Open Source

A lesson in logic

Fundamentalists are people who can't tolerate the idea that there are legitimate points of view other than their own. Publish something negative about Linux, and you'll soon find out what I mean.



COMMENTARY—Fundamentalists are people who can't tolerate the idea that there are legitimate points of view other than their own. Publish something negative about Linux, and you'll soon find out what I mean.

"It is a feature of strongly held dogmas that they steadfastly resist not only unpalatable truths but even the faintest suggestion of the barest possibility of the most tangential reference to an unacceptable fact. Better that men should die and cities be overrun than that the sacred teaching should be found wanting."—Norman Dixon, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence.

From the responses to last month's patch management column, I learned a lot about people's attitudes to patches—and was repeatedly reminded of several other points. For the record, it's true that Linux patches only apply to one application at a time whereas Windows patches update numerous programs simultaneously. Does this mean a Linux patch could still screw things up? Definitely, but you'd never hear a Linux person admit it.

The problem with discussing an issue like this: anyone writing negatively about Linux is immediately bombarded with supercilious invective—plus a good dose of righteous indignation and withering sarcasm—from Linux supporters.

The flame mails and Web site posts my colleagues and I receive have in common—as well as the tone—a catalogue of trite and formulaic tactics. Here are some of the most popular elements:

  • Insinuating journalist is on Microsoft payroll. It appears Microsoft has nothing better to do than spend its money bribing journalists to write bad things about Linux. Obviously there are no bad things about Linux and journalists could not possibly come to think otherwise without being paid off.

  • Use of "Micro$oft" or "M$". This is not only a very clever pun, but also devastating social commentary. How intelligent and original!

  • Faulty logic and appeals to higher authorities. For example, a post on the luv.asn.au mailing list about my last column referred to an article by well-known Linux fascist Andrew Grygus, whom the author referred to as "an extremely experienced IT consultant". The fact that Grygus is a veteran Windows basher and Linux fanatic is irrelevant, of course. The logic seems to be, if Grygus says it's so, then Mehlman must be wrong, QED—Grygus knows The Truth.

  • Technical arguments that are false, outdated or based on generalisations. In the article referred to, Microsoft Hides Behind Linux, Grygus claims "Many experts [such as himself, perhaps?] consider [Windows] too broken to fix, ever." He argues, for example, "If something goes wrong, Microsoft provides no way to back the patch out, you have to completely reinstall Windows."

    This is taken as gospel in the Linux community and is true, to an extent, in Windows 98 or NT 4.0. In Windows 2000 or later, there are facilities to go back, such as the System Restore function, and most patches can be uninstalled. To be fair, under some circumstances this doesn't work, but to claim it never works is—quite simply—a lie. Either Grygus hasn't used Windows in the last five years, or he's willing to tell porkies in order to prove his point. Either way, deferring to his expertise as a consultant is a bit rich.

    The Linux fanatic will then claim that by contrast, Linux suffers from none of these problems due to its inherently better design and moral superiority.

  • Lectures on unbiased journalism. It seems the average Linux HaX0R knows more about journalism than any IT journalist who dares to criticise Linux. Apparently the True Purpose of IT journalism is to promote Linux, because it's better than Windows.

  • Personal abuse. And of course, since the journalist can't see The Truth about Linux, the journalist must be stupid, not know how to use a computer, not understand logic (ha!), and be slightly less popular than genital herpes.

All this explains why I found the quote I used at the beginning delightfully appropriate. As long as Linux proponents are so insecure that they constantly need to reinforce to themselves and everyone else that The Truth is out there, and starts with an L, Linux will lose the propaganda war.

Josh Mehlman is acting editor of Technology & Business.

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