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Publishing again, and Unix holy wars

I sent off an article to the UK Computer Shopper yesterday. I have no idea yet which issue it will be published in. Optimizing Windows seems to have a better following in the UK than here in the States; this series of articles will probably tilt the balance even more in that favor.
It will be interesting to see if they let my U.S. English stand, or if they translate it into British English. I listen to enough British and Irish music that my language is definitely colored by it, but I suspect I still sound pretty American. In college I tried to sound very British in my writing; I’ve since retreated back to Missouri because it feels more honest to write that way.
Dave’s still fighting his war. I talked with our Unix guru at work yesterday. He runs Linux and NetBSD at home almost exclusively, so he definitely has his finger on the pulse of the movement. I told him the story, then I quoted another friend, who’s fond of saying that Linux zealots are like Amiga zealots without the class, then exclaimed, “This software isn’t free! They may not charge any money for it, but they demand your soul!” And I’m not about to let software become my god. Charlie laughed, then he got real serious.
Those aren’t the old-timers in the movement, he pointed out. I’m pretty sure he’s right about that–Linus Torvalds talks candidly about how his family all runs Windows. Then he said Amiga was a much greater commitment than Linux is. Back in the Amiga’s glory day, it was an expensive computer. The easy decision was to go to Best Bait-n-Switch and buy a Packard Bell 386sx like everyone else did and pay $900 less for it. There wasn’t as much software available, and generally you paid full retail for it at out-of-the-way shops. The Amiga was expensive and not ubiquitous. You had to make a commitment to it, and you had to think long and hard about it before you did it.
Linux hardware, however, is dirt cheap. Sometimes it’s free. Businesses are glad to give their low-end Pentiums away, and Linux runs great on them. Linux is free. You download it off the ‘Net and burn your own CD. And much of the intellectual commitment that used to be there isn’t either, now that Mandrake and other distros install more easily than Windows does. And there’s more than enough useful software out there that installs easily, so you don’t even have to break out the C compiler anymore. On my first date with Linux back in 1996, there wasn’t any software in Slackware 3.0 that was useful to me except the C compiler. In those days, if you used Linux, chances are you wrote at least some of your own software. Two years later, when Charlie gave me a Red Hat 5.2 CD, there was more useful software on it than I knew what to do with. Today, most of the major distributions now have to come on multiple CDs because of the amounts of software they come with. It doesn’t matter anymore what you want to do with your computer, in many cases it’s all there for you, with little work on your part.
Charlie didn’t use the phrase “spoiled brat,” but he certainly implied it. When you had to make little or no commitment to your platform of choice, it’s hard to respect anyone else’s commitment to theirs.
Al Hawkins’ responses from yesterday (messages 27 and 29) echo some of that sentiment.
I’m not saying that’s the story behind every Linux activist. That’s certainly not the story with Moshe Bar or Brian Bilbrey. Nor is it the case with Charlie, and Charlie pushes very hard for Linux and the BSDs everywhere he goes. But that explains the tone of some of the zealotry I see online.


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