It's getting to be a regular thing. I'm reading somewhere
outside of our sphere of news and I find Linux mentioned. The other
day, I was reading Newsweek, and there it is. I'm no longer doing
double takes. It's no longer surprising. Mom and Pop may not know
who we are yet, but it's bound to happen any day now.
It feels good. It's fun to watch the press and the public as
they change perceptions about just who these Linux folks are. At
the moment, we're
getting lumped in with the Mac and OS/2 crowd. We're the ABM
(Anything But Microsoft) folks.Today we're part of a cult in some
That's a mistake. I originally, about 3 years ago, associated
Linux with another crowd altogether: The Unix lovers crowd. I
myself personally fell into that category. However, I was to have
an education through the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) support channel
where I hang out. Linux is not about people loving Unix. I found
this out rather quickly.
You see, I loved Unix from years of hacking* at the shell level.
To those who haven't had this happen, one of the wild things that's
addictive about Unix is point in time when you have swamped
yourself in about 10 man pages on several potent tools. Things like
ksh, awk, sed, perl, tr - stuff that most readers here might
recognize. Mom and Pop just look at you as if you're talking
Swahili when you start waxing prophetic about these things. You're
learning these for the first time, and you realize that there is
nothing, nothing that you can't do. If
you can dream it, it can be done with Unix.
The first time you grok that, it's like being on some kind of
addictive drug. Except that this one is legal. It's called Unix,
and it may cost a lot (at the time, a cut of SCO was over a grand,
and required more computer than I owned), but it's accessible.
Today it's free, so the addicts like myself are like kids in a
Your addicted mind begins to go off on tangents while you are
driving to and from work. I can automate
that next, it thinks. The next day,
people are listening to maniacal laughter coming from your cubicle,
as stuff that used to take hours for the whole department is now
happening in seconds. Sometimes it's stuff that no one even thought
That's your typical Unix lover, in a nutshell.
But, as I said, I found out that the people coming to the IRC
support line (and often times staying, permanently) were not
learning Linux because they were Unix lovers. Some of them, I'm
guessing a small few, like 5%, might end up as Unix lovers. The
rest, they were there to do things with Linux that were next to
impossible or too expensive on other platforms.
What's amazing to me is that a good portion, over half, were
under 20. That's a rough discovery, for a guy that's in his mid
30's. A lot were young teenagers. It was an awakening. I watched
daily as new kids showed up, and dove right into the boiling Unix
water as if it were the backyard pool.
These were not people migrating to Linux because they were Unix
lovers. These people were obviously here for something else. A lot
were learning to serve web pages. Some just ran it to be different.
But you don't run something like Linux for long, just to be
different. Especially since in the early days it was fairly
I think that it could mostly be boiled down to one word:
Freedom. These kids wanted to get their fingers dirty. To learn. To
not be insulted by erroneous dialog boxes. To try new things that
didn't boil down to waiting for new functionality. These kids, I
discovered, were pioneers. I learned as much from them, as they did
from me. More, possibly. I learned to love Unix, rather Linux, for
Above it all, I learned to respect my freedom.
Yes, we all poke fun at Microsoft, I don't think it's possible
for us not to do it. Let's face it, Microsoft is a company
that takes months to turn out patches to their system, and poor
ones at that. The evolution of Linux is on Internet time. Our
changes occur by the minute.
We're getting joined now by groups of people that want Linux for
other reasons. Do these new groups of people fall into any one
If you are a software developer, you probably want Linux because
it levels the playing field.
If you are a hardware vendor, you probably want Linux because it
doesn't have any software royalties, and provides you with a
comfort zone that Microsoft cannot provide: easy access to the
If you are a Value Added Reseller you probably want Linux
because it provides you with a new reason to sell services. Face
it, money coming from the sale of software and hardware has all but
dried up. Services are where the money is.
If you are an ISP you probably like Linux for a host of reasons.
Among them: efficiency, flexibility, security, cost and support.
Face it, Linux is not gaining in the web server arena due to
marketing, there is little to no marketing at all for Linux at the
If you are an operating system company that makes a proprietary
product that's known for locking out markets. Well, I can't see
many reasons to love Linux there.
Now, you have your answer why these two groups might be
diametrically opposed. But are we part of an ABM cult? Most cults
seem to grow religious as the product line fades. As death comes
nearer for the providing company. The Linux crowd is not like any
of these cults in a big way. We are growing, and no one company is
providing our "product".
What makes Linux popular? The answers are many.
We live in a society of simple answers. People look to a
massacre like Littleton Colorado, and they want simple answers. One
of my best friends and high school classmates is a teacher. We had
a long talk about Littleton the other day. The answers, we decided,
were complex. There are a lot of problems.
Just getting rid of Doom, or banning handguns, or whatever the
simple answer of the week will be - it's not enough. But people,
they want a simple answer to a complex problem. So the problem
likely will not be comprehended for a long time. Never,
And this same mentality helps explain why people want to
describe the Linux phenomena as a simple group of people, doing
Linux, like any Unix, is not simple in makeup. The people that
contribute constitute a cross section of folks all over the globe,
with generally only one thing in common: Internet access. The love
of the product goes the same way: These people are all looking at
it from their perspective. They are all contributing for different
It's not a simple answer. To make it simple, that's a serious
Yes, we don't have much respect for Microsoft. Why should we?
But, to think that Linux is just happening because it's the ABM
crowd, that's a mistake.
We are anything but, the anything but Microsoft crowd.
You can go ahead and lump us into that group if you want. It's
been done over and over. We might even have a few converts that
were previous members of that crowd.
Just don't be surprised when someday, your Mom or Dad talks
about how much they love their Linux box.
* hacking: A term referring to "computer artist" - not to be
associated with the people that try and break into things, or the
people that write virus code: see "cracking".
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