Our industry is passioned and opinionated. This is a statement of fact. Be it Emacs vs Vi, Linux vs Windows, iPod vs … errr[1], people often fall in love with tools, philosophies and companies. And this is fine. Within the industry we call them “holy wars”, since the genuine fundamentalists have gone long past the tenets of logic and rationale (at least to the naked eye).

And like all good religions, their virtuous leaders are exalted[2]. Ballmer, Jobs and Stallman, each seen as personifications of the ideals they represent. Ballmer identifies with the corporate world, where big commercial software dominates. A big man with a bald head and a known temperament, he’s a figure people associate with boardrooms and big money. Jobs appears as a slight of a man, usually seen at keynotes with a trademark roll-neck and jeans he’s become the representative of design and cool, embraced by the younger generation. Stallman is another large guy, but rather than corporate groomed appears in t-shirts with long ragged hair and beard to match. A visual throwback to the hippy days, he comes with the embodiment of “free”, leading the free software revolution.</p>

As any good personification of an ideal, their attitudes and ideas tally with their images. Ballmer has spoken repeatedly about the values of the corporate workplace and denounced free software as evil, Jobs speaks regularly on the functions of design and Stallman denounces any software or standards not truly free as evil.

And this is fine.

Because these contrasting attitudes set up a triangle of views with these figureheads and beliefs as cornerstones. There are those that will naturally gravitate towards these polarising opinions and those that will middle around the centre, or leaning between two points of view, subscribing to different tenants of each.

Some people will insist on using nothing but free software. Some people will insist on using nothing but beautiful, design driven products. Some people are driven by the business world and purely by suits and management. Some people may be primarily driven by business, but enjoy rollneck sweaters and iPods at the weekend. Some people may use free software on top of their proprietary systems. Some people may use free software on top of their business OS to talk to their design driven MP3 player[3].

And this is also fine.

The strength of a community is based upon the mix of people within it. Even within domain-specific communities, there will be a range of philosophies and beliefs which everyone will not subscribe to. And although we may occasionally decry these firm believers, and believe them to be as much a fundamentalist as their own religious leader we should respect (even if we disagree) their position because they provide the cornerstones of diversity for the community. The more diverse a community, the larger the range of interests and the higher the liklihood of intelligent (if sometimes a little crazy) discourse. The better the quality (not necessarily quantity) of debate, the more life exists within a community, and the higher the longer the community is likely to last. I would like to see those communities I take part in last for a very long time.

Humanist vs Belief
Free vs Commercial
Pragmatic vs Puritan
Emacs vs Vi

So I say welcome to the fundamentalists.
I say welcome to the middlers.
All communities need both.

[1] I’m kidding, there’s plenty of alternatives. I use a Sansa Clip myself. [2] For the sake of simplicity, I’m restricting the set to three. I realise that in reality the triangle is more like a multi-sided polygon, but it creates a more dramatic image this way.
[3] Did I get all the combinations there?