Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Who's The Man?

When I was a kid I often heard the phrase, “the man is keeping me down.” Now, for a little kid growing up in the 1960s, this painted an interesting picture for me, I could either be kept down or I could be “the man.” It seemed to me an easy choice, be “the man” or be “kept down.” The 1960s were a very confusing time for everyone, not the least of which was a five-year old struggling with issues like who the hell is “the man” and why's he keeping everyone down.

The open-source movement reminds me very much of the various political movements I saw growing up and echoes in many ways “the man vs. the oppressed” battles of only a few decades ago. We could draw analogies of the closed-source software companies to “the man”, or maybe we call the IT organizations that weren’t willing to try open-source “the establishment.” If I extend this analogy further then we can see the open-source movement as the anti-establishment protestors fighting the closed-minded IT establishment.

But what happens when the establishment agrees with the protestors? Is this like matter meeting anti-matter, ying becoming yang or, shudder to think, closed-source becoming open? What would the protestors do?

In my mind the anti-establishmentarians have won. They’ve started to convince the software consumers that they should no longer be consuming closed-source software. The modern IT organization is starting to turn to and understand that open-source is good for them; they’re recognizing that they’ve been kept down by “the man” (the closed-source vendors).

What will the protestors do? They can expand the overall community by embracing their new brethren or they can continue to protest and fight for purity of message. The problem isn’t “the establishment”, it’s closed-source software. The open-source movement can be an even bigger winner by enlarging its community and accepting the new commercial interests. The enemy is the continued stifling of innovation brought about by the established closed-source vendors investing in business protectionism rather than innovation. It is in the best interests of the open-source foundation and the established IT organizations to work together towards a common cause. Perhaps, then, we can start to keep “the man” down.

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