From everywhere in the Linux online community, you will find articles that speak of the time, situation, or market opportunity that has made a perfect storm for market-shifting amounts of people to move from Microsoft Windows or Apple Mac OS to Linux. Not only do the authors of such articles make great assumptions about some fantastic market opportunity for users to switch, but also make the generalization that large amounts of people are choosing Linux. Such statements as, “more than ever,” and “voting with their feet” will be found in these articles describing the perceived market shift. It’s a hard thing not to do as a writer on open source — even I myself am guilty of it in the past.
There is a difference, however, between perceived reality and the truth, and a clear difference between a great opportunity and taking that great opportunity. I’ll get to the latter part of that statement in a moment. Take this article as an example of the reality issue, which describes a perfect storm scenario for the masses to move to Linux from other systems. Not to focus solely on the arguments of the article, there are a few things which are immediately clear. Right off from the beginning blurb, there is the “more than ever” type statement making a generalization about users’ decisions. Obviously, the article is more opinion and observation than anything else. Nothing in the open source community is easily measured, so instead of factual data generalizations must be used. There’s no way to get around that, and for all intents and purposes is not a bad practice; it’s simply all that we have right now. This article, as with so many others like it, assume several things:
- The “perfect storm” situation is bad enough that people will want switch to something in mass that they don’t even know about.
- Linux is actually ready for everyone and their grandma.
So, as you can see there are a couple logistical problems we run into with the sensationalist articles. This is what is so frustrating about these articles. We say we are growing, but are we really? If we are growing, is it out-running the other competitors and the track of population growth? Like I said, nothing in the open source community is really accurately measurable. We have to look at various indicators to just give us an idea of where things stand, not so much in raw numbers, but rather directions of growth or stagnation in a project’s activity and involvement. I could go on with this subject for a while, but that’s a rant for another day.
As mentioned earlier, there is a difference between seeing a great opportunity and taking advantage of that opportunity. Sometimes I think people forget that in order for Linux to move forward, there has to be action from the supporters to move Linux in a positive direction. These opportunities have a tendency to change as well, which means we must take advantage of them while they exist in our favor. For example, it’s easy just to say we can use the depressed economy to lure new users, but what happens after the economy improves (clearly I’m an optimist)? There is also no large marketing campaign or shelf-space in stores dedicated to Linux. We are fighting the uphill battle, and we can’t just say that we’ve won. We have to take advantage of the opportunities we have to make things happen.
No matter the intent, sensationalist articles are not overall helpful or realistic when it comes to advancing Linux. The only thing that will continue to help move Linux forward is action on the behalf of the community that supports it. This includes developing the software to make it better than the competition and providing marketing support, which can include written articles. Those articles need to be informative, however, and better educate users on what Linux is all about. We need to be smart about this though, since there is a difference between the audience on CNET and LinuxInsider — know to which audience you are writing. Why continue to preach to the choir about how Linux is ready to dominate when we can go help it achieve the goals we write about so often?