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Editor's Note: Joe Sixpack Must Die

Jan 24, 2009, 00:01 (58 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

Linux advocacy is caught up in a race to the bottom, and this is understandable, because for those who wish to dethrone Windows, diving to the bottom appears to be the most direct route to the throne. But appearances are deceiving, and I don't see any glory in capturing the dumb crown anyway. The Queen of Twits! The King of The Clueless! Er... no thank you.

A fair bit of so-called advocacy seems to be taking its cues from the poor quality of most Linux news reporting. I indulged in an enjoyable and cathartic rant against shoddy tech journalism, and one thing I left out, since I tend to ramble on excessively, was why do so many tech journalists pretend to be some mythical average dimwit user when they're writing about Linux? And not just the pros, but all kinds of bloggers and commenters in forums and mailing lists do this too. This mythical average user, this "Joe Sixpack", is too stupid to figure out which shoe goes on which foot, let alone run a computer. And yet this is the target user for whatever Linux version or device they are talking about:

"Ubuntu and OpenSUSE...provide much if not all of what "Joe Sixpack" wants to do with their personal computer, but the reality is there are significant obstacles that must be overcome...."

"...unwashed masses..."

"...the best Linux distribution for the mythical Mr. Joe Sixpack I've seen yet."

"Linux will never be ready for the desktop until Joe and Jane Sixpack can use it without ever having to go anywhere near the command line interface, or edit a configuration file"

"Joe Sixpack probably couldn't find a need for those kind of applications anyway."

And on and on....it's condescending and embarrassing. Rather like the well-meaning but ignorant people who are quite sure they know all about being gay, or non-white, or not raised in privilege...you get the idea. They're sweet and they mean well, but they don't know squat and really need to close their mouths, and open their eyes and ears. I swear the next time I read some Linux review or news story where the reporter throws up his or her hands in despair and gives up because "It's too hard for Joe Sixpack!" instead of finding answers, or talking to actual users, like a real journalist is supposed to do, I will go to their house and I will slap them silly. Ok I won't, but I sure would like to.

Not to mention it's fictional-- silly idealistic me, I thought journalists dealt in facts. I can accept "This seems like a difficult and convoluted way to do this task, but it works and now you know how." But instead what we're getting is not reporting, it's story-telling, and it's not even good storytelling because it always ends in the same passive-aggressive disguised-as-but-not-really-a-compliment way: "And that, my children, is why, despite being the favorite of zealots everywhere, Linux will never succeed!" And the crocodile tears flow.

Quit Apologizing!

I remember the glory years of glossy print computer magazines, like PC Magazine, PC World, Computer World, Computer Shopper, Linux Magazine, Linux Journal (which is still going strong)-- hey, who else remembers when Computer Shopper weighed five pounds and had good articles hiding between the ads?-- Dr. Dobb's, Unix Review, SysAdmin, and so on. Even the glitzy mass-market ones like PC Magazine didn't talk down to their readers, and they didn't apologize, but rather dove right into the gritty guts and told them what to do.

All of this apologetic crud makes me very grumpy. It's like Linux has low self-esteem and is constantly fishing for compliments. "Oh I know I have all these rough edges and you'll probably hate me. But I have Compiz bling if that makes any difference. And I'm free, as in no cost! I won't bore you with nonsense about freedom because what you want to hear is free and easy! If that matters...no, I guess not, you still hate me. It's OK, I understand." Elvis in an Oldsmobile! Repeat after me: Linux has nothing to apologize for. Here is a nice bullet-pointed list to drive this point home:

  • Frequent incremental releases
  • Continual improvements
  • Dominates super-computing
  • Dominates on the server
  • Dominates the embedded realm
  • Dominates in real innovation
  • Dominates in flexibility and customizability
  • Dominates in user-friendliness
  • Does not fuel the World Wide Botnet
  • Genuine innovation comes from Linux and FOSS
  • Bigger on the desktop than it is given credit for
* more secure
* more reliable , and
* less work to maintain
(aka * "just keeps on ticking")
* It's all yours. You're not just using it with a temporary license, with some mega-corporation scanning your computer for a valid license from time to time. It's your property. Put it on as many computers as you like.

Of course there is much more and you're welcome to add to it. And as much as I hate to say this, because it's self-evident, but I might as well head off the nitpickers: duh Linux is not perfect, and duh pointing out genuine flaws is not being a traitor to the cause. Being "wrong for Joe Sixpack" is not a flaw, it's the FUDdiest of strawmen.

Effective advocacy, teaching, and reporting are all closely related, no matter what the subject matter is-- close mouth, open eyes and ears, and give your audience credit for having a brain. Linux doesn't need to be pumped up and trumped up, and it doesn't need apologies-- the plain truth is plenty fine.