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For The Love of Linux: What is it?

Oct 01, 1999, 15:08 (9 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Paul Ferris)

By Paul Ferris, Staff Writer

It's one of Linux's minuses.

You get asked the question by ordinary people: Just what is this Linux thing anyway? They ask, and you explain that it's an operating system that you can use to load and run programs on your computer, and they say:

It's like DOS then?

You have to explain quickly that, No, it's not like DOS. With Linux you can load many programs at one time and they all can be running at the same time. You don't necessarily have to use a command line, although you have that option. Then usually they say:

It's like Windows, then?

But no, you explain, no it's not at all like windows because there is so much more that you can do. So much to learn if you take the time. So much freedom and power to choose your destiny. After hearing that they say:

It's like a Career, then?

Well, that's a start, but it's not necessarily that way at all. A career can do a lot of positive things for you, and if you learn Linux well, you can make a career out of it, but it's only that way if you choose it. You can take or leave the things that you don't want to learn. They will be there whether or not you learn them, understand them or believe in them. After hearing this, they sometimes say:

It's like a philosophy, then?

And you have to explain that it's not exactly like that either. Although it's got a kind of philosophical feel to it because it works so elegantly. It's got a lot of deep concepts and so there is probably some depth to that definition, but in reality it's not that way if you don't want it to be. Linux doesn't care if you believe in it or not, it will just work anyway. It will just be there anyway. It's got a lot of neat things like compilers and programming languages to do different things, and they are only there if you choose to learn them. Usually, after hearing this they say something like:

It's like a tool kit, then?

Well, yes, it's got a great tool kit, and it is Mondo cool, but you don't just learn to use a tool kit for the fun of it and it's really not necessarily needed if you just want to use it for day to day use. But, if you have the motivation and some extra time, you can learn the tools in a typical distribution and do some really neat things. That's usually when they say something to the affect of:

It's like a hobby, then?

At this point you have to say, uh, no, it's pretty serious stuff. You can do mission critical stuff with it and it comes through. The Internet is very much dependent upon Linux, as most web servers run it. You explain that Linux is developed on the Internet as well, and pretty hard to separate from the Internet because the product is in a constant state of flux from many minds contributing to it. That's bound to bring a comment of this nature:

It's like Zen, then?

Well, you have to admit that that is a cool concept, but that since Linux is known by most people as a snapshot of the fluid product that it's really not that way as people get to know it. It's just a pretty fast development time and so it's pretty neat having innovative new things to use and enjoy on your computer. That's bound to bring the remark:

It's like cool, then?

Yeah! It is cool, but it's really old technology as well. That's a good thing that's not usually known as cool: old technology. When it comes to stable computing environments, old and boring can at times displace the New Technology feeling, if you get the drift, so that description doesn't quite totally fit. A lot of people still believe the old ideas are very cool. A good idea doesn't age with time, it gets better. Some times this leads to:

It's like a religion, then?

No, you have to explain, it's not a religion. A religion is something that effects the way you view your life and the world. It's usually pretty static. Linux isn't like that except that a lot of people do think that it's US versu. THEM in certain cases, like some religions seem to perpetrate. Hearing this, the person often says:

It's like a war, then?

No, Linux isn't like a war, at least not one of choice. It's causing a war of sorts, true, but it's not itself like a war. It's actually very good at keeping the peace - the standards peace. Since the source code is openly obtainable by anyone, it's helping keep standards not break them. Then you might hear them say:

It's like a convergence, then?

Well, in some ways, yes that is true. A lot of the goals originally envisioned by people wanting operating systems convergence are being realized by Linux. But it's helping to drive a whole new business model and change the way that computing is done worldwide. This usually brings about a comment such as:

It's like a wave, then?

Yes, it is like a wave, in some regards, but that's not Linux, because Linux exists just to be Linux. Some people adding to Linux are doing it to be part of the wave, but most seem to be doing it because it's helping them fix problems that they couldn't fix any other way.

And that's usually when they say something to the effect of:

It's like nothing else, then?

And that's the real answer.

Linux is such a different thing, it's like trying to describe a UFO at times. It's been quietly building momentum for so long that to a lot of people it's just now appearing on their radar screens. Most people are amazed at its development speed, as well.

The problem is that Linux isn't like anything else when you describe it to somebody. You're breaking just about every paradigm in every known direction. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to love Linux or appreciate it, but I get the feeling that it helps to be one to describe it.

But maybe not. Maybe we just need to explain that it's something new, and if you poke around enough, if you so desire, no matter who you are, you will probably find something to keep you interested and happy.

That way, it's kind of like freedom, then.