Open Source Software and New Users


Open Source Software CommunityFree/Libre and Open Source software versus closed and proprietary software doesn’t matter.  It’s not the answer to solve all our problems.  It’s not the question we need to ask anyone and everyone either.  It simply doesn’t matter.  Well, it might matter to you and I…but it doesn’t matter to most people out there.

No matter what you say and do.  No matter what ideals you preach to people.  No matter what concepts about freedom you tout to them…it just won’t matter at all.  They want what they want and when they want it.  They turn a power button on and a device powers up giving them the functionality they need.  They open up a piece of software that gives them the features they want.  They don’t care whether they pay for it, if someone can alter it, if someone can distribute it, or if it was free.

It sucks that people don’t care about their own freedom with programs/code, but it’s true.

The Great Debate

The debate that rages on is usually one or two camps that support Free Software, Libre Software, or Open Source Software (or a combination of them) and those folks will lecture the end user who doesn’t care.  Have you ever been lectured about something you don’t care about?  Usually, you won’t remember anything about what is said to you when that happens.  The same is true for end users that couldn’t care less about what software they’re using…as long as it works.

Instead of lecturing these folks and talking down to them about the benefits of FOSS/FLOSS/OSS…I say we try a different approach.  I say we identify with them.  Establish a common ground.  Less like a bull in a ceramics shop.  A common proverb here in the US is that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”.  Being tactful and pleasant instead of overbearing a sharp is a good way to win people over to view things as you do.  Education is key…if you see someone using a locked in device, you could tactfully let them know of alternatives and why they might choose them.  I’ve seen the untactful approach and it does nothing but push the person farther away from free and open source software.  Less is more in these cases…no one wants to come off as a know it all…but that’s exactly what I’ve seen happen many times.

The Importance of Free and Open Source Software

I’m not trying to downplay the importance of Open Source software (Free software or Open Source software) but I am trying to downplay the importance/intensity of the debate between the various beliefs (FLOSS/FOSS/OSS).  I’ve seen people get very livid about the idea that all of their software should be completely open source or that it should be free AND open source or else they won’t use it.  I applaud these people for having a stance and sticking to it and I believe the world would be a much better place if we had more of this type of software that everyone could work on collaboratively.  I think it would spur innovation and bring people together.  But here’s the kicker…the end user DOESN’T CARE about your debate.  While it’s great that it means something to you, 9 times out of 10 it won’t mean anything to the end user.   If they’re completely new to these ideologies try easing them into understanding.  This isn’t sink or swim…everyone starts off in the shallow end first and when they’re ready they move into the deep end.  Don’t expect everyone to care right away.

If you have a user of software who will only use Open Source software…a person who staunchly supports this concept…and that person defends their stance any chance they can get, most people see it as a good thing.  In my opinion, rabid defense of ideology is sometimes not a good thing…because many times people lose the defensive stance and go on the offensive one.  The same is true for those who will only use Free and Open Source software…they become incensed at the idea that anyone would ever use anything else or would want to use.  Both of these camps tout altering the code, collaborative design, vendor lock-in, high prices of upgrades for proprietary software, and other ideological points of contention.  As I said, it’s great that these camps are so invested in their ideals…and there is a point where you do more harm than good.

The Perspective of the Uninformed New User

It’s hard for new users to understand the perspective and ideological camps behind  free and open source software because there is nothing else like it in the world.  Insisting that someone adapt immediately to the ideals put forth by FOSS is, in my opinion, an unrealistic expectation.  When someone is new to a group or community, demanding they adhere to a set of rules they don’t understand can be overwhelming.  In my opinion, a welcoming stance from the community members followed by a path of self discovery is what develops new users into the strongest supporters of free and open source software.

