The Peculiar Evil of Silencing Opinion

May 15, 2009

“But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” – essay “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill

I have recently come to understand Mill’s point here far better than before. People often try to silence discussions and expressions of opinion for a variety of reasons. The ‘why’ is peculiar to each individual censor and not for discussion here, but the effect is ‘evil’ as Mill notes, robbing everyone of good ideas, progress, and growth. Sadly, when those being censored protest their right to speak, they are frequently assailed with accusations and character assaults.

This should never be the case in any event. But unfortunately, it is often the case in open source projects where too many people with egos far too big for their owners, think (as the Bible says), “more highly of themselves than they ought.” If any reader doubts this, you have only to read a while in the kernel developer’s mailing list archive – or the debian mailing list archive – or most any of the large (and even small) project mailing list archives out there in ‘open source land’ to see the truth of which I speak.

Now, I will be the first to admit that the clash of ideas can bring about the distilling of truth – a peculiar crucible of purification. But at the same time, I have to confess I have never been a fan of Sociology’s “Conflict Theory”. And certainly not when individuals move to berate proponents of ideas that might seem to oppose their own. Sadly, open source communities (such as the linux community) have been hotbeds of this kind of offensive and destructive mentality for a long time now. If you doubt that, just hang out in an IRC channel for an open source project for a while. You will quickly see what I mean.

In my view, it is time for all of us to grow up a bit and stop this kind of suppression of ideas and discussions. Progress comes as a result of good open discussion of ideas freely offered and welcomed by the community. These are the seedbeds of development and quality and forward movement in any project. As Mill said, all suppression of ideas accomplishes is “robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.”



Something To Be Said For CYA!

May 8, 2009

Let me begin by quoting from the Home page of Unity Linux’s web site:

“Unity Linux strives to be a solid core for the mklivecd project. We hope that numerous distributions of Linux that want to make use of functions such as mklivecd and remasterme will base their distributions on our small core. Our methodology is to keep it simple, keep it open, keep it free, and keep it updated!”

I spent some time thinking through that statement. It occurred to me that we at Unity have need to make sure we preserve the quality of what we do and our name and reputation from the very beginning. Because we are developing a high quality, highly reliable, well tested “small core” upon which numerous distributions can be developed, it stands to reason that most (if not all) those distributions will want to claim they are built on a Unity Linux base. If we do our job right – such a claim will be a real promotional boost for their distributions.

But how do we at Unity insure that the subsequent distributions built upon our work is of equal or near equal quality as our core itself? After all, since Unity is not going to be releasing a user distribution of it’s own, most users will only know of the quality of our work through the work of others over whom we exercise no control. That presents a great risk to our name becoming and remaining a brand of quality assurance.

I suggest that what is called for is a certification program of some sort that allows us to to ‘officially’ stamp our approval upon those Unity branch distributions whose quality and thorough engineering will preserve the name of Unity as a badge of honor. If you think about it, with a solid core, it is possible for almost anyone to slap a desktop on it, install a few apps, remaster it andwithout proper testing, put out a new ‘distro’ of dubious quality with which they do a poor job subsequently maintaining. Users who use this distro – which claims to be built on a Unity Linux base – will be disappointed to say the least, and this will reflect badly upon us.

How would we certify quality distributions? Well it’s certainly something we would need to discuss and institute together as a project. But let me make a few suggestions of steps we could take:

1. Establish a minimum set of guideline requirements that must be met to gain Unity’s approval and sanction.

2. Require branch distributions who want our sanction to submit their RC candidate isos to us for testing prior to their releasing it.

3. Establish a separate QA group that would install RC candidates and test them against our guideline requirements.

4. Those that meet the guidelines we certify and put them on a ‘Certified Unity Based Distribution‘ page on our web site.

While we cannot prevent anyone from building a distribution on our core product, or from claiming it is built on Unity Linux, we can make sure that they meet certain basic quality requirements to get our ‘official’ certification and recognition. By doing so, we maintain some control over the reputation we will certainly establish with our hard work and team effort. Thus the Unity name will continue to stand for quality, reliability, and great engineering.