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Community: The "Linux Community"? Not From What I See

Aug 09, 2006, 00:45 (16 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dennis Mallory)

[ Thanks to DennyMan for this article. ]

Learning about, installing and applying desktop Linux may have saved my business. After a more than disappointing year, I was faced with some tough choices. Running a real estate business is tough, extremely tough in Austin and unbelievably tough if you are an independant.

Left with few choices, I called a meeting with every department head in attendance and called for ideas. I made sure they knew that this was not a drill. Red lights were flashing and pink slips were imminent unless we came up with something fast.

All the usual suspects were trotted out, some with merit, some completely ridiculous. Stress makes you think dumb things. Fortunately, my computer guy returned early from Idaho for this meeting and his suggestion changed the course of my business. He formed it as a simple question. "How much are we paying for software?"

That was a good question. I remember the pain of writing the last check to our Microsoft rep when we renewed our licenses. I also remember thinking we had to do something to bring that cost under control. I was under the impression we did not have any real alternative.

That evening, I was doing a flow chart and deciding who I was going to let go. I glanced up at my computer and the Microsoft screensaver logo bounced within its limits around my screen.

I opened a browser and out of frustration typed "Microsoft is a leach" in the search box. Surprisingly, I got a more than a few hits. One of them a few lines down caught my eye. It was a web page entitled, "Lobby4Linux--escape the clutches of the Evil Empire."

That's when I discovered I did have an alternative. I spent some time reading the articles, posts and editorials then bookmarked the page and followed the tabbed links I had made. It took me less than three hours of reading and research before I actually decided to use the Live CD and try it for myself. I took it to work the next day and gave it to my Sales Manager to use. "Use this all day if you can and tell me at the end of the day what you think." I booted the disk for her and walked away.

At 5 that evening, Jenny stuck her head in the office door. She came in and told me about her "alternate computing experience." I had also been using the disk during the day and had decided for myself that we would make the plunge. I wanted to know what she thought as well. Jenny agreed without hesitiation.

I had emailed the "contact us" button at Lobby4Linux and asked a few generic questions. I expressed an interest in setting up some test machines for my business and asked the website for any assistance they could provide. When I got home, there was a message on my home machine from someone called "helios".

He took down some information and asked when I was looking to get started. I told him as soon as it could happen. He asked me to give him some time to put some things together and he would get back to me.

When I turned the key in the lock of my door the next morning, there was a customer waiting for me to open up. We walked in together and as I hung my coat on the rack, I told him to have a seat as our staff wasn't due in until 8 AM. He shook his head. "Are you Dennis?" I told him I was and he stuck out his hand. "I'm Ken Starks, aka helios. Show me your test machine."

I guess when helios says "let me get back with you on that," apparently he means pretty darned quick. I took him into the back office and sat him down at one of several stations. He nodded and opened a briefcase then told me to give him a bit and he would come up front if he had any questions.

Jenny knocked softly on my open door. "who's the scroungy guy in the back?" She cast her eyes to the back of the office warily. I told her that it was someone who was checking our stuff to see if Linux could run on it. She nodded and left. It wasn't two minutes later, and helios repeated the soft knock. He wanted to know if I had a minute to come take a look at what he had done.

When I sat down at the old Gateway Pentium three, I had to make sure I was seeing things right. Not only was the monitor reflecting a perfectly clear picture, when I clicked something it jumped right up. Much unlike the sluggish behavior I had experienced with XP on those machines. I had more than a dozen of them that were still in service.

Helios gave me the guided tour from over my shoulder and told me what to click and what I was looking at when I clicked it. He had me open the file manager and what I saw next nearly floored me. In less than an hour, he had put together a machine that could not only see my other computers, I could access their files just like I was sitting in front of it. I was sold. I inquired as to when he could come by and arrange the changeover. He said to give him a bit to put a plan together and he would get back to me.

By the end of the next day, with the exception of one computer running Windows XP via Win4Lin, we were a Microsoft-free office. We still are to this day. Did Linux save my business? No, but it saved at least three employees from the unemployment line, and that is enough for me.

I didn't take time out of my schedule to write all of this to sing the praises of Linux. I am writing it to bring shame upon a particular sector of "The Linux Community"--if indeed such a thing exists. I have never considered myself a community member. I am simply a businessman who has taken advantage of this minor miracle. I don't know anything about the "Linux Culture" or your politics, and frankly, now I don't want to.

See, much more than getting my computers fixed evolved from meeting Ken Starks. We became friends. Not the kind of friends that go bowling together or to the lake with our families. I mean the kind of friends that take for granted that the other will always be there when you need him. It was only a bit over a week ago when the wrongness of that assumption hit me.

I saw it on digg.com. Something about a Linux Advocate being sick, so out of curiosity I clicked it. That was the first time I learned that Kenny has cancer and that it is trying its god damnest to kill him. I have talked to Ken several times in the past year and never once did he mention being sick. He talked about several projects, his envolvement with helping senior citizens and a planned trip to Washington DC to give them hell over DRM. This is what I discovered.

Even though it was announced on Lobby4Linux that he was raising funds for his trip, even though it was published in several articles, several people did donate. Not nearly enough. Ken drove instead of taking a flight. He had not raised enough money for that. Fact is, he didn't raise enough money to afford a hotel room or enough money to eat on. He raised just enough money to pay for gas and get some new tires on his old truck.

So I confronted him on this. Instead of just giving the couple hundred he raised back to the donors, he felt as if he had an obligation to the community and he made the trip. He slept in his truck and took his meals at a Salvation Army kitchen.

Here is the hell of it. Any psychopath can walk into selected Mosques right here in America, claim thier loyalty to Allah, vow to slay as many infidels as possible, and inside of a week, he has fifty thousand bucks in his pocket.

Let one guy with a dream, a passion, try to make the computing world a better place, and he gets nickles and dimes tossed to him like some bum. Now wait, I stand to lose a friend by writing this, so losing the potential customer here in Austin doesn't mean flip to me. You have among you a seriously ill man, who is willing to give everything he has to contribute to the community, and you ignore him like a beggar on the street. Yes, there are many of you who did help Kenny, and yes, we did not know he was sick, but now we do.

Did this discourage him? Did he whine about it? Go look at his website. He is not only still hanging in there fighting, he is trying to raise money to provide laptops for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed and kids who do not have computers to do their homework on. No, not buy computers, he is going to buy the parts and BUILD them. That way the money goes farther.

I have come to realize that there are thousands of Linux people out there who are trying to make a difference and I thank them for their work. Maybe some of them might want to take a look at Lobby4Linux and see how it's done.

You have a treasure among you and too few of you realize it. Personally, I am going to tell helios that this is not worth his effort. What time he has left should be spent with his family. Somehow I don't think he will listen. Then, I will silently hope to find another friend half as good as Ken Starks. I may well have pushed too far the boundries of our friendship.

Dennis Mallory
DM and Associates
Austin Texas

My thanks to Devnet, Don and those at LXer.com for the assistance they have provided to Ken and his family during this terrible time.

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