The attitudes and behavior new users face when initially embarking on their open source journey will stick with them and will shape their opinions for years to come.  A few years ago, I wrote an article titled “A New User Guide to Linux Communities“.  Despite being written in 2008, it is still applicable today.  New users need patience, tolerance, understanding, and empowerment when first trying FOSS.  If we can give them a positive and up-building experience, they’ll definitely come back for more and become more avid supporters.  Leave the politics and ideologies to the wayside.  Try helping the new user without trying to indoctrinate them.  Let them come to the discovery that FOSS is where they should be at.  Let them learn things on their own time and pace.  In the end, if they come to the same conclusions we have as FOSS users on their own, they’ll be more likely to stay that way and more productive community members in the future :)

HostGator, Linux and The Dukes of Hazzard


If you’re old, like me…let’s say, over 30 years old…you might remember the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard”.  Waylon Jennings, a popular country music singer during the late 70’s and early 80’s sang the theme song.  The lyrics are:

Just the good ol boys, never meaning no harm

Beats all you ever saw, been in trouble with the law

since the day they was born

Many times in IT job settings, you’ll find that you need to become one of ‘the good ole boys’ in order to accomplish your job.  You have to like the things others’ like (or pretend to), you have to laugh at the things others’ laugh at.  In other words, you may have to become all things to all people.  It’s stupid that things are this way…but if you don’t change, you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in.  I’ve always been one to try and strike the right balance between becoming what my coworkers wanted me to become versus what I want to be.  Through the almost 10 years I’ve been blogging here, I’ve both sponsored and at one time hosted Ken Starks (aka Helios) blogging efforts and even his Lobby4Linux initiative…and I still consider him to be a great friend as well as an uncompromising voice in the world of Linux.  Over at his blog, he gave the anonymous experience of one HostGator employee.  You can read her experience over at his blog but here is an excerpt:

But my friend did have trouble answering a question and she dutifully IM’ed her tier two technician for help…. Twice. Then three times. And finally a fourth. She didn’t even get a response from a tier three tech or a supervisor. And I’ve been a tier three technician…I played a lot of online games. Help requests were infrequent. We mostly helped supervisors keep track of call times. She was a nervous wreck…and the customer wasn’t happy. She had to take down the customer’s number and promise to call them back when she found the answer to their question. A callback counted against her in her call stats and bonuses can be earned or lost on customer callbacks. She was close to tears, but nothing like she was when she found out why she being ignored when she asked for help. It seems that there is a little initiation when you go to work in that particular call center. It’s a game of sorts and it all boils down to this.

I’ve experienced things just like this in my career in the world of IT…not to the level above…but in some form or another, I’ve been hindered at performing my job by someone else who wanted to ‘initiate’ me into working where they do…or someone who just didn’t like that I spoke in an accent.  It’ seems rather stupid that someone would want you to become part of their ‘good ole boys’ network before they give you the help you need.  It’s unprofessional and counterproductive.  The only real permanent damage it does happens to the end user.

One can’t get too mad at companies though…they may not even know it is going on.  It starts at the mid-management level.  Managers who enable and allow this sort of behavior on their teams or ignore this sort of behavior are to blame.  Having a workplace that isn’t fun to work at unless you’re a part of the ‘good ole boys’ or that makes the end user suffer just for a laugh isn’t a good workplace.  Turnover will be high.  Ego’s will be allowed to cultivate and grow.  Cliques will form.  Boundaries will be crossed. In the end, your workplace suffers because it becomes hostile to those who refuse to adapt their behavior to jive with the few who behave in this way.  If you’re an IT Manager, take note of the story I linked to above.  Don’t be that guy.  Don’t let your employees set the tone for the work environment.  Make it your mission to set the tone yourself.  Making your work environment an inviting and supporting place to work isn’t hard to do.

Would You Like a Native Client for Google Drive?


If you’re like me, you think that the more native applications that are available to Linux users, the better.  In the case of Google Drive, there isn’t a native synchronization enabled client for Linux.  This is especially sad if you think about how Google got to where it is today…building its entire search infrastructure on the backs of customized Debian servers.  Not to mention that Android…which is powered by Linux…has a native client available in the Google Play store.

