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Monday, 02 February 2009 05:54

Our open source heroes are humans too

A great deal is being made of the fact that Linux creator Linus Torvalds has switched from using the KDE desktop to using GNOME, something he did many months ago, and something he mentioned in passing during an interview last month.

The latest person apparently trying to cash in on the seemingly eternal mine-is-better-than-yours angle of the two desktop environments is the usually sober Glynn Moody, with the opinion that Torvalds may have switched too soon, before KDE 4 became more usable and revealed why it is a much better environment than GNOME.

But Moody at least has some merit in the arguments he advances. Not so with the folk who really went the downmarket tabloid route to beat up the whole thing - the "news from nerds" crew at Slashdot.

The interview itself, by Australian journalist Rodney Gedda, was a long and technically interesting, if somewhat repetitious, article on Computerworld but the so-called journalists at Slashdot, bad spelling, poor grammar and all, knew exactly which aspect would appeal to the testosterone-charged bunch of lemmings who constitute their immature readership.

Providing them with an interview like this to run on their site - they produce nothing worthwhile on their own - is worse than casting pearls before swine.

There was a great deal more in the interview than this one passing comment. Torvalds has strong views on many things but then he is just another user when it comes to a desktop environment. The fact that he likes one over the other at a particular moment in time means nothing - much in the same way that if Bill Gates said he liked a Honda more than a Ford it would also mean nothing.

But you can trust the muckrakers to look for the facts that create argument. Bruce Byfield, who describes himself as a computer journalist, also dipped his snout in the trough (in fact, he's done a double-dip) to provide "context." Of course, the question of providing "context" also means that one repeats ad nauseum all the old tripe and raises all the old arguments again.

Let's stop and think for a minute - why is an intelligent human being like Torvalds reduced to just an argument about rival desktops? Is that all that the people who congregate at sites like Slashdot consider him to be?

I watched him carefully during the Australian national Linux conference last month. On one occasion, he came to the reception quietly and stood there joking with those manning the desk.

Another time, I watched as he nonchalantly made his way through the crowd, taking his turn to reach a seat for a talk on power management. There was no pushing or shoving, no "I-am-Linus-make-way-for-me" about him.

Many other times I saw him wandering around alone, at times obviously a bit confused by the way venues for certain talks at the conference had been switched.

Unfortunately, people like those who run Slashdot tend to only see him as a means of gaining page impressions, not a human being who, apart from having written some very good code, is as complex as any of the other 6.1 billion who dot the planet.

The same applies to many of the other FOSS people who have created applications that have made them famous. I had the chance to have a long chat with Samba creator Andrew Tridgell and the moment when his eyes really lit up was when he mentioned that he would be soon celebrating his 20th wedding anniversary.

Not when we were discussing interoperability or the settlement that has given people access to Microsoft's protocols. Not when we were talking about the previous day's talk by Microsoft man Lawrence Crumpton.

He was also quite animated when he told me that he would be teaching a course at the Australian National University this year.

Take another of these big-name FOSS people, Bdale Garbee. I had the opportunity to exchange views with him quite a bit too and a lot of what he talks is around his family; you realise that this man is very close to them and all the code in the world comes second to the three humans who are in his immediate vicinity.

Monty Widenius
is one half of the duo who created MySQL. He came looking for me, trying to re-schedule an appointment for an interview because he wanted to take his family to see the dolphins, if that were possible.

It's a pity that we often see people of this kind reduced to arguments of the kind that take precedence on idiot-infested areas of the web like Slashdot. The next time, it may be good to take a step back and realise that these people are much more than the code they write. They, incidentally, are humans too.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.



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