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What Being Sexy Means for Linux

What Being Sexy Means for Linux

I think Linux is damned sexy, but I like archaic interfaces and interesting new systems," said Slashdot blogger David Masover. "The iPad, on the other hand, is about as appealing to me as a typical dominatrix -- she looks pretty, but I'd rather not be tied, beaten, and told what I like, which is exactly what the App Store does to users and developers."

By Katherine Noyes
04/22/10 5:00 AM PT

Ask the average consumer what technologies are "sexy," and the halls of Cupertino will surely swell a little with pride.

What does that mean for Linux? The answer there is much less clear.

That, perhaps, is why bloggers far and wide have spent so much time over the past few days pondering such questions, in part as a way to help understand our favorite platform's relative lack of mainstream acceptance.

Ready for a little tour of the hottest conversations? Then buckle your seatbelt and hold on. This is Linux's honor at stake here, so you can be sure it's going to be a bumpy ride.

'It's Just Not Sexy'

It all seems to have started the Sunday before last, when TechRadar posted an opinion piece by Graham Morrison entitled, "The trouble with Linux: it's just not sexy."

"The biggest challenge is sexiness," Morrison wrote. "There's very little of it in Linux unless you're an antisocial geek, and products like the Apple's iPad illustrate this massive divide painfully."

That article, in turn, inspired TuxRadar to post an opinion poll of its own, soliciting readers' thoughts on the sexiness question.

Were Linux geeks too shy to speak up in defense of their favorite operating system? As if.

'Tarts You Pick Up on a Street Corner'

"Linux is absolutely sexy!" exclaimed penguin hurt by x-ray in the TuxRadar comments, for example. "The problem is relations! Many people think that linux is overcomplicated and just for geeks, therefore they don't think that they care about design."

Similarly, "the true 'sexiness' of Linux is that it can be almost anything you need . . . as opposed to the ipad, which is basically for interacting with content only," wrote uomosenzanome. "Linux is actively sexy; the Apple ipad is passively sexy."

Put another way, "Linux is like the dependable, committed hard-working spouse you marry for life," uomosenzanome added. "Products like the apple ipad are the tarts you pick up on a street corner for their looks only."

The topic was picked up with gusto on Digg as well, generating more than 1,000 Diggs and almost 400 comments.

'Is the Linux Brand Poisoned?'

Over on the Jerkface Playhouse blog, meanwhile, the focus was more on why Linux is not attracting young developers.

"Linux is one of the most boring open source software projects in existence,".net jerkface charged. "I don't think it as a surprise that the iPhone has been much better at attracting young developers than Linux."

More than 80 geeks jumped on that one in short order, but not before Ken Starks over on the HeliOS blog posed a related question in his post, "Is the Linux brand poisoned?"

Armed with data from a recent survey, Starks found that "those who were able to accurately describe Linux generically described it to me as 'a technical system that required professional or technical users,'" he noted.

Not, perhaps, the sexiest, in other words.

All in all, it soon became clear the "sexiness" question was one many bloggers were worrying about. Linux Girl heard the Call of Duty loud and clear.

The iPad 'Dominatrix'

"Sexy is in the eye of the beholder, metaphor or not," Slashdot blogger David Masover began.

"Rule 34 of the Internet -- if it exists, there is porn of it. I think Linux is damned sexy, but I like archaic interfaces and interesting new systems," Masover added. "The iPad, on the other hand, is about as appealing to me as a typical dominatrix -- she looks pretty, but I'd rather not be tied, beaten, and told what I like, which is exactly what the App Store does to users and developers."

What Apple produces "seems to be like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt -- wide sex appeal, to be sure, but most people are going to have other niches that are even more appealing," he asserted.

That, indeed, is exactly what happens, he explained. "Linux runs _inside_ many HDTVs, in TiVos, in webservers (including Google), in Android, in the Kindle, and all sorts of other places where it's been customized and adapted to a specific purpose, with a specific, purpose-built UI on top of it," he pointed out. "Something for everything."

