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Editor's Note: Linux No Longer a Four-Letter Word

Jan 19, 2007, 23:30 (19 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

There is a certain amount of dread that I get whenever I am in a new place and have some sort of IT problem. That dread stems from the fact that I use Linux, and most of the rest of the planet does not.

It's not that I am ashamed of using Linux--on the contrary, I show my off my penguinista status regularly, much to my family's dismay. When it is I who am using KNetworkManager to instantly find the best hotspot in range, or surfing away on a machine that hasn't been down for months, I feel quite superior and tease the people around me whenever I can.

Superiority complex? Very likely. But come on, who can blame me? When I see the public warnings about viruses, zombies, and cloned Wi-Fi hotspots, how can I not chuckle a little?

But there are times when the arrogance needs to be taken down a notch or two. Because while Linux is very good at what it does, there are some out there that have no clue what to do about it when it crosses their path. Hence, the dread.

The typical encounter goes something like this: I need something from an IT person that I am not equipped or authorized to take care of myself. I tell them the problem. Invariably, they ask me what version of Windows I am using, usually with a tone of voice that conveys "this yokel is probably still using Windows 98, and I'll get to tell him to upgrade and come back to me later." I tell them I use Linux (I've long since given up identifying the distribution).

At this point, which the part I dread, I typically get this response: "can't you try it in Windows?" This frustrates me, because while I certainly could flip partitions to Windows on the couple of machines that it's installed, I don't really want to. I want to use Linux, and I resent the fact that this so-called IT professional is not even willing to try to figure out the answer to my problem.

(Before you get on me about not Googling it for myself, that's not always possible. And, usually, these are usually network questions because I can't get on the Internet.)

Case in point: this week, my family and I have finally moved into our permanent residence in the great metropolis of South Bend, Indiana. We have been here for a couple months, living in an apartment until we could find a house. When we were ready to move, I got a good deal from the local telephone carrier for combined phone/DSL service so I decided to leave cable broadband behind and venture into the world of DSL.

On Monday it was installed. But to my dismay, there was no Internet connectivity. I had already planned to take Tuesday off (and thanks to Carla Schroder for covering for me late last week and early this week, by the way), so I had a day to get the problem fixed. I won't go through the whole blow-by-blow, but the end result was I did not get DSL established until Thursday at 2030 GMT. In the meantime, I spent my time running LT and the other sites I have responsibility for out of the public library during the day and at a local 24-hour coffee shop at night.

The coffee shop was good for night work, since it had a national Wi-Fi carrier that I already had an account with. I used a daypass and bought enough food and coffee to keep them from kicking me out. Since I didn't want to find stories for Linux Today on a massive caffeine rush, I opted to use the library during the day (plus, it was quieter). But when I rolled into the library on Wednesday morning, I discovered that though KnetworkManager could see the hotspot quite clearly, I could not get on the Net. Feeling that bit of dread again, I schlepped the laptop over to the Information Desk and asked what might be the problem, because I was reasonably sure it wasn't me.

"And what version of Windows are you using,?" the man behind the desk asked. Bracing myself, I informed him it was actually Linux.

"Oh, really? Which distro?"

It was like Gabriel had brought out his horn and started jamming. I had found a fellow Linux user in the unlikeliest of places. We figured out the problem, chatted a bit about openSUSE, which I was using and he'd never tried, and off I went to greet a new day at LT.

This has happened to me quite a bit lately. A recent visit with a cable technician in the temporary apartment found me talking with a Linux fan. And the guy who came to fix my DSL yesterday was also interested in trying Linux when he saw how it looked as he reconfigured my new router from this machine. Linux is, slowly, becoming more recognized amongst IT professionals and even just enthusiasts. I don't seem to be getting that blank stare as often when I say the L-word.

It's all anecdotal, of course. I am sure there's still plenty of people out there that have not heard of this favorite operating system of ours. But my sense of being a technical odd-ball in a Windows world is becoming a thing of the past.