The Open Souce Community 101: Two Facets

There seems to be a huge amount of discussion lately about the Open Source Community. Whether it's the Novell-Microsoft agreement, GPL3, or Oracle's moves against Redhat and MySQL they all seem to revolve around the concept that the community is uniform in philosophy, methods, and attitudes. Fortunately, it's simply not true and this is an attempt to provide some background.

Everything boils down to a simple point:

There are two primary types of Open Source people.

First, you have the “Free Software” crowd. This segment of the community is based on the concept that “all software should be free”. They actively work to further this goal via licenses and practices which encourage source code to be opened up and made available to others.

And yes, these are the people who rail against intellectual property and anything that resembles being proprietary. They believe that things which prevent you from doing almost whatever you want with information – aka the bits and bytes of software – are a fundamental risk to their own freedom and the freedom of others. These beliefs are often demonstrated by anti-corporate (normally Microsoft, specifically) stances and served to form the foundation for much of the early Open Source community. The champion of this group is Richard Stallman.

Second, you have the “Open Source” crowd who believe that the OSS community provides real value to people and businesses for a fraction of the cost of the alternatives. Therefore, it's in their and the community's best interest to continue making contributions and improve the underlying infrastructure. Notice though, that this is the “underlying infrastructure” which specifically excludes the “secret sauce”. People from this crowd actively use applications such as Linux, Apache, PHP, Java to build bigger and better things that create businesses, opportunities, etc.

This crowd (generally) doesn't have anything against DRM as long as it doesn't harm Fair Use and is done well. This is why there are actual Open Source DRM systems under development because after all, a person or company should be able to protect their own interests. The majority of these people were in the “second wave” of individuals to get involved with Open Source and only joined once they realized how useful the tools and infrastructure could be. The champion of this group is Eric S. Raymond.

Most people confuse the two and think of them interchangably… which is understandable in many cases. Unfortunately, it is important to realize the fundamental difference between the two groups. The key is that although the two groups behave similarly they have differing – and sometimes directly opposite – goals and philosophies.

Regardless of all of this, I believe that the Open Source Community is reaching a point where a division will come. The GPL3 is the first group's effort to expand their philosophy into areas where it hasn't been applicable before… and it's likely to annoy the second group.