Linux

You don't have to love everything about open source to be an advocate


I just read a rather muddled blog from CNET.com about the author's thoughts on the "Linux community." He's generally striking a positive note about all the good things about open source alternatives, but sprinkled in are some odd comments that made me wonder what he was really getting at:

Which brings me to another issue -- what is up with this community? At times, it can be the best of communities and at others, it's simply the worst. With dozens of distributions to choose from, why would this community stand by as crapware impugns the viability of its better operating system?

He seems to be blaming the Linux community for everything out there not being as good as Mandriva, say, or Ubuntu, and asking why such things are allowed to exist. Huh? Reviewers for Consumer Reports might review 10 toasters and four of them are really crappy -- they burn your toast, they emit a funny smell, the slots aren't wide enough for your bread, etc. But the reviewers don't generally advocate throwing all those toasters in a pile and lighting a match or propose legislation to make those manufacturers cease and desist. They don't blame the other six perfectly good toasters for all the bad ones either. They just suggest that you might not want to buy that toaster.

Okay, I'm probably belaboring the point in this case and I don't really think it's the intent of the author of the above-mentioned piece, but it just reminded me of one of my pet peeves, which is the way that a lot of people use this kind of false logic when talking about the relative merits of Microsoft vs. Mac vs. Linux. Read any discussion on the subject and you'll see exactly what I mean. It's as if one really bad software application or one goofy distro somehow makes the whole idea of open source a flawed concept, in spite of the fact that some people live their lives quite fully and happily depending on their own little stable of open source products that they've tried and tested. The other revolutionary thought is that some people are perfectly happy only dealing with proprietary software and its limitations. They've put a price tag on the amount of effort they're willing to expend, and they're prepared to pay it.

It doesn't mean you're a bad Linux geek if you run across an app or new distro that stinks, and you say it really stinks. That kind of commentary is exactly what people need to hear, just like Jack was pointing out about the lack of a flexible POS for Linux. Conversely, just because some open source stuff is buggy, poorly supported, or just plain lame, doesn't mean the answer is to give up and choose only proprietary software (that means you, microsofties). The world of open source is just too big to stick a label on. The "you're either with us or against us" philosophy isn't generally very fruitful in the real world; why is it that we so often abandon our powers of critical thinking when trying to persuade people to our point of view?

That's my rant for the day -- feel free to indulge in your own!

About

Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

21 comments
alexpaton1969
alexpaton1969

Actually, there is a half decent POS application for linux. I believe it only works properly on KDE, though I may be wrong. It's called Lemon POS and is available through kde-apps.org. There aren't any programs which I have found missing (?), but there are several which are severely lacking, such as desktop publishing. Inkscape and scribus are ok, but hardly up to scratch for serious publishing.

Absolutely
Absolutely

People project their current assumptions onto suggested alternatives, unless told exactly why those assumptions are invalid. In some cases, even that doesn't help. [i]He seems to be blaming the Linux community for everything out there not being as good as Mandriva, say, or Ubuntu, and asking why such things are allowed to exist. Huh? Reviewers for Consumer Reports might review 10 toasters and four of them are really crappy -- they burn your toast, they emit a funny smell, the slots aren't wide enough for your bread, etc. But the reviewers don't generally advocate throwing all those toasters in a pile and lighting a match or propose legislation to make those manufacturers cease and desist. They don't blame the other six perfectly good toasters for all the bad ones either. They just suggest that you might not want to buy that toaster.[/i] That is really the hardest part of Linux to explain to n00bs. Linux is not a single entity like its corporate alternatives. A lot of people mistakenly believe they "have better things to do" than learn enough of the technical details of the Linux kernel, the structural advantages of the open source development model, or the conceptual flaw in the premise that software can be novel and/or non-obvious, and therefore patentable. Those people deserve Windows, and by that I mean WinME & Vista, not NT4 & XP SP2.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"That is really the hardest part of Linux to explain to n00bs ... A lot of people mistakenly believe they 'have better things to do' than learn enough of the technical details of the Linux kernel, the structural advantages of the open source development model, or the conceptual flaw in the premise that software can be novel and/or non-obvious, and therefore patentable." Abs, are you saying there is -nothing- anybody has to do that's more important than learning the details of operating systems, development methods, and licensing models? NOTHING?

NaughtyMonkey
NaughtyMonkey

sitting at the computer on Valentines Day instead of being with better company. ;) Sorry Abs, had to say it.

NaughtyMonkey
NaughtyMonkey

didn't buy anything. Just took the time to spend quality time with my family. That is what really matters.

