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Alan Cox: A Brave New World

By Alan Cox

So the suits have invaded your favourite OS, do you care, should
you care ?

The answer is probably yes. A large number of people are about
to collide with a community they don’t understand which has a long
history of its own independence, and its own shared cultural
references. Think AOL meets the internet.

The very first line proves this. I can talk about “a suit” and
most of the readership know exactly what I mean. The “suit” is a
shared stereotype of many of the outsiders of the community. If you
are what we class as a suit and are reading this by the way
welcome, do come in , you don’t need to hang around the door. We
don’t even have suits in general as the first people against the
wall, although we do have places reserved for a couple of them.

Similarly things like “See figure 1″[0] , “What was your user
name again ?” and suggestions for using dead chickens are something
that has a common meaning. Userfriendly isn’t terribly funny to
some people because they lack the frame of reference to understand
ISP’s really really do work like that. I feel sorry for them
because now that I’ve finally discovered it, I’ve found it is a
great cartoon.

It is important that when the suits do things that don’t fit the
community that people gently remind them. It takes time and it has
to be done right but it does work. The average AOL user has become
materially more internet-friendly over time. The continual polite
chiding for using HTML email on mailing lists has had its desired
effect. Also sometimes you need to step back and try and see how
they are thinking and why as well as their background. Don’t just
criticise but try and explain in their terms why things matter.
“See figure 1” is not the productive answer especially if they’ve
learned what figure 1 is.

In the Linux frame of reference most suits are going to be
coming to Linux partly because everyone else is and partly because
of its excellent price/performance, and to give them their own
buzzwords back – Total cost of ownership. I imagine most of the
people cheering happily at all the proprietary software and value
added (or as Richard Stallman likes to term it ‘freedom deducted’)
software are in this category.

If you want to teach them the reasons why Linux is better,
faster and more stable do it gently. In time they will come to
wonder why they are pricing a commercial email system for Linux
when the one on the CD-ROM works perfectly well anyway. They will
wonder why they are buying high price network management tools when
they seem to get free ones. Eventually they will get the message.
The barrier has partly gone, no longer is it “but thats free
software”, its “thats free software, excellent – will that package
work for our needs”.

We need to gently teach them that technical shows they should be
paying for speakers, they need to show us that for marketing shows
the talks are really advertising so they don’t expect to pay for
them. We need to teach IDG that registering Linuxexpo.com and
causing confusing with the real Linux Expo in May is not the way we
do things here.

There is going to be real turbulence ahead if history repeats
(as always [1]). Certainly my own memories of the UK mainstream
arrival of the show sold home computer, and even more the events
way prior to that in the USA that Stephen Levy documents in
‘Hackers’ mirror the current happenings remarkably well.

Some vendors will probably vanish over the next two years while
others disappear into big name companies and numerous new vendors
spring up to take on new niches and angles of the Linux business.
The whole business model is still in flux – do Linux companies sell
Linux, do they use Linux as a tool to bundle software to the retail
channel, do they sell custom systems built on Linux, do they
associate with some vendors or do they stay application vendor
neutral and thus avoid competing with application people ? All of
these are unknowns.

Money too is beginning to influence Linux kernel development far
more than before. Not at the moment in a bad way I’m glad to say.
Free software reflects the needs of the userbase and their talents.
This has always therefore focused on the hardware people really
possess. You’ll notice Linux 1.2 for example doesn’t reflect 2Gig
machines with multiple RAID controllers. The typical home hacker
doesn’t generally possess these. Instead we have the coffee-machine
interfacing mini-HOWTO. The people who need these high end
facilities aren’t writing them however, they are using their own
currency for contributing to the kernel. They are paying people or
using their own staff to write the high end support and place it
under the GPL.

There is always a risk that money will start to talk too much.
“I know this feature is stupid but if we pay you $$$$ will you do
it”. Thankfully Linus is rather good at saying “no” to anything
that isn’t a good idea. That is bound to be an area where there is
some friction. These people will also bring non Unix ideas with
them too. Linux will probably gain from this because Unix doesn’t
have a monopoly on good ideas, it just owns most of them.

Do look after our visiting suits, they come from a strange land
and have strange rituals like “Trade Shows”. Be assured they find
our rituals of talking about technical material in detail just as
strange. They have been living under an oppressive binary-only
single OS regime, and as refugees need sympathy and education. It’s
very hard to teach someone the value of freedom but please do try.
And I’m told we do share some common rituals. Our “flame war” is
apparently held in person in their land and called “project
meeting”.

Please be friendly and give useful directions any lost
suits.

[0] http://spiffy.cso.uiuc.edu/~kline/Stuff/see-figure-1.html

[1] I am a great fan of the “History repeats itself, it has to
nobody ever listens” quote.

License: OpenContent