Does FOSS Need a Charismatic Leader?

Apple has Steve Jobs; Microsoft has Bill Gates. The question on hand in the Linux community lately has been, does FOSS need someone similar?

That, indeed, was the topic of a recent poll on TuxRadar, and it’s sparked quite a debate.

“Does free software need a figurehead?” the TuxRadar crew began. “We all talk about the freedom and democracy that FLOSS brings — but does it also help to have a strong character at the top keeping us on the right path?”

Well near 50 comments appeared on the site in short order, but any kind of a consensus was nowhere to be found.

‘Is the Pope Catholic?’

“Absolutely yes!” wrote kaaposc in the TuxRadar comments, for example. “With such ‘friends’ as Canonical and Novell making steps in the wrong direction (read: mono), there is an absolute necessity for such a figurehead as RMS. He helps to keep the general direction right.”

Similarly: “Yes, we need people like RMS,” Rui Seabra agreed. “It’s people like RMS who [shine] like a beacon towards the direction of software freedom. Without their shining white light, only the red vulcanic light of Mordor remains.”

And again: “Is the pope catholic?” exclaimed dazfuller. “Of course we do. RMS keeps us all on the right path.”

‘What Linux Needs Is a Brand’

On the other hand, “No,” countered johnvile. “Freedom is the figurehead, however hard it is to define. Whilst Canonical et al are attempting to create monolithic centralized systems (of yore), it is more important than ever that the FOSS remain decentralized and focused on the main aim, Freedom.”

Alternatively: “What Linux needs is a brand, like Google/Android,” opined DaveS. “Ubuntu is getting there; it always surprises me how often I meet Muggles who have heard of Ubuntu.”

And again: “There are so many facets to FLOSS in general and Linux in particular that no one figurehead could be truly representative nor accepted,” asserted mjcpk. “We already have many different figureheads in different areas of FLOSS. Sometimes they’re at odds with each other, but that is all part of the nature of FLOSS.”

It wasn’t long before Linux Girl’s conflict-o-meter was screaming, so she took to the streets of the blogosphere to learn more.

‘We Would Be Screwed’

“I don’t think FOSS needs a figurehead, and that’s good considering we would be screwed otherwise,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack opined.

“Linus Torvalds just doesn’t seem to have the time or interest, and most of the people who have put themselves up as spokespeople have been downright cringe-worthy,” Mack added.

For example, “Richard Stallman is a poor public speaker and wastes time arguing over semantics,” Mack explained. “Eric Raymond can’t keep to just arguing for FOSS and instead dedicates far too much time arguing against gun control and calling for the end of monogamous marriages.”

‘The Buck Needs to Stop Somewhere’

In fact, what FOSS needs “very very VERY badly is a CEO!” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet asserted.

“Why does Apple ‘just work’ for so many? Why is Windows on 90%+ of the world’s computers?” hairyfeet asked. “Because both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had a VISION, a way they wanted things to be, and they made sure things went that direction.”

The problem with Linux, hairyfeet added, “is it is 50 million coders ‘scratching an itch’ with no real direction,” he told Linux Girl. “For FOSS to truly gain on the desktop, then the buck needs to stop somewhere.”

‘We Need One or More in Every Project’

Free software does not need just one leader. Rather, “we need one or more in every project to make the whole thing work best,” blogger Robert Pogson opined.

“FLOSS is huge: millions of developers, millions of end-users, hundreds of thousands of projects and many thousands of heroes,” he explained.

“Non-free software is secretive and hides its heroes,” Pogson added. “One of the great advantages of the openness in FLOSS is that we can identify our heroes, study their work and converse with them.”

RMS as Barefoot Prophet

Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site, took a lighter view of the topic.

“Instead of a figurehead, how about a prophet to harangue us about what FLOSS stands for? I would propose RMS (Richard Stallman) — he even looks the part,” Hudson told Linux Girl.

“Can’t you picture him barefoot, dressed in a tattered robe, coming down from the mountaintop carrying two tablets with the GPL and LGPL?” she explained. “And when he gets to the assembled people, he says, ‘Take these two tablets and call me in the morning.'”

Next in this hypothetical scenario would be a voice-over, Hudson suggested, rapidly delivering the following warnings: “GNU/Linux and FLOSS are recommended for the relief of symptoms brought on by vendor lock-in. GNU/Linux and FLOSS are not for everyone. Symptoms of withdrawal from proprietary software may include some programs working differently, loss of trips to the water cooler during reboots and virus scans, separation anxiety on Patch Tuesdays, and various malware failures. Some users have been reported randomly deleting programs and data to make GNU/Linux work the way they’re used to. If you think you cannot afford GNU/Linux or other FLOSS programs, or need emergency relief, your nearest free GNU/Linux distro can help.”

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