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Sunday, August 19, 2018

True Believer

True Believer:

"One who is deeply, sometimes fanatically devoted to a cause, organization, or person: “a band of true believers bonded together against all those who did not agree with them” ( Theodore Draper )"

I've lost count as to how many times I've been asked the question. When I show new Linux users the advantages and freedoms of the operating system, many inevitably ask:

"Why haven't I heard of this until now?"

A young single mom of four asked this question last Tuesday and it took me back to the time that I asked the same question.

The calendar page had  recently flipped to the new century when I had my own Road To Damascus moment. It was, in the truest sense of the phrase, a profound revelation. It built up in me like an electrical charge. A moment I realized that the monitor in front of me reflected something that was going to not only change my life, but had the potential to change lives of millions.

It was the revelation that I was no longer beholden or bound to an operating system that restricted the way I used my computer. A system that went behind my back and did things I explicitly told it not to do. I didn't have to put up with this on my computer any longer. Not just my computer, but the computers of millions of people around the world. The mind-bending fact that I could run an entire operating system from a single CD. That alone left me in awe. And when it came down to that moment, it manifested itself in the simplest and most elegant form I could imagine.

linux@linux-desktop ~ #

It was that moment I became a member of The global Linuxsphere.

With the fervor of the evangelical, I began to spread the word far and wide. I read incessantly, from Stallman to Torvalds, Searles, Moody, Knaapen, Raymond and Schroder, I learned the history and mechanics of Linux. I read not only of my new freedom but of the restrictions and limitations of other proprietary operating systems. The more I read, both my anger and excitement grew in equal measure. I took it upon myself to join The Movement against anything and anyone who stood in the way of spreading the news. This new way of operating your computer could indeed change the world. The Blog of helios began... 

and so it went. Surely The Year of the Linux Desktop was at hand. Year, after year, after year. and surely. It wore on me year after year, breakthrough after failure, hope dashed by hopelessness. Until the harsh, glaring truth descended upon me like a shipping container full of anvils.....

We never had a prayer. We entered a race with all other contestants miles ahead.

I rattled off a list of names above. Those who have inspired me and in more than one case, probably saved me from something terribly grim. Glyn Moody is one of those names. Glyn has been an inspiration to me since the turn of the century. I've come to count on Glyn for insightful and brutally honest commentary. He's a brilliant writer and wastes no time with hyperbole. But aside from that, Glyn aided me at a time when I thought my life was over. To this day he has no idea, the part he played in turning me away from something horrible. We'll just leave it at that.

Recently, Glyn penned an article for The Linux Journal titled, "Why the Failure to Conquer the Desktop Was Great for GNU/Linux."  Within that article, Moody maps out the evolution of Mark Shuttleworth's understanding of Desktop Linux. Or more aptly, why it was a poor idea to further follow it down the rabbit hole. It's a great read and as usual, Glyn entertains as well as explains his idea. Why the Linux Desktop failed and why that could possibly be the best of all possible outcomes. I won't spoil it for you. It's well worth your time to read.

In my opinion, he nails it.

The climb Desktop Linux faced was insurmountable. Microsoft had all but locked down the enterprise, and as most of us know, what's used at work is most times used at home. With Microsoft Office the de facto office/business suite, getting anyone to disrupt their business by introducing new and strange tools was an uphill slog. It's not hard to find instances where IT departments and other vested interests forced an organization to return to using Microsoft Windows and associated softwares after they declared the FOSS alternatives "unsustainable". Of course, Munich is the most noteworthy of instances, but others aren't difficult to find.

And then comes my much beleaguered topic of marketing. Bringing a new product to market can cost millions of dollars, even billions. My own experiment in running a radio ad for Linux showed just how complicated our landscape is. Couple that with the sometimes confusing terminologies we use and the shear number of Linux distributions available...well, it's no mystery why the public could become confused, if for nothing else, the fact that something this good could be free. Microsoft had billions of dollars in the bank. Their budget for marketing is a rounding error for some small businesses. For those a bit late to the game, Steve Ballmer the then CEO of Microsoft said this about Linux:

"Linux is not in the public domain. Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches. That's the way that the license works."

And now? Microsoft embraces Linux as part of their Azure cloud-based network system. Cancer, huh?

But when it comes down to it, what exactly did we "lose"?

In the long game, Linux may not be a household name when it comes to computing. It's not even a widely-referred to name within the industries that use it. From Android phones, to the worlds largest super computers, Linux powers unimaginable resources. My home thermostat software is Linux-based. The navigation system in my car operates on Linux. As does the software for my body that controlled chemotherapy and hormone released into my system as needed. SpaceX Falcon and Dragon capsule systems are operated by a specifically modified version of Linux, as are is many of the US military and maritime global navigation systems. And Elon Musk's global spread of satellite broadband? Yep. Linux.

Many of you will say that we're arguing apples and oranges here. And maybe we are, but to say that Linux has "lost" anything is simply a matter of perspective. I can show you over 1600 instances of school kids and college students currently using Linux computers to further their studies. I hope to continue expanding that number in the future.

So the next time someone asks me, "Why haven't I heard of this before...?"

I'm going to tell them that tens of thousands of people have banded together to make their new computer available to them. It would simply take too long to name you all.

All Righty Then...


  1. Your writing inspires me, sir. Keep sharing your stories of giving away computers to kids and what they do with the Linux technology in their hands. I am looking at how the arm single board computers running linux or android or bsd with HDMI output can be used with an existing in house digital tv, can provide a computing device to create digital content for children learning about knowledge. Keep fighting your cancer. Thank you for these personal stories. Fred. Ps http:// for a free document word processor that creates/ exports pdf files in about 3 clicks. I use librecad to create cheap business cards 10 cards per letter sheet of 80lb card stock paper.


Be nice. No politics, potty mouth or name calling. Just because we can't see each other doesn't mean that words have no impact. Most of all, have fun.