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Linux Community Should Plant Seeds for Consumer Demand

By Jeremiah T. Gray
Jun 19, 2008 4:00 AM PT

Most anyone in the free and open source software realm can tell you not only that Linux is better than Windows, but also that it is an optimal alternative to the closed-source and proprietary operating system from Microsoft. Anyone at a Linux-oriented event or group can assure you that you have no need or even legitimate reason to continue using commercial operating systems nowadays.

Linux Community Should Plant Seeds for Consumer Demand

Indeed, GNU and Linux have radically transformed software development and systems administration in practice and in culture, but to replace Windows broadly, it is essential to accommodate the influx of commercial software refugees.

Spread the Word

Improving Linux education is a critical task because it enhances the existing infrastructure by making more users more proficient, leading to increased demand for and availability of Linux-based products and services.

Obviously, Linux education exists in some form since it got us to where we are now. To be sure, the Linux community has produced a wealth of support materials. From the kernel itself to specific applications, we have main pages, Web-based tutorials, and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels dedicated to support.

Even better, people in the Linux community are generally friendly and responsive, and many of them will respond to specific questions not otherwise addressed in support resources. Supplementing these useful online resources, many areas also have Linux user groups (LUGs) where we can get together in person.

I have visited a number of LUGs in different cities around the United States, and I have been consistently impressed with the level of dedication in the people I meet at these groups. Linux user groups are a testament to the power of freedom in software and organization. Furthermore, they demonstrate that top-down organization and uniform guidelines are neither required nor necessarily important for a group to exist and flourish.

The established channels for education and support have brought Linux-based operating systems amazingly far by making free and open source software viable and desirable, even for governments and large corporations.

Vicious Cycle

Despite the very real and impressive advances, though, Linux is rarely deployed as a desktop workstation operating system unless the organization is compelled to use it in that way because of budgetary constraints. Because some of these organizations cannot commit the resources to hiring administrators or at least professional consultants, they sometimes grow resentful of Linux and open source technology, seeing them more as distractions from their primary business than as the useful tools they are.

Additionally, their not hiring professionals inevitably means fewer admins and consultants get commercial experience working on Linux as a desktop platform. Also, with fewer prospects for work supporting desktops and local networks, fewer technology professionals feel compelled to use Linux-based operating systems as desktop systems.

If this Catch-22 sounds awfully similar to the sometimes-dubious explanation that some hardware manufacturers offer, that they do not support Linux due to insufficient demand, that's probably because it is.

The solution to both hardware support and more widespread acceptance of Linux-based systems as desktop workstations in the marketplace is to raise the bar for everyone. Providing the means for basic users to become advanced and advanced users to become administrators helps remedy the issues of the small businesses and non-profits that use Linux but fail to get the most out of it, as well as the argument of the hardware manufacturers who insist they would support Linux if only it were more widely used.

Build the Base

When the educational base is more thoroughly established, Linux will supplant the commercial operating systems on more systems because more users will be familiar with it. When more users are familiar and proficient with Linux-based systems, the entire free and open source bazaar grows and improves.

Above all else, Linux is a paradigm, or a way of doing things; rather than needing to know every detail, users can start using it and getting results by just knowing what to expect. Computer technology grows more sophisticated by the day, and to keep improving free and open source software, we need a sophisticated and flexible educational infrastructure that allows users to reach their desired goals as quickly and as easily as possible.

Since today's newbies are tomorrow's leading engineers, the sooner we get the tools in place to teach them the important lessons they will need in the field, the sooner we can start using the amazing software they will eventually develop.

Jeremiah T. Gray is a LinuxInsider columnist, software developer, sysadmin, and technology entrepreneur. He is a director of Intarcorp Ltd., publisher of the Linux-oriented educational comic book series, "Hackett and Bankwell."

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