Killing the Founder

During the controversy I described in Condemning Censorship, Even of Werewolves one of the parties characterized me as “nuts and in decline.”. This failed to bother me, and not because I’m insulated against such insults by my natural arrogance. OK, I am largely insulated against such insults by my natural arrogance, but that’s not the main reason I easily shed this one.

In general I’m much less bothered about people who think I’m crazy than they usually think I should be because I know a lot about the life cycle of reform movements. I studied this topic rather carefully in early 1998, just after Netscape announced its intention to release the Mozilla sources, when I noticed that a burgeoning reform movement seemed to need me to lead it. I was particularly influenced in my thinking by the history of John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Community.

Here is part of what I learned: There comes a point in the development of every reform movement at which it has to kill the founder. Or anathematize him, or declare him out of his mind. Or neutralize him in a more subtle way by putting him on a pedestal so high that he can’t actually influence events on the ground.

Movements that don’t do this tend strongly to remain dependent on the founder’s special nous, and don’t survive his death or incapacity. Children have to separate themselves from their parents in order to become adults. Reform movements have to kill their founders in order to survive them.

Some founders, failing to realize this, hold their movement in an iron grip of personal charisma. By doing so, they fail to allow the movement to mature and institutionalize itself properly. They generally end up being declared crazy anyway, and they take whatever they’ve accomplished down to dust with them when they die.

There are sporadic exceptions to this rule, but they’re the sort that tend to prove it. Generally the apparent exceptions happen because a second charismatic leader pulls together something from the wreckage left by the first. My favorite example of this is the reformulation of Babism into the Baha’i Faith by Baha’u’llah after the death of the Bab.

But generally, if the founder is not at least metaphorically killed, the movement does not live.

This is not the outcome I wanted for the open-source movement. I had the capability to hold it in a grip of charisma, had I so chosen; instead, I consciously engineered a different outcome over a period of years, through both things I did and things I did not do. Many of those decisions are now taken for granted by people who cannot really imagine how it could have been otherwise.

Yes, this means that more than a decade ago I knew that the day would likely come when significant portions of the movement would dismiss me as a loon, or worse. I accepted that consequence with my eyes open. I view it as normal, healthy, and even necessary that this be so.

I don’t know if we’ve actually reached that point yet, but if and when we do it won’t bother me. I did not do what I did for anyone’s approval; I did it because it was right. And then I let go.

81 thoughts on “Killing the Founder

  1. esr> Movements that don’t do this tend strongly to remain dependent on the founder’s special nous, and don’t survive his death or incapacity.

    Is there a parallel here with Apple and Steve Jobs? Now apparently on his feet and back in control, but there were worries regarding his health and questions about the future of the company until quite recently.

  2. >Is there a parallel here with Apple and Steve Jobs?

    It’s more general than that, actually. Any organization with a single figure as key as Jobs is remains vulnerable, whether it’s a reform movement or a for-profit corporation or anything else.

  3. @James M: Definitely more general. EDS did this to Ross Perot (though I wonder if Ross Perot really weren’t already crazy), the open source movement has done this to some extent to RMS — even many Free Software Foundation advocates view him as a bit loony. Whether the open source movement is doing this to esr is an open question, but certainly based on some things I’ve heard here and elsewhere, there are many who dismiss him as a lunatic.

    IMHO, as an outside observer, I’d say that the relationship between Apple and Steve Jobs is a lot more complicated than it appears. In the early days of the Macintosh, Jobs’ dismissal from Apple was largely the result of his own managerial incompetence. Jobs has never been an effective manager and he knows that: that’s why he largely leaves day-to-day operations of Apple to his lieutenants, instead choosing to be a spokesman and taking a more creative leadership role.

  4. The open source movement seems to be moving away from big leaders of all sorts and I think it is directly correlated with a sheer rise in hacker population induced by the advent of the internet.

    Admittedly, a lot of people have considered you a loon ever since you started blogging, but that was inevitable given the particularly marginal political power of “neo-libertarians”. Perhaps more interesting is RMS going down that path despite touting the party line.

  5. As a novice shopping around for a new operating system, or a few, I’m finding a need to separate personalities and cults or near-cults from software and its objectives. It may not be that easy. Some luminous developers give good interviews. And with so many forks, it can be tempting to follow a group who sound like they know and care what they’re doing, or on the other hand to enhance one’s self-image by choosing a road–or fork–less traveled.

    I may be helped from becoming a disciple of a developer-luminary by the fact that answers to my tech questions will of necessity come primarily from web searches, forum posts, and good manuals when available, not from a personal revelation laid upon me by a near-deity.

  6. What explain the fact that there is a lot of hackers who also happens to be market anarchists and understood Austrian economics?

    Maybe I hang out too much with the wrong crowd, but there are lot of people my age(As in 18-25) who are libertarians. For the most part, their discovery is pretty much independent.

  7. It’s weird that I was thinking about this yesterday. Something to the effect of, “why would anyone buy an iPhone when Apple depends so heavily on Jobs for its continued success. If you’re a power user, you’re investing in a bunch of apps that keep you tethered to Apple. What happens if Jobs is gone for some reason?”

  8. “What explain the fact that there is a lot of hackers who also happens to be market anarchists and understood Austrian economics?”

    Hackers -> interested in systems -> Myers-Briggs NT (Rational) types -> the most independent and anti-authoritarian of all types.

  9. WTF?

    Neither “nuts” or “decline” occur in any context where esr was called names in the linked post.

    ESR: It was in email from a party to the dispute that I will not name so as to avoid embarassing the person.

  10. To truly believe in Austrian economics require that you have internalized the idea that a bunch of people acting in their own self-interest can produce a totality greater than any central planner could even have conceived of, let alone accomplish. I believe this. I also can not help but acknowledge that this is counter-intuitive, or at least not intuitive. Our very genes tell us that hierarchy is necessary.

    A centralized economy and political structure is the most obvious expression of that belief; one hierarchy, one pyramid, one society, and parallels to certain historical slogans here should be obvious. It takes some effort to realize that this isn’t optimal, especially when the idea is still not all that widely spread or taught, and the optimality of this approach is so often simply taken as unspoken axiom.

    It turns out that humans, when free, still organize into hierarchies, but we are not bound to just one. I can be a leader at work and a follower in my social organization of choice and middling in my neighborhood association and freely join or leave most any hierarchy I wish and my genetic imperatives are still satisfied, while creating an economy that actually works. Even those who live this but who have never thought about it may not realize how odd that is.

    The one-hierarchy viewpoint have a lot of salesmen for it, motivated by thinking they will be at or near the top when it is established. It’s a minor miracle than anybody ever becomes a libertarian against such headwinds.

  11. Morgan wrote:

    ” Jobs has never been an effective manager and he knows that: that’s why he largely leaves day-to-day operations of Apple to his lieutenants, instead choosing to be a spokesman and taking a more creative leadership role.”

