Originally Published: Sunday, 22 August 1999 Author: David Harris
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Windows, Linux, Automobiles and Ethics

I have always had a very hard time explaining to my friends and my co-workers why I bother with Linux. They all know that I keep Windows on my machine--for games, mostly--and that most of the user interface in Linux is not particularily well-configured. After all, I'm usually too busy playing games to spend hours tweaking (and sometimes destroying) configuration files....

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I have always had a very hard time explaining to my friends and my co-workers why I bother with Linux. They all know that I keep Windows on my machine--for games, mostly--and that most of the user interface in Linux is not particularily well-configured. After all, I'm usually too busy playing games to spend hours tweaking (and sometimes destroying) configuration files.

So, sitting in my favorite seat one day, reading a newspaper, I ran across a full-page ad for a car dealership. Drooling over these ads as I usually do, I noticed that automatic transmission is an option that takes a fair bite out of a student's wallet. I myself drive a manual transmission car, but I'm not averse to driving an automatic. Personally, I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference.

Then it hit me. In the land of automobiles, I don't really have a preference about the transmission I use, but in the universe of computers, I am very picky about such things. Now, an automatic transmission is fine for most people. The lack of control that they could gain with a manual transmission is not something that bothers them. It is perfectly alright to drive an automatic, as it is fine to drive a manual. Choosing automatic over manual, or vice versa, isn't an ethical choice, and neither does it belittle one.

This analogy applies well the the Windows/Linux choice, I believe. In choosing Linux (the "manual" transmission), you gain a degree of performance and greater control. This does not come without a price however. Like a manual transmission, Linux isn't as easy to use, and it does require that you think occasionally. On the other hand, there's Windows (the "automatic" transmission). In this case, you gain ease of use at the cost of some performance, a great deal of control, and maybe even a bit of reliability.

Now, I mentioned that choosing transmissions isn't an ethical choice. For some people, however, choosing Windows or Linux IS an ethical choice. These people are not only standing up for what they believe in, but are also willing to make sacrifices for it. Have you ever tried to get your brand-new $300 video card to work under Linux? And hasn't everyone who's bought windows felt a stab of pain when forking over the $75 upgrade price? We should be more tolerant of those who feel the need to express their views, whether we be opposed to in agreement. As a pretty much average joe, I can say that perhaps those involved in "flame wars" should take a step back. After all, when was the last time you yelled at someone for driving an automatic?

David B. Harris





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