Perspective. It’s what separates one opinion from another. A person who looks at a glass that is half empty may be despondent but a person who looks at a glass half full may be full of joy. I like to think “Hey! Who the hell put that glass on this table anyway?”. We all have different ideas that shape who we are, what we do, and why we do it. Often, these ideas blend into our interests and hobbies. With free and open source software (namely Linux) we see this frequently…especially when debating on the subject of libre and free.
Often, it’s attitudes, egos, and intelligence that make this gap between users’ perspective even wider. What’s interesting about all of this philosophy and debate is that it is more prolific now than it was 10 years ago. Why? Well, more users of course! Linux and open source are enjoying a very large following currently. Add more users to the fray and you’re bound to get more perspective…for the good things and the bad.
Working with users at work who don’t even know how to place clipart in their MS Word docs (I sub in for helpdesk since we’re a smaller state agency) got me thinking the other day. Where does the new user fit in with this philosophy and debate? How are we to get their perspective across to programmers, developers, application hackers, and designers? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Linux has arrived at a point unprecedented in history…when a Linux desktop is usable and productive. As Uncle Ben said in Spiderman 2, “with great power comes great responsibility”. I feel the community is being irresponsible on this…and yes, it is all about perspective. So please read on…let’s see if we can change your perspective a bit and close the gap between new users and advanced users.
The thing that gets to me is that we have new users…users coming from Windows XP where most everything ‘just works’ or is a few clicks away from just working. When these users come over to Linux we sit there and expect them to dig right in and not expect everything to ‘just work’? How is it that we do that? How do we expect them to come from an environment where most stuff just works to one where things don’t always ‘just work’ without complaining? I for one find anyone who looks at new users in this light a detriment to Linux and Open Source Software in general. It’s people that share this perspective (that a new user shouldn’t be complaining because a) it’s easier now to use Linux than it was when I learned it b) they haven’t read the man pages/manual yet c) they haven’t searched the forums or wiki or whatever) that cause users to make comments and adopt attitudes similar to this person.
We also expect them to immediately respect FLOSS/FOSS and buy into the philisophical debate right away. They should want to use FLOSS/FOSS because it is free and it works right? I don’t think so. They should want to use FLOSS/FOSS because they’re using it. Confused? Well, the simple fact of the matter is that they’re trying FLOSS/FOSS…so they know it is free and that it somewhat works otherwise they’d have dropped it before it even got off the ground. They want to use it because they’re using it…and we shouldn’t expect them to buy into all of our open source philosophy or purist/elitist ideas. We shouldn’t expect them to feel immersed in the ideas of FLOSS/FOSS without first giving them the opportunity to feel a part of the community. They can’t hop up on our purist box and look at the world from our Libre perspective without first arriving there on their own accord. We must first teach them to walk before they can run.
Yet this is precisely what we do. We try to pigeonhole new users, advanced users, Linux, and just about anything we can categorize into tidy little categories that we can stereotype and apply label to. We try to force the new Linux user to immediately conform to FLOSS/FOSS philosophy and try to force them to adopt our ideals…mainly by chastizing them in forums, mailing lists, and newsgroups.
I know I’m addressing an issue or issues that have been spoken of before:
- Linux Snobs: Real Barriers to Entry
- Eric Raymond and the RTFM Jerks
- Free Open Source Support: The Bad and the Good
Really though, these issues didn’t touch on perspectives and how they can attract or drive away users. Think about this for a second. New features are dead. The more functions and features an operating system gets doesn’t matter anymore. XGL? Who cares? Bells, Whistles? Only if it is an Oscar Mayer Wiener Whistle and a tinkerbell. All in all, features have ceased to be the driving force in consumer electronics. Now begins the age of usability. Quickly go over to this page and read the article
…it hits the nail right on the head.
So, what are we to do? Well, with change in landscape (i.e., technological landscape) comes change in perspective. Why? Because it is inevitable. One cannot have a change in one’s current landscape and not have perspective changed. This being said, we need to STOP nonsensical forced methods to get users to ascribe to one philosophy/distro/package manager/window manager/idea and begin to look at things with usability-eyes instead of feature-happy ones. It’s not that hard…one just has to have the same understanding for perspective that one has for code. I know most Linux users can do it because it is far less complicated than port forwarding, IPTABLES, and getting Cron to run jobs. It’s just far less convenient for us to change.
Perspective is as perspective does. Changing perspectives is one way to solve a problem…so when a new user comes SHOUTING INTO A FORUM…try a little less crass behavior and a little more understanding. Try stepping down off your horse and viewing things from their perspective. Perhaps then the gap will close and Linux will mature…not just in code but in attitude as well.