Something's Amiss in the Linux Community
by Walter V. Koenning for the OPINION/EDITORIAL section.

Maybe something is amiss in our beloved Linux community? This is the same unique self sufficient, self sustaining realm where I can sit behind my monitor at 2am and immerse in the concerns regarding Bitkeeper, getting intimately close to the thoughts of Linus and Andrew. I don't know either personally, but that's the amazing thing about this community. It is tight, it is personal and it is greatly beneficial.

It is also the realm where the support so many keep pressing as a Linux weakness exists in microcosm in thousands of local, or on-line communities world wide.

If I have a problem with my Fedora Core 3 using NFS mounts and RAID5 striping, then I go to my local or on-line Linux community. There I find that someone named Andy encountered the same issue a week ago in his work and shares with me some tips and installation tricks.

Now why would a nice stranger named Andy help me out for free with such a significant issue? Because someone helped Andy as he was dealing with the same issue. A principal that has less to do with Linux and more to do with humanity.

Yet, over the past few months something has changed. No, the people are as friendly and helpful as ever. But something unquestionably has changed. So what smells so fishy in the Linux community today?

Here are three of my thoughts:

Advertising Aimed at Our Community

FIRST, there is an enormous amount of new advertising all over the Linux community targeting "business applications users" that is pro-Windows. These are the usual grouping of "analysis" documents comparing Windows and Linux servers. Notice that no longer are the sponsored analysis documents stating Windows is superior.

At this stage of the game, when Linux servers are world-wide, and entire nations are shifting to Linux in their infrastructure, this would be too overt, too ridiculous. Instead, now most use words such as "comparable performance" or "analogous results" to make it more palatable but also more subtly manipulative. These ads are not new. However, their frequency in the Linux realm is new and it can only mean two things.

First, a lot of Linux and OpenSource sites are making money to continue their FOSS endeavors from such ads. Ironic, but quite good if you think about it. Second, a lot of this is obviously targeted at you and me, the Linux guys. Why? We don't plan to switch.

But I think the intent is most likely to soften the positioning of those in the community that are not polarized. By doing so the hope may be that some people in the community should falter under the confusion of contradictory data. Just look at the jumble of information out there: "Linux adoption rate stalled" and then released a day later, "Linux adoption rate rising."

Undeniably, there is a lot of new jumble promoting Windows or negating pro-Linux studies and it's targeted at the Linux community.

That takes me to the second fishy smelling thing in our community.

Those Against the Community Spending Time In the Community

SECOND, I started to notice that even on regular replies to Linux articles the actual content of the replies were THE SAME as that of other negative replies to other articles. Perhaps these are amazing coincidences where one person states the exact same words as another in a distinctly different context. More likely these are the overt duplications of negative responses across unique articles. I started wondering, are some readers simply so exhausted they have stooped to duplicating other people's negative responses? Seems a bit odd to me.

My conspiracy friends tell me it's gnomes hiding in the basements of offices sponsored by "you know who" taking turns writing negative comments or giving negative ratings to articles that are pro-Linux.

I personally have another theory. There are a lot of new people hanging around overtly Linux oriented websites mouthing off negative, often rude comments. I have to wonder why they spend so much time reading material on websites they obviously do not agree with, unless they're there for another motive? I wouldn't have the gall to suggest this, were it not that I kept finding different people writing replies across so many articles with the exact same negative comments.

I just can't figure this out, except to say there are a handful of people hanging around the Linux community who aren't part of it, and more importantly, never intend to be part of it. This takes me to my third point.

"There are a handful of people hanging around the Linux community who aren't part of it, and never intend to be part of it."

Targeting Each Market Segment Including the Linux Community

THIRD, it seems that perhaps Microsoft maybe using an approach that targets each segment. It's my opinion that perhaps to their core users they have provided some rather strong messaging regarding Linux. The symptoms to which we see wrongly manifested in aggressive behaviors such as threatening authors of pro-Linux articles with emails filled to the brim with every conceivable cuss word imaginable (some are really quite imaginative). I was approached by one individual who believed that Linux was putting thousands of people out of work including himself and he demanded I stop helping promote "that damn free thing," while another gentlemen simply regards Linux as "a socialist tool to undermine democracy."

The second audience is the mass market of people. These are the mainstream, the middle of the road. They are often those who've never heard of Linux except from the headline news or announcements like when they learn that ILM maker of Star Wars graphics uses Linux servers to generate those fancy movie effects.

These people are getting more and more intrigued and asking "just what is Linux?" to which I'm finding a fascinating amount of non-Linux people responding to the question.

I'm noticing a great load of new articles regarding "what is Linux" and then using the forum to expose its apparent "weaknesses, infancy, or lack of support." And at the same time, I'm seeing more articles on the virtues of Windows now than ever before in my life, and I've been computing for a good long while.

Undoubtedly, this is because the Linux community, where most people who want to learn something about Linux come to, is now being inundated by information that is not from the community itself.

"The Linux community is now being inundated by information that is not from the community itself."

Finally, there is the segment of true Linux users, who are being told that Linux, the philosophies behind OpenSource, and even the community is segmenting, perhaps even fragmenting into nothingness.

All this is incredibly old. For ages these techniques of fragmenting the enemy, confusing the undecided, and provoking the loyalists have been employed.

"For ages these techniques of fragmenting the enemy, confusing the undecided, and provoking the loyalists have been employed."

Yet, I propose there is one big difference. The difference is so major that it allows me to smell the fishy smell, and notice that which has gone amiss and still sleep well at night.

Linux did not get to where it is today because it was promoted extensively, strategically deployed, well marketed, etc. It got to where it is today because there is an unquenchable thirst in the world (I'm talking about all of humanity) for creativity and collaboration.

Thousands of people have volunteered their blood and sweat to OpenSource because it matters more than general economics or power.

What we create with our minds and fingertips together with others we've never seen matters and benefits many and leaves a legacy that money can't buy and power can't wield. It's not possible to stop inner human passion. Nor will it be possible to undermine the community that makes it tick so well. Instead, for every action, there will be an equal and opposite reaction.

Walter V. Koenning is a technology writer and provides insights regarding industry trends. He contributes regularly to the OPINION/EDITORIAL segments on

This brief opinion piece should not be construed as factual information, and only contains the opinions and personal experiences of the author at the time of publication. could not find information in this article that at the time of publication was inaccurate. However, the opinions and personal experiences that have been posted do not express the opinions of and are not endorsed in any way. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. Microsoft and Microsoft Windows are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation both in the United States and Internationally. All other trademarks or registered trademarks in this opinion piece belong to their respective owners.