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The Importance of Avoiding Zs

Jeffrey Fulmer offers YAPFILA (Yet Another Plea For Intelligent Linux Advocacy), focusing on the culture clash between those who choose the technology and those who have to use it. Rush Limbaugh is an American talk radio host. He pontificates a conservative view that longs for a time of stay-at-home housewives, Jimmy Stewart movies, and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver. The theme of his talk show is contemporary politics. He backs conservatives at the expense of liberals. On Orwell's Animal Farm, the truth was "two legs evil, four legs good". In Limbaugh's world, it is "Democrats evil, Republicans good". Unfortunately for him, the world is not black and white. The conservatives can't all be good and the liberals can't all be evil. Because of this line in the sand, Limbaugh has no credibility outside of his core constituency. He makes his money preaching to the choir.

Too many foot soldiers of the Platform Wars fire Limbaughisms throughout the chat rooms and bulletin boards of the Internet. Linux rulez, Windoze drools, and on and on. This kind of sparring is as old as the Internet. From the time two nerds first communicated over a wire, you know one ripped the other for his choice of programming language. When intelligent people communicate through the anonymity of electronic mail, pointed barbs are sure to follow salutations. It's natural, it's fun. Frankly, it helps kill time at work.

A little research (actually, I stuck my head out the window) shows that the popularity of the Internet is increasing. The world is getting smaller, and our words are recorded for posterity. An attempt to glean something useful on Usenet yielded this exchange of wisdom:

> I am your god. I am AOL. Fear me.
> MuHAHaHAHahAHahAH... <windoze crash>

As if you need AOL to crash Windoze.  It's perfectly capable on it's
own...

The Holy Wars between the Mac weenie in marketing, the Windows weenie in accounting, and the UNIX geek in engineering have left the proprietary email system to find a home on the Internet. The barbs that used to pass between coworkers are sent to a larger audience. Why send zingers to Vernon and Tony if you can anger a whole bunch of people on alt.something.advocacy?

> You Microsofties are all a bunch of stinkin' lemmings. Eat
> your pizza by the pretty blue light!!

Ahhh, the glorious cause. Windows weenies must be saved from certain death, the clutches of Evil Bill. They continue their swim out to sea, unaware of the hand fate has dealt them. Somebody has to say something that will save them from this ghastly fate, to say something insightful. And then it happens, from too many places to count. A phrase is typed, and typed again. The insightful phrase, an elegant string of characters sure to persuade the reader to erase a disk and install a completely different operating system:

> Linux rulez!!!!

We all know that a "z" doesn't belong on the end of that word, yet a Usenet query resulted in 44,000 instances of people who decided their message would be better rendered with a "z" than with an "s." Equally astounding is the fact that 51,000 people rebutted with "Linux sux." The debate remains open. The "rulez" camp has concluded that everybody in the "sux" camp is a mindless lemming. Conversely, "sux" people think "rulez" people are all pinheaded girlfriendless geeks. If politics loses its appeal on talk radio, Rush Limbaugh can hop one of these trains. Same show, same format. He would merely have to substitute "Linux weenie" for "Democrat". (You know he'd be a Windows advocate. Give your code away? That smells of communism.)

But these issues are never decided by pointed barbs on bulletin boards. The only winners are the wits, and nothing is funnier than a witless one oblivious to a barb that has pricked his skin. Fun continues, and somehow the West remains amazingly productive. (My theory: If people are screwing off on the Internet, then they remain at their desk where work is accomplished. Prior to that, they would find a nice quiet file archive in which to sleep.) We all know where these issues are decided: in the corner offices of CIOs, or at parties sponsored by vendors with the best food and drinks.

Advocates of operating systems with a limited market share really want one thing, to be judged fairly in head-to-head competition. Open Source initiatives are not pumping corporate buyers full of Napa Valley wine and Provençal cheese. They hold fast to the notion that peer review and meticulous coding will result in a better product. They want corporate buyers to research products and make decisions based on value, so when that corporate buyer passes on that cocktail party to do a little research on the Internet, this is what she'll find:

> Linux rulez!!!

44,000 times.

