% fortune -ae paul murphy

Lurking in the mud: a warning for Linux

As part of taking a quick look at Microsoft's Vista beta I spent some time lurking in PC forums discussing it. The quoted bits below are all from a PC World discussion of the time and effort involved in downloading the Vista beta, but they're fairly representative of the stuff I ran into.

The opening salvo on Linux is from someone signing as "William" who suggests a better use for the time it takes (typically about a day) to download and install the Vista beta:

Or... if you have some free time you can download Linux. It's free. It's better. It isn't a trial that will crash and then expire.

You might question what this sensible advice is doing on a Wintel forum, but it drew a predictable response from someone posting as "Carlos":

William ... why don't you take your Linux and put it where the sun don't shine. You're certainly a zealot, based on your statement. The "It's free. It's better. It isn't a trial that will crash and then expire"? Betas are meant to expire. Also, I suppose *wide*, *readily available* games and applications don't count. Neither does wealth of supported devices and drivers. Or ease of configuration. Or standardisation, you know, where a patch looks like a patch, and is an EXE on all systems - not an RPM here, an APT there, a TAR there, etc, etc. Or user communities that don't bark "read the manual" without realizing that the manual is half finished, outdated, doesn't apply, and is wrong in some cases, because the people writing them often don't know how to write technical documents that are easy to follow. Sometimes a lot of Windows software sucks. But sometimes a lot of Linux software *and* its documentation sucks worse.

To which "Embdub" responds:

You all need to stop crying about Windows and Linux and get a Mac.

After which the majority of the commentary turns into a flame war - about 90% of it anti-Mac with only minor mentions of either the nominal subject (Vista) or the Linux alternative.

There were two things about this that just grabbed my attention. In the first one, it strikes me that "Carlos" was unfair to William in calling his comment zealotry, but did an absolutely great job of expressing, in only 117 words, virtually every argument the Windows community makes against Linux.

Notice that I'm not arguing that anything he says is right, only that he nicely summarises widely held opinions. In reality, there are serious answers for all of his complaints; most of them based on something that's unknown in the Windows world: community diversity and the freedom to innovate.

The second thing that struck me was the virulence of the flame war that erupted over the Mac. As regular readers know I think going Intel was a huge mistake for Apple, but it's very clear that the same Wintel people who no longer feel particularly threatened by Linux, are feeling extremely defensive with respect to the Mac.

Here's an anonymous pro-Mac posting:

All of the advanced features being put into Vista are already in Tiger and have been well and truly bedded down over the last year or so. Vista is likely to be doing this over the next few years. Why work with something still in development when you can enjoy the same features in a system that's enjoying years of stability?

And let's be honest: Vista has "borrowed" every single feature of theirs from the Mac. If Microsoft think it's so good that they need to copy everything from Apple, then why not simply go straight to the source and get your features a few years earlier? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Here's something to think about. Go to a Mac forum and see how many people try and convince you to switch to Windows. There are none. Because no one can honestly find much to say that is better in Windows than on a Mac. You have to actually *lie* to attempt the task.

Seems like a no brainer to me too - after all, if you like Vista's features, why not skip ahead a few years and get the debugged versions on a Mac today?

Speaking for the other side, someone signing as "reggy hammond" captured the general tone of the response quite nicely:

There's always someone rooting for the underdog. In general, Mac users are laughable. A bunch of pot heads that are always against who or what ever is in first place. I haven't seen a Mac do anything a pc cant and I don't have to deal with that stupid little mouse.You idiots were talked into over paying for a computer and you love it! Look at the pretty colors, lol.

There isn't anything that's right, or acceptable as argument, about this: it's ad hominem, it's ignorant in the objective sense of not knowledgeable, and it's self delusionary. Now, although this is clearly a person I'd want to send off to RTFM!, its important to notice how terribly defensive this is - it's the kind of thing you get only from people who know they're deeply wrong.

And what's most interesting about that is that the PC forums are full of this kind of thing with respect to the Mac and Solaris, but not with respect to Linux. In other words, the silent community perception in the Wintel world is that Linux has been beaten - but Macs and Solaris are threats.

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.