Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Have faith in Linux

Linux does not have an inherent right to exist. Now that may sound like blasphemy to many Linux aficionados, but let me explain.

I've just read one too many posts in Linux support forums where a new user coming from a Windows background have a problem with something that worked or were easy to do under Windows, and seems impossible or hard to do under Linux. Often the person is taking a slightly accusatory tone, maybe because they have been fooled into thinking everything will be plain-sailing. The unfortunate all-to-often response that I see is that "Linux is not trying to compete with Windows".

A statement like that is a wimpish cop-out, and is wrong on so many levels it isn't even funny. People who read this response gets the message that Linux cannot compete with Windows. Before you write this again, go read one of the many "Why Linux is Better than Windows" pages, and think about that statement again.

Of course Linux is competing with Windows: A computer runs only one operating system at a time, either Windows or Linux or some other operating system (barring virtualization of course).

Importantly, without users using, and therefore computers running Linux, there is no Linux. Developers need motivation to write drivers and programs, and with no users, much of this motivation disappears, and Linux disappears into the annals of time as a futile though interesting exercise in creating an alternative to Windows.

So without Users, there is No Linux. Linux' right to exist resides in its user base, and every user who goes back to Windows because of insensitive answers is one less reason to develop Linux. You may consider each sensitive, well-thought-out, positive, encouraging answer to a frustrated users' plea for help to be an investment into the user base which will ensure that tomorrow you still HAVE a Linux platform.

Maybe we should take a page out of the fanatic "fanboy" Linux followers' book and become a bit more aggressive in our approach to promoting and backing Linux as a better-than-Windows platform.

People will always compare their experience of Linux with what they are used to getting from Windows. Unfortunately human nature have us focus on the negatives, and this means people overlook the great features of Linux and open source software because of a few small troubles.

I find there are two things that need to be said when new Linux users are frustrated with the platform.

  • One, remind the person that Linux development is behind on some areas due to restrictions, such as DRM and copyrights existing in the Windows software, which slows down or outright prevents development of software for Linux. At the same time remind the user that in many more areas Linux is far ahead of its Windows competition.
  • And second: encourage the person to continue looking for a solution - New programs and packages appear every day, so a newly hatched solution might exist but still be unknown to most people.

So go and arm yourself with some real information on why people should switch completely to Linux so that you don't come across as a fanboy, and stop wimping out when Linux does fall short of its competition.

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