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Jabari Zakiya [opinions]

Faking the FOSS [contradictions] [hypocrisy] [trixbox] [webinar]

Do your ever wonder if some self-proclaimed open source projects really 'get it' what it means to truly be about being 'free and open source' versus just using FOSS for other means? Sometimes I really have to wonder, because I keep running into examples where projects touting open source software engage in behavior where they glaringly contradict the holistic and philosophical embrace of its ideals. There's a lot of faking the FOSS going on out there.

What got me going on this was my recent participation in a Trixbox 2.0 webinar (web seminar) of its new Asterisk based pbx system. Trixbox takes asterisk, tacks on a gui configuration app, along with SugarCRM, linux, and other goodies, to create what it touts as a complete self-contained harddisk installable 'Open Source IP-PBX', all with free and open source software. Now here's where the philosophical disconnect pours out.

At the appointed hour I dutifully go to the website emailed to me as a registered participant, fire up Firefox on my PCLinuxOS laptop, and try to login and... In order to participate in the webinar you had to use a Windows based system, because the company used to conduct the webinar required a Windows webapp had to be downloaded and used in order to get access to its site. Luckily, I kept XP on this laptop for just such situations, and was able to eventually get into the webinar. But why did I have to go through this?

Does Trixbox (or maybe Fonality which bought them) completely understand the full philosophy behind being 'free and open source'? It doesn't seem so, because to see a webinar of their FOSS based system you could only do so by using the epitome of a non-free and closed operating system. Can you say 'extreme contradiction'?

I'm sure you can site your own examples where open source projects have exhibited similar occasions of philosophical brainlock. And its not like Trixbox didn't have viable alternatives to present the information with FOSS based tools. I imagine it was just a case of expediency, laziness, and money driven (versus philosophical consistent) decision making. I mean, apparently no one gave a real thought about the holistic contradictions of what they were doing.

On a smaller scale, these contradictions abound all around. Take the podcast about linux, or some other open source software, that's provided only as an mp3 file (a formerly patented format), instead of as an ogg file, or an open source project's website that uses gif or jpeg pictures picture instead of open source consistent png images.

You see, I think if you claim to be about open source software then be about using open source software as much as possible. As a good example of living this philosophy to the fullest, check out thisopen source radio station. This project illustrates that a total commitment to FOSS can be achieved without a sacrifice in functionality or ideals.

The way I see it, there are a lot of people, projects, and companies faking the FOSS. When they think they can make money off of it, they tout it up front, but otherwise they take the path of least resistance, and fail to use FOSS for behind the scenes tasks, or they fail to force partners and vendors to work with them using open software and documents, and patent free formats.

So I encourage projects to reduce their FOSS hypocrisy/contradiction index. Do a consistency check in all areas of activity and assess how much, and how well, you are conforming to the ideals of using free software, and exemplifying for others to see how important it is in all areas. After all, would you ever see the (Python based) turbogears website being done with Ruby on Rails, or vice versa? At some point you have to exhibit you truly believe in what you're pushing others to use, or then why should they?

I not trying to be evangelical here either. I'm fully aware FOSS applications aren't available in every field of endeavor, and can't work with some existing file formats or legacy data, or for other reasons won't be viable. Yeh, that's a given right now.

But when you use FOSS, and claim to be a proponent, and you get to choose what you can use to generate your own documents and files, and you use .mp3 over .ogg, or .wmv over .flac, or .doc over .odt, man, that's not only being hypocritical, that borders on treason.


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