    I largely agree with this. Jobs largest mistakes in the 1980s were a result of his narcissism and his youth. And the Mac was a last ditch effort to save the company as the days of the Apple II were coming to a close. He was a young man, carrying some personal troubles that were related to his virtues or skills (the qualities that make up charisma and visionary leadership can also make one heckuva jerk) and it was a challenging time in terms of business.

    I agree he seems to have learned how to be a better delegator. There are some who fear that Jobs is a very essential component of Apple. I have no doubt that his death would lead to a short term but large drop in the stock value. But in terms of overall operations, one only needs to look at Apple’s executive leadership: these are all people who have been there for a long, long time. I’m convinced that they all know and understand the “Apple formula”. Jony Ive will still make beautiful designs, Bertrand Serlet will keep improving OS X, Tim Cook will keep the trains running on time.

    I think the great attributes that Jobs brings to the job (no pun intended) is his zealous, enthusiastic leadership: motivating the troops and the faithful. On top of that, it’s his obsessive attention to detail and incredible sense of what could best be described as style or taste. Lastly, because Jobs isn’t a “techy” he seems to be able to expertly relate to more average users, to put themselves in their shoes, and figure out what they want even if they don’t know it. Engineers and sophisticated coders generally fail at this task.

    But all of this combines to offer Apple a unique competitive advantage: he can step back and see new possibilities in a way more technically involved people (due to a more myopic focus on the tech right in front of them) cannot. He can act with incredible decisiveness and resolve. While the bazaar is babbling in tongues, Jobs is able to see an opportunity and act. His leadership abilities allow him to then marshall these human resources with incredible intensity and speed, and his secrecy allows him to move troops around the battlespace while essentially remaining invisible.

    Consider how well-formed the iPhone and iPad were when they were introduced. We’re talking about huge amounts of work in developing conventions, APIs, software, etc. There were certainly rumors and mumblings, but it’s obvious that a tremendous amount of work had been done in the shadows. By the time people figure out what he’s gonna do next, he’s ready to go to market.

    That, imo, is where he will be missed. Someone who can understand what consumers want, can motivate engineers to build it, and decisively act to bring it all to market. Apple will continue to make excellent products and be very well run for many years. But it will undoubtedly struggle to find a new leader who combines the features of vision on sheer boldness.

  12. “Maybe I hang out too much with the wrong crowd, but there are lot of people my age(As in 18-25) who are libertarians. For the most part, their discovery is pretty much independent.”

    What JB said @8:11; technical types frequently trend libertarian. But there’s also a countervailing force: age. Expect some of those folks to slowly shift over time away from strong libertarianism. A lot of people become more conservative with age. Some become more of what people in the U.S. call liberal (I don’t know where you are, so I’ll talk in U.S. terms). In either case, aging seems, as a general trend, to make people more interested in state solutions to the problems that concern them. Folks who worry more about money, or what them damned kids are doing trend conservative, those who worry about more about inequality and tribal dynamics trend liberal.

    (An interesting side-note on one of the pitfalls of the engineering mindset: among educated people who fall for creationism, a surprising number of them are engineers. Being an engineer myself, I have trouble seeing that in me, but considering some of the ultra-rigid types I’ve known who seem to have difficulty believing that either others might be better at something than they are or that surprising systems can emerge without intelligence, it is easy for me to believe that they’d fall for the claptrap. I think an interesting survey would be to find the other political leanings of creationist engineers – do they trend generally authoritarian as well? Do they accept the idea of the invisible hand?)

  13. Jobs managed to learn something that most founders don’t.

    Managerial and organization methodologies have to change as the size of the organization does. I suspect he learned this the hard way – and that his ouster in the ’80s, followed by NeXT and later Pixar, let him isolate what he can add to an organization.

    Founder shackles are a term that’s common in my industry. Lots of companies in games have a natural size of 10 people. However, to hit larger markets, keep more product lines producing, they have to grow to 20-30 people…and a 30 person publishing company relying on internal and external creatives cannot be managed like a 10 person company can.

    And back to being anathematized…the danger of founder as loon is that the transition from founder to loon can be one where many an organization goes kersplat.

  14. >If he’s gone, who will be the straw that stirs the drink?

    Jobs’s situation illustrates a problem faced by all charismatic leader-figures, whether of reform movements or for-profit corporations. How do you teach your followers to do without you? And how do you engineer a succession that will work? Broadly speaking, there are two possible approaches:

    (1) Find a suitably talented person and train him or her into an individual successor that functionally replaces you. The trouble with this plan, if you’re Steve Jobs or the Baha’u’llah or even just me, is that (a) you have a constellation of talents and skills that is extremely difficult to duplicate, (b) the few people who can duplicate it are probably more interested in being leaders of their own movements than an apprentice in yours, and (c) supposing you succeed in recruiting an apprentice, all you’ll be actually succeed in doing when you hand over the reins is putting off the problem for a few years – landing him in the founder-who-must-be-killed box.

    (2) Build an organization and a leadership cadre within it that can collectively take over when you depart. This, of course, is why I founded OSI. The main problem with this is that, if you are Steve Jobs or the Baha’u’llah or even just me, finding a half a dozen people who add up to an equivalent to you in talent and skill isn’t easy, because a committee is less than the sum of its parts. And there are some skills committees seem to be intrinsically unable to replicate – like Jobs’s instinct for brand management, or for that matter my instinct for brand management.

    Nevertheless, the hand-off-to-a-committee is the lesser risk. Because a committee, relatively clumsy and ineffective though it may be, can upgrade itself by replacing parts of itself rather than having to find another everything-at-one-go genius. Though I’m sometimes disappointed by OSI’s performance, I knew I would be and accepted in advance that loss of a certain level of aggression and agility would follow from handing off to it. I consider that transition to have been successful.

    The question with respect to Jobs is whether he has managed to do anything equivalent at Apple. Is there a leadership cadre ready to take over, there, or have they been flattened into mere placemen and timeservers by the weight of Jobs’s enormous ego? I don’t know. I do know that if this isn’t the number one issue that Apple’s Board of Directors is working on, then they’re not doing their job.

  15. “I think the great attributes that Jobs brings to the job (no pun intended) is his zealous, enthusiastic leadership: motivating the troops and the faithful. On top of that, it’s his obsessive attention to detail and incredible sense of what could best be described as style or taste.”

    He seems to be a key ingredient in the synergy of Apple. If he’s gone, who will be the straw that stirs the drink? You may have a great designer, and engineer and manager and it would still not cohere. A formula isn’t enough.

  16. Yeah, the thing about NT types is that, while being hugely independent-minded and resistant to all appeals to rank and authority as opposed to reason they are very much pragmatic as opposed to dogmatic. So if they discover flaws in a system they may alter their views. There’s an inherent tension between personal independence and freedom and “what works.”

  17. “Yeah, the thing about NT types is that, while being hugely independent-minded and resistant to all appeals to rank and authority as opposed to reason they are very much pragmatic as opposed to dogmatic.”

