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Openwashing And Other Deceptions In Linux

The times are changing for open/free/libre software and OSes, and what the words mean. Make no mistake: collaborative, truly open projects are powerful sources of innovation and problem solving. The only way proprietary, corporate models can even survive is through sheer bullying and anti-competition tactics, as have been used for years to keep Linux from wider adoption. Now that that is changing, the tactics are changing too.

The latest trend in this area seems to be bringing disinformation and propaganda tactics into the fray. The latest is “open washing”. Techrights.org explains:

NON-TECHNICAL FOLKS may easily be led into the illusion of ‘open’ Microsoft and ‘open’ Apple (openwashing), much like that of ‘green’ (and yellow) BP or ‘green’ Shell (greenwashing). There is also whitewashing, e.g. of Bill Gates, but these two examples are different matters. They all involve mass deception with a huge budget. it’s quite a theatre!

I think at least as important is the why of it, which can be seen in another article on the same site:

Microsoft is in trouble and there is no denying that. According to British media, Vista 8 continues to be a disaster technically and in some nations, unsurprisingly, GNU/Linux has greater market share than the latest Vista (Windows 8.1). The desktop monopoly too is in jeopardy, especially where governments made it their policy to embrace Free/libre software (Uruguay and Venezuela in this case).

While this may sound like good news for Linux, it also means we must watch these corporate players carefully for what they’re doing IN Linux. Linux has always been under attack by corporations seeking to poison its free nature. What form are those poisons taking today, aside from openwashing and other misdirection? Could it be that some of the corporations involved in (or in control of) Linux’s engineering are seeking to take it away from the community? And how would this be done?

I think you can see it being done in technologies like systemd, which as many of us observe, brings Linux closer in design to Windows. They can still call it Linux forever, and the large masses of uninformed users will follow them off the cliff, but is it really UNIX-like in its design anymore? How can Linux be controlled when it is ‘open’? By making components which are large, complex, and difficult to maintain and review, and by requiring services that lock out the administrator.

Remember Heartbleed? Don’t let that example escape your attention. OpenSSL is open, yet it is so large and poorly designed that it’s a dark mystery. Heartbleed was easily shown to be a deliberate hack, and was even deliberately coded to hide itself from tools that would otherwise have shown the leak. And it was sitting there in ‘open’ sight. Instead of using small, well-reviewed crypto libraries, corporate Linux developers choose to use corporate-maintained tools like OpenSSL, which are deeply compromised. Do you think the people responsible for HeartBleed were held accountable, and fundamental changes were made? Guess again. It’s simply ignored by most of Linux. (You’ll notice real UNIXes like OpenBSD did not ignore it and have begun serious changes. Yet even there, it took such a serious, obvious exploit for them to see the engineering problem.)

The point is, if Linux is going to continue to be genuinely open and libre, accessible and changeable, it must use technologies that are simple and manageable by the community, not just by large teams of corporate developers whose intentions are questionable at best, and who are not held accountable.

Make no mistake – corporations aren’t just going to let Linux destroy their income. They are responding, deceptively and desperately.

Really, I think it’s too late for mainstream “Linux”. It’s gone. It’s done. Geeks of the world were easily fooled by a shiny new toy and a corporate propaganda campaign to match, without considering the engineering implications. You can still use a real (systemd-free) version of Linux, or move toward the BSDs, but if you stay with the easy-to-use, polished distros, you’re no longer really using Linux. You’re just fooling yourself, and they’re fooling you. Nor will systemd be the end of it – it’s just the beginning, the setup for future changes.

Because of this corporate pressure, using Linux has always been more of a challenge. It has less hardware support, and more knowledge and problem-solving is required for installation and maintenance. The same remains true today. If you take the easiest, effortless path, the one they have paved for you, it’s not really taking you in the direction of genuinely open and libre computing. Non-buyer beware.

June 13, 2015 Posted by | News | 93 Comments