The face of proprietary operating systems wears Brooks Brothers suits and Movado watches, symbols of status to corporate buyers. They are skilled in a practice known as "kissing butt." Corporate buyers can relate to them; they speak the same language, and they laugh at their jokes. They both have kids who would swap an "s" with a "z", and frankly, they consider their kids dead beats who know nothing about business.

The reality is this: IT buying decisions have been taken away from the people most qualified to make them. If you want to use Linux at work, you'll have to play by the rules, and the rules are different for technical people than they are for corporate buyers. Business people think this about technical people: What do they know about business? Forget the fact that business people belittle their own careers by hanging Dilbert cartoons on their walls. They make the decisions; they have the power of the purse. Business people need to be deluged with solid data, articulate arguments, and PowerPoint shows before they are going to give up the great cocktail parties thrown by Vendor A. Linux is not going to gain widespread acceptance with business people until its perception as a kiddie/geeky OS is changed. Tens of thousands of "Linux rulez" recorded for posterity on the Internet only serve to reinforce the belief that it is a hobbyist's operating system.

Business people are software agnostic. Frankly, they have few deep convictions. Software holy wars are troublesome for them because they don't understand the technology, the terminology, or the repercussions of choosing one package over another. The zealotry displayed by the "Linux rulez" camp represents another internal holy war if introduced in their enterprise, a war to be avoided at all costs. The Limbaughisms that are fired in defense of Linux actually detriment it in the eyes of those who make spending decisions. Linux can't be all good and Windows can't be all evil. The pointy haired boss uses Windows to get his mail and create his PowerPoint slides. He doesn't think it "sux." If you are wrong about that, then -- in his eyes -- you must be wrong about Linux as well.

Linux is a great operating system and should be defended with well-structured arguments. Recognition of both its strengths and its weaknesses serves to strengthen your argument, not to belittle the cause. As Al Franken said, Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot.


Jeffrey Fulmer (Jeffrey_D_Fulmer@armstrong.com) is the Webmaster at Armstrong World Industries and the author of siege. He currently lives in Pennsylvania with his fiance Cher and their English Bulldog Limey. On Sundays in the fall, they can be found in the Meadowlands making noise for the New York Jets.


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Recent comments

15 Jan 2001 06:31 Avatar lepus

Linux in a corporate environment
Well, well... Since I am not an American, I won't contribute to the political deabte here... Let's move on to the original topic.

Why is it that every single Linux user wants to get their employers / employees / friends / pets / etcetera to use Linux instead of Windows?
I have been using Linux for 3 years now, and for me, it was a great choice. Has superb networking capabilities, high extensibility, great in issues of compatibility and multimedia for a UN*X, and it IS a UN*X (For me, this is a major advantage ^^)...
But I also see that this is mainly because I am a university student of information technology, so I have the motivation, knowledge and FREE TIME (except during exam periods) to cope with its weaknesses.

I don't really think Linux would be a good choice for an Average company, with Average employees, doing some Average thing mainly unconnected with computing.
Of course, it does have some great features which would come in handy, and a great software base too, many of which is also open source and sometimes free (though, some don't realize that these are NOT &quot;Linux softwares&quot;, but mostly portable to ANY other UN*X environment in source format, sometimes with small patches due to architecture differences like endian issues). But Linux is being developed by hackers, according to their own flavors. I believe that anyone who thinks Linux is cheaper than Windows (in an Average corporate case) is right out of his mind. Any money saved on the license will be lost on time and trouble.
Of course, Linux does have the potential to be the base of a great corporate computing environment, probably much more powerful and dependable than any Microsoft solution, but instead of installing and configuring a ready-made product, it would take the hard work of a _professional_ system administrator / programmer with an extensive knowledge of UN*X, Linux and its scripting languages... (Not to speak of teaching the employees the usage of this new system!)
And we know, that this costs much... Too much for any executive to even consider this alternative.

I may sound like some hired Microsoft-lackey ^^, which I am not. I am not saying that some companies might not find Linux a great choice for some areas, like network servers and the like. But it is not a real alternative for the everyday secretary who starts Word for Windows in the morning, and quits when she goes home - so it's not a real alternative for any company employing them.

