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Community: Barriers to Linux Newcomers are Real

Oct 20, 2005, 23:30 (14 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dennis Fullalove)

By Dennis Fullalove

I read with interest the responses on slashdot.org to John Terpstra’s article series, "Stopping Linux Desktop Adoption Sabotage." You see, I am the "Dennis" who John refers to in part one of that series. Some of the people responding said the article contained exaggeration and half-truths, some agreed with John, and some were absolutely insulting. I can confirm that nothing that was said was a half-truth or exaggeration.

The responses from the stores were exactly as reported and, in some cases, the response was arrogant and condescending. I found many of the responses to the article similarly arrogant and condescending. Joe and Dennis were portrayed by some of the respondents as stupid and lazy. They said we got what we deserved because we didn’t do our homework. Well, that isn't true. The problem is an all-too-familiar one: if you are not part of the cabal, then you a part of the ignorant, unwashed masses.

The Linux community is no different today than all of the exclusive groups of the past. Yes, I said exclusive. The attitude in many of the responses is that Linux is not difficult, it is a problem with the person trying to use it. They haven’t paid their dues as I have. This is elitism, which is nothing new under the sun. The community, like so many others, wants to show they are radical, not moving with the herd.

The Linux community has a better way, it is said, not controlled by the "corporation" or by "government." Thus, to "belong" you must learn our secret language and know our secret rituals to become one of the "high priests" who truly know the secrets and can guide the ignorant masses into the light. If you haven’t struggled with configuring a distro than you are not worthy of our help.

We did search for information but the information is disjointed and difficult, at best, to find. Where was the encouragement for Joe and Dennis trying to use Linux, which I do believe to be a superior solution?

I do agree with John Terpstra that the commercial IT retail market has no desire to provide real consumer choice and that there are forces at work in the IT industry that cause retailers to choose not to participate in being more profitable. For example, you have manufacturers who use Linux in their networking equipment, but they won’t support Linux by writing drivers for their equipment. But, as I believe John was also saying, the Linux community relishes in being isolated. The Slashdot responses also talked about getting the kids involved in Linux early in school and having to deal with "inertia," the problem of people just using what they are used to using and not wanting to change. Lots of talk but no action.

I should tell you a little about myself and my background. While I have worked in accounting and financial management for many years, my background and training is a little more esoteric. I have a minor in information science. I didn't just study number crunching, I studied and worked with languages like Lisp, Prolog, Smalltalk, etc. I have helped to develop management information systems for businesses both large and small.

I am a techie at heart, building my own systems and enjoying how far I can push a system or tool to do what I need it to do. But as a financial manager, I want a solution that is not going to be a problem rather than a solution.

When I spoke with some of you at the last LinuxWorld, I said there were no true solutions in the Linux world for accounting and financial management. Some of you were quick to point out that there are accounting packages and data bases and myriad other tools. I didn’t disagree, but finding those tools and integrating them into my business is difficult at best. The ability to easily integrate my clients information with my accounting and financial systems using Linux isn’t readily available. I don't see the Linux community out in the real world.

Many articles are written within the trade journals for the Linux community and events such as LinuxWorld are held expecting the unwashed masses to come to the Linux altar. But instead, why not, as Linux advocates, participate in the meetings and seminars of CPAs, Enrolled Agents (the taxpayer's tax professional), teachers, lawyers and other professions? Why not write Linux articles in the trade journals of these professions as well? Articles that help the person to utilize Linux as a real tool to solve real problems that each faces everyday. You speak about the need to have children using Linux from an early age. Why not use your expertise to help schools to install the networks and train the teachers and staff in how to use the tools to help them teach our children and young people?

I participated in the West Coast Computer Fairs. I enjoyed watching the people go by on their roller skates and debating the merits of the latest hardware and software improvements. It was a great show for techies. But the solutions needed to be brought into the world.

At the time there was a group called FOLLK (Friends of Lisp, LOGO and Kids) who tried to work with teachers training them in the philosophy and use of the LOGO language. They were idealists who believed in the power of the tool. They failed due to lack of structure, but they wanted to see the tool, the solution, implemented in the real world. I worked with a computer retailer many years ago. The sales reps were in the schools with Apple computers and did well because it was a tool that helped the student to accomplish something meaningful in their studies. My business partner did not see any value in a network. All he saw was trouble, both in time and money, especially if I was not available. I convinced him to invest in a Linux network. Our Linux network running Samba has never given us any trouble. It is reliable and serves us well. Are you serving your customers and clients by giving them the best solution or are you "playing" with Linux personally but giving an inferior solution to your clients?

Where are the Guy Kawasakis in the Linux community today? People who are so moved by the better solution they possess, that they use their talents to seek out the people with their problems and help them to find solutions?

Guy was at meetings of all kinds trying to get people excited about the Macintosh and using it to be more productive. Marketing hype? Maybe. But he and others, I believe, were trying to find real solutions for people. I hear responses that are saying that FOSS is the better solution, but in the world I hear silence. Service is the answer. I do not believe it is ever about the product or its features but what can it do to help me solve my particular problems.

Use the vast talent in the Linux community to continue to improve the better solution. Get out and promote it to and through your clients. That is service; that is what the Linux community should be offering.

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