Separating the truth from fairy tales about pony tails.
I like seaside bars and restaurants, particularly those that are right on the beach. You are walking along the sand, right at the waterline, and when you crave a refreshing drink, you simply walk up, sit down and order one. You are probably barefoot and bare chested (assuming you are a man, but in some places women too), and you enjoy the warmth of the sun on your face and body while you eat your meal and drink your beverage. “No shoes, no shirt, no problem!”
There are a lot of restaurants in the United States, even those right on the beach with signs saying, “No shoes, no shirt, no service!” Whether this be an issue of health code, puritanical residuals or the fact that some people do not like to look at hairy bodies while they eat, I am not sure, but these signs show up in the most unlikely places, not just where you might expect them.
I always have believed that if people do their jobs right, show enthusiasm, are respectful of other people and are relatively clean and free of body odor, that how they dress or wear their hair should be their own choice. Particularly their hair, because it is hard to cut and grow your hair due to a nine-to-five job schedule. A person could put on a suit or a tie if the occasion called for it, and I have done that from time to time. I even have a picture of me wearing a tuxedo aboard the first Linux Lunacy cruise. I think I looked rather dashing, but I still prefer to wear shorts and a T-shirt.
In June 2000, Linux Journal had a rather ugly guy on the front cover, dressed in a suit, with a mirror in the background which showed his barefoot refection wearing shorts and T-shirt. The reflection was pointing at him with a combination of horror and dismay, but the message was that Linux was moving into the world of big business, and the “barefoot days” had to make a little room for the suits.
Still, it amazed me recently when an IT manager who is an advocate of Free Software was in New Zealand for the Australian Linux User's Group meeting and made the statement that part of the trouble with Free Software was that people went around talking about it with “sandals and pony-tails”.
Of course, the press had a field day with this. I was still getting questions about it four months later at LinuxWorld Toronto, when a reporter for Report On Business, a cable TV show, brought it up in an interview. Fortunately, I had time both to talk to the manager who had made the comment and to formulate an answer, so I was ready.
The manager, of course, has nothing against either sandals or pony-tails, but his off-hand remark was generated to show the lack of real business knowledge that goes with a lot of (not all) Free Software advocates and businesses. Many advocates of Free Software are programmers themselves (or system administrators or people who have been in the computer industry for a long time), so the concept of going in and changing the software, tracking the changes, integrating the changes back into the original source code pool is not mysterious. What does seem to be mysterious is a lack of understanding about how large corporations (or even small businesses) really work.
Likewise, the bulk of the business people making decisions today have never written a line of code, or if they did, it was back in their college days when they almost failed that “stupid programming course”. In fact, most business people would love not to have to worry about computers at all. This desire is what leads to the e-business advertisements by IBM and to “Business on Demand”.
Business people do understand, however, that their business cannot survive in the relatively short run if they do not have any computer resources. Some businesses could not provide service with outages measured in seconds—catch-22.
So, when the sandal wearers come up and say, “Free Software”, the business people say, “24-hour, seven-day-a-week-support”. The sandal wearers kind of shuffle their feet and go, “Well, maybe eight-hour, five-day-a-week.” The answer is not good enough.
The business people say, “I need these applications”, and the sandal wearers tell them (with a wave of the hand but no concrete examples) that they can “do it all with thin clients and a Web site”. Not good enough.
The business people say, “I need support in Hong Kong, Brazil, New York and Moscow”, and the sandal wearers offer them support in Silicon Valley. Not good enough.
The business people say, “I need some type of road map to show me where Linux is going, so I can plan better.” The sandal wearers tell them to read the mailing lists. Not good enough.
The business people say, “I need binary compatability between the distributions so I can protect my investment in software.” The sandal wearers tell them to do “everything in source”. Not good enough.
The sandal wearers complain that the large companies do not support Linux up and down their product lines, not understanding the economics of how much it costs these companies to qualify the (several) distributions of Linux for which customers might ask.
The sandal wearers have great ideas for doing business with Free Software, but no written business or marketing plan showing how the idea might be successful, and although it is true that a business and marketing plan does not guarantee success, it at least shows that you gave thought to it.
These examples of lack of knowledge and understanding are what gets the Free Software community the image of being sandal wearers.
So far, I have wailed on about the sandal wearers, but the suits also have their foibles. There are many examples of the suits not understanding the sandal wearers, or even trying to “let their hair down”. Although I will cover most of these in a later column, I think the most famous of these types of considerations was the casual Friday, where people were encouraged to come to work in more casual clothes. It was reported that one large company had to hire psychologists to help its middle management employees through their personal crisis of not wearing a suit.
I often ask myself if the fun is disappearing in Free Software. I remember in the early days of Linux how we had fun at events like the Linux Expo and the Atlanta Linux Showcase. Paintball contests, hot sauce judging contests, a contest for designing a new desktop for Linux and other fun things in which the community could participate. It seems to me that even with a larger number of people now involved with Free Software that the number of people actively having fun appears to be decreasing, or at least not increasing in the same proportions as users.
If there is one thing that Linus has taught me in my association with him, it is to strive always to have fun. There are, of course, days when you have more fun, and days that are not as much fun, but over all, it should be fun. Maybe if you are not having fun, you are really in the wrong business.
[Speaking of fun, the 15th anniversary of the first Linux release of code is coming up in September 2006—we should all plan for some fun to help celebrate it.]
So, although I will keep my suit pressed for those more formal presentations and cruise-ship parties, maybe I will keep my beard and long hair to remind me to have fun. On the other hand, maybe I will not totally put away my sandals, but I will polish my wing-tips while continuing to learn what businesses need to function and help the Free Software community supply those things to the business community. I will try even harder to walk that line between sandals and pony-tails and suits.
In the meantime, you will find me at the Alideia dos Piratas, digging my toes in the sand and having a drink with the warm sun shining on my back.