How can I best serve you? Open source vs. reality

I've been on hiatus, recovering from the deaths of four close family members from sudden illnesses last year, including my sweet father. But I find that I am starting to be able to think about other things again, at least sometimes. My dad worked at Consumers Union for nearly 40 years, so I am not surprised that I was deeply affected by Eben Moglen's plenary at this past NTEN NTC in April. In fact, I've been unable to stop thinking about it since. In his address, he talked about how our current cultural and economic situation has come about, in part, because corporate America has made profit the primary goal. The world would be better run on an open source model, where everyone can see how things are made in the kitchen because it has glass walls. In this world, knowledge is freely shared and freely available. People are not required to purchase knowledge, but will pay what they can for what is most valuable to them. The open-source vs. proprietary software debate rages on among nonprofit techies. NTEN's fearless leader, Holly Ross, addressed this recently in a nuanced blog post about the importance of re-framing the debate to be about prioritizing data sharing and collaboration rather than focusing on open source vs. proprietary.  The comments her post generated are a great conversation in themselves. I believe in the moral principles of open source software (summed up nicely in this comment). I minimize the business I do with Apple because I believe that Apple's main goal is to serve the Apple Corporation.  To use their (beautiful) software you need to join their corporate cult, buy their (gorgeous) hardware, depend on their support. I agree with what Moglen has been quoted as saying, that nobody has more contempt for their customers than Steve Jobs. But I am always wary of any argument framed in black and white terms. I think binary thinking is an evolutionary adaptation, a way for our brains to simplify things so we can take in information quickly. Marketers use binaries as a way to manipulate people and sell them products (clean/dirty, safe/unsafe, etc.).  Activists use binaries to motivate you to take action immediately (right/wrong). The fact is, though, that binary thinking erases complexity. The middle place of complexity and ambivalence is where the truth usually lies, and where most of us dwell.  Especially as non-profit techies. It is all well and good to say we will only use open-source software, but what if that gets in the way of serving our mission? Activists will say that we all need to make a change, even if it's hard, or the culture will never shift. I don't believe it's that simple. I believe that change can happen incrementally.  And though I run Community Partners' site on Drupal, I no longer run my own crashing, spam-infested mail server on my org's tiny shoestring budget.  I now run our org's email through the free (no ads) Google Apps account that Google gave us. We have the world's best spam filter and the server (almost) never crashes. My org is paying for our Google Apps account, of course, just with data instead of dollars. Is that a fair trade-off? Am I entirely comfortable with it? No. But right now, Google Apps, Twitter, Facebook, Groupsite and other proprietary platforms allow me to serve more people for less money and in less time. And that's why my org is here--to ensure that as many people in Massachusetts get the health care coverage, doctors and medicines they need, when they need it. So here I am, once again, in that middle-place of compromise.  I think many nonprofit techies are here with me. In the long term, I believe in collaboration, data sharing, the principles of open source. I believe in open APIs and open content models. And those beliefs guide my long-term decisions. But in the here and now, my immediate question to the people who need our help must always be, "How can I best serve you?"  If your family needs coverage yesterday and the best tool I know to make that happen is via Facebook instead of Drupal, then for the moment, I will have to use it. As non-profit techies, we have to take every situation as it comes, scan for the best existing solution, and then keep re-assessing and looking for more collaborative opportunities, with our eye on our ideals the whole time. This is not easy, but I think it's the only real way forward.