    If you’re replying to me, I think the tendency towards political change as people age is more general. For a variety of reasons, getting older usually makes people less flexible and more certain that they hold correct views. There’s also pressure towards common sets of problems with age, a big one of which is frequently money. More generally, whatever “novel” ideas you shared with others in your cohort becomes conventional wisdom as your cohort gains power and is echoed back to you by media.

    At least for many people, as your cohort becomes The Man, I think it starts looking more reasonable to try to enforce your particular tastes and defend your anxieties via the state.

    I think the majority of the trend in age-related political drift , at least these days in the U.S., is towards big government conservatism (not quite as simple as god, bombs and Medicare, but that’s more accurate than not), but drifting leftwards certainly happens, too, and I think that trends more towards pushing the U.S. in the direction of whatever European state they visited the most.

  18. I’m still mulling over the parallel between an open source community (or a similar non-proprietary, nongovernmental community) seen as embued with the right of free speech, and the public guaranteed freedom of speech by the Constitution. I need to let devilish details and troublesome anecdotes have their go as I shape my thinking in hopes of arriving at a tidy result for my mind.

    A community formed by persons sharing a common interest and a common purpose, with some agreed-upon structure, is one thing; in such it is possible to establish and maintain guiding principles and even a code of conduct in many cases. What is very untidy is userland thinking as to what an online community comprises. Social media corporations and the big corporate portals and news-opinion-blog-forum types of privately owned sites invite and entice prospects to become parts of their “community.” The surgery performed upon personal expression in some of those settings is often unfair, even malign.

    In one case I know about, an officer of a personal care home (managed by a large corporation) lashed out at a resident’s son, and indirectly at the elderly resident herself, in a Topix.com (also Topix.net) forum thread. She was extremely nasty, even transmogrifying the family last name to “prick-shit.” The attacks went on for some time, and there were several posts excoriating the attackers. Offline events led to the assisted-living management corporation’s getting Topix to take down all of the posts identified as being part of the conversation. Google was persuaded by a corporate party or parties to un-index the identified posts as potential search results, although a snippet containing the scatological name (replete with the resident’s son’s given [first] name) was left reachable by exact-words Google search long thereafter, until very recently. The victims never counted for anything in the negotiations. (A blogger named twidro has started holding forth about it all these days to a very small audience on Twitter and on a WordPress.com blog.) When regulators and ombudsmen take the abusers’ side and when a corporation even flouts its own rules and suppresses grievances, published evil can thrive, or at least be around long enough to do significant harm.

    I’m glad principles do get so much airing in the open source community. I hope that ethical thinking can make more inroads in the information technology developments that are sweeping over us.

  19. @Morgan Greywolf:

    Jobs – yes, he is obviously not the only example, but currently the best one of a charismatic individual leader today, acknowledged as that not just within the computer industry but outside it. Far more than Bill Gates ever was.

    RMS – yes, you’re right that “many Free Software Foundation advocates view him as a bit loony”, but maybe that is because he allows his ideology (with which there is nothing wrong in itself) to override all other considerations – being practical and getting results comes second or worse. Let’s face it, if we were waiting for the results of his original plan for a perfect free software OS, we would still be waiting today…

    OTOH those who think ESR isn’t right in the head seem to do so because of his opinions on other, unconnected, things – libertarianism and weapons. Since I’m nearly 100% in agreement with those views myself, I don’t see their point. As far as software is concerned, he has never let ideology get in the way of delivering results.

  20. I think it’s probably easier on the leader if he/she doesn’t let the community depend completely on him/her simply because there is less stress involved in having a competent leadership team that you can fall back on. There’s nothing worse than a community growing sickly and falling off because there is only one leader holding everything together, and being overwhelmed.

    A big question of mine has always been whether the Linux kernel will survive without Linus Torvalds. I have no real reason to believe it would fail, as the kernel dev team is very modular, but afaik Linus is (was?) a major chokepoint for patches and new development.

  21. @Leif: Brand management — setting the direction in terms of what markets to go after, what new products to create, etc. is certainly Jobs’ strong point — as I was intimating about in my original post when I said “creative leadership role” — is Jobs’ strong suit, and at the moment no one at Apple can fill that role. It’s one thing to keep building Macs, iPhones, and iPads, and when you have a serious competitor, your direction as to what goes into the next iPhone is kind of set for you.

    But coming up with new products or keeping an edge on your competitors by introducing features they don’t have, well that’s where someone like Jobs comes in.

    I’m not saying that Apple couldn’t survive without Jobs — it certainly could — but Apple would definitely not be the same organization without him, and should he retire or meet his untimely death, you can bet that Apple’s current competitive edge will slip if there is no plan to replace him. Steve Jobs’ brilliance was required to get where they are at now, and it or it’s equivalent will be required if they are going to compete hard core against Google in the smartphone and tablet space.

  22. #James M wrote:

    OTOH those who think ESR isn’t right in the head seem to do so because of his opinions on other, unconnected, things – libertarianism and weapons.

    Not entirely. There are some who believe that esr has overstated his accomplishments, and that he’s a really eloquent writer with poor coding skills and a megalomaniacal personality. Most of these people haven’t done their homework and do not realize that esr’s biggest accomplishments are the behind the scenes stuff that they take for granted every day and use without realizing it. (OTOH, they may be right about the megalomaniacal personality :-) )

  23. >(OTOH, they may be right about the megalomaniacal personality :-) )

    Heh. It’s possible, in principle; I’d be the last to know, wouldn’t I?

    One of the decision points every movement-founder comes to is this: can you let go when the time is right? Megalomaniacs are very bad at this; because of their ego investment, they hold on too long and prevent the movement from institutionalizing or growing successors. In extreme cases they may develop an apres-moi-le-deluge attitude and actually dismantle the movement rather than see it continue under someone else’s leadership. This is the flip side of overdependence on the founder, and produces very similar results.

  24. esr: I had the capability to hold [the open source movement] in a grip of charisma, had I so chosen

    I know that you don’t see ego as a bad thing, so I suppose this isn’t an insult: I think that may be the single most egotistical thing you’ve ever said.

    kiba: Maybe I hang out too much with the wrong crowd, but there are lot of people my age(As in 18-25) who are libertarians. For the most part, their discovery is pretty much independent.

    For what it’s worth, my libertarian phase fell into that age group; I came to it independently as well.

  25. >I know that you don’t see ego as a bad thing, so I suppose this isn’t an insult: I think that may be the single most egotistical thing you’ve ever said.

    You may think so, but that tells me you don’t understand how easy this sort of thing (holding people or movements in a grip of charisma) actually is. Once you’ve achieved a certain threshold of visibility it doesn’t take superiority at anything, just understanding of a relatively small bag of psychological tricks and the determination to execute them. In fact a lot of charismatic-leader types are actually quite stupid and lazy at anything but going through these motions. It doesn’t slow them down much; humans are, unfortunately, wired to be manipulable in rather simple ways.

