OPINION

Linux Haters Make a Few Valid Points

Several years ago, I helped develop some software that integrates and monitors certain business processes. We chose to use Linux-based systems because of some key free and open source software that allowed us to put together a sophisticated and comprehensive software platform.

So often, the defense of Linux involves a price argument. More important than the free price is the freedom Linux and other GPL software represent. Lately, I have noticed a lot of bloggers disparaging Linux-based operating systems for all kinds of reasons, from aesthetics to business strategies.

Of these, Linux Hater’s blog stood above the rest, and though his criticisms are generally valid, he completely misses the mark. Though we should never avoid holding Linux-based operating systems to the same standards as proprietary platforms, we must recognize that any shortcomings are minor in the context of all of the successes of Linux and open source software.

We Need Linux

Linux and GPL-type free and open source software are welcome and normal reactions to a culture that remains generally oblivious to the consequences of proprietary technology. Most culturally significant geeks speak fondly of hacking gadgets and software in the dawn of the Information Age, but a lot of what was normal then is against federal law now. Just as we have seen the nearly unbelievable consolidation of just about every other industry, we now see some of the same players trying to lock customers out of products by design, technology and legislation.

GNU and Linux are essential to repelling this notion of complete privatization wherein developers would presumably have to pay royalties to use software development tools, if they were even available to lone programmers. The world of ubiquitous proprietary software looks disturbingly like broadcast media when you put it all in place.

Rather than the latest frontier for the Marketplace of Ideas, if closed-source commercial software actually killed off FOSS, the Internet would effectively be cable TV. This model has worked really effectively for powerful market participants, and they’re eager to get the Web under control and employing a more familiar revenue model in place of the prevailing ad hoc anarchy.

Ignorance Is Ignorant

I empathize and/or agree with many of the allegations and complaints of critics inside and outside the Linux community, but I’m somewhat astounded that people who seem so otherwise clever overlook the key idea of this whole exercise.

The GNU General Public License has provided an alternative to the status quo, which is hopelessly infatuated with this idea that ignorance is bliss. Rather than having good ideas stolen and privatized, the copyleft GPL makes sharing the rule. Whether you’re distributing it or writing software to hook into it, you are legally compelled to distribute your source code as well. There are ways around the spirit of the GPL and other open source platforms that accommodate proprietary software, but the GPL and Linux play essential roles in ensuring tomorrow’s geeks aren’t stuck telling stories about writing Facebook widgets.

The user interface and apps may not be as polished as OS X, but a lot of Linux-based programs are well done enough to be viable alternatives to commercial software for users who don’t have a lot of money to spend on after-market software.

Great Expectations

Moreover, another key element of Linux and open source software is that more users mean interest and more demand. It’s easy to identify fledgling free and open source software projects, but objective observation and assessment of Linux-based software over the past three, five and 10 years clearly point to significant forward progress.

Today’s users complain about Linux-based operating systems because they expect a high-quality user experience. The operating system that is on the one hand disparaged as being an illegitimate hobbyist platform is simultaneously judged by the same standards as the top commercial operating system, and it is on the same playing field — clearly not as refined, but definitely competitive in features.

Rather than rattling off deficiencies, providing specific feedback would be a more constructive use of time and keystrokes. To that end, the open source landscape is littered with abandoned software projects, not altogether unlike the commercial software world. This can be a real nuisance, but unlike with commercial software, you can arbitrarily continue developing open source software projects (or fork them, of course, at your own risk).

Depending on your needs, you can modify the software to be custom for your organization or release it back to the general public with your changes and updates. The GPL model admittedly presents challenges for some businesses and developers that produce proprietary software, but it more than compensates by creating a collection of software that is always growing in both size and sophistication.

When observed from the standpoint of being a completely free and open source operating system that has gone from a kernel-less mishmash of programs to a stable, feature-rich platform that is used by a significant percentage of domestic servers and international desktops, one sees critics attacking straw men. Frankly, open source software is bigger than GPL, and all kinds of open source software has benefitted businesses large and small.

When the Linux Hater’s blog rails about meta community quirks and legitimate software issues, it seems almost like a (perhaps obsessed) fellow traveler, but when detractors criticize open source generally, as if it’s some sort of homogenous group, I take pause. That sort of talk makes me wonder if they’re even offering earnest tirades.


Jeremiah T. Gray is a LinuxInsider columnist, software developer, sysadmin and technology entrepreneur. He is a director of Intarcorp, publisher of the Linux-oriented educational comic book series, “Hackett and Bankwell.”


5 Comments

  • I agree that much of anti-Linux movement exists coz they don’t like the idea of freedom of Internet. Big corporations haven’t hidden they lust for making internet as a version of cable TV.