04 Jan 2001 16:33 Avatar defile

I liked this article.
The criticism of Rush Limbaugh himself doesn't even need to be correct to get the point across. Rush Limbaugh has a core group of people who love him. He preaches to these people and provides entertainment when someone outside of the core calls his show to tell him he's an idiot.

My understanding of this article is that the author is saying you can preach endlessly to the choir and undertake an eternal holy war, but in the end no one is infinitely right. It's much more complicated than black and white. Different strokes for different folks. Whatever floats your boat. Insert tired cliche here. Etc.

Those sections on Rush only helped enhance his points. It has nothing to do really with making fun of liberals or conservatives, and the author would only be contradicting himself by saying &amp;quot;all conservatives suck&amp;quot;. He is absolutely not contradicting himself if he says &amp;quot;rabid Linux advocates suck&amp;quot; or &amp;quot;Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot&amp;quot;.

I think the author did some good work.

The rest of you are big fat idiots.

03 Jan 2001 05:27 Avatar bleemz

Perfect Example
My, what great examples the author used.


All this article did was start flame wars about a topic that has NOTHING to do with the original idea behind the article.

Not to mention that our fellow tuxites from other countries have no idea what your fighting over, much less do they care. This is the perfect example of how NOT to approach advocacy.

I'm not even going to start in on what relevance usenet has on Beancounters that are buying software based on the pretty packaging, and a recognizable name.

*cough* none-at-all *cough*

I also won't mention anything about how windows users do the exact same flaming and use z's just as often.

oops.

The proper way to have a go with advocating Linux is obvious to anyone that has to do it.

You want a software package that does X,Y and Z.

My software package can do X,Y and Z. Also, its much cheaper and adaptable to do much more than X,Y and Z should the need arise in the future. Not to mention that upgrades are freely available and most of the software you would normally pay alot for, is free. Also might I mention that we offer support contracts so that if anything were to go wrong, you are covered and we can fix it.

Now, I have told the purchaser that the software does what they are looking for, is easily upgradable, can adapt to ever changing enviorments, and is much cheaper than the competition. Also, they have a support plan to help ensure a smooth transition into the operating enviorment.

Was that so hard?

02 Jan 2001 15:55 Avatar lordkano

Limbaugh
In Limbaugh's world, it is "Democrats evil, Republicans good". Unfortunately for him, the world is not black and white.

Unfortunately for you, I can tell that you never listened to Rush's program. If you had you'd know that Rush would say "Liberals evil, Conservatives good."

At times conservative democrats get Rush's praise. Like Robert Casey, I do believe that Rush made mention of him at the time of the last DNC convention.

Al Franken is a buck toothed moron.

LK

02 Jan 2001 15:47 Avatar lordkano

Avoiding Zs
I use linux because it's cheap, easy, fast, and stable. Having those motives sets me apart from the suits from the onset.

I don't care about backroom, under the table deals with purchasing departments. I care about getting the most stable machines on my network that I can afford. I care about flexing my brain and doing things in what I think is the best way for the situation. Sometimes thats M$'s flagship product, sometimes it's Linux. When I get something done that took tons of work (2 years ago that was building my first custom configed kernel) I may exclaim &quot;1 @m 31337, ph34r my m@d sk1llz&quot;. Or even make it the MOTD on the box du jour.

I don't care if that scares off the pointy headed suits. In fact, I'd prefer that it did. I don't use linux because I want to make Bob Young richer. I don't use linux because RMS is my hero. When businesses get involved, things tend to go a certain way. Businesses have to protect the interests of their investors. They have to use things like NDAs, contracts, and obfuscated internal processes. I don't begrudge them that. It's what they have to do to keep their jobs and keep the company alive.

When there is tons of big fat corporate case on that path, do any of you think that most distros aren't going to follow it? When RedHat, Mandrake, SuSE, Caldera, and the other more polished distros go that way, they will lose what has made linux great and come thus far. The support of the (for lack of a better word) underground. They'll do an MC Hammer. Lose the support of their core audience in pursuit of more money. We'd be left with Debian and Slackware, both decent distros, but the more the merrier.

For the suits, go ahead. Believe the FUD and ignore linux. Please, just let your IT people do their jobs and give them the discretion to choose what tools to use.

LK

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