Independent and willing allies

I haven’t blogged about the SCO vs. IBM case since it’s been so widely discussed elsewhere. The ever-so-brief summary is that SCO sued IBM, claiming that they own IP rights to some code IBM gave to Linux. The open source community rallied. IBM countersued. Red Hat Software sued. Novell indicated that their records show SCO doesn’t own many of the IP rights they think they do. And Eric Raymond, President of the Open Source Initiative, wrote a rather scathing position paper describing how incredibly bogus SCO’s claims are.

Now SCO’s CEO is charging that IBM is secretly stage managing all these attacks. Eric Raymond has responded with an open letter, calling the charge a “brain-boggling disconnect between SCO and reality.” The letter is a fun read, but the key part that struck me was here:

Yes, one of the parties I talk with is, in fact, IBM. And you know what? They’re smarter than you. One of the many things they understand that you do not is that in the kind of confrontation SCO and IBM are having, independent but willing allies are far better value than lackeys and sock puppets. Allies, you see, have initiative and flexibility. The time it takes a lackey to check with HQ for orders is time an ally can spend thinking up ways to make your life complicated that HQ would be too nervous to use. Go on, try to imagine an IBM lawyer approving this letter.

The very best kind of ally is one who comes to one’s side for powerful reasons of his or her own. For principle. For his or her friends and people. For the future. IBM has a lot of allies of that kind now. It’s an alliance you drove together with your arrogance, your overreaching, your insults, and your threats.

That’s a nice description of the loose-knit “smart mob” organizations that are a rising force in this century. Be they open source developers, Howard Dean supporters or “terrorists linked to Al Qaeda,” these communities continue to surprise traditional top-down organizations with their ability to be robust, to adapt, and most surprisingly to be efficient and productive without a strong chain of command.