December 18, 2003

Careful what you wish for...

A very popular line of thought in the FOSS camp is that we desperately need a shot of the corporate for true success - a successful business based on FOSS, a successful business partner, a corporate contributor, a successful corporate desktop. A favourite pastime for moderates and arm-chair supporters in the FOSS camp is to smugly wallow in the success of products, services, initiatives and companies that depend on the FOSS output.

I used to do the same too, but, I believe it is now time to review this mentality. For now we are faced with the grave danger of having the voice FOSS hijacked - by the corporate PR team.

FOSS and products like Linux have been coming of age. Common people, unlike the ones that read slashdot, are beginning to situp and take notice. The media has now stopped making moving pieces on FOSS and Linux and has started 'reporting' news in the same breath as IBM and Microsoft. FOSS is moving out of being a news worthy oddity to plain vanilla news.

But where do the news crews get their news from? When the common man and the common editor did not understand FOSS and Linux, the reporters who wrote needed to "understand" the phenomena for themselves and then report. But now everyone understands it, and all they need is quotes. And these quotes will now come from someone who has "credibility" with popular press - the corporate entities.

RedHat will now be a bigger "authority" on Linux than Torvalds. IBM will "understand" usability better than Ximian. Sun's views on Linux will will be "expert" views. And then Google will start spilling out sponsored links for searches related to FOSS.

And this is the next big hurdle that the FOSS camp will have to overcome - to gain a media prescence, a credible link to the world and not lose its voice to its corporate cousins.

This is bigger than any of the problems faced by Open Source and Free Software today - bigger than Microsoft or SCO. If a company makes an irresponsible remark, then the company will labour to correct it, because it will directly be affected by it. But with FOSS, as usual, you have new problems, unheard of before. Companies will now be free to make comments today, but there will be no one to retract those comments. Bruce Perens may counter SCO today; but how long and who all can be countered this way.

How can we go about giving FOSS a voice of its own?

- ravikiran n.

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