Linux and its identity crisis

The Linux community is split into two factions. And while some believe Linux should go mainstream, tech journalist Don Reisinger thinks otherwise.

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If you've been following the current rift in the Linux community between Linus Torvalds and his minions squaring off against Con Kolivas and the mainstream Linux fanatics, you probably know that it's getting quite heated. You also probably know that these two entirely different ideas could create three possible paths Linux can take for the future: stay geeky and appeal to the advanced tech guru in all of us; go mainstream and leave the advanced functionality and reliable kernel behind to compete with Microsoft and Apple; or face a "civil war" that could lead to total Linux annihilation.

Those that have followed the path of Torvalds are trumpeting his stance in saying that Linux is "the best" because it sticks to its core values and doesn't sacrifice usability to appeal to grandma. On the other hand, the mainstream group thinks Linux is in a unique position with Ubuntu to capitalize on the consumer market and make it a more viable alternative to Mac OS X and Windows for the average user.

And while I agree that some Linux distributions are ready for the "big time," they're typically not the best and they lose sight of what makes Linux great: security, advanced functionality and outstanding usability.

Linux shouldn't go mainstream--it should embrace its roots and stay Linux.

When Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal reviewed Ubuntu on Dell machines, he explained that Linux is too troublesome for the average consumer and should be ignored if you're one of his readers: "mainstream, nontechie users of digital technology."

And with an unending supply of readers who live and die on Mossberg's every word, this was the kiss of death for Ubuntu on a Dell. But Mossberg was right--Linux is typically not for the mainstream. And why should it be? If we want unstable systems, we can buy a Windows box and if we want a pretty design with far less functionality than a Linux machine, we can buy a Mac.

Why does the Linux community have an identity crisis? For years, Linux distributions have been giving the techie in all of us the ability to do exactly what we want. Try to do half of what you can do with a Linux box on a Windows or Mac machine and I guarantee you'll be begging for mercy.

From its inception, Linux was an alternative, another choice. When Torvalds started what would become Linux, he never wanted it to go mainstream and be just another Windows or Mac box; he wanted Linux to be a bastion of expression for those in the tech community who couldn't get enough out of the current OSs on the market. In fact, it was this tact that put Linux on the map and made it grow to a point that we're having this discussion.

Sure, there are some people that try to discount Linux for not being user-friendly enough or incapable of offering the "ease of use" the Apple fanatics have come to love in their Mac OS X machines, but why is that an insult? You're right--Mac OS X is easier to use and it "just works," but if I'm looking for an advanced experience or a more controllable environment, I'd boot up my Linux box any day.

The Linux community is an interesting group. Much like Republicans and Democrats, Linux is dominated by two factions with entirely different ideas. The conservatives want Linux to stay Linux and the liberals want to make money. Call me a conservative, or call me what you will, but the liberals are off-base.

It's interesting to me that the liberal arm of the Linux community is trying to play it off like it's not trying to turn Linux mainstream to make money. Sure, some of them say it's to take Linux away from the enterprise and towards the consumer market, but let's be honest with ourselves--it's about the money.

Historically speaking, Linux has never "been about the money," so why should it start now? Linux is Linux is Linux. Stop trying to make it go mainstream and let it maintain its stance as the best advanced operating system in the industry. If you want to go mainstream, run down to Best Buy--you'll find everything you need.

 

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