Originally Published: Monday, 2 July 2001 Author: Rob Bos
Published to: opinion_articles/opinion Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Stupid People Don't use GNU

Not one to avoid controversy, Linux.com correspondent Rob Bos puts forth his views on free software, open source, creativity and what relation that all might have to overall human intelligence and, well, general stupidity. Now Rob, don't hold back on our account. Speak your mind in Linux.com Opinion!

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Some of the most brilliant minds, I think I can say without fear of being accused of collective ego-stroking, in computing today work with Linux and Open Source software. I cannot, of course, claim to be one of them, but it doesn't take intelligence to see that some of the best pieces of software are being written as free software and being incrementally improved over time. Free software provides an environment within which anyone can learn anything they wish: there are no arbitrary limits to the depth to which you can plunge into your software. By and large, GNU users know what their computer is doing - and if they do not, they can relatively easily find out with a little research and/or tinkering. Stupid people, on the other hand, the unimaginative, stodgy people resistant to change, tend to not get involved with GNU software in the first place.

This observation stems from personal observational experience; when I meet computer users, the most intelligent (and not by definition), the most imaginative and most flexible-minded are Linux users, even advocates. Linux users tend also to have a much higher proportion of tinkerers and hackers than any other segment of the population. Therefore, the mere forty million or so Linux users do not represent simply forty million people, but rather forty million intelligent people, each capable of pushing forward the development of the GNU OS in some small way, by contributing a bug fix, a new feature. They pour in faster than they can possibly be integrated. The average Linux user tends to be much more concerned about the quality of their software and the freedom that this software gives you.

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today the bulk of serious computer users, the people who enjoy working with computers, use free software. In making this definition, I exclude gamers, who do not do computing for the sake of computing; I do not include office workers, who do computing for the sake of typing in an occasional document or reading email; I do not include managers and mothers and sisters and the people who do not enjoy computing for computing's sake.

Among the people who enjoy computing, who enjoy the manipulation of data, who enjoy system administration and the exploration of the tool that can do arbitrary operations on arbitrary data, Linux and free software is the only possible option.

Why is this important? This group of people has historically been the indicator of where the rest of the computing world will be in a few years; the 'smart people' are the people who first adopt VCRs, the people who adopted personal computers first, the people who shunned Beta and DivX. These are people who now avoid Windows like the festering boil that it is, using it only when no other tool will accomplish the job. In short, these early adopters determine what the rest of us will use by forming the first public opinions on the subject - and frankly, the opinion that this group seems to have collectively formed is "Linux good, Windows bad."

Free software is here to stay; whatever it touches flourishes. The people who use it realize great benefits far out of proportion to the time it takes to adapt to the new, "confusing" mindset of choice. It's much easier to vote when there's only one party.

Rob Bos, rbos@linux.com, is a system administrator and embedded software developer at LinuxMagic Software. He maintains a web page at tunafish.sandwich.net.

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