Zeal, Advocacy, and the Future of LinuxThe future of Linux in the computing world, now so centralized around the Internet, worries me.
It REALLY worries me.
What worries me, specifically, is the light that Linux is being put in because of very bad advocacy. Anti-advocacy, almost, from those who claim to love and support it the most. Rude, insulting, and obscene attacks fly out of the "mouths" of these people to anyone who speaks one thing about Linux that doesn't put it into an immaculate light. Never before has the ordinary, everyday user had such a voice in the software industry. In this Internet-centralized computing world, the everyday advocacy by the average user can have huge ramifications on how Linux is presented to the world.
Everyone remembers the Amiga, OS/2, the BeBox. For their times, they were technologically superior to the Intel/Microsoft framework that dominated. Their (relative) failures to reach a substantial portion of the marketplace cannot be narrowed down to one cause, but among the many, advocacy was definitely a poignant one. A defensive and often rude greater-than-thou attitude without addressing the shortcomings of their products pushed away possible supporters and hurt their chances of widespread support. Rumors, myths, and speculation ("The Amiga is just a game machine! It couldn't possibly by used for any productive task.") became widespread. An inability to dispel this hearsay through supportive, informative, and polite advocacy implied that it was _not_ unsubstantiated, regardless of how untrue it really was. As
members of this open source community and supporters of our projects and ideals, it is important to correct erroneous reports and dispel FUD directed at us, but it must be done in a polite and professional manner. WE are the spokespeople for our community, for our ideals, and for our projects. There is no PR department in the open source community that can sugar coat our feelings and statements. Some of our most vocal proponents, such as ESR, RMS, and Linus, have somewhat taken on this responsibility, but even they are flamed and criticized. Without politeness, professionalism, and pride we will dig ourselves into a hole that we may not be able to get out of. And the shovels have already broken ground. Take, for example, the posting of the EXTREMELY embarrassing comments directed at Mindcraft regarding their Linux vs. NT benchmarks. Want more dirt? After an article by Jack Bryar from the Andover News Network that he himself admitted was hasty ex post facto was posted to Slashdot, he was flooded with hateful email telling him hundreds of different places to stick it. Was the article appropriate? Certainly not from our point of view, but many readers courteously and meticulously described the errors in his article, much to his delight. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the proper way to handle with this situation, not with obscenities. Fortunately, in his response article, he put the flames in a much better light than anyone could reasonably expect. This is not a slam on the Slashdot folk; it is a problem that the entire community suffers from. Nobody is perfect, obviously, but please give thought before you shoot off an email like the ones mentioned. There ARE real people with real feelings on the other end and many times they have a valid point.
You are all ambassadors for the open source community whether you like it or not. You don't want to be ostracized and called "rabid fanatics" or "zealots" by the rest of the world. It defeats our purpose and will ultimately doom us. Advocate Linux. Advocate open source. Don't put down competitors. Despite what some of you may think, many in (and perhaps most of) the community do NOT believe that Microsoft is the enemy and the evil corporation that we must kill. Rather than narrowing in on destroying Microsoft, focus on this: improving the software. And if you can't code, there is still much more you can do: dispel the rumors, the myths, the speculation, the FUD. Test the programs that these people write, offer well-thought suggestions, report bugs. Many coders aren't good writers and their programs need documentation. Offer to help them with it or join the Linux Documentation Project if that's a strength. The programmers are only a part of making this thing work, although the most glorified in this community. But they simply can't do it alone.
Linux Advocacy HOWTO (part of the Linux Documentation Project). Paul L. Rogers.
"Thoughts from the Furnace." Rob Malda. Article and user comments.
Regarding "The Charity Case for Red Hat." Frank de Lange. (Author's side note: at the time of writing, the first listed user comment is EXACTLY what I am talking about. From an "Anonymous Coward" on Slashdot: "A good reply but the original article was such a vapid pile of unresearched dogsh*t as not to even garner a reply.")
"Rebuttal to `The Charity Case for Red Hat.'" Dale Merrick.
Comments on "Andover News, the sequel: A Well Braziered Bryar" on Slashdot. Frank de Lange. Article and user comments (particularly from Lemmy Caution, mastagee, Skyshadow, x mani x, and more.)