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!!!
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.