No pasarán

Hegel once observed that all events and persons of some importance in history would occur, as it were, twice, to which Karl Marx famously added: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. It’s no wonder than this little snippet became so popular, since we human beings are so fond of repeating history again and again.

On February the 11th the descendant of what once was my first project as a professional developer finally crashed and burned in a re-enactment of the now legendary GTK+ to Qt gambit, also known as “let’s dump everything and start from scratch because we are not sufficiently behind of our competitors”. Those of us who thought that the switch to Qt was for the most part a vain quest for a technological Grail that would save Nokia from its own structural and management related issues were probably not terribly shocked, but it’s hard not to be sad about the way things finally happened. In any case, I’m not here to write about whether Stephen Elop is a fifth columnist, about Windows Phone 7, about the future of Qt, about who-gives-a-crap-about-toolkits-anyway-the-Web-won-guys or anything of the sort. I just want to talk about one thing: for many years Free Software was Nokia’s hope for a better future, a wagon they shared with many of us. After years of rhetoric about the virtues of openness and the wonderful vistas of synergy now available to the boldest of the middle managers, if only they were a little adventurous, we are supposed to accept the harsh cold truth: the best way to do software is to do it behind closed doors, the future belongs to proprietary platforms, nothing good ever came out of geographically distributed cooperation. Well, I disagree with the keen minds of the North. Perhaps what I have to offer is a controversial proposition, perhaps in the XXI century it’s a bit passé to show deep commitment to some ideal other than the quarterly reports, arrogant to pretend that you know better than others, but what the heck: Nokia is wrong, and we are right.

We live in a cynical and difficult world, where those who have a lot tend to only want more, and where the rest of us must juggle with morality, trying to get along as well as we can without reaching a point where we cannot look at ourselves in the mirror anymore. Some ideas are perpetuated in order to keep us happy enough with our lives, not questioning too much the quotidian farces we face, and one of those is this one: closed software is as good and respectable as free software, you should use whatever is best for you, your company, your shareholders. Well, it’s not. Never has, never will.

Some truths are simple enough to be taught to kindergarten children, simple enough to be only questioned by adults: sharing is better than hoarding. Contributing to the general well being of humanity is better than keeping the improvements you do for yourself, for profit. This was true when a certain Mr. Stallman decided he’d write a Free Operating System in 1983, and it’s still true today. It will still be true when anyone who is reading this today is dead, when all the closed software that ever was is also dead and buried (and believe me, it will), when the only software remembered, and used, is free, improved and built upon by our descendants. It might be hard to believe, in the era of the iPhones, that this will ever happen, but if you are reading this perhaps you share my controversial ideas. Perhaps you also think Nokia is wrong, and we are not. If you do, and you are hacking the good hack, keep going, I’ll be right behind of you.

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28 Responses to No pasarán

  1. Martin says:

    Well said!

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  3. tim says:

    Nice post. A lot of people out there are hacking the good hack and thankfully a lot of those people are brilliant. I’m just happy to play in their sandbox.

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  5. Ignacius says:

    I’m reluctant to accept the dead of Meego on Nokia. Nokia said WP7 will be their prioritary platform, but they are still releasing some Meego device. I have had all Maemo devices, and I will buy that Meego device for sure, because it represents the Free Software way of developing and also because I love the freedesktop technologies. Let’s make Nokia see the way forward.

  6. Thank you for writing this.

  7. Lucius says:

    @Ignacius: I am also quite sure, MeeGo will survive, the one way or the other.
    On the other hand, the anticipated Nokia “MeeGo device” will be unlikely a smartphone, but a tablet or something else. Hopefully, another company such as Aava will sell a MeeGo smartphone… Let’s see…

  8. Rego says:

    Great post, I like it ;-)

  9. hendi says:

    I wholeheartedly second your post. Completely! I’m glad to see a forward-looking post like this :)

  10. The OSS will not be able to offer its maximum potential until the big private productions means prevent it.

    The Nokia decision it’s just a example, not a ethical decision, just a strategic decision in the Nokia business line (bad business of course), that can’t correspond to human interest.

    Nice post.

  11. Gucky66 says:

    Nice post, Thank you.

  12. Juanjo Marin says:

    ¡No pasarán!

  13. michael says:

    Did you just write a manifest?

    (Referring esp. to the “Contributing to the general” section).

  14. I totally agree with your post. I feel the sadness, quite strangely, because I thought we were on the edge of something new, of proving as Google has in part with Android, that proprietary is not always the best, most profit-creating way. Nokia was doing in the right way, and in a more open fashion.

    What you say about carrying on is exactly right. This is going to be a long argument, but in the last few years you can already see the landscape shifting to include more open source, and the philosophy behind the movement. Yet, at the same time you have the towering spectre of Apple, who charms with its success.

    Open is definitely the way forward. I miss Ari Jaaksi, I can’t help but think things would have been different if he was made the CEO and had the time to put forward the MeeGo defence.

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  16. ecaroh says:

    I have always prefered OpenSource Software over ClosedSource. But i ever begged for some sympathy for companies, which have to earn money and have to sell their products as ClosedSource (as long as the software works and they care about bugs). But more and more companies and managers do not have any morality and responsiblity left.

    From now on that will be the “Sympathy with the devil”. What we can do is to have some moral courage to say “No” if we feel that we are loosing our ability to look in the mirror.

    Some time ago I dropped a lot of money, when i left my employment in an OpenSource oriented IT company. But, if you feel that you and your talents are misused under the promise of OpenSource, you have to do what has to be done. Terminate your contract, leave that silly company behind you or do not buy products of companies which are playing with our enthusiasm and good will.

    My consolation is that i am of the strong conviction that they can only slow down the expansion of OpenSource, but they can not stop the spreading of OpenSource.

  17. AMLJ says:

    Well said… Thanks.

  18. Gustavo Noronha Silva says:

  19. Thank you for expressing in words what I truly think and feel.

  20. nenadg says:

    This is good, and it could be a manifesto of something big… thanks

  21. Adman says:

    Keep the good word going!

  22. Martin says:

    It would be just too nice to revive Maemo, based on .deb, GTK+, Hildon etc. driven by the community, not quarterly reports. Until now, I did not sell my N800 :~)

    (On a side note, I don’t enjoy references to the “5th column”, as it has been frequently misused by stalinists, pointed against non-stalinist republicans.)

  23. Stijn says:

    ♥ indeed! Well spoken!

  24. Federico Mena Quintero says:

    Thanks for writing this.

    And yes, here we are, creating a parallel infrastructure so that we can live without profit-driven secrets and artificial scarcity. Your post is a blessing to all who work on this.

  25. Andy Wingo says:

    Lovely manifesto, Xan. It sings with truth. One day we will live in that more perfect world our hearts know is possible.

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