Eric Raymond does Dallas

I heard Eric Raymond speak at a joint meeting of the DFW UNIX User’s Group and North Texas Linux User’s Group last night. Having heard Richard Stallman speak last year at a similar event, I was able to compare the two.

As far as first impressions go, my first thought upon seeing Stalman was “caveman”. He looks like a Neanderthal. Raymond, on the other hand, looks like he stepped right out of the wild west. Pin a star on him and he’d look perfectly at home as the local sheriff in a western movie.

Both are fairly interesting speakers but Raymond seems to have the better communication skills of the two. He can actually converse and debate things whereas Stallman seems to pronounce truth and then expects you to accept it. There was a great deal more humor in Raymond’s presentation than Stallman’s. But Stallman wins out on the eccentricity scale – he has lots of weird behavioral quirks that can be quite entertaining to watch whereas Raymond seems more less like a regular guy.

The content of Raymond’s presentation was primarily about making money with Open Source and Open Source advocacy. He queries his audience before each presentation and offers five optional “modules”. In our case, time allowed for two. The content of both was pretty much what you’d expect from his writing. He spent a small amount of time on the history of Open Source and here was the only point where I had any problem with what he said. From his point of view, the Free Software Movement and Open Source Movement are two different historical parts of the same thing. He describes it as a single movement that started out with a dumb name (Free Software) and bad marketing (based on Logic and Morals). Then he came along, renamed it Open Source and replaced Logic and Morals with traditional Sales and Marketing. So, apparently, Stallman and Free Software are just left-over historical debris of the Open Source Movement. He also made a number of less than complimentary remarks about Stallman and his philosophy.

By contrast, Stallman described Free Software and Open Source as two distinct movements which share some (but not all) goals. In his view the Open Source movement and the Free Software movement are the “two political parties within our community” and was careful to make it clear that they are not enemies of each other. Of the two, I found Stallman’s view more accurate.

Raymond is undeniably right in his view of business though. In his view, the inability of typical business executives to “make moral judgments based on strings of logical arguments” makes it impossible for them to accept Stallman’s arguments for Free Software. His solution is to use things that business executives do understand such as fear and greed – fear of their business being at the mercy of software controlled by a monopoly and greed for the benefits that Open Source can provide.

They’re both interesting folks and worth hearing if they speak in your area.

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