It is never a happy occasion to realize that a not-for-profit group, no matter how destitute or successful, is undeserving of charitable donations. And just last week I had such an unhappy realization. I wanted to donate a sizable sum of money to the OpenBSD Foundation for development of the OpeBSD operating system and other related projects.
My great-uncle, an old Unix graybeard from the Seventies, devoted his retirement and considerable savings to teaching inner-city youth about computers and programming. He recently passed away and left instructions in his will that I donate money, in the amount of US $100,000, to “the most meritorious Free, Unix-like operating system” as according to my own research into the matter.
I immediately looked at OpenBSD and began to review its technical merits, of which there are many. Despite lacking serious symmetric multi-processing support and drivers for recent graphics hardware, OpenBSD security and code-auditing are second to none. One only has to take a look at the bevy of routers that ship with OpenBSD to know how many people successfully depend on it everyday.
The OpenBSD Foundation is also behind several software packages widely adopted in other operating systems, such as OpenBGPD, OpenCVS, OpenNTPD, and OpenSSH. OpenSSH, for instance, is what allows clueless Mac users to remotely log into their systems safely, blissfully unaware of hackers.
After looking at the technical merits of OpenBSD and related projects, I owed it to the memory of my great-uncle to check out the history of the people behind it all. But that's when I ran into some interesting decisions regarding OpenBSD advocacy and funding made my OpenBSD's lead developer, Theo de Raadt.
In 2003, Mr. de Raadt trash-talked the United States military and its various aid projects for the Iraqi people. But at the time, OpenBSD was receiving a multi-million dollar grant from the United States Department of Defense. After the interview was published the DOD cancelled funding, which left several OpenBSD projects in limbo for quite some time thereafter.
This is just one of the more public instances of Mr. de Raadt sharing unpopular personal opinions while acting as OpenBSD's public advocate and costing the project considerable time and money. And, unfortunately, there are others.
Another time, Mr. de Raadt visited his native South Africa to receive a donation from a wealthy politician but unexpectedly refused it at the podium, instead making a speech in which he equated the use of non-Free graphics drivers with Apartheid. Mr. de Raadt left without the check but later claimed to have won “an important moral victory.”
Mr. de Raadt himself is at the root of the problem, but here I can't really separate the man from the project; Theo de Raadt is OpenBSD. So donating toward OpenBSD's goals means handing over money to this crackpot activist, if he would even accept it. That's too bad because OpenBSD would be further ahead without these sorts of megalomaniacal antics.
Digging even further back in time, it's clear that this pattern of behavior is nothing new. Theo de Raadt was one of the incipient developers of NetBSD, but “harass[ed] and abuse[d] both users and developers of NetBSD.” His colleagues subsequently locked him out of the project, de Raadt forked OpenBSD, and the rest is history.
After reviewing these facts, it is clear that I will fail to honor my great-uncle's memory and all of the hard work he did in life by donating to OpenBSD. If I wanted to dishonor him, maybe. And I find it highly likely that Theo de Raadt would be up for dishonoring my great-uncle's memory.
Instead, my donation of US $100,000 will go to NetBSD. Sorry, but NetBSD just doesn't have the barbed, confrontational history that OpenBSD does. The NetBSD Foundation seems willing to write code instead of stirring up political debates. More importantly, they also seem willing to work well with others to reach their goals instead of against their own community because of pet peeves and ideological bullshit.
Too bad, OpenBSD. Your leader is holding you back.