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Linux FUD: Who Cares? The Linux FAQ Maintainer Speaks

Feb 10, 2001, 16:00 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Robert Kiesling)

By Robert Kiesling, Linux FAQ Maintainer

Linux and FUD. Who Cares?

It's becoming clear that Microsoft, the baddest, evilest empire in the software industry, is gearing up to dish out another round of FUD about Linux and the Linux community. Witness the sudden willingness of Microsoft to take Linux seriously, and the high-profile visit of a Microsoft executive to LinuxWorld. It's likely there have been other, lower profile scouting trips to the Linux environs.

What does this mean for Microsoft? For one, it means that Linux has become a topic of water cooler conversations in the Redmond offices. It's as if Microsoft has at last seen the writing on the wall. But they're still treating the message as if it were a phone number on the wall of a public toilet.

In the computer world, the sort of vocal degradation of Linux by Microsoft is called FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. In sports, the same verbal flood is called "Talking Trash." In politics, it's called a smear.

When I started maintaining the Usenet Linux FAQ several years ago, I made some conscious decisions about its attitude toward Microsoft and other software companies. The main reason was to maintain the FAQ's integrity and authority, in addition to the fact that there's plenty to write about Linux, and I can about do that more-or-less effectively with the time and resources I have.

Those guidelines are mostly common sense, but I think they need to be set out clearly here, if only so that the evil software company realizes that the Linux community is not so dense that it can't take a joke.

The main guideline is that the FAQ doesn't spew trash about Microsoft. If there's a legitimate technical deficiency, fine, then I'll mention it if the deficiency is relevant to Linux. It rarely is. There are a few reasons for this:

1. The Linux community cannot match Microsoft's multi-million dollar PR budget. If a bit of Microsoft FUD developed into a public shouting match, then Linux community would likely come out on the short end.

2. Linux is good enough that it doesn't need to rely on trash talk. I and just about everyone else in the Linux community are firmly convinced of Linux's technical superiority. No amount of PR or advertising is going to keep people from realizing that. And wrapping Linux in advertising won't make it more popular if it didn't meet the expectations of experienced programmers and consultants. Trash talk only distracts people from Linux's merits.

3. In the -- very -- unlikely event that Linux couldn't stand up in day-to-day use, it should not be a "spoiler" for a third operatings system.

4. Flames would cause the greatest harm to consultants, who are critical in dealing with end users. They're the ones who have to put up with questions from non-programmers, provide tech support, and respond to competition from Microsoft consultants.

5. A FAQ list is not meant to be a PR vehicle; it is advocacy. I'm not a PR flack, but a technical journalist. To indulge slavishly in a PR campaign would undermine the FAQ's format and content. PR also comes dangerously close to advertising to my mind, and advertising is banned in most Usenet news groups; certainly in the moderated *.answers groups.

6. As mentioned about, I barely have the resources to give an overview of developments in the Linux community, let alone think up the sort of clever, trashy aphorisms that Microsoft's PR staff seems to delight in.

The guidelines are pretty much common sense. They've helped keep the FAQ authoritative, and provided a model for the other documents of the Linux Documentation Project. It's helped focus on their attention on what's important: Linux, not Microsoft.

The Linux FAQ at

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