Those of us who grew up in the seventies probably remember
variations of this pejorative phrase. often aimed at either the
schoolyard bully, or perhaps your best friend in jest. There was
often no additional descriptor: just the first two words hanging
there. The implication that your mother was... something left
undescribed... was the worst kind of insult, the kind that only
fists or more insults could avenge.
For the honor of our mothers, we were willing to risk getting
pounded into the ground. (Our fathers, well, not so much.) And
today, it is still our mothers, or grandmothers, or Aunt Tillies
that we love so much that we will bless them with a Linux PC, to
protect them from the evils of Windows or OS X. That's good. Our
parents and families deserve to have a better operating system on
Then, in our exuberance, we hold all of our loved ones up as
shining examples of how Linux is or will be ready for the
Except I'm not sure that's a good idea.
What got me started on this vein was an article I read on the
Wall Street Journal Web site Thursday where tech columnist
Walter Mossberg was answering reader mail. His second letter of the
day asked him why he never recommended Linux as an alternative
operating system. Mossberg was polite about it, but basically said
that since his readership was non-tech oriented, and just wanted
things to power up, plug in, and work right out of the box, he did
not feel Linux was at that point yet.
Initially, I started firing up the e-mail client, ready to send
him a counterpoint. After all, my family's not tech-oriented, and
they use Linux all the time. So there, Mr. Mossberg! Then something
jiggled to the top of my brain: while my family uses Linux, they
are not the typical mainstream users. Why? Because they have
me to explain/configure/fix things for them.
And I think that's a fallacy in any argument that begins "well,
my insert family member here uses Linux, so it's not that
hard." The fact that they're your family member, or
friend, or acquaintance means that they will always have you to
answer questions or set things up for them.
I also think, on the flip side, that any pro-Windows or Mac
person who says, "when it's ready for my insert family member
here, then Linux will have arrived." That's a biased argument,
too, because the person making that remark is presumably tech savvy
and is likely also the unofficial tech support person for family
and friends. That person's assessment is clouded by expertise in
their particular operating system.
No, the best argument can be made: "when Person on the Street
can use Linux out of the box, then Linux will be mainstream."
If this is indeed the case, then Mossberg might have a point.
There are, admittedly, still some post-install configurations that
need to be done on any Linux install. In all of the test systems I
have installed, there has always been something to tweak, and
that's out of necessity, not personal preference. The instant you
have to drop to the command-line for any reason, you've
negated the mainstream status.
Things are better, goodness knows. I remember the early days of
Linux, especially the desktop systems. And I think Linux is
definitely very close to reaching that magic tipping point where it
will be easy to use for all levels of users. When Dell actually
gets around to selling preloaded Linux PCs, I think that's going to
be a big step to legitimizing the "mainstream" nature of Linux.
Improvements in drivers, like the ones being discussed by the Linux
kernel developers and Ubuntu community, will also keep Linux moving
towards the average consumer.
We are close but, reluctantly, I must admit we're not to
mainstream level yet. My momma notwithstanding.
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