Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Selective Quoting

Interesting that Joel chose to quote Sterling.  If you read a little further down, he eventually gets around to:

"But at least open source is clearly better than the Microsoft stranglehold. Man, US Steel, General Motors and Standard Oil at their worst and cruellest were better than that. "

Tim Lesher
Monday, August 5, 2002

Well, I think it's odd he quoted him at all, given the rambling, nearly incoherent nature of the whole speech. I have no idea what the guy's point was. He seemed to be virulently anti-M$ (beyond reason) and not very keen on OS either.

Maybe somebody smarte than me can explain it.

Monday, August 5, 2002

The free software movement needs an artful kick in the ass every so often.  It's like a good story, where things are dark and the "good guys" have such painful flaws.  Real stories don't have simple true/false points, otherwise they become mathematics.  Joel read what he wanted into it, and he's probably right!

Thanks to Joel for the link, he scooped Fascdot.

Monday, August 5, 2002

Having been literally "in the room" at OSCON when he gave the speech I can say that:

a. It was read in a very "Dave Barryish" tone to many laughs
b. Poked fun at BOTH camps without quarter
c. It was well received by audience members (including those open source luminaries mentioned by-name).

It doesn't make for the best 'reading'.  Like many speeches some of the impact is lost without the verbal and physical cues of the speaker.  Mr. Sterling did tape it, so perhaps an MP3 will be forthcoming.

I wish Joel would have at least had the courtesy to put ellipsis on the tail of the quote.  It is clearly an extreme case of quote-forshortening/headlining/sound-biting alterning the gestalt of the original work.


Keith Williams
Monday, August 5, 2002

Keith, right now an emergent property is that commercial software is better for providing ease-of-use for normal users.  While people are flamed for asking dumb questions about Linux.

That is a very large, important point for the programming world.  To commercial software houses, this means that their advantage is that they take care of the customer. 

Bruce Sterling was telling open source people to /think/, and at least acknowledge its weaknesses.  It was a complicated speech for a complicated world.  What Joel quoted was not out of context; it was more reminiscent of Miguel Icaza's "Why Unix Sucks" speech.  Instead of arguing that some blogger's quote was terrible, why not muse about the very real message behind the speech?

anon... not really
Monday, August 5, 2002

Because it's important to quote correctly and it pisses people off when you don't. Sort of like those "Best movie of the summer" quotes where the whole thing is "Best movie of the summer released this weekend starting four people and a dog who drive around solving mysteries.". I thinks it's disrespectful to misquote so as to distort the original speakers meaning.

Alex Moffat
Tuesday, August 6, 2002

I don't think anyone can characterize that speech correctly without repeating it.  Otherwise it's like saying the Bible is "about some guys begetting each other, then all that shit about plagues..."  Instead, people quote passages.

I really don't want that speech to be about geeks being the new dissidents of the world, or even being hobbits.  It is too easy to paper over the real details.

Anyway, who really cares what Joel seems to think?  (I think he was being cutely malicious.)  Anyone who clicks on that link thinking "Hoho, this'll show those hippie geeks" will be in for a surprise.  It's not like a false movie review, because the link is right there.  No information hiding unless the audience thinks in soundbites.

I agree that quote was a bit weird, but I don't think Joel is dumb enough to not know that.  I mean, he clearly read pretty far down to extract that quote.  Self-parody; I don't know.  Fogcreek is all about usability, and Joel is evil enough to snatch a crazy quote like that because it's the real thing on-topic to his blog.

anon... not really
Tuesday, August 6, 2002

I saw Joel's quote and then read the article. 

I had a couple of reactions.

The first was that Sterling seems to be saying that the open source community should be preparing itself to be a dissident community, that if open source software remains in its current state, then the hardships to be borne will be all the more heavy.

I mean, one reason Soviet dissidents could take what was handed out was the knowledge that out there was a U.S. and other free societies where, quite apart from the actual freedon, there was soft toilet paper (it matters!).  In the Palladium future, it'll be a lot harder to be an open source advocate if what you're advocating offers no more ease than simple conformity.

I think he's angry with MicrosoftAOLTimeWarnerDisneyIntelRIAA because its the jackbooted, thuggish, fascist cyberstate.  I think he's angry with the open source community because it prefers the fun of horses to the utility of tanks (you know: Poland, 1939).

My second thought - aftering finishing the reading - was that Joel had not picked the most representative quote.

Patrick Carroll
Tuesday, August 6, 2002

Joel is stupid.
What does he have against open source.

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

Maybe he dislikes the legions of open source fanboys who reckon anyone stupid if they don't worship at the GNU alter too?

Or maybe it's a cynical attempt to generate traffic by saying any old controversial thing.