    The reason more people don’t do this sort of thing is not because it’s difficult but because it’s a very risky strategy. Failing, or trying to get off the tiger once you’ve succeeded for a while, exposes you to a degree of social disapproval that is difficult for most people to tolerate. People willing to take this risk tend to be either narcissistic ego monsters or idealists so dedicated to some end that the disapproval risk seems trivial. Neither type is common.

    UPDATE: Since somebody mentioned the possibility of using these techniques to become a dictator I’ll note that using them to do that kind of politics is extremely dangerous. In that case, the risk involved in getting off the tiger is not mere social disapproval, it’s winding up hung in a town square a la Mussolini.

  26. I don’t know whether it would have been possible for ESR to have held “open source” in the iron grip of his charisma had he chosen to.

    I think the open source movement is far more grassroots — thanks mainly due to the easy spread and availability of information — than we can even imagine and the power flows not from leaders but from the group who actually produce, test and release code..

    Maybe this theory works in communities where information flow is tightly controlled or regulated. In Open Source, I doubt this parallel would work.

  27. While I agree the Eric was an Alpha-geek, it would seem to me that’s a tiring position to try to maintain. God knows there’s enough uber-geeks out there that have ego to spare, and trying to wrangle that herd of cats would be absolutely exhausting.

    Eric, I think your admission that you went into that with eyes open is absolute confirmation that you’re clinically insane :^).

  28. “Once you’ve achieved a certain threshold of visibility it doesn’t take superiority at anything, just understanding of a relatively small bag of psychological tricks and the determination to execute them.”

    What books would you recommend? I want to be prepared in case some “city-state dictator” opportunities come my way in the strange new world we’re entering…

  29. >What books would you recommend?

    Hm. I didn’t learn these tricks from books, but by observing charismatics in action. If you really want to learn this stuff, find one and follow him or her around while in operation.

    That said, immersing yourself in fieldwork reports about the social behavior of nonhuman primates would probably be a good start. That or reading Macchiavelli. Or both.

  30. Machiavelli’s time travelling collaboration with Jane Fossey, “The Silverback” is a wonderful starting point, if you can get access to the timelines where it was published, but not brutally suppressed.

    Stay clear of timeline 37-A-4c, though. It became part of the kindergarten curriculum there, rather than handed down in cross disciplinary college level classes focusing on primatology, political science and patent law. 37-A-4c got strange indeed.

    Do be aware that bringing replicable information between time streams costs extra. The person who attempted to bring back the source code for Windows back, after RMS was hired as VP of licensing is still working off the extra fees….

  31. So I guess the elephant in the room is…. will FSF survive without RMS?

  32. >So I guess the elephant in the room is…. will FSF survive without RMS?

    At the time I founded OSI my evaluation was a very definite no.

    In the twelve years since there are signs that the rest of the FSF has become aware of the vulnerability and tried to make itself less dependent on RMS’s charisma. One notable indication of this was the hiving off of the Software Freedom Law Center.

  33. So I guess the elephant in the room is…. will FSF survive without RMS?

    Sure. Why not? Haven’t most of his followers labeled him a loon, yet? If not, they should. ;) Seriously, I don’t think it matters whether the FSF continues to exist or not at this point. They’ve already accomplished what they set out to do.

  34. I’d be all for a purist approach to free and open source software, but I have trouble spotting a pristine place for it. I don’t know that sponsorships and donations, as well as advertising sold to support a project, can be quarantined from issues discussion. And there’s the matter of the provenance of programs or program components which in many cases were developed in for-profit or government agency environments. Case-in-point-disclosure: I came here via onion routing.

  35. >[The FSF has] already accomplished what they set out to do.

    Not in RMS’s opinion, or that of any of his true believers. For the FSF to have succeeded, proprietary software would have to be not only extinct but generally condemned as evil.

  36. For the FSF to have succeeded, proprietary software would have to be not only extinct but generally condemned as evil.

    Proprietary software is well on its way to extinction, but generally condemned as evil? Well, good luck with that.

  37. # jt Says: And then there is George Washington.

    Washington was never the charismatic Maximum Leader. His role in the Revolution was confined to leading the Continental Army – immensely important, but not the whole show. Then he went home.

    He was of course the key player in the Framing – presiding over the Constitutional Convention and serving as the first President. But the role of the Federal Government was deliberately limited (by his choice as much anyone’s). And then he went home again.

    The other key factor was that Washington was only one of a galaxy of great men among the Founders. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton. Madison, just to mention the best. With that kind of bench, the team is not so dependent on one superstar.

  38. >Washington was never the charismatic Maximum Leader. His role in the Revolution was confined to leading the Continental Army – immensely important, but not the whole show. Then he went home.

    But Washington could have been el maximum lider instead of choosing to go home – he was offered the crown of the U.S. by an influential group of American royalists before the Articles of Confederation and the 1781 Constitution foreclosed that possibility, and the offer reflected popular sentiment at the time. Washington understood that the sustainability of the new country’s institutions required him to refuse the crown and return to his farm. Washington had a classical education; his model was probably Horatius, who refused the kingship of Rome after defeating the Etruscan invasion at the second battle of the Nevean Meadows.

    Washington thus become the modern archetype of the general/founder who, after critical early victories, refuses to encourage a longer-term cult of personality around himself because he understands how that would eventually corrupt what he fought for. Yes, I studied this case, too. If anybody still remembers what I did for open source in a hundred years, I hope they’ll associate me with this kind of restraint.

  39. >Washington had a classical education; his model was probably Horatius, who refused the kingship of Rome after defeating the Etruscan invasion at the second battle of the Nevean Meadows.

    Or possibly Cincinnatus, who accepted the dictatorship, and returned to his smallholding when it expired…

  40. Morgan: Nonsense! Nobody uses Hurd and nobody seems likely to start.

    Thus the FSF has not achieved its goal.

    (I’m joking. A little. That they still bother to work on Hurd suggests that it’s only-serious, though…)

  41. >(I’m joking. A little. That they still bother to work on Hurd suggests that it’s only-serious, though…)

    At this point in the game, work on the Hurd is best modeled as a sort of religious observance.

  42. ESR, I have to say, I have far less confidence than you do about FSF’s survival without RMS. Right now, I think they will become a shell of their former self without RMS.

    Another succession problem I see is Linus and Linux. As practical as Linus is, and as much as he’s delegated, he still hasn’t made the leap to fully remove himself from the process.

  43. >ESR, I have to say, I have far less confidence than you do about FSF’s survival without RMS. Right now, I think they will become a shell of their former self without RMS.

    I didn’t say I felt a lot of confidence. But, having recognized the problem, their odds go from effectively zero to, oh, maybe 30%

    >Another succession problem I see is Linus and Linux. As practical as Linus is, and as much as he’s delegated, he still hasn’t made the leap to fully remove himself from the process.

