Originally Published: Sunday, 12 September 1999 Author: Steve Beck
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Why Bother?

Why should the Linux community make an effort to accommodate computer illiterate users throughout the process of developing Linux and the applications that run on it? Why should experienced power users devote their time to help people who confuse a pointing device with a floor pedal? Why should seasoned Linux/Unix developers go out of their way for countless hordes of humans who don't know RAM from ROM? In a word, numbers....

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Why should the Linux community make an effort to accommodate computer illiterate users throughout the process of developing Linux and the applications that run on it? Why should experienced power users devote their time to help people who confuse a pointing device with a floor pedal? Why should seasoned Linux/Unix developers go out of their way for countless hordes of humans who don't know RAM from ROM? In a word, numbers.

With the hugely successful Red Hat initial public offering scorching the financial books, the business community has confirmed the potential of the Linux movement. The reliability, scalability and control that Linux offers are no longer being ignored, and the drawbacks of Linux need to be addressed.

The technical support is growing, and programmers all over the world are considering the technical shortcomings of the operating system. Vendor and application support is the next target. Until Linux receives a weightier demand from the general public, many vendors will have little to gain from taking the time to provide hardware device drivers and software applications on the up-and-comer.

Linux is a developer's system, designed with the intention of giving a skilled power user the freedom to custom tailor the system to their specific needs. And it does that better than any other PC-compatible system before it. But Linux has grown well beyond its hobbyist roots, and now has a far greater ambition. Linux is capable of giving every computer user, experienced or not, a viable alternative to how they handle their personal data management, or game play for that matter. Linux is the champion for the power of choice. Linux enables the user to determine exactly what programs are on their computer. No bundling, no contracts, no interference, no corporate decisions being forced on users against their will.

But we are not there yet. The masses still rely on the most widely used desktop operating system for the bulk of their offerings. The overwhelming majority of devices and software applications are designed to be compatible with the mess from Redmond, and little else. This fact limits the appeal to the average home computer user. If the Linux offering were designed with the computer illiterate in mind, the customer base would grow more rapidly. If the customer base grew faster, hardware and software vendors would be more eager to support the Linux system. The more hardware and software vendors support the system, the more there is to be accomplished on the system. Ironically, if Linux offerings cater to the ignorant, the power users will benefit. The goal is to convince every vendor that not to offer a Linux-compatible equivalent to their product will dramatically limit their profit potential. If this is accomplished, Linux will enjoy the same freedom of choice regarding hardware and software that it enjoys with respect to personal system customization. It's all about the power of choice. There are certain things you can not do on a Linux system because a vendor does not offer a product on the Linux system. This inhibits choice.

Linux can merge the two worlds of system manipulators and computer illiterates in ways not seen before. Linux can give power users complete control over their systems, as well as accommodate the digitally illiterate. If the confused can find peace and solace with Linux, then the fruits of developer labor efforts will be sweet indeed: a system that works for everybody, and is welcome to the power user is capable of catapulting the power of computing as a whole. Why bother? Because in the end, the masses of ignorance will help spawn the movement into the mainstream. There is safety in numbers.

Steve Beck, steve.beck@eds.com.





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