- A person who ruins a party by stopping the fun.
Yesterday I published "Why Linux makes Windows 7 obsolete" . In the meanwhile, I've moderated all comments and the storm seems to have died down. So far it has gotten 22 sometimes lengthy comments and at least two feeble attempts to debunk the story, here and here. Sorry, I couldn't resist the temptation to comment these as well.
I haven't blogged that much lately. Sure, I scanned the headlines every day. KDE4 is coming around nicely, Mono isn't getting anywhere (fortunately), Compiz is still the cutting edge window manager, Vista is getting battered by the press all the time, Linus is doing what he does best, that is making great kernels, what is there to blog about?
And then all of a sudden, Microsoft is rushing out a "new" OS, giving it a new name in the hope people won't associate it with the Vista disaster. Yawn. Rob Enderle, a known ally of the Microsoft Corporation, thinks it is the best invention since sliced bread. Yawn. Ron Barrett however, continues the tradition of Byte by declaring Linux dead. We will all ditch our perfectly good working Linux machines and start an exodus to the promised land of Microsoft, led by the (false) prophet Steve Balmer.
Bad call. Sander Marechal of LXer picks up the story, calls it "the FUD of the week" and dares somebody to top that. Well, I'm not quite sure I interpreted this correctly, but I decided to pick up the glove. In the late hours of January 11th, I hacked together my own piece of FUD and posted it on LXer and Linux Today. It didn't take very long until the first comments came in. In the course of the day it quickly became the best read story of January 12th on both websites.
Okay, that was quite funny and we all had a good laugh. But let's analyze what actually happened. In the past, editors of the "major" websites complained they couldn't publish a story on Open Source without being "flamed to hell" by Linux "bigots", "zealots", okay, what else did they call us? It appears that nowadays Windows supporters are just as touchy. Maybe the Vista disaster has caused this change, maybe it was OS/X, I don't know. The point is, they seems to feel they have to defend their choice. That is quite a change from the arrogant attitude they had before. Some even accuse us of being a bunch of elitist snobs!
I don't mind being flamed, that's all in the game. If you don't want to be flamed don't post a story like this. Ron Barrett got flamed too, obviously, including by yours truly. Still, I'm always interested where these comments are coming from and an even more interesting question is: why? I've found there are several reasons for Windows supporters to comment.
Unfortunately, this seems to become a common, accepted business practice. The Dutch consumer TV show Radar recently complained that their forums are swamped by people who work for the very same company they endorse, posing as legitimate clients. Microsoft has been doing this for a long time, stating that the company should "use the Internet, to heighten the impression that the enemy is desperate, demoralized, defeated". Do not underestimate these guys. Some of them are quite smart and can seriously debunk your story with some clever FUD.
Microsoft dependent individuals and companies
Some of the commenters have a stake in Microsofts success. They own a company that is completely dependent of Microsoft technology or have heavily invested in Microsoft education programs. In short, if Microsoft fails, they are out of a job or their professional value is seriously deminished. That is one of the worst things that can happen to an IT professional and for that reason, they have my sympathy. My professional life does not depend on either Microsoft or Linux, so I will never be able to fully appreciate the choices they have to make. On the other hand, life is always uncertain in the IT industry so it might not be a bad idea to bet on several horses at the same time.
I started off as an application programmer using Dataflex. After that, I had to learn dBase. A few years later it was MS-Access, quickly followed by PHP. ITIL is having its third iteration and there are other frameworks like CMMI, ASL, BiSL that gain acceptance. Keeping up is retaining your market value. That's why it is important not to close your eyes for the changing market and cling desperately to one single technology.
The lame and the whining
These are individuals who grew up with MS-DOS, moved to Windows 3.1, queued for Windows 95 and applauded the coming of Windows XP. They gradually acquired their knowledge of the Windows platform and don't want to be bothered with a new Operating System or new applications. The Windows way is the only way and anything else is "alien". The "package management" discussion is a good example. They are irritated by all these people who want to move them to a new platform. Some may have tried Linux, ran into some minor problem and didn't care to put the same effort into solving it as they would when they had encountered a Windows problem.
These are the least vocal Windows users. They probably bought a PC with Windows preinstalled and don't even have a clue that you can install a new Operating System. These are the people who return their computer for repair because Windows failed for the simple reason that they cannot tell the software from the hardware. If you burn down Windows you actually tell them they bought a bad computer. These people are the real moneymakers for Microsoft and would seriously benefit from a preinstalled Linux, although some of them put great effort into learning how to use the computer and feel uncomfortable with an unfamiliar Operating system. They are not the enemy, folks!
I do not claim this list is scientific or exhaustive, people may have a multitude of reasons to flame, but these are some patterns that are emerging. Another lesson that is learned is that Linux is no longer the underdog. Sure, people are still repeating some of the old Linux myths, but those are so easily debunked that most don't bother.
Every new distribution release is easier to install than the previous one, supports more hardware and brings more eyecandy. After the Vista disaster, it is harder to maintain that Linux does not support sufficient hardware. Compiz proved that Linux comes with a very beautiful GUI and we're not typing commands in a shell all the time. Sure, Linux users tend to like the CLI, but that is a preference, not a prerequisite. At work, I use Windows XP all the time and one of the windows that is featured on my desktop is a MinGW shell. This forced Windows proponents to say that they "don't need no stinking cube". I wondered what they would have said when it had been the other way around..
Most Windows proponents are particularly sensitive to WGA and UAC. These are particularly weak points of any Vista installation. The FOSS business model does not require a WGA and the functionality of UAC is elegantly woven into the basic design of Unix. Another point is that Linux is free (as in beer) and you have to add a lot of functionality to make it worth to fork out your cash and move to a closed source platform.
Most educated Windows users I courteously meet IRL always feel they have to excuse themselves for using Windows. Linux is increasingly becoming the talk of the town, something you have to try for yourself sometime.
That is a good thing. Bashing Windows on the web is good, because we as a community still have defend ourselves against vicious corporate attacks like "Get the facts" campaigns, but IRL it is not the most successful strategy. Note there are always good reasons for individual persons to use Windows, not every convert is a victory.
We still have to fight many battles on many fronts in order to achieve world domination, but on the publicity front we're not doing bad, as "Why Linux makes Windows 7 obsolete" has proven. It has been an interesting social experiment. You think I shouldn't have? The other side doesn't agree.