Friday, March 16, 2012

Confessions of an Open Source Community Pragmatist


I just recently wrote a post talking about job titles, which got me thinking of how I would classify my current career role.  That, combined with other discussions which have been happening inside the walls of my employer, made me realize that the best way to describe myself would be as an Open Source Community Pragmatist.

I can see the heads shaking, the puzzled looks, and even the sighs from some of my colleagues who are a bit more on the idealistic side when it comes to these topics.  Let me assure you, I have total respect for those folks who make everything they do in life about the ideology - it's just not the path I've chosen for my career, and here's why:

The vast majority of the day-to-day work of society & business happens between the ideological extremes:
  • Conservatives vs. liberals
  • Proprietary vs. open source software
  • Emacs vs. vi (a little inside joke for my technology readers)
Does this mean that we don't need the extremes?  No, I think they need to exist to define the boundaries, and in many cases, to push better ways of doing things to the center of the spectrum.  The reality though, and those of you at the extremes may chafe at this, is that most people are closer to the center than to either extreme, and their primary goal in life is to get their jobs done, stave off starvation, and pay their mortgage on time. That is the cold hard reality of life, and these people are the ones who make the trends happen via purchasing decisions based on how easy it is for them to utilize things like technology as a tool to get their jobs done, stave off starvation, and pay their mortgage on time. :)

People of this ilk are very much in the 'easiest tool that gets the job done', vs. 'absolute best tool for the job' mindset.  These are the people that choose Windows and Macintosh computers instead of putting in the time to get Linux properly installed and working on their laptop.  Has Linux made great strides on the ease of installation and desktop use?  Yes, but still not enough to displace the ease of use (or perception thereof) of Microsoft or Apple products.  However, there are opportunities to mix these two camps, and this is where the pragmatism label comes in.

I'm very proud to work at Red Hat because of what they stand for in the Open Source world (disclaimer - these opinions are not necessarily reflective of those of Red Hat, our mascot Shadowman, or anyone else who might or might not be wearing red fedoras today).  However, because of my role in consulting, and my frequent travel and personal usage habits, I chose a Macbook Air as my primary computing platform.  Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the ideological camp. :)

However, the Open Source Community Pragmatist in me justifies it easily by running virtualized instances of Fedora 16 (Red Hat-sponsored community distribution of Linux) as well as Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.2 (our enterprise version of Linux).  Oh, and also, with the exception of iCal, pretty much all of my day-to-day productivity application needs on Mac OS X are met by open source tools (Thunderbird, Firefox, Adium, LibreOffice, etc.).

Do I use proprietary tools on this machine - yes, as customer needs dictate (primarily MS Office).
 The main argument I get from the ideological side is that I'm doing a disservice to my company by not using the products we sell.  First of all, I've already noted that I do use the products, and also, I believe that pragmatism wins many more hearts and minds with a customer than blind devotion to an ideology.  Are Red Hat's products great choices in the enterprise/data center?  Absolutely, and I champion their value in that arena all day long.  Are they the best choice for end-user workstations?  In some limited cases, yes, but by and large, customers are better served using their existing infrastructure and supplementing it with open source productivity apps (as I showcase on my machine).

Obviously, we all have our passions and particular opinions about why we do the things we do.  I guess my point in writing this post was to simply highlight that the motivations for why we do things are different for each individual (and business), and while we may not necessarily agree with someone else's viewpoints, we cannot function as a society or community unless we learn to respect the need for those viewpoints to exist.

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