Does FOSS need a Boss?

Richard Stallman

Every great country of the world is identified with its pioneering leaders who represent them. It takes a figure head to lead an endeavor to success, be it in a war, in an organization or in technology. The question people are asking now is does a free software need an enigmatic leader? Microsoft has Bill Gates, Apple has Steve Jobs, so does FOSS need a face for its machines? TuxRadar attempts to answer this question in a recent poll — does free software need a figurehead?

This poll asked whether it is helpful having a “strong character at the top keeping us on the right path?” This attracted a substantial number of comments. Canonical and Novell are taking large steps towards success, and the force behind this is the entrepreneurial skills of their leaders. Leaders like Richard Stallman (RMS) help maintain focus and pace and give us a GNU Project.

A counter argument to this is that a leader takes away the autonomy of the project, which allows for expansion beyond imaginable boundaries. A comment on TuxRadar said, “Whilst Canonical et al are attempting to create monolithic centralized systems (of yore), it is more important than ever that the FOSS remain decentralized and focused on the main aim, Freedom.” Having a leader interferes with building a brand. FOSS and LINUX are such big brand names, that they are their own pioneers, and don’t need a face to sell them.

Slashdot blogger and Consultant Gerhard Mack says, “I don’t think FOSS needs a figurehead, and that’s good considering we would be screwed otherwise. Linux Torvalds just doesn’t seem to have the time or interest, and most of the people who have put themselves up as spokespeople have been downright cringe-worthy”. We should note that RMS’s public speaking skills are not very strong and there is always scope for human error. Another factor is that a venture as big as FOSS might not do with just one leader, it will need one on every project.

And I think for this very reason, FOSS needs a face, to take responsibility for successes and failures, to teach by example. Any big endeavor begins with a small vision, and the human element makes the consumers identify more with the company. The multiple leadership idea is faulty in that the responsibility gets divided and the company is free of complete liability, and that drives away consumers. Blogger Robert Pogson explains that “FOSS is huge; millions of developers, millions of end-users, hundreds of thousands of projects and many thousands of heroes”. Consumers cannot identify with so many ‘heroes’ and will pick a favorite eventually.

Agreed that the current times belong to technology, but eliminating the human factor completely turns it into an alien concept; thus dissatisfying end users. It is important to keep the reigns in the hands of one person, that assures users their woes will be heard and their congratulatory notes will be read.

So, who do you think should be the FOSS Boss?