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.