- Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.
- George Santayana, Life of Reason (1905) vol. 1, Introduction
A few weeks back, I asked the Twitterverse “When did user-facing Linux become completely and officially irrelevant? Seems like a fait accompli, doesn’t it?”. With the OSS community’s reaction to the iPad, I’m now sure of it.
And by reaction, I’m of course thinking of the response by the FSF’s John Sullivan to Steve Jobs’ much-discussed Thoughts on Flash. Sullivan’s piece is a straightforward “pox on both your houses” take, damning Apple and Adobe alike for not adopting the One True Faith of Open Source Software.
I had allowed myself to hope that the OSS community would take the hugely successful launch of the iPad and the flight of developers to the iPhone OS platform, even with Apple’s cravenly self-serving App Store policies, as an opportunity to take a good, long look in the mirror. With iPad sales now already estimated at over a million, you have to wonder how soon use of this nascent platform will exceed that of desktop Linux, if it hasn’t already. What should the open source community think of this profound preference for the unfree over the free? I would think they’d see it as a very public, and very obvious repudiation of the party line, suggestive of an urgent need for some soul-searching and time to re-examine how the OSS community is engaging the world at large.
Sullivan’s piece, sadly, shows no such self-awareness. It’s the usual total detach from real people that we’ve come to expect from True Believers. Indeed, the last third of it is the all-too-familiar zealous denunciation of all proprietary software, calling on readers to adopt Linux and Ogg Theora.
Seriously, Ogg? They’re still clinging to the “everything should be in Ogg” kick? OK, let’s ask the people who should know on this one, content professionals, to see if they buy in at all. DV magazine’s website logs 0 hits in searches for Theora and for Ogg, StreamingMedia.com’s 11 hits (versus 248 for H.264) are largely related to codec politics and not mentions in training articles or product reviews, and legendary retailer B & H assumes the search term theora is a misspelling of “theory”. No matter how many essays and insults the zealots spew forth, they seem unable to generate any inkling to know or care about Theora among video professionals.
In effect, the FSF’s position is to tell the world “screw you for not wanting the stuff we produce”, oblivious to the fact that the marketplace of ideas is very clearly telling them “screw you for not producing the stuff we want.”
The quote at the top of this article was often cited by Chuck Jones in describing the character of Wile E. Coyote, who was never afforded a moment of clarity to reconsider his hunting regimen, the inherent dangers therein, and the prospects for a way of life that didn’t involve falling off cliffs every 30 seconds. I fear the OSS community is so wrapped up in their own self-righteousness, they are similarly immune to equally-needed moments of humility, clarity, and perspective.