[svlug] Mercury News mainstream article about Linux in schools

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Tue Jun 15 15:20:28 PDT 2010

Quoting Larry Cafiero (larry.cafiero at gmail.com):

> I'm not so sure that I would be part of the "we" in question above, since I
> believe my definition of advocacy may differ than yours, Rick; probably
> dramatically from what you humorously describe above. Further, I don't have
> the burden of FOSS history to have the insight to see what is so wrong with
> introducing people who do not know about it and say, "Here -- here's another
> way to run your computer. You can use this software for free, and you get
> out of it what you put into it and/or give back (important point). Use it or
> don't use it -- it's there, it's free and the choice is yours."

Pardon my quoting from a 2002 interview[0] with yr. humble servant.  (As
you'll see if you read it, pretty much the first thing I told Australian
journalist Sam Varghese was that he'd be better off interviewing Andrew
Tridgell, Paul Mackerras, or any number of far more significant people,
and I offered to make introductions.)

  The usual sort of OS advocacy is what the "Team OS/2" crowd used to
  do: They knew that their favourite software would live or die by the
  level of corporate acceptance and release/maintenance of proprietary
  shrink-wrapped OS/2 applications. They lobbied, they lost, IBM lost
  interest, and now their favourite OS is effectively dead.

  But Linux is fundamentally different because it and all key applications
  are open source: the programmer community that maintains it is
  self-supporting, and would keep it advancing and and healthy regardless
  of whether the business world and general public uses it with wild
  abandon, only a little, or not at all. Because of its open-source
  licence terms, its raw source code is permanently available. Linux
  cannot be "withdrawn from the market" at the whim of some company - as
  is slowly happening to OS/2. (Ed: IBM finally pulled the plug on OS/2 on
  December 10.)

  Therefore, Linux users are not in a zero-sum competition for popularity
  with proponents of other operating systems (unlike, say, OS/2,
  MS-Windows, and Mac OS users). I can honestly wish Apple Computer well
  with their eye-pleasing and well-made (if a bit slow and inflexible) Mac
  OS X operating system: wishing them well doesn't mean wishing Linux ill.

  Note that all of the identifiable "Linux companies" could blow away in
  the breeze like just so much Enron stock, and the advance of Linux would
  not be materially impaired, because what matters is source code and the
  licensing thereof, which has rather little to do with any of those
  firms' fortunes.

  Further, and getting back to your original point, I honestly don't care
  if you or anyone else gets "converted" to Linux. I don't have to. I'm no
  better off if you do; I'm no worse off if you don't.

  What I do care about is giving making useful information and help
  available to people using Linux or interested in it. Why? Partly to
  redeem the trust shown by others when they helped me. Partly because
  it's interesting. Partly because researching and then teaching things I
  usually start knowing little about is the best way I know to learn. And
  partly out of pure, unadulterated self-interest: people knowing your
  name is at least a foot in the door, in the IT business.

  As to stridency, there _is_ a well-known problem of all on-line
  discussion media. Some people become emotionally invested in positions
  they've taken in technical arguments, and gratuituously turn technical
  disagreements into verbal brawls. And unfortunately they tend to be
  drawn to people like me who attempt to state their views clearly and
  forcefully. It's as if you were to say "I like herring" and thereby
  summon every dedicated herring-hater within a hundred-mile radius. The
  problem comes with the territory.

  But that causes occasional unpleasantness and back-biting _among_ some
  on-line Linux users, not an aspect of "advocacy", which isn't something
  we have much use for, generally - especially where the term refers to
  convincing the unwilling. 

> True, the blind zeal that some take in promoting FOSS can be embarassing,

There ya go.

And I'll also quote from the Linux User Group HOWTO[1], which happens to
be maintained by the guy I shave.  (Hey, sorry, but it seems actually

  Advocacy can be mis-aimed; advocacy can go wrong and be
  counterproductive; advocacy can be simply inappropriate in the first
  place. The matter merits careful thought, to avoid wasted time or worse.

  Many attempts at advocacy fail ignominiously because the advocate fails
  to listen to what the other party feels she wants or needs. (As Eric S.
  Raymond says[link], "Appeal to the prospect's interests and values, not to
  yours.") If that person wants exactly the proprietary-OS setup she
  already has, then advocacy wastes your time and hers. If her stated
  requirements equate exactly to MS-Project, MS-Visio, and
  Outlook/Exchange groupware, then trying to "sell" her what she doesn't
  want will only annoy everyone (regardless of whether her requirements
  list is real or artificial). Save your effort for someone more

  Along those lines, bear in mind that, for many people, perhaps most, an
  "advocate" is perceived as a salesman, and thus classified as someone to
  resist rather than listen to fairly. They've never heard of someone
  urging them to adopt a piece of software without benefiting materially,
  so they assume there must be something in it for you and will push back,
  and act as if they're doing you a personal favour to even listen, let
  alone try your recommendations.

  I recommend bringing such discussions back to Earth immediately, by
  pointing out that software policy should be based in one's own long-term
  self interest, that you have zero personal stake in their choices, and
  that you have better uses for your time than speaking to an unreceptive
  audience. After that, if they're still interested, at least you won't
  face the same artificial obstacle.

  At the same time, make sure you don't live up to the stereotype of the
  OS advocate, either. Just proclaiming your views at someone without
  invitation is downright rude and offensive. Moreover, when done
  concerning GNU/Linux, it's also pointless: Unlike the case with
  proprietary OSes, our OS will not live or die by the level of its
  acceptance and release/maintenance of ported applications. It and all
  key applications are open source: the programmer community that
  maintains it is self-supporting, and would keep it advancing and and
  healthy regardless of whether the business world and general public uses
  it with wild abandon, only a little, or not at all. Because of its
  open-source licence terms, source code is permanently available.
  GNU/Linux cannot be "withdrawn from the market" on account of
  insufficient popularity, or at the whim of some company. Accordingly,
  there is simply no point in arm-twisting OS advocacy -- unlike that of
  some OS-user communities we could mention. (Why not just make
  information available for those receptive to it, and stop there? That
  meets any reasonable person's needs.)

> So I don't spit after saying the word "advocate,"

Well, the word isn't the problem.  ;->

[0] http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/12/26/1040511127721.html
[1] http://en.tldp.org/HOWTO/User-Group-HOWTO-4.html#ss4.2

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