Why We Hate SCO
But I think there is more to our hatred than just the surface facts. What SCO has done, and equally the way they have done it have stirred at archetypes and resentments which lie at the heart of geekdom and then go even deeper.
Even as we hate SCO, we laugh at them. Darl's boast of "millions of lines of code" and their debacle of showing code in Las Vegas are absurdities that remind us of one of our favorite villains, Scott Adams' Pointy Haired Boss from the "Dilbert" cartoon strip. It's all there, the buffoonish self importance, the grandiose claims and the complete disconnect from reality. Of course Adams' PHB is popular among us because he is drawn so true to real life. We have all had PHB's in our careers. Bosses who didn't understand the technology, would make impossible demands and wouldn't listen or accept that what they wanted and believed was impossible.
But our empathy for Dilbert's woes with his PHB is not all comic relief. The PHB has real power in Adams' world and in ours. PHB's set and change policy for our departments, they make budgets, assign personnel, and give orders affecting our projects and our ability to do our jobs. And they fire people. Really. We all know people who have lost their jobs, often unjustly, at the hands of such and many of us may ourselves have been such victims.
Like the PHB, for many of us SCO moves in worlds with which we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar. High finance as how did the Microsoft, Sun, Royal Bank, and Baystar deals happen? In an "old boys network" of connections and power where a letter from a past associate of McBride's, Michael Anderer, makes millions of dollars available to SCO. And of course the courts. In bitter reality and our ignorance of how the courts and law work on a day-to-day basis we see the results which too often appear arbitrary. Even now at this stage I'm sure most of us have nagging little doubts that something could go wrong, some as yet unforeseen detail of law could turn things around and imperil our shared treasures of Linux and free and open source software.
This resonance is symptomatic of a deeper conflict. C. P. Snow characterized it academically as "The Two Cultures", essentially the yawning chasm of a gulf between the "numerati" and the literati, those who think in rational, logical numbers, and those who think in the slippery sophistry of words. This concept has now crept into the very marrow of our popular culture to the point where it is now popcorn fare ala "Revenge of the Nerds". But its trivialization does not make it any less real. Of course F/OSS techies and programmers consider ourselves the new bourgeoisie numerati where the principles of science, logic, transparency, determinism (repeatability), and falsifiability contrast strongly with business "literati" market-speak and spin which have none of those characteristics.
The characterization of techies as nerds and geeks is, of course, exaggerated but it is surprising how much we share a history some level of social ostracization from adolescence amid the cliques and castes of school and into adulthood with luncheons and meetings to which we are not invited. The true depth of the hostility towards us can be summed up in two words: Asperger's Syndrome. Our primary difference is really our ability to focus on small and abstract worlds which to those without understanding appear disconnected from reality. There truly are poor souls who get lost in those worlds to the point where they are unable to function in real life and need psychiatric intervention, but even medical science does not know where to draw the line with Asperger's between neurosis and "unhealthy" concentration. Most techies, when reading descriptions of Asperger's, will experience to greater or lesser extent the creepy "I've been there" feeling. To many of the "normals", the literati, we are diseased.
And the F/OSS community wears "geek" as a badge of honor! The ascendancy of Linux is perceived as our ultimate validation.
In that light SCO's campaign was designed from the beginning to play upon the hostilities between the two cultures. Straight from SCO's first filing in its lawsuit against IBM there is the statement "... Linux was the equivalent of a bicycle. UNIX was the software equivalent of a luxury car." "Bicycle" was horribly insulting to techies who knew quite well that Linux was a secure, robust, good performing, and stable operating system well before IBM's involvement, and at the adolescent core of geeks vs the rest of the world, the car has always been the symbolic focus of that distinction. And as SCO filed its legal papers other quotes made the sotto voice comparison of UNIX (even unbelievably, SCO Unix) to a sports car compared to the Linux bicycle; you couldn't choose a more noisome comparison. Nor is it accident that SCO's primary media champion is Rob Enderle, whose eWeek article "My Love Affair with Acer's Ferrari Notebook" and handlebar mustache leaves no doubt where he stands in the war between the geeks and jocks.
This strategy actually makes sense in some ways. By aggravating the hostility between the techies in the trenches and the managers and executives and the ways they think SCO could hope to minimize the flow of substantial information between them. It might have worked had Linux not already made deep penetration into the enterprise. But SCO had another strategy as well to turn business against Linux, the geeks, and F/OSS in general. That was to assert that F/OSS was the latest tool of that historical enemy of mom, apple pie and the U S of A, communism. It's a natural claim to make when China is developing it's own version of Linux with fanfare and Richard Stallman with his unkempt beard looks like a Russian mystic.
And the worst thing about this claim? It's true.
Of course this is not to say that F/OSS advocates are holding cell meetings in dark cellars about dynamiting factories or that Linus is being lured into sedition by some sino-seductress. But the common if not comprehensive definition of communism is an economic system in which the workers control the means of production. By contrast capitalism is defined as a system where capital controls production. In the industrial age where economies of scale and division of labor were the requisites of successful competition the battle played out, and capitalism surely won. But today, the 21st century has been proclaimed the information age. The product is information. And the primary and most valuable capital asset in that age? The information worker. We are the means of production.
Communist is a bugaboo, almost taboo, word on this side of the Atlantic. But as the economy changes to an information base rather than a capital base, when the capital means of production are within reach of any worker within that economy, the distinction between capitalism and communism melts away.
The meta-value underlying capitalism is individual liberty. Capitalism was justified on the grounds that any individual who could amass sufficient capital could participate in the economic process at the level his money and subsequent earnings it generated allowed. While this gave advantage to those wealthy by birth, there were enough examples of people born without means becoming wealthy and economically powerful by skill, luck, brilliance, a lifetime's grueling work or some combination (usually all) that it seemed just and the amount of effort required to achieve it played well to our puritan heritage. But the end result was that it the major economic players in any field of competition would remain the same for decades. Economic power was determined - and controlled - by capital built up only over substantial fractions of a lifetime.
In the internet age, however, when the currency is information those who control large quantities of capital will no longer control the game. They are on a nearly equal footing with many with less or even no effective capital. The only way they can keep the old economic pillars in place with themselves on top is to find a way to control the means of production. While enslaving the minds of those producing the tools and doing the work remains impractical, the only two other things which can be controlled are the internet and the software. F/OSS, of course, thwarts both these possibilities. By being directly for the individual's right to access the internet, fostering information transparency on it with open protocols and access to tools at the most basic level, and by using legal rules to keep all that in place for the private individual, the effective result is to keep the means of production in the hands of the workers who ultimately produce the information, the new currency of this new economy. The fundamental advocacy of F/OSS is that the information worker has control over his own means of production. Communism in pure form. We really are communist.
And capitalism, founded and fostered in a climate of individual liberty must now perceive individual liberty, especially information liberty, as a threat. Its defenders rightly regard those most strongly advocating those specific liberties in the new economic milieu as enemies of capitalism as they see, practice and know it.
In the end it all comes down to freedom. SCO and those behind it are challenging F/OSS not for specific rights and and contract issues, but for whether the primal values of the 21st century will be the expediency of the plutocracy or the informational liberty of the individual. We in the F/OSS camp and they of industrial age capitalism are at implacable odds.
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