Friday, December 12, 2008

Brutal Lessons And Hopefully Positive Outcomes

I was not going to talk about this in my blog initially. There was no real need to at first, when this storm started as it was Slashdotted and I myself created links to it as well so people would find it. More significantly, I was not expecting Ken to have this situation reach this level of communication this soon. However, the Slashdot effect played a major role in bringing about communication between the two antagonists. And yes Ken admits his antagonism. Though we may never know Karen's full side of the story I believe we know enough to say she too is apologetic. I believe and gather from the gist of things that she has apologized to both Ken and Aaron. If this is the case, that is good enough for me, and it should be good enough for everyone else as well.

Yes Karen was ignorant about Linux and F/OSS in general. Yet the perception about ignorance is that its a sin major sin in the F/OSS community. A sin that one should be burned at the stake for. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ignorance as follows:

13th century

: the state or fact of being ignorant : lack of knowledge, education, or awareness

Harsh reality check. Everyone on the planet Earth is ignorant about more thing than they are knowledgeable of. To be ignorant is not a sin. However, ignorance can only be countered with education and discussion in an honest and open dialog. It can not be countered with statements of hate, harranging and harassment.

Many of the community responses were outright derogatory, hateful, threatening and unwarranted.

Even in Ken's follow up blog post there are still statements like "Throw that b**** under the bus..." Despite the fact that Ken made it very clear that communications had been established and Karen had learned more in the last few days than in the five previous years.

Yes Ken went a bit overboard in his initial response to Karen. Karen definitely crossed the line with her first email to Ken. However, and this is the lessen all of us F/OSS supporters must learn, Ken used this as an opportunity to educate another person about F/OSS. Despite all the negativity that arose towards Karen (most were outright attacks and character assassinations) she became educated about what F/OSS is, how it works and what it means to technology.

People, people, people we must never ever attack someone for being ignorant. Ignorance is simply a fact of life. No human being is omnipotent and has knowledge of all things. That is simply not possible. What made this situation explode more than anything else is that Karen is a teacher and the initial response from the F/OSS community at large was "OMG a teacher doesn't know what Linux is or what F/OSS is. You mean she has never heard of GPL?"

Folks as much as it pains mean to say this, I doubt many teachers do, those that do fall into one of two categories:

1.) They are Linux and F/OSS users themselves but they don't teach on them at school. Though they may show a interested student here or there.

2.) They are teachers whom teach technology and have formed opinions about F/OSS, some for, some against and some remain neutral.

Here's another fact we have to accept as well. Most people whom use computers don't know, and don't care, what F/OSS is. To them all the computer is, is a tool. As long as that tool does what they want, when they want and in the manner they expect it to then they are happy.

In the thousands of comments most were militant F/OSS advocates spewing hatred and contempt for Karen that was neither appropriate or warranted. There were also posts from Microsoft advocates adding even more fuel into an already out of control fire.

My issue with Karen was never her ignorance, it was her threatening Ken with legal action without researching the subject first. A mistake I can be reasonably assured of Karen will never make again.

Militaristic attitudes do not help F/OSS any more than a RTFM attitude does. We cannot advance the use of F/OSS by attacking those whom are ignorant about it.

There was, in the melee, a comment posted that should become the definition of how F/OSS advocates handle situations. "It is better to convert an enemy, than defeat him." What does this mean? It means we should inform and educate, not attack, even if they attack us first.

When SCO first brought about their lawsuit in 2003 against IBM and threatened Linux, Pamela Jones at Groklaw used this philosophy and created one of the most powerful and influential information resources to counter SCO. So powerful, in fact, that opposing lawyers began using information from her blog and links to counter SCO's arguments. It worked to.

Did she convert SCO, no but she definitly had an impact on many SCO supporters whom eventually converted. Ah yes and there we smell victory.

If we are ever going to bring F/OSS main stream to the general public we best learn our lesson about what ignorance is. It is not a crime or a sin, but rather, an opportunity to educate and open communication.