    Indeed. However, he’s done a much better job of growing a leadership cadre than RMS has. While the Linux kernel culture is nasty and dysfunctional in some ways, I could name at least three people capable of stepping into Linus’s shoes.

  44. At this point in the game, work on the Hurd is best modeled as a sort of religious observance.

    Ceremonial magick performed by a fluffy bunny. :-P

  45. Hayek and Friedman are great examples of this. They helped launch the neoliberal revolution that greatly diminished the role of socialism in europe, but are now seen by those neoliberals as a bit crazy.
    Mainstream libertarians see Hayek and Friedman as one of us, but the people they now see as “a bit crazy” are guys like Lysander Spooner.
    What about Ancaps? Where do they stand? Who have they rejected?

  46. >What about Ancaps? Where do they stand? Who have they rejected?

    Not sure I can think of an obvious anologue for anarcho-capitalists. Um. Max Stirner, maybe.

  47. I think that what you are missing here is that many reform leaders *are* loons. It just takes a while for their followers to find out.

  48. Jobs may be a egomaniac, but as I said in another thread, he plays a long game. I’d be shocked if he hadn’t made plans and prepped people for a post-Jobs Apple, especially after his medical travails. Of course, he wouldn’t do any of that publicly, because it could undermine his (and Apple’s) current position.

  49. >I’d be shocked if he hadn’t made plans and prepped people for a post-Jobs Apple, especially after his medical travails.

    Well, yes. Of course he’s made plans; anybody but the most extreme sort of egomaniac would do that, and it’s the responsibility of Apple’s Board of Directors to keep his attention on that planning until there’s something at least formally satisfactory in place. The real question is more subtle; has he nurtured leadership ability in those around him or suppressed it? On that question I am much less confident.

  50. By “prepped people” I meant something like “nurtured leadership ability.”

    Critics have a tendency to focus on examples (real or imagined) of Jobsian capriciousness and irrationality, which can make him seem like a founder holding things together with charisma, despite having gone (or always been) nutty. That view is confirmed if you see his refusal to open up iOS and the App Store as equivalent to Henry Ford’s reluctance to replace the Model T or offer colors other than black.

    But a large organization can have a personality of its own, a personality that may not match that of the founder but is matched to it in some way. Apple’s recent track record seems like good evidence of more than just one person’s vision and leadership: clearly there are numerous teams there with collective competence and who are doing more than following The Leader. I don’t think they’ll fall apart in his absence.

  51. The real question is more subtle; has he nurtured leadership ability in those around him or suppressed it? On that question I am much less confident.

    If past behavior is any marker, I’d say no, but Jobs is a man who, these days, is something of an enigma.

  52. Hey, I probably disagree with you on everything relating to politics (I met Jay on a private network tangling about politics), but I read here because you know about these computer things and even when you’re wrong it’s worth reading. Anyone interesting contains multitudes.

  53. “If past behavior is any marker, I’d say no, but Jobs is a man who, these days, is something of an enigma.”

    He has had a very close and personal brush with mortality and now knows he isn’t going to live forever. Whatever he’s doing now, is this what he’s decided is the best way to spend the rest of his time on earth?

  54. Thought: If Xerox had had a Jobs–or a Gates, for that matter–where would the cherished (by many) Mac OS GUI be?

  55. Thought: If Xerox had had a Jobs–or a Gates, for that matter–where would the cherished (by many) Mac OS GUI be?

    Xerox had lots of Jobses and Gateses. (wow that sounded a little Gollum-ish didn’t it?)

    A few Xerox alumni:

    * Bob Metcalfe – started 3COM
    * John Warnock and Charles Geschke – started Adobe
    * Charles Simonyi — responsible for overseeing the development of Microsoft Office Park, started Intentional Software
    * Alan Kay — who, despite not really being an entreprenuer probably could have been one and is a very charismatic guy

    It wasn’t that Xerox didn’t have a Jobs and Gates, it’s just that the environment produced so many visionary people and the top management at Xerox were just way too conservative to produce successful commercial products based on those luminous visions.

  56. @kiba
    “Maybe I hang out too much with the wrong crowd, but there are lot of people my age(As in 18-25) who are libertarians. For the most part, their discovery is pretty much independent.”

    And:

    “What JB said @8:11; technical types frequently trend libertarian. But there’s also a countervailing force: age. Expect some of those folks to slowly shift over time away from strong libertarianism. A lot of people become more conservative with age. Some become more of what people in the U.S. call liberal ”

    I’m willing to bet that most of the people Kiba is talking about are in college, college bound, or have (or are working on) college level educations. Meaning they’re bright enough to see the existing problems, bright enough to have some answers, and [ young naive inexperienced ] enough to think those solutions will work. After you get out of college, and the more time you spend among the “hoi polloi” the more you realize that:

    # Even the brightest people can be *devastatingly wrong* (yes, even you ESR)
    # To a certain point the dumber someone is, the less likely they are to recognize it. Can also be stated as most people think they are smarter than average.
    # “There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
    # When you add up 1, 2, and 3 you start to realize that it is HELLISHLY difficult to predict what is going to happen when you start changing shit.

    This leads people TOWARDS (this means exactly that, a LEANING, not an absolute movement to) one of two extremes–either towards the sort of Progressive (often wrongly called “Liberal”) big government/expertism control of whatever aspects of life they think are important (which means in aggregate control of ALL aspects of life eventually because there are no bright lines), or a conservative “DON’T TOUCH NOTHIN” position.

    Also you could start to realize that 98% people who are in the libertarian party are one of students, dope smokers or tax resistors, or Ayn Rand fetishists.

    “Proprietary software is well on its way to extinction, but generally condemned as evil? Well, good luck with that.”

    Nonsense:

    1) “Quantity One” software shops–like Amazon, or really any company with internal applications. These are, and will always be proprietary, or mostly proprietary.

    2) Niche Market software in non-technical markets. Stuff that ships 10s to 1000s (but not 10000s) of units for solving or managing complex, niche specific problem in non-it fields.

    @Jeremy Bowers
    “To truly believe in Austrian economics require that you have internalized the idea that a bunch of people acting in their own self-interest can produce a totality greater than any central planner could even have conceived of, let alone accomplish. ”

    Or you can take the position that Central Planning leads to Centralized Power that leads to Gulags, Killing Fields and Gas Chambers, and that any economic system that avoids that is probably better. Just because we train to fight tyranny doesn’t mean we WANT to fight tyranny.

  57. (An interesting side-note on one of the pitfalls of the engineering mindset: among educated people who fall for creationism, a surprising number of them are engineers.

    The same is true of radical Islamism…

  58. 1) “Quantity One” software shops–like Amazon, or really any company with internal applications. These are, and will always be proprietary, or mostly proprietary.

    2) Niche Market software in non-technical markets. Stuff that ships 10s to 1000s (but not 10000s) of units for solving or managing complex, niche specific problem in non-it fields

    Agreed; those will probably always be proprietary. Those and games.

