The Force of FUD

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Wednesday, December 22. 2004

Sometimes it seems that you can't get away from the "debate" about the validity of Open Source. Just yesterday my wife and I were doing some last minute Christmas shopping and we stopped off at a TGI Fridays (a TGI Friday's!) for a quick bite to eat at the mall. As we were mulling over the menu, 2 people were seated at the table next to ours; a 30-something guy in a tie and a 20-something guy in jeans. As Eileen and I placed our order and enjoyed our 1st sip of some good beer, I could overhear the conversation going on next to us: "Yeah, but what happens if some guy over here makes a change and then some guy over there makes another change? You get chaos." "Nah," I thought to myself. "Can't be talking about distributed software development in a collaborative environment. Gotta be something else." "In 20 years," the guy in the tie says, "we'll see that the way Microsoft has been doing it has been the right way all along." Crap. Now I'm hooked. Despite my sincere intentions to have a nice lunch with my wife, I find myself straining to hear every word of this conversation. It's becoming obvious that what I am overhearing is just the latest phase of what has no doubt been a long discussion between the 2. I get the distinct impression that the guy in the tie is some middle manager, either directly or indirectly over the guy in the jeans. Mr Jeans is simply nodding, as one who knows that it's pointless to argue or debate. But this simply encourages Mr. Tie. "No, there is simply no control at all over the whole process. It's a game; an experiment," says Mr. Tie, as if simply making statements provides sufficient proof to their validity. Eileen holds my hand and smiles. She knows I'm chomping at the bit to get involved. Mr. Tie is one of the typical people for whom FUD works perfectly. They are concerned about making not the "right" or "correct" decision, but rather the "safe" one (with "safe" being how they define it). They can't be bothered to look into the facts, or do some research on their own, or even to trust those who they hire and who know the facts better than they do themselves. Instead, they get their information from the local newspapers and "business journals" which provide the depth of a dime. Our local newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, used to have a "technology reporter" whose articles seemed to always revolve about how (1) Microsoft, despite problems, was always the best decision and (2) High speed internet connectivity via your local cable company was Nirvana. Local business and technology papers and journals were little better. Mr. Tie was either unwilling to understand the basic concepts of Open Source or else he was simply *unable* to. In the first case, facts are irrelevant, since they will be ignored anyway. In the 2nd case, facts are useless, since they simply bounce off the gray matter they are intended to infiltrate. With those unwilling to understand, FUD works by providing the barest minimum rationale required to validate their belief; "why take a chance?" For those unable, FUD works by solidifying the mindset which prevents any other concept from taking root. It's like fertilizer for weeds, preventing the grass and flowers of Open Source from germinating in the field of technology. Yet despite all this, we should still continue the fight. As Eileen and I were leaving, I stopped off at the table. "Excuse me, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I couldn't help overhearing your conversation. I'm afraid that your argument is based on some common misconceptions and inaccuracies about Open Source. Here's my card; please don't hesitate to contact me if you'd like to understand it a bit more." I'm not holding my breath, but you never know...

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