The Monolithic Cabals

A few decades ago, there was a great big flame war called the Monolithic vs Microkernel debate[1], between Andrew Tanenbaum (minix) and Linus Torvalds (linux). It is said that the debate was won by Linus, and that is why #linux became more popular.

I am a fan of Microkernels. But I am even more a fan of Open Source. I believe that is the sole reason Linux became popular, not because people loved a monolithic architecture. Folks embraced it because it was #opensource.

I believe Tanenbaum made a great big mistake by not initially releasing minix as open-source. And by the time he did so about a decade later, he was too late resulting in a massive opportunity cost to him and his minix. Such a superior product by such a vast margin, now languishing no one knows where. While the world embraced open-source and massively contributed to Linux, Minix ended up virtually an unknown entity.

"No one lights a lamp and puts it in a cellar or under a basket. Instead, he sets it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light." Luke 11:33

More recently, there have been similar flames wars, but on a much larger scale, likes of which had never been seen before, spreading out from the lower level Kernel layers to the higher layers above. Apparently, some years ago, Gnome won the battle for the top layer, popularly known as the Desktop Environment. What was left was the middle layers between the Kernel and the GUI. And that battle apparently ended rather suddenly with many distributions bowing down to systemd. The Gnome camp had lent them more than a covert hand in that battle. And RedHat won that war.

These monolithic cabals want to take over and do everything. They don't seem to understand The Unix Philosophy[2]. Taking over everything just makes them Too Big To Fail. "Never put all your eggs in one basket."

Is the war seemingly over now? The powerful feudal lords have divided the spoils between who owns which layer of the empire. Each of them, in their wisdom, have decided that they shall be the sole decision makers over what everyone else is or not allowed to do.

The one saving grace that stops them becoming completely evil[3] is probably the fact that they are completely dependant on Open Source. Any change they attempt is open to the rest of the world. Even that fact didn't stop The Mad Hatters[4] from attempting to take over the lower layer kernel, with their dubious code pushes.

If I didn't know any better, I might suspect this as a culmination or coming together of a series of covert Microsoft Strategies[4]. If you have not read The Halloween Documents[4], it is worth having a quick look. The #FUD has come full circle, and many camps within Linux got embroiled in major flame wars over the systemd middleware between desktop and kernel.

This also reminds me of a paper called The Cathedral and The Bazaar[5]. Slaves never had a choice. Freemen could make their own choices, unencumbered by anyone telling them what to do or not. There must be a reason that the exalted cathedrals of yore are empty now, while the bazaars have flourished.

It all depends on which side of the fence you are. If you are among the ruling class, obviously you will want to remain in the cathedral, lording over others. But if you are not among the ones inside enjoying luxuries, you would rather be outside free to decide your lifestyle and how best to flourish yourself, than be a slave in the cathedral.

In the end, it all depends on what is best for the world. Is it better that a few rule over everyone? Or would the world be a better place, if everyone had equality of choice and rights? No one should be too poor or too rich!

There is a reason that Open Source has flourished with contributions from volunteers who gave back their skills and time, in order to make things better for everyone. In stark contrast, the extremely wealthy proprietary software companies are all sitting on great big piles of accumulated cash twiddling their thumbs, deciding what to do.

I think my thoughts are running amok now..

I just wanted to pen down some thoughts before I lost them. I will flush this a bit more later.. Keep an eye!

[1] Monolithic vs Microkernel debate
[2] The Unix Philosophy
[3] Don't be Evil
[4] Halloween Documents
[4] The Cathedral and The Bazaar

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