Should Linux users hush up about Microsoft?

Someone linked to Good Linux Users Don’t Talk About Microsoft on the Ubuntu Forums. I started to type up a reply, and then it got so long that I figured it was more of a blog entry than a forum post. Besides, who wants to hear about our broken toilet flush, anyway?

Okay, let’s see. So “good Linux” users can’t bash Microsoft, but “bad Linux users” can be bashed as morons? Okay. I don’t really see how that works.

I do agree that if Linux users want others to use Linux (and not all Linux users say they do) they should focus more on what Linux can do than on what Windows can’t do. It’s the same for anything in life, really. You have more respect for a political candidate who says “I’m going to do this, this, and that good things” instead of “My opponent has done this, this, and that bad things.”

But it’s only natural for people to compare two competing alternatives, especially if most of the users of one alternative used to use (or still use) the dominant product. If almost every Toyota owner used to own a Honda, then you bet you’d hear a lot of Honda-bashing from Toyota owners.

I see this a lot with Mac users, too. There are some very vocal anti-Microsoft and anti-Windows Linux users online, but in person all the Linux users I know are pretty level-headed about things (use what works for you, I prefer Linux), and the most vocal anti-Microsoft and anti-Windows sentiment I hear in real (in-person) life is from Mac users who were former Windows users.

It’s the same trick that the bully from elementary school used to use. You put others down to make yourself feel better. Well, if you’re not 100% sure you like your new choice, you may feel tempted to put down your former choice to reassure yourself you made the right new choice. It’s like when people start reminiscing about their exes and then a friend says “Oh, he was such a jerk anyway. You’re so much better without him.” He may, in fact, have been a jerk, but why do you need such assurance that you’re doing better now? It’s because there’s a little part of you that wonders whether you should still be with him. And for every Linux or Mac user who does spend the bulk of her energy putting down Windows, I often wonder if that’s where it’s coming from.

I kind of see both sides of it. On the one hand, there are many deplorable things Microsoft does, and there are many things I don’t like about Windows. It doesn’t make sense to ignore corporate bullying practices, vendor lock-in, or bad default security practices. On the other hand, focusing your energy solely on what “the competition” is doing wrong isn’t a good “sell” for your own “product.” You should spend most of your energy talking about what Linux is good for.

This goes to a larger sociological issue when it comes to operating systems. You see a lot of dumb back-and-forth arguments about “Which is better, Mac or [understood to be Windows] PC?” or “Is Linux ready for the desktop?” Well, obviously no one’s going to come to a unanimous conclusion, because there is none. No one operating system can be everybody’s preference or suit everyone’s needs. And no one operating system needs to.

My wife can love her Mac OS X and that doesn’t bother me. I can love my Ubuntu and not bother others with it. And our friends can use Windows to their heart’s content, and I won’t bother them. As a matter of fact, even though I prefer Ubuntu, I use Windows at work every day, and I divide my home time almost equally between my wife’s Macbook Pro (with Mac OS X) and my own Eee PC (with Ubuntu). So I’m familiar with all three operating systems and can appreciate their respective pros and cons.

If someone says “Do you think Linux is ready for the desktop?” I would probably respond “I don’t think there’s a definite answer to that. It’s better to tell me what your computer habits and budget are, and then I can tell you whether a Mac, a Windows PC, or a Linux PC is best for you.”

The key is really being able to talk intelligently about what works for whom instead of trying to pit operating systems in a battle out of which only one winner can emerge.

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7 Comments

  1. Recurring discussion topics….
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1089436
    post #3
    I will not cut and paste it here..

    From the number of similar threads I often wonder whether MS employees are encouraged to try and stir up circling debates on Linux forums every so often, just to muddy the waters :) Find the person whose system has just failed today (on whatever OS) losing all their work and they will be ready to rant about how bad it is!!
    It all seems a bit childish but, like me, I expect you sometimes cannot help chipping in once in a while to try and post something sensible and deflamatory…. (blessed are the peacemakers… )
    On the subject of OS wars though, I remember OS/2 being sold on new PCs a long time ago in the UK but they failed to last the distance against MS because Mr. Average was convinced that he may be PAYING for software that was incompatible/different from what ‘everyone else’ was using and was going to be restricted in the choice of software and would waste money.. so OS/2 went away.. a lot of home users were wary of Mac’s, too, due to the cost of the product..and the perception that there was a limited range of software for it..
    Different game with Linux.. the software is free, so no financial burden in trying it out…

  2. It does bother me to see people bashing Microsoft. I lean heavily to the philosophy of do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I would not want people bashing me for using what I use so I don’t bash others.

    Besides Microsoft, Mac and Linux all do the same thing in slightly different ways. Boot up your computer so that you can check your email, do your homework and surf the web.

  3. i don’t like OS baiting — just because it sounds so self-satisfied. why be vain about what kind of software you purchased (or downloaded) and installed on your computer? it all seems silly and unwarranted.

    on the other hand, i don’t know how harmful it is. does that kind of geeky techno-bashing really rise above the noise floor in popular culture? i don’t think most ordinary people choose their next computer based on what the teenager in the house next door thinks about Bill Gates.

    it’s probably best not to take any of it very seriously.

  4. The linux/windows thing is the digital equivilant of the ¨rivalry¨ between Ford and Holden. (not the real one on the racetrack but the one that helps to sell all the ¨Rather push a ford than drive a holden¨ (or vice versa) products.

    That being said linux is much better anyway. :)

  5. A year later ….. :). OS/2 was the bomb in DOS days .. I could run DOS, Windows and OS/2 programs at the same time and unless I ran 10 or 12 apps, the system never bogged down. If I could, I ran OS/2 apps as much as I could because they ran better BUT I was still able to use the others. The others weren’t able to use mine. More choice allows picking the better one.

    As to bashing MS or Apple, I personally do it NOT when talking about my own machines or choices, but that I have to deal with things I don’t want to when I help (grudgingly these days) family deal with the same problem again and again.

    “The teacher told me we HAVE to buy Microsoft Word, all the documents have to be in Word format.” Grrrr…. OpenOffice makes .docs just fine and I can save that money for a better laptop for my daughter.

    “Everyone tells me I HAVE to run anti-virus.” Really? So everyone thinks you are going to do illicit things constantly? So everyone is going to come a fix your machine when your anti-virus doesn’t work because you bypassed it?

    “You can’t run linux as a desktop because you have to get licenses for all the software we use.” “Hmmm you mean all those documents I get with each app that say ‘This app has the xxx license’ aren’t licensed?” “Well we don’t want you printing all those documents, it’ll cost too much.” ” A one time printing will cost more than the thousands of dollars you are paying every year for the software you picked?”

    I do blame the marketing “You can only get on the internet with IE” or “Only MACs are made with special hardware.” Marketing lies = more trouble for us on the street.

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