Robert Moir
Wednesday, August 7, 2002

I dunno about open source and such, but the following comparison doesn't really work for me: " ugly as a sack full of penguin guts."

Why penguins?  It's too weird to be an effective image.  And why "as ugly"?  Surely, "uglier" would be more appropriate.

Much better would be, "...uglier than a sack full of rotting dog assholes."

Frustrated English major
Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Are you joking?  Linux's mascot is a penguin. ;-)

I love the Free Software movement (the idealistic one headed by GNU), but there needs to some change before it's directly useful for users without much money.  Maybe it's not just usability, but also hardware prices.  Ubiquitous computing is definitely a killer app for Free Software, but as we saw, the Simputer could not yet be manufactured to sell under a certain price, given the disappointing number of orders for it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

> Interesting that Joel chose to quote Sterling.

The fragment that Joel quoted was about UI and Design Process as much as anything, two of Joel's favourite topics.

Bruce is/was a respected hard SF writer - his mission statement (from seems to be

name witheld by request
Wednesday, August 7, 2002

"Keith, right now an emergent property is that commercial software is better for providing ease-of-use for normal users. While people are flamed for asking dumb questions about Linux."

Erm, I don't know about you, but I've found the support available through LUGs, mailing lists, etc. to be far in advance of anything available for commerical software.

Consider one experience I've had, trying to start the ACT (Application Centre Test) for Microsoft .NET.  It just won't start, after a fresh install of everything, OS, VS.NET, .NET Framework updates etc.

I have tried countless times, posted to newsgroups and mailing lists, and after a month (I kid you not) still haven't got it going.  I have had one response in the last few days that I haven't yet followed up on, but given that none of the other advice I have received (including that from MS staff through their newsgroups), I don't hold out much hope. 

The whole process hasn't been helped by the fact that the ACT software doesn't support anything approaching verbose output, and the error messages it does produce bear little or no relation to the actual problem.

Now, please don't mistake this for Microsoft-bashing - I'm trying to pour scorn upon *all* developers who write code with useless or misleading error messages, or code that doesn't give any useful indication of causes of failure.

Anyway, I suspect that people who claim that non-Free software has better support than Free software have

a - little or no recent experience with support for mainstream Free software


b - been privileged to be working with non-Free software with excellent support (and these are in my experience quite rare)

Duncan Bayne
Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Bruce Sterling is definitely one of the people worth reading in the wonderful wacky world of geekdom.  He may not be a hacker, and he sometimes gets the wrong end of the stick and ends up talking rubbish about the technology we all know and love.  However, he is invaluable as an outsider looking in, and can sometimes make very good points by entertaining metaphor (I loved the Open Source = Hippie Chick one).  Most importantly, he is on the side of free and nimble entrepreneur versus stasis-ridden corporate juggernaut, so he is a Good Guy in my book.

As for the Open Source/Free Software guys.  In theory, I am completely behind them.  But my problem is that I don't play the same game as them.  I have been living and breathing Microsoft for about seven years now, and don't really have much Unix/C knowledge.  And I hate been immediately labelled by such "open-minded" people as the slave of the Evil Empire.  I would put a variety Linux on my computer if I could be sure it doesn't screw up my Windows 2000/98 configuration.  The truth is that I don't feel welcome - and haven't been made to feel welcome - in the Church of Not Microsoft.

Mark Alexander Bertenshaw
Thursday, August 8, 2002

"I would put a variety Linux on my computer if I could be sure it doesn't screw up my Windows 2000/98 configuration."

You should get some of these, and then you can easily swap hard drives in and out of your computer:

Good for playing with various operating systems, and for back-ups, too.

J. D. Trollinger
Thursday, August 8, 2002


I you want to try Linux out in the most safe way, you can use a distribution that installs in your Windows partition without doing anything to your Windows configuration. Mandrake and Phat Linux support this.

The workarounds they make to be able to live in a Windows partition make disk access slow, but it works.

Friday, August 9, 2002

A few years ago, I tried to use System Commander to install RedHat Linux on my Windows drive.  Afterwards, neither Linux nor Windows would work properly.  After I un-installed Linux, Windows started working again.

'Course, this could be because I'm basically an idiot.  Still, after that experience, I don't trust any scheme to put two different operating systems on the same physical hard drive.

J. D. Trollinger
Friday, August 9, 2002

I had never heard about System Commander until now, so I don't know if you have to be an idiot to blew it, but it seems it partitions your hard drive, creates boot menus and things that do sound complex.

The Linux dsitributions that live in Windows partitions are a lot simpler, the only create a few files in your hard disk, so they have as much of a chance to wreck havoc as you average mp3 file.

I mean, I can install them, so can be pretty much sure they are idiot proof

Saturday, August 10, 2002

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home