Why would we want a native client for Google Drive when we can just use unofficial software to do it or mount it like a command line commando would?  The answer is simple…uniformity and solidarity.  The experience that is already present for Windows and Mac users should be present in Linux as well…instead, Linux continues to be the ‘red headed stepchild’ of the desktop experience.

There are some people who feel this same way and they have started an online petition asking Google to release a native Drive client for Linux.  You can sign the petition here if you’d like to.  As of the writing of this post, there were 15,648 signatures…let’s see if we can push above 20k shall we?  I think online petitions are sometimes silly but Google might not.  Hopefully, we’ll get that native client and uniform experience for Linux desktops everywhere.

How-To Choose the Right Distribution of Linux

Linux Choices
so many choices

Courtesy of evelynishere

Which distribution is the RIGHT distribution?  Is there such a thing?  When you start your journey with Linux you might here something like this:

– Ubuntu is the best distribution for the desktop
– Linux Mint is the best distribution for a home user and the desktop
– Debian is the best way to go because of its stability and solid base
– Mandriva isn’t as good as Mageia
– Mageia isn’t as good as Mandriva
– Red Hat is for servers only
– Distribution X is better than distribution Y!

Here’s the thing…statements like these are all BLATANTLY FALSE.  Why?  Because they’re opinions..everyone has one and they are all just that…opinions.

When you start your journey with Linux, don’t let someone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t use.  Go out and find what fits you like a glove and use that.  It doesn’t matter how large of community the distribution has (unless that is what you’re specifically looking for) or how often it updates or how many hits it has on the Distrowatch tracker.  Use what is best FOR YOU.  Only you can decide what distribution scratches whatever itch you have.

If you choose the right one, chances are you’ll be a part of that distribution for a long time.  But don’t worry, it isn’t like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and if you pick the wrong distribution you won’t turn into a dusty exploding skeleton.  In this situation, the RIGHT distribution of Linux is ANY distribution of Linux.  As long as you’re making a conscious effort to choose free software and use Linux, you win.

I’ve been in, around and even leading Linux communities since the late 1990’s and there is one thing I’ve found it is this:  Every single distribution has a place in this world.  Every single distribution has it’s own niche users.  Every single distribution of Linux is important. I’m sure many of you have heard or have said that Linux just needs to simplify more and have only a handful of distributions so we can concentrate on just that handful and make it be fantastic.  Unfortunately, that wouldn’t work very well and would stifle creativity.  To prove my point…what if we didn’t have small distributions at all?  That wouldn’t have a large effect on Linux as a whole right? Let’s take a look at that hypothesis…

If Small Distributions Never Were…

As an example:  Symphony OS.  It used FVWM and Mezzo for the desktop experience and it REVOLUTIONIZED the way we see and interact with files.  If you use Gnome 3, Ubuntu Unity, or KDE 4.X, you’re using concepts that Symphony OS was the first to put onto a Linux desktop.  Symphony never had a huge user base.  It never shot up the charts at Distrowatch.  It did however, push the envelope of what a desktop distribution can and can’t do.  It did push the boundaries of design.  It did push simplicity and usability to a new level.  It also did web apps before webapps were cool.  Somehow it never caught on…but I it influenced people and challenged people to push the envelope of what was possible and impossible with desktop Linux.

Small, Niche Distributions Perform a Function

Often times I have found Linux users looking for a distribution that fills a specific function.  “I just want a file sharing distribution” they’ll say, or perhaps “I just want a nice and simple desktop”, or maybe even “I just want a tight firewall”.  The beauty of open source software and Linux is that you’ll find small, niche distributions that fit the bill for all of those needs and when you use these distributions, you’ll continue to learn about Linux…and perhaps you’ll push the envelope of what is possible and not possible just like Symphony OS did.

Regardless if you choose small or large distributions, you win.  The fact is you CHOSE and weren’t force fed something by system installers and companies who think they know what is best for you.