'Debian Has Sex Appeal'

Sexiness is "a matter of opinion," blogger and educator Robert Pogson agreed. "Some view quickness and slimness as sexy. GNU /Linux is certainly that. It also runs on some very sexy products ranging from supercomputers to the coolest smartphones and netbooks.

"When I came to my present workplace, half the PCs were dead and the other half were running slowly and slower," Pogson added. "How sexy was that? Now two-thirds are running GNU/Linux and students and teachers say, 'WOW! THAT'S FAST!' Translation: GNU/Linux is sexy!"

Linux "has gotten as far as it has because we let the new players come in and take market share from other distros if they do a good job," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack added.

Debian, in particular, "has sex appeal if those other distros do not," Pogson asserted. "The daddy of Linux is way cool, too."

'It's No Contest'

Indeed, "put Linus up against either Bill Gates or the Ballminator, and it's no

contest," agreed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site. "Then again, put a monkey against monkeyboy and it's a close call ... the monkey flings poo at visitors, the chair-man flings poo at end users."

As for lamentations that Linux lacks a unifying brand, "are we blind or what?" Hudson asked.

"We could be humanizing linux by plastering stories with photos of Linus and his wife Tove, and their 3 kids," she explained. "Say that Linus is more secure because his wife is a black belt in karate."

Concentrate on the people, in other words -- "just not RMS, Alan Cox, Maddog, and everyone else who thinks that less than a foot of unruly face hair is 'practically bald,'" Hudson added. "What's up with the Grizzly Adams look anyways???"

'Make It Easier'

On the other hand: "Is Linux sexy? Give me a break!" Slashdot blogger hairyfeet exclaimed. "The looks of Linux has NEVER been the problem! With the different DEs out there you can look like anything you want."

The real problem "is that Linux geeks don't understand the people," hairyfeet charged. "Instead of making it easier for them, they try to force the users to behave like they do and that, frankly, never works. Normal folks won't even go to the control panel in Windows, because they think it is a scary place.

"Want Linux to take off? Make it easier for Joe and Sally normal," hairyfeet said. "Put a 'Help Me!' button on the desktop where volunteers can help them with their problems. Put a 'Need Stuff?' button on the desktop that takes them to a Linux-certified hardware store, with AOI printers and wireless cards and PMPs and all the other doodads and gadgets folks want, and make sure they ALL 'just work'."

In other words, "make it as trivial for the user to run and use Linux as it is for Windows and Apple, and you got a shot," hairyfeet concluded. "Spending your time arguing about whether it is 'sexy' or not is simply a giant fail whale, as it doesn't matter if your OS is the sexiest thing on the planet if they get home and can't hook up to their wireless network or even print."

'Sexiness Is Overrated'

Indeed, functionality is still key, Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told LinuxInsider.

"Sexiness is overrated," he said. "Microsoft didn't achieve market dominance by offering a UI that was superior to what Apple was offering; they achieved dominance by changing how the software industry was run."

Functionality has always been more important than visual attractiveness, Travers added.

"To the extent that Linux isn't ripe for a specific desktop market, it is a matter of two things: how accustomed users are to the user interface, and how functional the complete system is, when matched up against the user's needs," he explained. "Linux can be there for many users, but it's not there for everyone yet, and the fact that everyone is used to Windows (warts and all) hurts Linux a bit."

The big issue right now, however, is on the business side, Travers asserted. "That's where users will get used to the system, and it is where the needs are sometimes most demanding. I think the biggest hurdle is a lack of vertically targeted business applications for many industries."

Functional *IS* Beautiful

That said, however, "I personally think that Linux can look much nicer than Windows 7, and possibly even a bit nicer than OS X," Travers added. "Part of what makes the design beautiful is the fact that it's also highly functional."

Linux Girl couldn't agree more.

She's always had a weakness for strong, quiet and intelligent types. The Apple fanbois can keep those shiny, glittery faces -- she'll choose the reliable performer every time. ;-)


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