Linux Zealotry

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I like the word zealot. Much more than I like the trait, I must admit. What's interesting is how much the term gets used to describe people who use Linux. And as much as I wish it weren't so, I can see why it happens too. All too often, Linux users are seen to be ranting on about why the whole world ought to be using it. Yes, I like Linux too, but what kind of dream world do some of these people inhabit? It really comes down to what you do with your computer, and what tools are best for the job. If you need to whack a nail into the wall, you're going to need a hammer to do the job properly - half a housebrick might work, but it's going to be time consuming, you might waste a few nails doing it, and you're probably going to have added a few new and interesting words to your vocabulary by the time it's done.

To get away from the metaphor, and into reality, I was lucky enough to give a talk at a computing group recently. The audience was primarily Windows users, with a scattered few hobbyist Linux users, and the talk was all about debunking Linux myths, and trying to give a realistic impression of what Linux could offer. At the end of the talk, I took questions, and there were a lot of them (as an aside, there's nothing better than an interested audience, let me tell you!). The one that really stood out for me, though, was an older gentleman who said "I have a Windows machine running at home, and it does everything I need it to. Why should I switch to Linux?". My answer might have shocked some of my audience, because after banging on for the better part of an hour about how great Linux was, I told him, "you shouldn't." Why did I tell him that? Because Windows, in his words, did everything he needed it to do. Why should he be subjected to a learning curve that he didn't need? Why should he be forced to learn new ways of doing the same old things, when he knows how to do them now? Why should he be pushed into the proverbial deep end, and told to swim, when all he wants to do is splash in the shallows? More to the point, who am I to tell him he ought to?

I know a lot of people have an answer to that, and it generally goes along the line of "but Linux is free software - it's better for the community, it strengthens the greater good, and anyway, Linux just runs better." I can agree with that too, for what it's worth. But why does Linux need to worry about rate of adoption, the number of global users, and whether or not it's a 'true competitor' for Microsoft or Apple? And the answer to that lies in the answer given before - it doesn't, because it's free software, it's better for the community, and strengthens the greater good. It's a very circular argument, really. Free and open source is a very worthy cause. But because it's free and open source, it doesn't matter how many people adopt it.

By running around like idiots, claiming that everyone should be using Linux and contemplating a Windows-free world, the Linux community (and I count myself among them) are shooting themselves in the foot. Why not step quietly through the world, present your option, and then let people decide for themselves. They'll either come to Linux, or they won't. Either way, it doesn't hurt the cause. The cause, after all, is software freedom, not Linux on every desktop. Quite frankly, software freedom is something I'm more than willing to fight for, but a monopoly? Isn't that what we're fighting against?

An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.


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