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.

Richard Stallman Comes to Dallas

I heard RMS speak at the DFWUUG meeting last night. A lot of other people showed up too, in spite of the cold, wet weather. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in person and he was very much what I expected with a few exceptions. He told the story of the Free Software Foundation, the GNU GPL, and the GNU Operating System project. I got the impression that this was a talk he’d given many times before and much of it was almost word-for-word what you can read on the GNU and FSF web sites.

Overall he didn’t sound nearly as dogmatic as he is made out to be. He said the Open Source movement was not the enemy of the Free Software movement, just “the other political party within our community”. He made a point of saying that while the BSD license didn’t provide as much protection to the end user’s freedoms, it was a Free Software License. He also made a point of mentioning the KDE/QT disaster – noting that QT was now under GPL and the KDE system could be used within a Free Software based OS. He emphasised that Free Software was not about preventing businesses from making profit, just about prevent business from profiting at the expense of end user’s freedom.

He made the usual plea for people to use the correct terminology – use “Free Software” if you support Free Software. Use “Open Source” if you support Open Source. Pronounce GNU as “Guh-new”, not “new” or “Gee-In-You”. Pronounce Gnome as “Guh-gnome” (this one still bugs me – why make an acronym that forms a normal English word and then try to make people pronounce it incorrectly – I say it should be pronounced like it’s spelled. Oh well…)

Towards the end of the talk, RMS donned his famous Church of Emacs outfit including a black robe and disk platter halo.

After the talk there were the usual assortment of questions from the clueless:

Q: How can I make money if I can’t sell my software?

RMS: You can sell your software. The FSF is selling software and books today just outside this meeting room. Please buy some of it.

Q: How did X get its name?

RMS: I don’t know

Q: How many operating systems run within the GNU thing?

RMS: I’m sorry I have no idea what you mean by that.

Q: Is using VI a sin in the Church of Emacs?

RMS: In the Church of Emacs, using VI is a penance.

There were a few more volatile exchanges with someone who insisted he had the legal right to make non-free software and seemed upset that RMS wouldn’t approve of him doing this.

Okay, now the weird part. Why is it that Eccentric Geniuses like Stallman are always so, well, eccentric? He spent about 15 minutes prior to the talk sitting on the floor by the podium with his shoes off reading email on a laptop. All during the talk he drank iced tea (with no ice) from a large glass with two straws. Each time he neared the end of one glass of tea, a courier would rush forward with a replacement glass (each with no ice and two straws). He’d gone through three or four by the end of the talk. In fact, one of the questions he got during the Q&A was, “after all that Tea, do you need to go to the bathroom yet?”. He also would periodically stop talking and spend what seemed like a fairly large amount of time picking things out of his teeth or hair. He looks rather like a cave-man so this was fitting in an odd sort of way but it was clearly creeping-out a lot of people (though some seemed to find it really funny too).

Overall, an interesting evening.