  59. >Agreed; those will probably always be proprietary. Those and games.

    The “games” case isn’t so clear-cut. Some classes of games, like FPSes, split naturally into engines plus content; in that case, open-source engine plus proprietary content can be more efficient than all closed code.

  60. Right, and even the nutjob of RMS has no qualms against proprietary game content coupled with an open source engine.

  61. >>The “games” case isn’t so clear-cut. Some classes of games, like FPSes, split naturally into engines plus content; in that case, open-source engine plus proprietary content can be more efficient than all closed code.

    There was a public domain game called Sleep is Death that made 43 thousand dollars in around one or two months.It comes with some content built-in, but for the most part, they will be created by users on the fly.

    There is also the opengameart community in which there are thousand of 2D arts and a few hundred 3D objects. Artists are continuously funded with user donations operating somewhere around 100-200 dollars per month.

    I don’t think we can exactly count out the copyfree movement out just yet.

  62. >I don’t think we can exactly count out the copyfree movement out just yet.

    Write off the copyfree movement? Heh. I’m a senior Battle For Wesnoth developer; I’d never do that.

  63. Sorry, what exactly are you supposed to be the founder of?

    The way I heard it, RMS founded the free software movement, and your role was limited to publicizing it and rebranding it. Perhaps my understanding is faulty but that doesn’t sound much like being a founder to me.

  64. > the nutjob of RMS

    RMS has a nutjob?

    I think you have an extra ‘of’ in there. “the nutjob RMS” means “RMS is a nutjob”. What you wrote means that RMS owns or possesses a nutjob.

  65. “Quantity One” software shops–like Amazon, or really any company with internal applications. These are, and will always be proprietary, or mostly proprietary.

    Depending on how you define proprietary I kind of disagree with this.

    If by “proprietary or mostly proprietary” you mean they build their internal applications using proprietary libraries and languages, I may agree with you in principle (I don’t have information that specifically disagrees with you) however I think it would be hard to say either way. Certainly this use case was dealt with in one of ESR’s essays (magic cauldron I believe, to summarize the surrounding company benefits from using open source components for the non-internal parts of their application because it eases the support burden).

    If by “proprietary or mostly proprietary” you mean that the software they produce is proprietary then this is where I disagree. In the places i’ve been that built software for internal use they were actually very “open source” in that the things preventing you from looking at the source were to do with “security” than any form of money changing hands concern. To me the ultimate point of OSS is that as a programmer tasked to support a product I can go somewhere and look at how that product was built to the individual instruction level.

    Human processes may surround my ability to make changes and get those changes appearing in the production environment but that is beyond the scope of OSS. As soon as I could download the project, change the low level data objects to make the “0.0″ float values in the database get reported to the middle tier as “0.0″ instead of “.0″ and then run nant to get a build going, it’s as Open source as it needs to be.

    If they then sold the whole package to a separate company and didn’t hand the source over for the bits they sold, then i’d say you were entirely accurate in saying that it had gone proprietary as their developers would have to call me to get that “.0″ fixed. But then it isn’t exactly a “quantity one” shop anymore either.

  66. RMS has a nutjob?

    I’ve heard a couple of people refer to RMS as having a pair of brass ones but I didn’t realise they were an after-market extension.

  67. It’s all about vision, you can have all the charism in da wurld, but if you don’t have vision than your company is doomed. A truly great leader/founder has a clear vision where the market will go the next 3/5/10 years and what the position of the company will be in that market. Jobs has that vision which makes Apple a leading company, instead of a follower. Somehow it seems Apple is creating a market by itself, as clearly they are making the rules. Of course the followers will jump into that market and may even create some improvements, but all within the limit of the Apple created market, until a new product arrives.

    Jobs/Apple still have that vision and I’m pretty sure that because of that vision there will be new Apple markets/products introduced over the next 2-5 years, products which are now being developped already, no doubt.

    The only people who care about Jobs big ego are those who are narrow minded and lack the self esteem in order to respect his unique abilities which made Apple the best brand in the world (http://www.bestofthe2000s.com/brand-of-the-decade.html).

    Killing Apple’s founder (at least at this moment) would be the same catastrophic marketing disaster when Coca Cola introduced the New Coke.

    Then again ESR’s wish is clearly the father of the thought.

  68. I am the one who called the Eric S Raymond of today “nuts and in decline.” Will I always respect ESR as one of the founders of open source? Absolutely. Do I still find him “nuts and in decline?” You bet.

    There is is certain level of craziness that is required to cause utter revolution. I possess a good deal of the crazies too… why else would I assert that Microsoft will lose majority market share come June 30, 2011?!? Heretics do not do what is safe; they do what is right. That is why we butt heads over a werewolf. Dramatic and powerful change is supposed to happen when heretics meet.

    Now that I addressed the “nuts,” let me address the “in decline” part.

    There are many people who are already doing an excellent job leading the open source of 2010.

    Jono Bacon is leading Ubuntu, the first Linux community that satisfies both the non-technical end user and the hacker…. sorry Freespire wasn’t it.

    Stormy Peters is leading GNOME which will release 3.0 this fall. This promises to be the most accessible desktop yet.

    Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier is a prolific opinion essayist who keeps us up-to-date with the open source developments of today.

    Where are you, ESR? You say you are a tribal elder but who is your tribe? The readers of this blog and anyone who has The Cathedral and the Bazaar within arms reach of their workstation. The sad truth is that you have not been actively engaged in the goings on of open source for years so it was actually a shocking experience that you came out when the werewolf surfaced. Did you even notice the “Microsoft’s Many Eyeballs and the Security Development Lifecycle” where Microsoft asserts their software engineering practices are superior to open source?

    I appreciate that ESR chose not to be like Steve Jobs of Apple.
    Apple would not have exceeded Microsoft without Jobs.
    Open Source will prevail, with or without ESR.

    Why? Other leaders will and have emerged in his absence. And, I agree, this is healthy. While ESR of the 90′s found it necessarily to setup a non-profit for the advancement of open source, many have taken his lead in seeing that it was right an proper to incorporate while being revolutionary. I setup the Ohio LinuxFest Corporation so that the fruits would out-live my ability to be active too. The good news is that there is so much activity on the ground that Open Source does not need to be micromanaged by Eric S Raymond or Bruce Perens for that matter.

    The ending of the banished loon is not necessary. Instead I recommend a different strategy: take the follow. Embrace, mentor, and respect the leaders of today. Your work with the “Battle of Wesnoth” is an excellent step in this direction. The open source community will occasionally take things in directions you do not like. You can warn of the dangers of not protecting the werewolves, but when things don’t go your way, “let go” and “take the follow.”

    If that is to difficult, call me just some crazy kid. I would not feel embarrassed or ashamed… just honored.

  69. The good news is that there is so much activity on the ground that Open Source does not need to be micromanaged by Eric S Raymond or Bruce Perens for that matter.

    *blink* It never did. And It never was. I, for one, am grateful for that.