  • Maybe at one time, but it’s pretty much degraded into stinky stinky garbage.

    QUOTE:
    I see a lot of drive-by commentards saying something like I’m spreading FUD on behalf of MS. The more I think about it, freetards do something similar. It’s not FUD, it’s the opposite. I’m going to call it COCK. Certainty, Optimism, Conviction, and KDE. Certainty, as in you guys are sooo sure that your OS is the shit, without knowing anything about how real people use real OSes. Optimism, as in y’all are blindly optimistic when it comes to the future of your evolving shitpile. Conviction, as in it’s a fucking religion and y’all go around trying to convert people. And KDE, well just cuz KDE sucks, and y’all try to spread it around to people who don’t care, don’t want it, and dont’ give a fuck.

    So please, for the love of Linus, stop spreading COCK"

    END OF QUOTE

    I don’t care why this person doesn’t like Linux. I don’t care if his criticisms are "valid". I don’t care if he’s serious or putting it on. We are not the battered girlfriend of the Proprietary software industry, to be slapped around for our won good.

    And yes they do get it. Thousands of people who feel thier livlihood is tied to the status quo are bound to regard us with fearseriously and suspicion. They don’t want our kind movinv into theior neighborhood; we might bring down property values.

    I think their fears are overstated. Competition will force proprietary software producers to develop to stay ahead, and that means more jobs, not less jobs.

    The Linux community, needs nothing from the Linux Hater and his cesspool. It is stinking up the air, degrading the discussion for everybody, and it’s about as funny as an Andrew Dice Clay album from 1986.

    And his adolescent fans are worse. Somebody just posted something on his site implying that Richard Stallman is a rapist. Of course it wans’t serious, it was a joke. Not the funny kind, the hateful, ugly, and disgusting kind.

    The stench of this is just starting to build, and I think its going to stick to everybody, Microsoft included. I’ve been in there posting in the past few days, but the fact that you seem to be taking this filth seriously tells me that I need to stay the hell out of that sewer, and everyone else should. Linux users are going to be provoked, and they’re going to be dragged down to this level. They’re already calling the Linux Hater’s fans "wintards". This is not going to win us any good will AM ong the general population.

    Surely there is valid criticism to be found somewhere else.

  • Although I basically subscribe to the article, I find the acknowledgement that sometimes Linux critics are right a little meagre. Especially when I read it together with the section "Great Expectations".

    My point is that to an end-user (like me in many situations) the caveat "This is AM ateurish software, don’t expect too much" isn’t stated very plainly. If at all.

    In some cases OSS is anything but "amateurish", and will match or exceed professional products (e.g. the Linux kernel, Open Office, Samba, MySQL, Wireshark, scientific software like the R programming language, Scilab, Octave, Latex). In other cases OSS will provide a solid product which however is noticeably less polished than commercial counterparts (Latex front-ends, text editors, the Gimp, Gnome). In some cases OSS software is buggy and insufficiently developed (KDE 4.x, Dia, etc.).

    All three OSS variants are precious and have a legitimate claim to existence. Only lets be clear about which actual software package is in which category.

    What is needed is honesty about strengths and shortcomings of OSS packages. But all too often one is showered with emotional (angry and ill-thought-through) replies when one dares to bluntly criticize a certain OSS product for failings or lack of polish.

    KDE 4.0 would be a nice example. It wasn’t an end-user ready at all, despite being called "4.0". It was a developer release. KDE 4.1 was the first beta, and KDE 4.2 the second beta. Perhaps KDE 4.3 will be the of end-user ready release quality.

    Now don’t get me wrong: I think that KDE is a magnificent piece of work. What went wrong was managing user expectations (through proper labelling).

    So why not adopt this rule:

    "If you bill your OSS software without further qualifications then you position it as professional quality, and then you can’t flame people for pointing out deficiencies, bugs, or lack of polish. If you don’t want to claim professional quality, say so up front."

  • There’s this misconception in the industry that Linux doesn’t look pretty. Most of it comes from these "user friendly" distros like Ubuntu, which are as ugly as a mud fence with cow plop splashes. That’s the problem with the default configuration from "geeky" people. They like functional, not aesthetically pleasing, desktops for the most part. If you want to make the inital experience better include KDE with some more visually attractive window decorations. It goes a long way and illustrates part of why Windows and OSX have a larger market share.

    Gryyphyn, out.

  • Great article. Very rare to see someone speak so eloquently and not simply bash what is out there because its not their personal favourite. osX is certainly more polished than anything else, and if I want that, I will gladly pay for it. Linux users seem to not understand business and its role in our society. Having said that, Linux definitely has a place as a counter balance to business. I applaud those efforts.

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