Linux Advocacy – No Forest, Just Trees

Once again, the immature hysteria of open source advocacy has reared its tiny, ugly head. This time in the form of asking an industry panel why they don’t advertise “Linux” and all kinds of trash talk about industry because their answers weren’t brown-nosing enough for some.

No, Carla, Linux is not a dirty word. (Same goes to you, Kenny.)

First of all, you’re wrong that they don’t discuss Linux. IBM has used Linux by name in advertising. The ad campaign wasn’t shortlived in comparison to other IBM ad themes. Dell is also set to advertise their Ubuntu-based computers.

Not good enough? It’s something that will never rally the masses. There’s no conspiracy centered in Redmond, Washington, with little satellite branches headquartered in Fortune 100 tech companies to keep Tux down. These companies — IBM, HP, Dell, et al — know where and how their bread is buttered. They can sell “Linux” solutions by name to a certain kind of consumer — likely in a milieu involving significant infrastructure rather than individual desktops and laptops. The consumer marketplace isn’t clamoring for Linux. For the consumer crowd, it boils down to a choice between Windows and OSX. That’s not the doing of those selling hardware, that’s a reality of the market; if you don’t like that, fix Linux so consumers consider it a valid choice for their desktops.

There are many ironies in raising such a fuss about IBM and Lenovo in this context. For starters, IBM took on Microsoft long before there was a such thing as Linux. IBM tried to sell OS/2 as an alternative to Windows; they advertised it extensively to limited success (though many people still prefer it despite IBM dropping support for OS/2). IBM was an early adopter and supporter of Linux. They’re the only company whose ads I’ve seen — in primetime, during major sporting events — featuring Linux as noted above.

Where the fuck was Kenny when all those ads were airing?

I’ve written many times here and elsewhere that people are more likely to adopt Linux if they don’t know they’re using it — on DVRs, cell phones and PDAs, and in other devices where it functions without need for configuration by users. If it’s preconfigured and “just works,” there’s no learning curve. That’s far different than what “Linux” represents to most consumers, and it’s far different than putting it on their computers when they’re already comfortable with something else.

Advertising can and does shape perceptions. So does practical use. As far as Linux has come in recent years, it’s still not an ideal solution for all users — especially those who aren’t particularly technically inclined. The world isn’t filled with geeks, just people who want to use their computers. They expect things to work in a manner in which they’ve already become accustomed. Linux doesn’t do that, which is why the return rate is much higher for Linux-based devices than Windows-based devices (search my previous entries for articles about this).

The companies accused of not being “real friends” of open source have devoted tremendous resources — cash, code, manpower — to the cause of open source. They share their people with LUGs, they encourage involvement in the community. They’re not freeloaders.

Yes, their motives are profit-based. There’s not a fucking thing wrong with that — that’s why people get up and go to work, why companies exist. It’s not a matter of lip service to them, it’s their bottom line.

It’s not exploitative, either. Making software free — as in freedom — means reducing barriers rather than creating them regardless of their means or their goals. That goes for the “suits” as well as anyone else. They don’t have to take vows of poverty to use free and open source software. They also don’t have to contribute back to it other than the changes they distribute per the GPL and similarly restrictive licenses.

Everyone using open source and libre software “profits” from it; the productivity, joy, or any other quality derived from the experience — if positive — is a benefit to someone. And I don’t think users have to see a goddamn penguin with “Tux Inside” (would most consumers know wtf that means anyway?) to benefit from it. If it works, they like it. They don’t care beyond that.

Casting aspersions and accusing others of taking but not giving (or treating Linux like a dirty word), though, is sheer demagoguery. Demanding others give lip service and behave in ways you think they should is authoritarian. It’s the antithesis of freedom.

Is that what free software is about now?

If not, you might try attracting flies with honey rather than vinegar. The “suits” freely using and contributing back to open source aren’t your enemies. You shouldn’t become theirs just because you can’t see the forest for the trees.

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