of the story; Tridge’s is that he did nothing illegal or immoral, and that he shouldn’t get blamed because Larry gets inspired to take his bat and ball and go home.

What makes this even more fun is that open source has apparently gone mainstream enough for cheer squads to gather round in schoolyard fashion and chant “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” when we have the occasional non-technical problem. And that sort of encouragement is probably just the thing to ensure we waste more time pontificating on the problems and fighting amongst ourselves rather than creating the awesome software that we’re supposed to so brilliant at building in the first place; that would be the software that will ensure everyone in the world really does have the freedom to do whatever they might want with their computers.

Perhaps what really bugs me about the Bitkeeper issue is that there seem, to me, to be three ways of avoiding those problems. The obvious one is not using software that’s owned by someone else, which in some respects is of course exactly what we all want anyway; the other two are trying to avoid annoying the software’s owner too much, and hoping for continued charity; and doing enough for the software’s owner that it’s not considered charity, and the bumps and differences of opinion can be considered “just business”. Sadly, the latter two just don’t seem to be options for significant groups of free software folks: the former getting ruled out by eagerly tying free software to free speech, and the latter getting ruled out by an apparant inability to disentangle free software from free beer.

But even with an ideal world of free software everywhere, I don’t think those sort of choices are going to work really well — there wasn’t any non-free software in Planet Debian, yet Scott’s abdication of ownership still seems a loss to me, and a spectacularly unnecessary one. Debian and Ubuntu will probably make a good contrast here: Debian sticking to both the free beer and free speech policies; Ubuntu employing key hackers and establishing a code of conduct that expects people to treat each other decently, at least internally. I’d expect the latter to be one or two orders of magnitude more productive in both the short and long term, personally. We’ll see what happens.

Really, I guess I’m not that worried: I think that choice is bad enough that it’ll die out anyway soon enough; I guess I’m just hoping the attitude doesn’t take too much more than Linus’s Bitkeeper license with it while it goes.

(Okay, my other reason for resurrecting this entry was to see if the title would make my referer spam change from poker sites)

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