I’m a big geek. While some guys like to fix cars, build things with wood, or tinker with things like that, I tinker with the Internet. I like digging into the guts of computers, specifically, what makes the web work. One of the reasons the Internet works is open-source software.
Open-source software, by definition, means that anyone can look at the guts, make changes, pass it along in an effort to improve the program. This is opposed to most of the software you buy in store. If there’s a problem or improvement, the best you can do is tell them about it and hope they get around to it.
I realized that open-source software is very “Catholic”. I don’t mean that the actual software or the people behind it are Catholic or that in and of itself, it promotes Catholicism. I mean that open-source software makes sense from a Catholic perspective.
As Catholics, we constantly strive to improve ourselves and to offer help freely to others who are trying to grow closer to God as well, just as geeks across the world freely help improve these software projects. The majority of these software developers are either donating their time and talent, or their companies are providing their labor, and contributing it to the broader community.
Ubuntu, an open-source distribution of Linux (don’t worry if you didn’t follow that), is named using the Zulu word that can be translated as “I am what I am of because who we all are”. We are a communal people. We work in community and we would be no one without those around us.
One of the possible wrinkles of open-source software is that all of the flaws are public. Virtually all open-source software have bug tracking sites. These are websites where anyone can report a problem with the software. I’ve seen some bugs as seemingly minor as a misspelled comment in the code—something an end-user would never see—yet, the world can see that whoever wrote the code originally didn’t proof-read.
That’s realistic though. All software have bugs, but these are just easier to read about (and thus potentially fixed). That’s the way we are too. We’re flawed. Some of us can hide it better than others, but we all are broken in our own ways. While I hope none of us have websites dedicated to tracking our faults, being able to take inventory of where we have failed and what we need to improve is important. The Gospels tell us we that we are our “brother’s keeper”, we need to hear from others our “bugs” and report them to others. Software doesn’t require us to use our social grace to make sure these “bug reports” are delivered and heard in the spirit of charity, but I digress.
Open-source software, while accepted in many circles, are shunned in others. A friend of mine works at a branch of a large, government-sponsored engineering agency (trying to figure out how to describe it without giving it away…) and while he is a proponent of using well-established open-source software, many of the older engineers reject open-source on face since it isn’t from a company that can guarantee support. While there are plenty of ways to counter this claim, the point is some people reject it outright without giving it a fair shot. Being Catholic is the same way. People will reject us and our opinions at times just because they know we’re Catholic or realize that our opinion is obviously Catholic.
It isn’t fair to the software or to us, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.
I’m a Catholic geek though, so I wear those lenses when I look at software (or things in general). What do you see or use in your daily life that seems to be “Catholic”?