Editor's Note: Linux--The Teenage YearsDec 16, 2005, 23:30 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Rob Reilly)
By Rob Reilly
Ah yes, the Linux teenage years.
For seasoned IT citizens (i.e., senior managers and executives) it must be quite a show. Many can sit back and say, "Yup, I remember my AT&T Unix teen years. They were wild and exciting, but we sure are glad we got through them alive."
Others are trying to hack their way through the forest of FUD, seemingly perpetual tweaking, and business realities of shepherding the "Linux Kid" to maturity.
I thought readers might enjoy a comparison of today's Linux to a typical teenager. The behaviors are decidedly male, although they definitely appear to a certain degree in both sexes. Perhaps it might bring some comfort, a few humble insights, and a maybe even a chuckle to all of those brave souls that see a promising future in the adult Linux world.
Good grief, it just hit me... Linux now thinks it needs a license...
The Cracking Linux Voice
If you rolled up all the emotions and mood swings of a typical teenager and then asked them to explain themselves, you'd have the same response from Linux. The big-time high schoolers, like Red Hat and Novell/SUSE, try to dominate the Linux psyche and are the loudest voices, while niche personalities (KDE, Gnome, Debian, Slackware, etc.) constantly appear to move in and out of focus.
The result is that, just like teenagers, Linux has trouble explaining itself to the rest of the world. Part of the time the voice of Linux is high-pitched and squeaky, like when arguing about SCO and who this or that belongs to. Nothing new there. Other times it sounds grumpy and think it knows everything. Typical teenage behavior. The Linux voice is not consistent and it's hard to tell what each personality will say next.
Over time, I think the Linux voice will grow deeper and much more coherent, although it may take a little longer than we'd like.
Getting in Fights and Discovering Romance
Don't worry, it's the natural order of things for healthy teenagers. They want to establish their place in the world and inevitably will start to aggressively go after their rivals. It starts out slowly and then builds over time. Linux is getting more courageous each day and beginning to give the big kids a good run for their money.
It's interesting that Linux picked the biggest kids on the enterprise block, like Sun, Microsoft, and others, to challenge first. Showing a lot of heart and getting a few bruises is a fine way for a teenager to build character.
Don't forget the fickle nature of teen friendships. One day one of those big tough kids is your adolescent offspring's worst enemy and the next day they're lifelong pals. Lots of talk of partner agreements and new alliances lately seems to mirror this behavior.
Linux is also beginning to experience that first giddy feeling of being romanced by a cute little Windows Desktop sweetheart with its batting eyes and OpenDocument perfume.
All I can say is... Linux is a smart kid and I know it will get through all this, just fine.
Thinks Everybody Should Be Interested in What it Says
We've all seen it. Shoot... all of us have probably done it. A teenager will stand at the top of the steps and proclaim that what they are talking about is important.
The big question is one of relevance.
Like all teenagers, Linux is looking for ways to be relevant and fit properly into the computing society. Some of its attempts are just spur-of-the-moment reactions to perceived opportunities. For example, take a small project of one or two developers that is building a first generation whiz-bang widget monitoring tool. Their intentions are good and motives noble, although it will take a lot of effort, sweat, and persistence to get it into the mass market acceptance and making it a profitable exercise.
Other efforts like Mozilla/Firefox, OpenOffice.org, and Apache represent a long-term commitment, like an inspired teenage musician or varsity athlete. Some of the Open Source Free/Commercial software teens (vendors) are studying hard in junior college now, making great grades in business. Some are even supporting themselves while learning the business.
We should be proud of what Linux has accomplished and happy that it is contributing to the workforce while starting to pay it's own way.
That, of course, brings up a couple of other common teenager traits.
Consumes a Lot of Time and Groceries
Enormous amounts of time have gone into nurturing each little Open Source adolescent. All the while, the developer has desperately tried to get the program to do the right thing (i.e., calculate the correct totals, save the file, etc.).
Additionally, large amounts of cash have been spent on keeping the Linux teenager fed. Over the last several years capitalists everywhere have been taking their Linux kid to the burger place. You know, those little corner eateries like Silly Val's and VC King.
Will feeding the awkward Linux kid pay off?
Parents everywhere ask a similar question.
Since Linux has been a grass roots organization, much of its work has been done out of the goodness of one's heart or gratis. Similarly, teenagers are notorious for toiling away at something they truly like, only to end up getting $1.32 an hour for their efforts.
Linux is no different.
Sure, there's a chance for failure and catastrophe. Yes, I know it's hard. Not to worry. It goes with the territory.
Linux Ignores the Younger Ones
Lastly, just like teenagers everywhere, Linux doesn't hang around with the little ones. Oh sure, a few children have human parents that set up a Linux box for them to use. And Linux is being used in some schools.
For the most part, Linux wants to hang out with the older enterprise and desktop crew. You can't blame them. They see the user base, the blinking lights of the big mall, the markets. What ever could a child provide for Linux?
It takes a little maturity before a truly self-confident teen begins to mentor their siblings. I suspect that as Linux moves out into the general public, more individuals and vendors will actually begin tutoring our younger Linux users.
Passing the Torch
When you think about it our beloved Linux is going through some growing pains. The Linux parents have faithfully looked after their young one, with all the anticipation and hope of the human kind.
Linux is sometimes awkward, unpredictable, and immature. It's also a good kid with a good heart and true potential.
As an oldster, someday I'll be able to say, "Yup, those Linux teenage years were wild and exciting. I'm sure glad we made it through them alive."
Rob Reilly is a consultant, writer, and commentator. His company solves client problems, in a variety of business & technology areas. He is also a Contributing Editor for Linux Today. Send him a note or visit his Web site at http://home.earthlink.net/~robreilly.