Open Source Should Be Open To All

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Sep 14, 2009 GMT
Rikki Kite

Ohio LinuxFest's Beth Lynn Eicher and Esther (Moose) Filderman sent me this article about increasing diversity in open source, and I'm so thankful they did. This year will be my first Ohio LinuxFest, and I'm delighted that I'll be speaking at the Diversity workshop. Although my talk covers how women can do a better job of promoting themselves, my talk really applies to anyone in open source who sees that their efforts – or efforts of colleagues and friends – get overlooked.

Lately I've noticed an increase in divisiveness and exclusion in some areas of open source, even among women in our field. But at the same time, I see people – including Beth Lynn, Moose, and the other Ohio LinuxFest organizers and volunteers – reaching out to make open source more inclusive, diverse, welcoming, and friendly, and for that I'm incredibly grateful.

If you want to support an event that feels inclusive and is really open to everyone interested in open source, check out Ohio LinuxFest September 25-27. You can register online at:

Open Source Should Be Open To All

By Beth Lynn Eicher and Moose

Let's talk about elitism.

Specifically, let's talk about operating system elitism. How many of you only run Linux and push everyone you meet to do the same?

That's elitism. Elitism causes people to think they're better than others, and causes others to feel belittled.

You don't convince someone that your way is right by telling them they're wrong or stupid. You show them what a difference can be made.

Not everyone who uses a vendor-OS is doing so because they like it. Sometimes you're stuck with software for your job. And even if they do like their vendor-OS, people are resistant to change.

Often the way is baby steps. If today you can convince someone to use some Open-Source software package – a document creator, a presentation tool, a web browser, or even a web server – you give yourself the wedge to start pushing for an Open Source operating system.

Teach the users to learn to love open source by introducing the software, application by application, and they will come to see the light. When you can show a business how much they can save with Open Source, you've made a friend. But when you've shown a single person the difference Open Source can make in his or her life, you've made an ally.

End the elitism. The vendors who refuse to release open source software are the enemy, not the users. Don't shun users of vendor-OSes. Don't sneer at them, don't talk down to them. Instead, learn what they need, and show them how OSS can help fill that need.

Let's talk about BSD.

It is counter-productive to argue that Linux is better than BSD. BSD is not the enemy of Linux. Elitism is the enemy of Linux.

The BSD people are fighting for the same thing as the Linux communities. BSD is the ally of Linux. When it comes down to it, Linux and BSD users like the same software. The communities should be working together for their shared cause – Free and Open computing for all.

Everyone has their preferences. Everyone prefers a flavor of ice cream. It doesn't matter what the flavor is, it's still ice cream. You don't reject your friend because he prefers a flavor you can't stand.

Instead look at FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD as distributions with different goals.

Let the BSD vs. Linux wars end. Let's see both sides supporting and helping each for the common goal.

Let's talk about people.

A frequent subject these days is the lack of certain people within OSS projects. Typically this is about women, who are often disenfranchised in the Open Source communities. While no intent to minimize this is being made, they're not the only people who get lost in the OSS world.

The problem of the lack of minorities in computing as a whole reaches into the OSS world. While you can't tell someone's ethnicity from a mailing list or IRC channel, what about conferences, user groups, hackathons and other in-person events. Would you want to go to one of these events if you knew nobody else who looks like you will be there?

Disabilities is a tricky problem. Are your websites and source code lockers usable by the visually impaired? Is your LUG meeting in a place that's wheelchair accessible? Could you find an ASL interpreter if needed? Often the answers to this question is, "But nobody ever asked us for this stuff!" If you want disabled people to be in your community you need to make it clear they are welcome.

Elitism causes people not to think of others. It makes the assumption that because YOU are comfortable with the way things are so is everyone else. Elitism is the reason why many women are told, "You can't understand this." But for women you can substitute lots of other people – minorities, the disabled, and, yes, vendor-OS users, among them.

Let's talk about Open Source.

