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Linux needs its eyes wide open

by Simon Brew

For Linux to continue to grow, its eyes need to be firmly open, and any hint of blinkers put away, argues Simon Brew…

For Linux to continue to grow, its eyes need to be firmly open, and any hint of blinkers put away, argues Simon Brew…

Linux, as I’ve been learning over the past few weeks, is an emotive subject, and something that people – with very good reason – tend to feel passionately about. That’s the joy of something born out of a philosophy rather than a committee meeting, of course, but it’s one of those things that very much has some cons to go with its pros.
I met one of those cons recently. And what set it off was me making the cardinal error of talking about both Windows and Mac OS in the same breath as Linux. For I was wittering on about something or other computing-related that involved these three names, and the person I was talking to turned and sneered to me, “Well can’t you tell that you’re living in a Windows world?”

I’ve genuinely wracked my brains for what statement I’d made to induce such a comment, but I’m fairly confident that it wasn’t something akin to “Windows, then. That’s the only operating system in the world, isn’t it?” If you think I’m overreacting, then you didn’t see the incandescent look on the person’s face. He’d have looked happier if I’d just dropped out of a dog’s bottom.

But it shouldn’t be like this (and arguably for the most part it isn’t). Until recently, it was the Windows mistake to try and go about its business with bare acknowledgement that any other product on the market existed. And while I can highlight many, many strengths of Linux, one that it would be remiss to overlook is its willingness to work alongside other operating systems. Because, like it or lump it (and while I’m no betting man, I’d safely have a wager on which of those two camps most people fall in to), it is a Windows world. It is a planet where one operating system is dominant on people’s desktops. And no amount of sticking fingers in ears and singing la-la-la can do anything about. I fully understand the valid argument of people getting stuck in a Windows ethos of doing things. But it’s still a fact that the majority of people do work in the way that Windows demands. To challenge that in any logical way, surely you have to embrace, or at least recognise, it a little.

For here’s the crucial thing – it’s not exclusively a Windows world, and the dominance of one operating system does not have be the status quo for all time. But, for Linux to continue making inroads, and to continue to tempt home users as well as large corporations into adopting it, there has to be realism involved.

There’s no need to be snobbish about Linux. After all, it is for everyone; it’s just that not everyone has found it yet. The trick is, I’d argue, to hold the door open for all those who are even mildly tempted to try, and to recognise that it might not be 100% straightforward to jump from one operating system to the other. And, ultimately, let’s not pretend we live in a world where it’s one or the other. It’s not a crime to use both. At least until the person I had my unfortunate conversation with gets into any position of power…

simon_brew_greySimon Brew
Simon is a technology writer and editor, working across the Linux, Windows and Mac OS platforms

This article is a sample from issue 84 of Linux User & Developer.

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    • tracyanne

      As this article is not posted on line. When my copy of this magazine arrives in my local newsagent, and I pick it up and read it. then and only then will I be able to give you an informed reply.

    • Chris

      Well said, especially the part about philosophy and community. After all, what’s important is to make computing and access to information (and therefore growth) open to as wide an audience as possible. When the argument turns to OS wars some members in the open source community tend to have difficulty seeing the forest for the trees. It’s not the OS, apps or technology, it’s about freedom and moving forward together as a world community.

      It is regrettable that a vocal minority in some cases miss this point, and give an impression to outsiders that open source is an elitist, “geek-oriented” movement.

    • Germic Trem

      “It’s not a crime to use both…”

      Is someone in Linux community claiming that using Windows is a crime? Believe me Simon, the reason why people like me have moved to use Linux is simple. It’s Windows OS itself.

    • TK

      It seriously appears the author believes the FOSS world MUST make an effort to work with Microsoft more yet this snippet makes no real effort to say HOW.

      Has the author become familiar with the rough road samba had to travel? What recent development made it easier for them to get samba to better integrate in a Windows domain environment, apparently the very argument he’s making? More specifically, WHO was forced to work closer with WHOM?

      How about the ability for OpenOffice to manipulate .doc files? Has Microsoft jumped at the chance to give OpenOffice a helping hand with that format? No??? And what of Microsoft’s shady dealings getting OOXML shoved down the throats of standards bodies instead of improving ODF? Is that meeting anyone halfway?

      Perhaps the author suggesting that Microsoft is excused from working with FOSS since MS has profits to meet and is the bigger player, therefore FOSS needs to do the heavy interop lifting yet still take all the blame when it doesn’t quite fit.

      I’m afraid the only answer the author may want to see is for Linux to drop the GPL, go commercial, and let individual corporations divide up the carcass while everyone else is denied any resulting benefit from added technology built by those companies paying a huge sum of money to MS for patented/hidden APIs and such. As it currently stands, FOSS and MS are at an impasse since FOSS demands everyone have equal access but MS demands $$$$ before anyone can have equal access (unless forced by law). Unless FOSS is diluted beyond recognition or MS has an epiphany, there is very little common ground.

      FOSS has a history of much better interoperability than most other technology. The framework is there, the skillset is chomping at the bits (no pun intended), and the passion to get it done is simmering on the back burner. What is missing?

      I believe the answer is terribly obvious.

    • James from Down Under

      Hi Simon,

      It’s James here, from Australia. Sorry this is not a good place to try and get in touch! I’ve forgotten your email and had some problems.

      I’m the Aussie who did the Linus etc interview when Maggie was around. Please get in touch and let me know your email address.

      Many thanks, Happy Easter Simon!