We CAN All Get Along

Many times when we pick the flavor of Linux we like, we identify with its goals…the direction its heading…maybe even the direction the community champions.  There isn’t anything wrong with this.  The next time you experience passionate supporters of Linux, keep in mind that neither you nor they are the enemy.  If you both use Linux and open source, you both win.  Small, large,  and niche distributions of Linux operate harmoniously together and build off one another…it’s one of the unseen benefits of Linux and open source.  Beauty and power in simplicity through collaboration.  Congratulate yourself every single day for choosing Linux!

A Canonical Controversy

Remember these past few months where Ubuntu/Canonical’s contribution to Gnome (or lack thereof) was called into question and the topic was on the tip of every Linux news website tongue (see closing thoughts for info links)?  Let’s throw some gasoline on that fire for your Friday!!  It’s time for a Barbecue!

Today, Mark Shuttleworth’s blog was added into Planet Gnome after he made a request for it to be added.  Why is this a controversy?  Mainly because some people want blogs that are featured on Planet Gnome to be from authors that are active in the Gnome community and to actually blog about Gnome as a topic.  If Canonical’s contributions to Gnome are being called into question (as evident from the links in closing thoughts below) then what results is a controversial decision for Mark’s blog to be added in.

If you read the comments on the buglist issue, you will see that there are quite a few people in opposition to this move.  According to the Planet Gnome FAQ, there are criteria for being added.  Does Mark’s blog fit the criteria?  A close examination will result in a resounding NO.

Examining the Evidence

The evidence?  Mark has only one, single post on the topic of Gnome on his entire blog.  Is it recent?  If 2008 is recent, then yes, it’s recent.  If that’s not recent enough for you then no, it fails horribly on being recent.

Up next, let’s pull from the Planet Gnome FAQ, “It generally helps to write a few words about you and your contributions to GNOME, or why you think your blog should appear on Planet GNOME”.  Looking at the bug that was filed we find no explanation as to why it should be added other than “I contribute via Canonical”.  This phrase is going to be flogged by those people that were/are irked with Canonicals level of contributions upstream.

Lastly, since Mark is the face of his company, does this mean Gnome supports his company more than say…CEO of Red Hat or Novell since those CEO’s are not added on Planet Gnome?  Does this constitute a conflict of interest?  Does it signal favoritism?  If one person believes it to be this way, everyone loses…because there will be a debate about it and it WILL divide people and not unite them.

To be honest, I can’t believe Mark even asked to be on Planet Gnome as the CEO of Canonical.  He should know right out of the gate that it would look bad if he was added in…if it were me, I’d remove myself immediately.

Closing Thoughts

I said that this would be gasoline on a fire because of the firestorm debate surrounding how much Canonical, Mark Shuttleworth’s company, gives back to upstream projects like Gnome.  For more on that debate [1] [2] [3].

This is just the icing on top of the cake in my opinion.  Whoever decides what goes on Gnome and what doesn’t should really evaluate their processes and stop looking at a persons stature or bling factor and instead on the merit for them to be there.  In this instance, Marks blog provides little to merit its presence on Planet Gnome.

Please note, I’m not saying Mark hasn’t done anything at all for Gnome…just saying he doesn’t blog about it (and the evidence supports me on this claim)…and before a blog is added to Planet Gnome it should have more than one post in the past 7 years (yes, he started blogging in 2003) to be considered as a good candidate to be there.

What do you think?  Should Mark be on Planet Gnome?  Whether you agree or disagree, please state your reasons in a comment below!

Zealots and Narcissism

Many times in my journeys of distribution hopping, I’ve run across rabid fans and communities [1]

I’ve written a guide for new users on how to understand the vitrol that rabid zealots spew in Linux communities [2]

Those problems are all very easy to see…but these articles deal with only the tangible problems in these areas.  What are the reasons these problems exist?  Is it because of one or two individuals?  Is it mob mentality?  Are people just waking up on the wrong side of the bed?  I don’t think these reasons get down to the core of what the real problem is…the hidden problem…of zealots in the Linux community.

