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August 12, 2004

Goodbye to that Old Linux Gang of Mine

Posted by Mike on August 12, 2004 5:30 PM

Ed recently went on a Linux conversion crusade (1, 2, 3) that made my gums hurt for a day or two. I was going to write about it from my perspective until a few things came to mind:

  • Nothing’s changed since I wrote about my first month with my iBook except that I’ve consolidated around OS X on both not-server machines in the house. Don’t feel like rewriting all that.

  • Nothing I ever write about Linux stays on the strictly technical. Eventually, because I was immersed in that culture for a few years, it gets back around to the distracting nuisance that is the aggregate “Linux community.”

I linked to Rob Enderle’s bizarre, paranoid keynote over on the linklog a few days ago, wherein he railed against “spies” in the audience, shotguns, domestic violence, and the hollow, sad, shallow lives a lot of operating system “advocates” lead. I called it the insanest keynote ever, which is about right. Profane, abusive, rambling, disjointed, self-aggrandizing. Nuts. But he got that way for a reason, and I’m guessing part of his recent edginess is that he’s on SCO’s side, and that has surely earned him a helping of personal abuse most of us can’t fathom. I can say that with confidence, because I once made the mistake of not being on “the community’s” side quickly enough, and I was the one sitting up at midnight reading threats in my inbox.

After I got put through the “community” ringer for a month, with threats to my person, my job, and my reputation, one of the self-styled leaders called me at home to let me know that he was very sad indeed that I had perhaps forgotten the joy of Linux (he’d read my book). “I wish,” he said “we could help you feel it again.” What he had in mind was me doing what he wanted, which was something I most expressly did not want to do. But if you’ve ever seen a movie where the cardinal comes down into the dungeon to tell an inquisition victim stretched out on the rack that he’s very sad to see a stray sheep in such dire straits, you’d have the feel of the whole interaction. He wasn’t calling to put an end to the misery he and his proxies were causing: He was there to threaten more of it.

I got through it, I learned a few things in the process, and balance was restored, but only long enough for 9/11 to happen, which has nothing to do with “Linux people” exactly, except that this strange and apocalyptic thread crept into the milieu in ways I noticed only because I was moderating discussions on a few sites and had the task of discarding some of the most disjointed, bizarre, and violent comments I’d ever seen come through the queues.

Initially it was the usual language about Microsoft being “evil” with an added layer of violent imagery. In the years between, it’s become more about SCO. There’s always a dash of Microsoft in the conspiracy theorizing because, you know, habit. But it’s mostly about SCO now, and how there aren’t punishments severe enough for the company and its officers.

So knowing what I know about how a mere handful of “Linux advocates” can ruin your whole summer, when I read Groklaw mocking Rob Enderle for finally unravelling under the pressure I guarantee you he’s feeling, I get pretty disgusted. Especially since Groklaw, more than any other site, has become the focal point for the worst of that negative, abusive energy. Some of its readers are unhinged in the same way some of Little Green Footballs’ readers are unhinged, and the site’s editorial team thinks the hurt those nutballs have most assuredly caused others is a laughing matter.

I guess that’s why I really, really don’t much feel like “advocating” Linux anymore. I use it for my servers, and I have it on my x86 desktop machine (which is currently sitting in the basement against the day my Macs break down and I need a machine up and running while I wait for them to be repaired), but I’m painfully familiar with its user community, I know the lengths to which some of its loudest and most acclaimed advocates will go to bully and harass people they disagree with, and that makes a mere technical appraisal of its merits almost impossible.*

And that’s about what I’ve got to say about that. It’s nothing I’m going to “get over,” and I shouldn’t have to. Linux was a social and technical experience for me, and the social part of it went real bad. The technical side is something I’ll enjoy on my own, thanks.

* I should amend this, since technical appraisals of Linux are part of my current trade: I feel pretty clear-headed about Linux’s technical merits (though I’ll admit to being a hair behind on its desktop worth because I haven’t had it on a desktop machine under regular use for a while now). But when I read about Ed’s experiences with his move to a Linux setup on his iBook, it reminds me of my last “trying to get comfortable with Linux” period, and what was going on at the time. It’s very hard to write a straight narrative of why I got fed up with it and quit bothering that sticks to the technical issues, because I was also very much dealing with the mau-mauing I got from self-styled “community” leaders at the time as well.


You'll probably think that I'm a real asshole for saying this, but this is exactly how I feel about the Mac community. I feel like most people (and if I'm being honest, even you, Michael) think that my strong opinions about Apple are very much Not OK -- but only because they're about Apple. I think these same folks wouldn't think twice about nodding along with you wrt Linux.

I've never argued that there aren't tons of morons and abusive shitheads "advocating" (or pretending to be advocates of) Linux. I've come to realize that there are probably just as many for OS X or Windows and any other popular OS. Hell, I know some morons who still get a woody about OS/2.

I continue to use and advocate Linux, not because of the crackpots, but because I can't feel comfortable getting behind anyone else. It's hopefully obvious why I can't support Microsoft. And I know I'm the sole proprietor of this viewpoint, but I honestly feel like Apple's practices are worse than Microsoft's, but that they don't have the numbers to make that fact obvious. My technical or philosophical objections to Apple aside, I just can't get behind the most proprietary company in the industry.

Posted by: Sam at August 12, 2004 9:35 PM