    I think you misunderstand open source as a fully-organized movement. It isn’t a very organized movement now and it never was a very organized movement. It’s always been more decentralized that; open source and free software grew up on the Internet. and as a result, it mirrors the Internet in that way.

    The open source world is a very, very large ecosystem and has been for a very, very long time. Every open source project has it own leaders and meritocracy. It isn’t as if people were ever sitting around thinking “what features should go into my project — I know, I’ll ask esr!” (Maybe that really happened for a few projects here and there, but definitely not for all or even most of them.) I suggest you read or re-read the three CATB essays with that in mind. As an example of open source’s vastness, from my reading of esr’s various essay, when Linux distributions first appeared, they kind of took him by surprise. That wasn’t a real shock to me or probably anyone here.

    It’s not like esr or Bruce Perens were needed to get that particular ball rolling (ask Bruce Perens about “UserLinux” heh.); what esr rightly deserves credit for is convincing corporate America that open source is a good idea for them. He is partly responsible for “Linux” and fully responsible for “open source” becoming a household words. I remember a time trying to convince people that “free software” had real value; and even in the late 90s, a lot of people still hadn’t “got it.” Even now when I tell people that Android phones are running Linux and an open source software stack, they are genuinely surprised, but at least they understand what those terms mean (at least on a basic level.)

    Anyway, I’m sure I’m not making any sense at this point, so I’ll stop rambling.

  70. >*blink* It never did. And It never was. I, for one, am grateful for that.

    So am I. Trying to micromanage the movement would have been impossible, and was not what it needed. What it needed was, essentially, to become conscious about what it was doing and where it was going. There’s a huge difference between open source as an unconscious, implicit practice and open source as a conscious aim and practice; for one thing, once you know what’s important about your working methods you can reflect on and improve them. For another humans are social creatures; we like hanging out in groups with banners and slogans. The right banner and the right slogan can be a powerful mobilizing force.

    Neither RMS nor I invented open source; the practice predates both of us, so it’s not strictly correct to say we were “founders”. What we did was give the community that was already practicing it self-awareness and ways of explaining the practice to others – banners and slogans. RMS’s version of self-awareness was good for recruiting idealistic programmers; mine was good for recruiting idealistic programmers, and pragmatic programmers, and financiers and venture capitalists and cold-eyed corporate tools. Maybe the movement will grow itself a third reformer someday who can figure out how to light an even bigger fire. I’d be OK with that.

    I find it amusing that hackers tend to forget what it was like before we had self-awareness. They unconsciously back-project today’s intensive level of cooperation – conferences, hosting sites, existence of “classic” licenses, common terms of discourse, shared open-source operating systems – back on times when we had none of these things, then wonder what RMS and I actually contributed. I’m OK with that, too; it’s a sign of victory, of successful social engineering, when they take your gains for granted. RMS is a little twitchy about it, alas.

    To put it more directly: people like Beth Lynn Eicher have the luxury of treating RMS and me as crazy old uncles because we won – because hackers today live in a rich supportive context shaped by victories they have half-forgotten and can take for granted. If I had the sort of ego sometimes ascribed to me, I would resent this forgetfulness terribly. As it is, I smile. It’s the victory that matters, not the credit for it.

  71. Were I to want to kill Microsoft and wound Apple on the netbook-and-larger desktop, I’d talk virtualization day and night. Many ads and articles are oriented to virtualization in the enterprise environment, and I’m not sure that all that many users with low to intermediate knowledge know that you can download and install VirtualBox (the easiest?) and commence to audition Linux OS’s (or even a BSD). The temptation, speaking for myself, might be to run the easiest guest OS to configure for one’s common tasks and pastimes, but that’s OK; you can have a passel of OS virtual machines in a list and move up in sophistication when ready, and decide about live disc functionality and partitioning and installing one or more of them. It’s not hitch-proof, but it’s the easiest shopping around for mostly free offerings that I know of.

  72. I’m not sure that all that many users with low to intermediate knowledge know that you can download and install VirtualBox (the easiest?) and commence to audition Linux OS’s (or even a BSD).

    I’m not sure that all that many users with low to intermediate knowledge can install VirtualBox and a Linux or a BSD. The OVF file format goes a long ways toward making this easier, but how many distros are shipping a virtualization-optimized OVF image?

  73. “The good news is that there is so much activity on the ground that Open Source does not need to be micromanaged by Eric S Raymond or Bruce Perens for that matter.”

    I said that to get your attention and I am glad it worked. Both Morgan Greywolf and ESR arrived at the point I was trying to make.

    There were some comments on this thread which compare ESR to George Washington. This suits well. He did not invent democracy but he was there at a critical moment to make sure it sticks. There will come a time when those who were old enough to make the revolution happen will not be with us. Enter new crazy kids like John Quincy Adams who worked to abolish slavery, – literally resolving the sins of his fathers.

    I have never and will never marginalize the contributions of RMS or ESR. Nor will I ever forget. Sadly, much of how and why my mother can run Ubuntu is completely forgotten buy the masses.

    With that said, all human authorities should be questioned as they are fallible. You have to be OK with that, or else the whole Anarchy soap box you are on is cardboard.

    And there is more history to be made requiring a whole new class of heretics… consider Quincy had to negotiate the end of the War of 1812.

    Maybe one day someone will look at me as a crazy old aunt. I would be OK with that too.

  74. “What explain the fact that there is a lot of hackers who also happens to be market anarchists and understood Austrian economics?”

    Plain simply programmers are used to an indirect way of achieving results: while the job of a cook is to make cake, the job of a programmer is much more closer to writing a program for a robot which will make cakes. Thus programmers are naturally leaning towards for political philosophies that don’t aim at some result directly but instead create a social structure that will produce these results automatically and autonomously, which in practice almost always means some kind of liberalism, either the left-wing/progressive sort of it or the right-wing/classical sort of it.

    Of course programmers have their weaknesses – the most obvious one is insufficient understanding of the human element – “users” or “citizens”.

    I wonder – what kind of political philosophy do those programmers tend to subscribe to who are successful project managers, who are capable of making users accepting software they don’t fully like and capable of motivating programmers into producing features they don’t feel inherently interesting, but rather a boring chore? Because they are the ones of us who understand people rather well. This is something we could learn a lot from if we could figure that out. My 2 cents is that it still a version of liberalism but with way less triumphant rationalism and with elements mixed into it that emphasize fallibility and coping with the limitations of rationality, human vices, and suchlike – elements that in one or another sense of the word could be called somewhat conservative.

  75. >(An interesting side-note on one of the pitfalls of the engineering mindset: among educated people who fall for creationism, a surprising number of them are engineers.

    >>The same is true of radical Islamism…

    If the definition of geekiness is overvaluing the sort of knowledge that can be acquired from reading books and undervaluing the sort of knowledge that can be acquired from experience and practice, and I think it is a good definition, then geekiness can lead to religious fundamentalism/fanatism in that subset of geeks who have a leaning for “bookish” religions. (This subset is thankfully small.)

