The Two Schools of Linux

There’s so much going through my head right now, my first article since a fairly controversial article I wrote that got emotional for many on this website as well as many others. One thing
is for sure: many have gotten a crash course on some things perceived as “wrong with Linux” and what is collectively agreed is right.Note: Understanding that “Linux” is “just the kernel,” I have taken the liberty of conversationally referring to GNU/Linux simply as “Linux” throughout the article. Apologies to any offended.

I want to add a short disclaimer to this article: I’m not pompous enough to pretend that I know better than anyone else, especially Open Source developers, whose contributions are invaluable to not only the
Linux community, but also the rest of the world as we search for some sort of IT stability. However, once you choose to open source your code, users are going to provide feedback. I’ll go you one better – I believe
users have a right to provide both positive and negative feedback. Most developers are content and even excited to receive input and constructive criticism, but a few respond with “Write your own apps, then.” We are part
of a big machine, and our willingness to adapt is usually appreciated, though rarely tangibly expressed. This I acknowledge.

Since I don’t code in anything but PHP, I have some ideas, some more radical than others, and I like to share them on to inspire others, the real people who make Linux work, to think openly and get some feedback. I’m not, nor have I ever, proposing Linux be “dumbed
down,” as many have suggested, I’m just trying help get it that “last push” into the mainstream. Comments of any flavor are always welcome.

That said, many people have debated the topic of software installation on Linux recently. As the debate drove on and I read each and every comment left here, as well as several conversations on other major Linux websites, I became aware of the real problem – the issue isn’t just software installation. Don’t get me wrong, that’s part of it, but the foundation of the issue is that there are two major types of people in the Linux community, and they’re not meeting halfway. No one is right, no one is wrong, but there are two schools of “Linux people” out there, and we need a common vision
first and foremost.

I’ll call my two schools “Type A and Type B.” The first type, Type A, is a user who sees Linux as the next premiere desktop Operating System. They envision Linux as a system that has powerful, flexible Unix feet, the ultimate customizability, but with equal, if not more powerful administration tools than Windows. They want to use Linux on their servers, their workstations, and their personal desktops. They want to play games on it, dial in to their ISP with it, install and remove software, and tweak the system. They want software and hardware choice. Most Type A people are not developers. They want to be able to do everything from within a GUI.

Type B Linux users are “the hardcore.” Though many will see this group as the arrogant and inflexible, they’re usually not. Often times, they are serious coders – they write applications to do what they need.
They use (sometimes) ugly windowing environments because they’re faster. At the core of these people is the belief that Linux is a geek OS and that it should take honest effort, hard work, and a steep learning curve to become a Linux power user. Some don’t want clueless “newbie” users in the community, not because they are exclusive or especially elitest, but because they truly feel the unharnessed power of Linux is better off without
the unnecessary weight of graphical Wizards, deletion confirmations, and clickable executable installation files. They are comfortable compiling their applications because they realize the value of it – it’s quantifiable. Linux, to them, is a labor of love.

The question, then, is where should Linux head? It’s easy to say “both” because we all know it will become both to some degree. But in order for the Type As to truly see Linux evolve the way they want, there need to be some sweeping improvements. The problem is, every time
someone gets vocal about large improvements to the Linux system, the same vocal few chant, “Write your own, don’t ask the developers who already work for free!” There are lone cries of “new directory structure!” or
“simple installation!” but, for the most part, it appears that many developers seem less than eager to receive feedback, but rather wear the attitude, “If you don’t like my app the way it is, use another.” While unarguably a legitimate emotion, to me, it’s the wrong attitude to complement open source.

If Type A users learned to provide valuable and sensitive feedback, instead of “This app sucks” or “Too dumbed down!,” my guess is that the system would work. The Type A school needs to understand that Linux really isn’t at a point where it is a 100% functional “user OS.” They need to take the time to write to the developers
and detail what they want, what they need, and, primarily, *what is good* about the applications/distributions they are using. I recently took the time to write to the
developers of Programmer’s Notepad, the app I use for web development, just to say thanks. Developers needs to get the right feedback.

The Type B school needs to learn to respond to the community without being defensive. I’ve found that some of the best comments have been hidden under the poorest communication. After all, as a developer, you really want to know two things: 1) what’s good about my project that will make people want to use it and 2) what needs to be improved? Too often, the truly useful feedback is masked by negative emotions. Case in point – there’s no “NeatThingZilla” or “CoolFeatureZilla,” but you can find Bugzilla just about anywhere.

Anytime you want some evidence of the two schools of Linux, just read the reactions to any posting about Xandros, Lycoris, or LindowsOS. The Type A’ers will be impressed, and the Type B’ers will be practically offended.

Am I making sweeping generalizations? Probably. But as I watch from afar, I’m starting to wonder – what’s the greatest defeat of the open source community? Is it Microsoft or is it OURSELVES?


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