Eric Raymond, who re-invented, or rather founded the open source movement, warned the community against open source losing its users. Participating in a panel at LinuxWorld, ESR called for compromising to appeal and be useful to the newer generation. He used Linux, the pioneer in open source world, to exemplify where open source was lagging.
Raymond, a champion of all things open, said it is vital to the future uptake of Linux that the community compromise to win the new generation of non-technical users aged younger than 30. This group is more interested in having Linux “just work” on their iPod or MP3 player and “don’t care about our notions of doctrinal purity”,
“We have a serious problem. Whenever I try to pitch Linux to anyone under 30, the question I get is: ‘Will it work with my iPod?,” he said. “We are not yet as a community making the painful compromises need to achieve widespread desktop market share. Until we do, we will get locked out of more hardware.”
Using proprietary and closed source binary drivers has been a controversial topic for Linux. These binaries, without their source code, fall in the opposition party and are immediately rejected. However, it cannot be ignored that they provide value today to the users. To be able to useful to these users, who want their computers to work with different gadgets, Linux should make a compromise and include them. He calls them necessary evil.
Users require Solutions
I think this compromise is just a small hurdle in the path. To be able to be accepted by the common man, especially the newer generation, open source should offer solutions to them. Open source has mostly been the object of fascination for the geeks and the object of ideology for the believers. However, now it has to move out of this and enter the realm of everyday use of the common man.
The challenge is that requirements of the common man will keep changing. A decade back he wanted a decent browser, today he wants the computer to work with other gadgets, tomorrow it can be used even in trivial tasks. For this open source has to do two things:
- Provide solutions rather than open source flagship products
- Talk to the common man
To be able to do this open source movement should graduate from just competing with the proprietary counterparts to actually identify and solve the user’s problems. Unless this is done it is not going to be popular, it will be seen only on the desks of geeks. To address problems and issues of the users open source has to provide direct value and use their language. It should not be used only to scratch the technical itch any more, it should satisfy the wants of the non-technical. And on the way, the open source movement might have to do compromises. Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, thinks software patents and legalities are harmful to the open source movement. It definitely is, but I think identifying and delivering value to the user is more challenging and imminent. What I understand from Eric’s message is that open source can neither postpone nor slow down being useful and reaching the common man. It is time, or else it might get locked out!
Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.