    This may sound surprising but I think it is fairly good model to imagine the leaders of Al Quaeda as total utter nerds of the obsessive-compulsive kinds for whom everything must be literally by the book.

    Same can happen with politics.

    IMHO best thing to do is that if you have any contact with any sort of religious or political movement is to try to steer them into a direction that emphasises gathering experience instead of just reading and a principled but essentically flexible reaction to the various situations and challenges life tends to throw at any group instead of a rigid and doctrinaire attitude. I mean, at some level culture must be hacked so that reacting to a new situation by trying to look up the solution in a cookbook be generally ridiculed as too nerdy – everything else leads to the kind of fundamentalist rigidity that leads to fanaticism and closed-mindedness.

  76. > Enter new crazy kids like John Quincy Adams who worked to abolish slavery, – literally resolving the sins of his fathers.

    Maybe off-topic, but I think this is unfair to John Adams. He was always opposed to slavery. His sin was pragmatism, and he subordinated his opposition to slavery to his desire for independence and for representative democracy (albeit for a subset of the total population).

    Had the Southern states remained solidly Loyalist, the American Revolution probably would have failed from a military standpoint. Some could argue that the contributions of the Southern Founders (for example, Washington, Jefferson, and later Madison) were the equal of the Northerners (such as Adams, Franklin, and, in outlook, Hamilton).

    Adams could not do without them.

  77. I would like to point out a further example of the prevalence of how far open source thought has come (from my own direct experience). Please bear with me as I describe the background to this story. Also, this post will be quite long, but I hope you will find it interesting.

    I should point out here that in this post I use the term “government” a lot. Readers should be aware that when I use this phrase, it means the military/defense components of the government (military branches, Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, etc.)

    I work in defense, supporting, designing, developing, and verifying/validating various computerized component weapon systems. I do this for all branches of the U.S. military, but for a good while now many of my efforts have been in support of the U.S. Navy. I have been working in this field for ten years now. I discovered my love of computers and hacking at around twelve years old (in 6th grade in the library of the middle school I was attending at the time) in 1991. So, I have been able to watch the open source (OS) ideal grow and evolve into what it is today. I have always been a part of the community (utilization and adoption), and having worked with these ideas for so long, I am gratified to see the evolution of OS.

    One of the most striking comments (to my mind) in this trail was made by ESR, when he said “There’s a huge difference between open source as an unconscious, implicit practice and open source as a conscious aim and practice” (July 14th, 2010 at 10:36 am). The ultimate success of OS to me is when it has become so prevalent that it no longer has a label, its just a way we do things. Wishful thinking, I think, as there will almost certainly always be some proprietary software, because I think the masses don’t care (think Apple, for now anyway) and so that will only encourage big corporations to keep things closed. If Android and other elements can continue to erode the fanbase though…but forgive me, I digress…

    Being a relatively young guy (late twenties), OS was my good friend when I began work in the defense industry, one of the most ugly, bureaucratic, cost-insane industries in the U.S. I swear that this industry is the enemy of efficiency and I wonder so often how our military is mostly so effective…
    So when I got here, naturally it was Microsoft (MS) everything – the whole industry was dominated by them. OS tools and products were only mentioned by us in the shadowed hallways and dark closets of the secret MS haters among us. But my, how things are changing. There is open and much talk of moving major operations systems to Linux (Red Hat) and many of our programs are now being developed in Java and Python (which brings a certain community with it, oftentimes). I can name several more examples, but I think the point is clear.

    Now, the military has an interest in keeping operational systems code tight and controlled (naturally). But a new movement is afoot inside the halls of the government…we have been calling it “government source.” If anyone here has ever worked in a government-heavy industry, you will understand what an astounding concept this is. Most government activities are so engaged in rice-bowl protection that they do not share anything with anyone, even fellow groups within their own agencies (competition for funding, you see). This leads (like closed source, eh?) to developing the same cursed systems over and over again (to varying degrees of capability and effectiveness), wasting many tax dollars and much effort uselessly. After many years of several people fighting the good fight, an evolution has started to happen. Defense leadership is saying “no more of this, we need tax-dollar developed components to be gov’t source and available to others in defense (of course security classifications necessarily determine what is actually available). An instance of sourceforge has even been set up to support this interchange (sourceforge.mil).

    As for my daily experience, a few years ago I had the opportunity to move to a project in support of a new aircraft being built. One that the Navy is currently acquiring. I have worked with many government leads, and the one I am working with on this project is by far my favorite. He’s a real “type A” go getter, but not stupidly so. To give you some idea of his nature, he mustanged his way from an enlisted man to a Lieutenant Commander over the course of his career in the Navy (mustang means you weren’t a direct-commissioned officer when you signed up for the military, you get promoted based on sheer ability – his promos were due to was efficiency and cost-saving, using data analysis to drive operations as opposed to “this is the way we’ve always done it”).
    Now he is a civil servant heading up defense projects. He is the first government guy I have ever encountered that is willing to share what is shareable with everyone (in industry) who needs/wants it. We are forever having technical interchanges with Navy, Air Force, and Army folks who are working on similar things, sharing products, code, and lessons learned. You must understand how rare a thing that is INSIDE of a single agency, let alone across agencies in the government world. But the striking thing to me is that this guy holds many OS principles and doesn’t even know it! Like I said, the term du jour is “government source.” But that is how the change in mentality is occurring. Its open source, but people don’t even know what that means, its just becoming the way they think. As another poster pointed out, the movement seems to be fading as a “movement” and is becoming a “way” (the example cited was how many people know what Linux is now, and I daresay how many understand what Android is).

    I’ll leave this incredibly long post (forgive me) off with an anecdote I found amusing. A few weeks ago, the government lead I mentioned above called me up late one night (those who work this project rarely sleep these days). He was so excited. He said “Will, I just installed Ubuntu on my computer and this is (expletive) is awesome! If a disparate group of people can make this product, and make it free, just think what we could do!”

    Indeed sir. With the open source mentality look at what we ARE doing. Just wait to see what we as a species have at our disposal by 2030!

  78. “When the work is done, and one’s name is becoming distinguished, to withdraw into obscurity is the way of heaven.” –Laozi

  79. esr Says:

    >> Another succession problem I see is Linus and Linux.
    >> As practical as Linus is, and as much as he’s delegated,
    >> he still hasn’t made the leap to fully remove himself from the process.

    > Indeed. However, he’s done a much better job of growing a
    > leadership cadre than RMS has. While the Linux kernel culture
    > is nasty and dysfunctional in some ways, I could name at
    > least three people capable of stepping into Linus’s shoes.

    And from your blog to /.
    http://linux.slashdot.org/story/10/07/23/123209/The-Scalability-of-Linus

  80. You have never known the feeling of being in ignorant bliss.

    esr = over anal-ysis

    hehe, just kidding.

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