Originally Published: Thursday, 6 April 2000 Author: Jessica Sheffield
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Be Sure To Have Your Oil Checked Regularly

Even for someone like myself, who manages to keep her various Linux systems running without any major mishaps, there are incredibly intimidating levels of techno-babble that wash past me without the faintest hope of comprehension on my part. Sometime I even think some of my friends think in prompts, grep options, and vi commands.

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Periodically -- well, regularly, as long as we're being honest -- I find myself in the midst of conversations in which I am completely out of my depth. Even for someone like myself, who manages to keep her various Linux systems running without any major mishaps, there are incredibly intimidating levels of techno-babble that wash past me without the faintest hope of comprehension on my part. Sometime I even think some of my friends think in prompts, grep options, and vi commands.

These encounters give me pause and force me to think: if I am staggered by the level of conversation my counterparts can keep up, what of those for whom a command line is a frightening prospect? For new Linux users, the terminology alone can distract from the advantages of Linux as opposed to point-and-click operating systems. How can I explain XF86Config to someone whose computer experience is largely limited to "plug and pray" equipment? It's a matter of finding a way to translate the language we've cultivated over the years into one that people who are new to Linux, or even new to computers. We must also be careful that our words are not condescending while attempting to make sense of an operating system that can be confusing even to experienced users.

A friend suggested a car analogy. The more I've thought about it, the more it makes sense. No one questions that a car is a car, despite the many different automobile manufacturers out there. Whether Ford or Buick or Mercedes, cars are cars. The difference is in the details -- and one buys a certain type of car for certain reasons. You certainly don't want to buy a Jaguar convertible or Geo Metro if you're planning on offroading. Nor would you want an SUV if you live in a city with narrow streets and limited parking.

So how does this apply to talking about Linux to newbies? Well, look at it this way. Someone wants to know what the difference between Red Hat and Debian is. To me, Red Hat is the Ford of Linux: user friendly, well-known, fairly easily recognizable. In fact, many people think of Red Hat when they think of Linux, because of its wide exposure. Debian, on the other hand, might be thought of as a cranky Jeep Wrangler: it's a little hard to figure out how to handle it, but once you do, you can take it anywhere.

I could go on for paragraphs more with Linux analogies, but I'm sure our readers can think of interesting ones (comments encouraged). The point is that when we are asked complicated questions about even more complicated subjects, the tendency is to lose our audience in technical details. By communicating effectively the pros and cons of various aspects of Linux and helping to clear up some of the mysteries that still surround it, we will certainly move one step closer to world liberation.

Jessica Sheffield (starlady@linux.com) should probably get more sleep.





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