Let's end the Elitism. It hurts feelings. It hurts the OSS cause. It slows things down. Every time you sneer at someone who isn't a Linux user you are losing the chance to convince them to come to Open Source. Every time you don't help others get involved you are losing the opportunity to have a valuable contributor. Let's let Open Source truly be Open.

Beth Lynn Eicher is a professional system administrator and is the co-Chair of this year's Ohio LinuxFest. She runs around the country espousing the joys of Linux and other Open Source fun.

Moose is a disabled unemployed system administrator who is the Speakers Chair and the Diversity in Open Source Workshop coordinator for this year's Ohio LinuxFest. When not playing conference organizer Moose goes to OSS conferences to Preach the Word of OpenAFS.


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  • Anacronyms

    I have always found acronyms to be the bane of any discussion. I wouldn't call them elitist, but damn annoying, confusing. Fully explaining an acronym is actually quite respectful, particularly to this uninitiated individual. Even after the explanation of an acronym keeping up with a conversation can be a challenge. So like the two tortices on the comcast commercial slow down. Fully explain an acronym, write it down on the chalk/marker board. Let it soak in to the uninitiated.

  • Being in minority should give some additional points?

    I agree that people should take into consideration those disabled in advance. But can't get what you mean about ethnical diversity:

    > The problem of the lack of minorities in computing as a whole reaches into the OSS world. While you can't tell someone's ethnicity from a mailing list or IRC channel, what about conferences, user groups, hackathons and other in-person events. Would you want to go to one of these events if you knew nobody else who looks like you will be there?

    What do you suggest? Highlight the "diversity" of some people? I think skin color doesn't matter at all if you care of working code, of the efficiency. Marketing and users' habbits is necessary but it's a different story. Why should skin color matter for developers? Does being of different nationality make someone's code more valuable? If everyone is equal, this doesn't matter at all. Why this should it be indicated in forums/chats?
  • Effort

    RE: George Sep 16, 2009 12:21am GMT
    While I must say there are hundreds of books on Windows, at the same time equal number of books on Linux in general. However when talking about books or articles or tutorials, terms as "simple" "logical" and "detailed" they are terms that have different meaning to different people, that depends on who you're talking to or reading. As a case in point, taking four authors of books as a sample on the same subject and level, I have found first hand can be very different in approach. The difference in those approaches makes each author readable to very different sets of readers. There is no one grand "simple" "logical" or "detailed" when talking about Windows or Linux, both when new to a given reader take effort.
  • Re: tutorial or instructions


    I think you're missing the point of Beth and Moose's article. You just called everything she spoke about in the article "irrelevant and meaningless." This is exactly the kind of behavior the article warns about.
  • tutorial or instructions

    Hey Moose!

    It wasn't the opening statement of an argument, it was a question. And it isn't rhetorical.
    My point is that there are many many millions of people using computers who don't have any idea what free software is. And even if they do know about it, they are unaware of the issues in the proprietary/free debate. And even if they were persuaded that free software was the better choice, they have no clue how to install it.
    Hence the question.

  • re: Windows to Open Source

    George, I would argue that there are 101 ways and at least as many reasons.

    Life is full of uphill battles. If we sit down and wait for someone to come pave a road up the hill we're going to find ourselves covered in macadam.
  • Windows to Open Source

    Is there an article or tutorial which explains, in simple, concise, correct, logical, and detailed language, why and how a person should and can switch from Windows to GNU/Linux? Millions of us are concerned with the general issues of diversity and elitism, but, concerning software, those particular carts are so far ahead of their horses that they are irrelevant and meaningless to a lot of us average computer users [i.e., the vast majority of computer users]..

  • OS choice

    As I say in every one of my tutorials and conference presentations, there is _no_ one true OS. There are lot of choices, some do a better job than others of supporting specific tasks. The right OS to use is the one that does the best job of supporting what you - the user - want to do with it.
  • acronyms = elitism

    I think your use of acronyms with fully explaining them the first time each is used is a sign of elitism.
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