The Hidden Problem

The hidden problem is Narcissism…people think that what they have to say about a given subject makes the most sense and is 100% correct (or at least more correct than others’ POV) and it’s one that is hard for people to talk about…because anyone that writes or blogs has to be a little bit narcissistic.  People don’t like talking about problems they’re guilty of.  I know I am guilty of it…and I’m still going to talk about it.

With social networking riding a tidal wave right now, the era of the narcissist moves on, unhindered, on the interwebs.  Subscribe to my twitter feed…what I have to says in 140 characters or less is a MUST READ!  My facebook page will keep you updated on EVERY little thing I decide to post unless you edit me out of your news feed.  Sites cater to the egocentric tendencies of anyone plugged in.  So what happens when you get a bunch of narcissists together sharing a common goal?  “My distribution is THE BEST out there and no other point of view matters!”  That’s right, you get zealotry in the purest form.

This has slowly begun leaking into Linux communities during the past few years as Linux is tried out by more and more people and becomes more available to people who aren’t technologically advanced.  Bottom line is, more people are trying Linux now than ever before.  This makes the user pool larger and more diverse.  Where there are more people though, there are more narcissists…and birds of a feather flock together.

Take narcissism with a twist of mob mentality and the powder keg in Linux communities is set to blow.  The zealots seethe and team about in forums, IRC, and on blogs across the internet looking for a place to show how right they are and how wrong the person posting information is.

Oh, I admit it…I have a narcissist streak in me…I want people to read this blog.  I want people to follow me on twitter.  I want people to pay attention to what I say…it’s part of being a blogger…but I don’t think that my distribution of choice is any better than yours.  In fact, I know it’s not.  Just like my car isn’t any better than the one you drive and my clothes are so last year and aren’t as good as yours.  I offset my narcissism with realism…I understand that what I think isn’t the only point of view out there…I don’t think I’m 100% right all the time.

I also don’t go out on the web and try to find others who think my view is the best view and then try to push my egocentric viewpoint to others.  I don’t create a community of zombie thinkers who all believe my viewpoint is the best out there.  I’m not forming any mobs for my mentality.  I’m not flocking together with birds of a feather.  I’m a part time ego-narcissist I guess.

The first step is admitting that you have a problem.  The second step is having some good old fashioned manners, respect for others, and above all…tolerance and realism.

Solution to the Problem

When you’re standing in line at a bank, would you cut in front of someone in the line?   Most likely you wouldn’t.  Personal conflict is something we as humans avoid most of the time.  So, why is it when you’re driving you don’t mind cutting someone off and do it regularly?  It’s because the personal aspect of that motion has been replaced into an impersonal one…the car becomes a protection from that personal conflict that would happen if you had done the same thing in a bank line.

To fix the problem this presents on the web and in Linux communities, think about others (not yourself) and in doing so, become less narcissistic.  Apply this thinking to commenting and blogging and facebooking and tweeting.  Imagine that you are face to face with people saying the things you’re typing.  If you wouldn’t say things like that in a face to face situation, don’t say them.  Remember that tolerance of other viewpoints makes you a better person…AND smarter.  How?  Albert Einstein is largely considered one of the smartest humans to ever walk the earth.  He often gathered with other intelligent people to debate and discuss various topics that interested him.  In doing so, he caused those he debated with “to sharpen and refine their understanding of the philosophical and scientific implications of their own theory.”  Remember that everyone does NOT have to share your viewpoint…what works for you may not work for them.

Lastly, no one cares if you sat down in your office or are eating a peanut butter sandwich.  We subscribe to feeds and twitter accounts for meat and potatoes posts…not 1 liners that tell us you’re in the bathroom of a bakery on 96th street.  So, you zealots out there…you know who you are…take this opportunity to reflect on yourself (your favorite subject) and try to replace your narcissism with realism, tolerance, and good old fashioned manners.

And no I don’t think any zealots will be converted by this post…it’s more of a rant than anything else…and rants are one of the reasons why I have a blog :)  Well that and because what I say is more important than anyone else and my viewpoint is 100% correct 100% of the time of course. ;)