Self Reliance in Open Source Software

Remember you can change things yourself

December 27, 2023

I haven’t consumed much Linux or open source software related content in a long time, but a video came up with a title click-baity enough for me to watch, and even interesting enough for me to talk about. It was a Brodie Robertson video titled Christmas Is Cancelled In The FOSS World and it just covers the actions of an internet troll on Github.

Brodie highlighted a particular piece of open source software that had a fun feature where during the Christmas season it’s logo would put on a Santa hat. It is a fun and harmless thing that I’ve decided I want to do in my website next December. But some troll decided to harass the developers of this program by complaining that the Santa hat wasn’t inclusive to people that celebrated holidays other than Christmas and that they should include images that represented the holidays of other religions. (And yes based on the wording of the complaint it was obviously a troll and not somebody who was legitimately offended)

Now I could take some time to meme on this troll and bring up the fact that everyone I have ever met who would be offended by a Santa hat or the term “Merry Christmas” happens to celebrate Christmas (or at least a highly commercialized version of it), or I could suggest that the developers implement a system that randomly chooses a festive logo to show that would select said logo using a system where each religion’s holiday would come up equally proportional to the estimated number of followers it had (meaning it would still show a Santa hat most of the time), but there is a more important argument that I need to make here.

The whole point of free and open source software is that it is user modifiable, if someone is legitimately offended by something like this they could easily just go into the source code and change it themselves for their own installation of the software, why are we harassing developers about stuff like this? Sure, if there is some bug in a program you use that’s written in C and you don’t have the skills to fix it let the developer know so they can take a look at it, but this is not what this troll is doing. We’re talking about replacing a jpeg here. If you have the computer skills necessary to install Ubuntu then you should be able to find an image of a logo with a Santa hat and replace it with a hot anime chick or whatever internet trolls like to look at these days. It is not that hard to do. Anyone who would complain to open source developers asking them to change something that basic might as well use proprietary software because they are missing the point of the project being open source.

I was a bit disappointed that Brodie didn’t make this point in his video. The fact that open source software is user modifiable is what got me interested in it and is the cornerstone the FOSS movement. Legend has it that the whole idea behind free and open source software sprouted from Richard Stallman’s frustration with a printer whose code he couldn’t modify to to fix a problem with a printer which he had fixed in that printer’s previous model by modifying its code. Since that point the FOSS movement has been taken over by privacy geeks and commies, they have forgotten this important pillar of their own movement, the fact that a popular Linux YouTuber didn’t even mention it when he had the golden opportunity to do so is evidence of that. When these people explain the concept of free as in freedom,“ they are so busy talking about being free from Microsoft spying on them that they forget that it also means being free to force all your windows to render in the shape of a rubber duck.

FOSS influencers need to spend some time encouraging self reliance in their community. Their movement stands on the shoulders of people like Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds who took the time to create their own software that met their personal standards. They didn’t wait for someone else to do it for them, and they didn’t harass the developers of the popular software of the time to change it to comply with their personal ideals.

I’m not saying that everyone who uses open source software needs to become a software developer. What I am saying is everyone who uses open source software needs to remember that they have the power to modify it. Then if there is something you want changed in a piece of open source software, and you have the skills to change it, then you should just change it yourself rather than try to make your wishes somebody else’s problem. If that is not something you are willing to do then I’d suggest reconsidering proprietary software.

Another thing while I’m talking about things in the FOSS realm: Federated social media software is stupid, I’ve had this opinion for quite some time now but it hasn’t been something that I have cared enough about to write an article on. Luckily Denshi, who I occasionally check in on, recently released a video on that topic that made the sort of argument that I would have made much but in a much better way than I ever could have, so if that is something you are interested in I’d encourage you to give that video a watch.

I also recently posted an updated version of an old article I wrote to my Substack page, which is where improved versions of my older and most interesting content will live so I suggest following me there if that is something you want to see. Most of my new articles will also be mirrored there, although I feel like keeping this one as a website exclusive.