% fortune -ae paul murphy

Defending Linux against Wingots

Yesterday I quoted a bit by someone named "Carlos" from a PC World forum in which he listed the following complaints about Linux:

  1. No readily available games and applications;

  2. No wealth of supported devices and drivers;

  3. No easy configuration

  4. No 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."

  5. Community technical arrogance: "Or user communities that don't bark "read the manual" without realizing that the manual is half finished, outdated, doesn't apply, and is wrong in some cases"

  6. Poor documentation: "because the people writing them often don't know how to write technical documents that are easy to follow"

So think about it, we're guilty on all counts, right?

Right, I think all of these charges are correct - except that none of them are.

Let me explain: from the perspective of a typical Windows only user or support worker - someone with no other computer related knowledge or experience - all of those charges are true. From RPMs to packages our terminology is inconsistent; from webmin to csh and -z our administrative tools are inconsistent; from doom to gloom our games inventory is limited, companies like Microsoft don't offer Linux drivers for their hardware, and we just don't write source code or manuals for use by the unskilled and unsupported.

So, obviously guilty on all counts, right?

Well, no. Now if this were a serious, academic response I'd be producing parallels to democracy here and pointing out that what's wrong with Linux from the perspective of the people who say this kind of thing is that it imposes a need to learn, and a need to make reasoned choices - but since it's not, let me offer a more simple minded response instead. The Linux community assumes technical competence as a criterion for membership, and an MCSE who licenses Linux from Red Hat and pays IBM to put it in and get it running, isn't a Linux community member: at best he's a welcome supporter, at worst he's a relatively harmless parasite.

Remember the basic goal for which Linux was created? To provide "a free Unix for the 386", right? Well, that goal's been met - and the fact that people keep making the product better enables companies like IBM and Red Hat to be about money - selling themselves as interfaces between the Linux community and the non technical world. Good for them, but lets not confuse them or their customers with the Linux community; and if "carlos" has a problem with that - well, somebody should give him Red Hat's IVR hold number.

You know those jaw dropping moments of gaping astonishment that ought to make it into some journal of irreproducible gall? here's one: an inherited employee originally from the Honduras but working in Calgary filed a formal grievance because he'd been reprimanded for failing to carry out instructions sent him by email. And the basis for the grievance? the emails were in English, and he thought his inability to understand English should excuse him.

So my bottom line is simple: I speak Unix, and I don't care if my patch or application comes as a tar file, an RPM, a pkg, or an executable shell file: I just want it to work, and it usually does - even if I have to correct some idiotic, and clearly artificial, coding error before I can compile it. I know what that's about, and so do you -and if "Carlos" hasn't a clue, he can either go back to school or take it up with IBM.

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.