Originally Published: Friday, 12 November 1999 Author: Jerry Hatchett
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Future Is Joe

I'm new to the Linux.com staff, so let me first say a word of thanks to the Editor for granting me the privilege of being part of a noble effort. There are those who may think that "noble effort" is a bit overblown as a way to describe the Open Source effort, but I don't see it that way. It's my opinion that the computer-using public is locked in a monopolistic stranglehold. Exerting that stranglehold is arguably the most powerful business entity ever to grace the planet, an indisputable giant. To challenge a giant is noble in my book....

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I'm new to the Linux.com staff, so let me first say a word of thanks to the Editor for granting me the privilege of being part of a noble effort. There are those who may think that "noble effort" is a bit overblown as a way to describe the Open Source effort, but I don't see it that way. It's my opinion that the computer-using public is locked in a monopolistic stranglehold. Exerting that stranglehold is arguably the most powerful business entity ever to grace the planet, an indisputable giant. To challenge a giant is noble in my book.

With that said, you're about to discover that I'm not the typical Linux columnist. For while I applaud the goal of freedom and the effort toward that goal, I also must be honest and say that I see a very steep hill to climb if Linux is to join the mainstream and be a serious contestant in the OS-for-the-masses war. Yes, I understand that Linux is making serious inroads into the server market. Yes, I understand that it's a wonderfully robust system that will probably run for millennia without crashing. Yes, yes, yes. You understand, and I understand. But you know what it means in the big scheme of things that we tech-heads understand? Nothing. Zip. If the real goal is to free the computer world from the stranglehold, then Joe Q. I-Just-Wanna-Check-My-Email absolutely and positively must be the focus.

To make my point, let's delve a bit deeper into the mind of Joe where computers are concerned. Joe, being the uninformed non-techie that he is, thinks the following:

  • Memory and hard drives are the same thing.
  • AOL is the Internet.
  • RAM is a pickup truck made by Dodge.
  • He did his stint in the military and had his fill of commands.
  • An OS is, well, uh, he has no idea what an OS is.

More importantly, he doesn't care what an OS is. And that's my point. The explosion in the number of people using computers is not taking place in the Tech-Head Sector. It's taking place in the Joe Sector. Those of us who understand how to create swap partitions and install applications via RPM have been around this stuff a long time. So long, in fact, that maybe we've lost touch with where the battlefield really is. It's my heartfelt belief that we in the Open Source Community need to step back occasionally and evaluate the perception that's being created in the mind of Joe. I'm not saying that there shouldn't be arenas where deep technical discussion is the norm, for without those forums nothing would ever get done. What I am saying is that there should also be two major efforts that are clearly focused:

  1. Work on the distributions. Make them user-friendly and easy to install. Make the applications (these would be known to Joe as "computer programs") the same way. Let us not think ourselves cool because we're smart enough to install something that Joe cannot. Instead, work toward products that Joe can install and use. I realize that much work is already going into these particular efforts. I cheer the effort, and I'm doing all I can myself. But there's a lot of work left to be done.
  2. Let us remember that we were all like Joe at some point. Once we've admitted and remembered, let's create a rapport with Joe. Let's have areas of Linux-related web sites where Joe can read about Linux without being made to feel a dummy. Let's have forums where no question is too dumb for Joe to ask.

I'm honestly not trying to be offensive here, but I must be candid. I think that to date there has been a lack of effort within the Open Source community with regard to #2. To many outsiders, I believe the world of Linux is perceived as an exclusive club that they can never join. And as long as that perception exists, the status quo will remain in place for the masses. Because you can bet your bottom byte that the competition learned long ago that Joe rules. The competition makes Joe comfortable with one-click operations and no worries about mounting partitions. The competition loves Joe. The bright side is this: Joe has an open mind. Speak to him on his level. Build products for him to use. Be nice to him. If we do these things, we may just find that Joe is smart enough to go a better route if he understands the map to get there.

Jerry Hatchett, hatchett@futuresouth.com.





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