Absolutely
Absolutely

Valentine's Day is a sinister plot of the candy makers and florists of the world to part fools with their money. I take it they succeeded with you. :D

Absolutely
Absolutely

"Abs, are you saying there is -nothing- anybody has to do that's more important than learning the details of operating systems, development methods, and licensing models? NOTHING?" No, the basis for that statement is that people weighing in on the subject at all are using their computers more than once. With that as given (or, since I think you're going to pick nits here starting pretty soon, I'll be more exact: frequent computer use, for more than one year), the up-front time required to function adequately in Linux is worthwhile, for anybody. Using Ubuntu, for example, as a 2-function Internet Appliance, does not require thorough knowledge of kernel and package compiling, POSIX threads or even globbing. In the old days, a couple of README files were standard, even for Microsoft products, and it's still not a bad idea. The difference in difficulty [i]to accomplish the same tasks[/i] is widely exaggerated and the advantages are definitely worthwhile.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"The difference in difficulty to accomplish the same tasks is widely exaggerated ... " If we're discussing "Ubuntu ... as a 2-function Internet Appliance", I agree wholeheartedly. And if you read this Friday, have a good weekend.

williammcc1
williammcc1

I don't like everything about open source I love my video games and linux has some very good ones but some that I like just wont work with wine,but I would never use Windows online or for most everything else they both have there place for me on my pc.

seanferd
seanferd

Excellent points. Personally, I'm just tired of the whole concept that "open source has to get it together in one distro if it wants to compete with proprietary software". As if all open source were just operating systems. As if there weren't multiple choices in the proprietary world. As if there weren't open source that runs on proprietary OSs. "I'm just so confused, please limit my choices so I can make a decision." And send in the FOSS police to stomp out anything that might tarnish the image of FOSS. I can't understand how Mr. Foss of the Foss Corporation would allow that piece of junk to be sold. Oh, sorry. End Of Rant.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"The other revolutionary thought is that some people are perfectly happy only dealing with proprietary software and its limitations. They???ve put a price tag on the amount of effort they???re willing to expend, and they???re prepared to pay it." I'm not sure why some otherwise reasonable people automatically equate the use of proprietary software with "stupid" or "lazy", but TR is full of such comments.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

It's that a lot of times people spend a LOT of time trying to get closed source software to work, when there is a FLOSS alternative that would "just work."

djc
djc

The same can be said about open source. Lots of time to make something work that a proprietry package already does and 'just works'. The best way to work is to use a mixture of open and closed source depending on what works the best and not commit yourself to one mindset or the other. Be open minded and you will have the best of both worlds.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]The best way to work is to use a mixture of open and closed source depending on what works the best and not commit yourself to one mindset or the other. Be open minded and you will have the best of both worlds.[/i]" The longer I stuck to that way of choosing software, the more I found myself using open source software, and the less I found myself using closed source proprietary software. Now, I have two pieces of closed source software that I use: 1. Neverwinter Nights 2. World of Warcraft I run 'em both on FreeBSD. Well, I would if I got around to reinstalling World of Warcraft. I haven't had time to bother with it for several months.

jlwallen
jlwallen

it reminds me of the who vi vs. emacs debate. no one could really say that one is actually better than the other without eventually falling into "but it does this the way I like it!" Linux has a place in the computer-sphere. that place is growing by leaps and bounds. MS has it's place in the computer-sphere and, if MS continues in the route it has been (as with Vista) that place will very, very slowly keep shrinking. But you can't even use that. But you are right...that kind of logic just swims in circles all the while the sharks are sneaking up for attack.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Slamming an open source project because you think it does something stupid or that it doesn't work as advertised is FINE. That's what makes FLOSS so great. Not only can I complain, but I can make things happen. I can see the change or make it myself!

jlwallen
jlwallen

and while i'm at it...i thought i'd take a moment to say this: the whole "t's still an ideal platform for the advanced techie who doesn't want to waste his time with things that "just work."" statement drives me crazy! that just smacks of ignorance. advanced techie? hello, this is 2008 and the Linux distributions have, in many ways, surpassed anything MS has in ease of use. granted there are areas that still need improvement...but...when people make that claim it simply shows they have no idea what they are saying.

Jaqui
Jaqui

But then, I know that looking over the archives here it can be found where I'll slam a distro, or open source project for what I see as failings, as well as that I only use open source software myself. So it shouldn't be a surprise that I agree with you on this subject.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

just shocked.

Jaqui
Jaqui

'cause that post shows I can actually write good english? ;) or cause I'm not afraid to call a pile of crap what it is? :D

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