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Jun 13, 2001, 13:46 (12 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dennis E. Powell)

There are all sorts of takes on just what the "Linux community" is: Is it kernel hackers? People who've developed the most used applications? Anyone who's ever contributed anything? All of the above and the users, too? It's actually a lot of little communities of people led by common interests to become friends, as Dennis E. Powell was reminded while trying to learn the best way to burn CDs.

"...Each little community has its own flavor. The KDE developers list has its own group of personalities. The KDE user list likewise. Both are fine lists, but had I asked there, I would have been pointed to the KDE application for burning CDs. I like KDE, but my quest was for an application that would do the job, not a KDE application that would do the job. (There is a KDE app, KreateCD, that is very promising; I built it and abandoned it because it wanted to use a goofy, almost unreadable typeface, probably because I have font anti-aliasing enabled.) But those lists are both very helpful, and, though to a lesser extent than the Caldera list and some others, people there can get to know each other. This is important: You have a configuration problem and the solution is a little bit complicated. On a big, nameless list or newsgroup it's easy for the person who knows the answer, and who maybe has posted it a time or two before, to go on to the next message. But if that person has gotten to know you, has maybe shared a joke or two, he or she is far more likely to take the time to write it all out.

Linux, maybe more than the mainstream operating system, tends toward community. Some of it no doubt comes from a shared sense of being under siege, though the community was there before Microsoft launched its silly little assault. There is, too, the fact that by definition Linux users have chosen to be out of the mainstream. Mostly, I think, it's because in what one would think would be a totally technical sphere, we want to make it clear that though we're talking about machines, we're not machines ourselves. (For much the same reason, developers I know really appreciate it when they get thank-you notes from happy users.)

Each little community has its own tone, its own flavor. The Caldera list is, like the distribution that spawned it, pretty mellow. The last time I was on the Red Hat list, it tended to be a little more contentious, which is consistent with the distribution's sometimes-too-bleeding-edge character. I've not been on the Debian list, but from what I've seen of messages there it seems to tend toward the legalistic and is more technically oriented than some of the others. This is not to criticize any of them but instead to suggest that there's a place for everybody among Linux's multitude of communities. It's surprising, sometimes, the extent to which they will go to solve a problem, to share happiness or grief, to behave like non-virtual communities ought to behave but seldom do."

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