% fortune -ae paul murphy

"I'm harmless -hey, me too"

There are a lot of odd things about the Wintel phenomenon that psycho historians are going to be getting ph'ds out of dissecting. One of the oddest, however, is what I like to think of as the Windows smiley face.

Most experts agree that the purpose of the smile in western use is to appear non threatening - it's a quick way of saying "trust me, I'm harmless to you."

Alcohol has long been used in a somewhat similar way: the expression "in vino veritas" capturing the idea that you can't trust someone who won't drink to excess with you.

In both cases the underlying social ritual appears to be the establishment of commonality as the basis for trust.

There's a wintel version of this that's very revealing: about the people involved, about the technologies they believe in, and about what it would really take to break the Wintel strangle hold on business in the United States and Canada.

Go to almost any meeting with non technical business people and listen to the pre-meeting chatter. Chances are pretty good you'll hear some group exchanging stories about problems with their computers - Tom can't get his video camera to download pictures to his PC, Dick has a dual boot that keeps coming up F1, and Mary can't get her SPAM detector to quit trashing legitimate mail. The actual topics don't matter: what's going on is that these people are assuring each other of their mutual harmlessness.

Want to commit a real social faux pas? intervene with an offer to fix - the problems they're so concerned about will get downplayed and you'll find yourself gracefully edged out of the group: then they'll resume right where you interrupted.

It's a social phenomenon, one of many and not important by itself -but also one the Linux and open source community needs to come to grips with: nothing to do with the realities of technology that works, but the reality of unmet expectations somehow transmogrified into the social glue of mutually acceptable deception.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specialising in Unix and Unix-related management issues.