Apple and Mac OS X Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Fanboy isn’t just a generic insult. It means something.

Warning, for those who know me in person: This is an extremely geeky post. Proceed with caution.

Just as forum users will sometimes fling the label troll against anyone who argues with them, many forum users (particularly in computer-related discussions) will throw around the term fanboy without making the term meaningful. Most of the time, when I see the term fanboy used, it’s basically used as a way to avoid having meaningful or logical discussion and to shut the other person up, even if she has valid points. It’s basically a way of saying, “Since you clearly are a fan of this operating system, nothing you say has meaning.”

But being a fan alone doesn’t invalidate what you have to say. fanboy goes beyond fan. I think the folks over at Urban Dictionary have it right. Here are some of top-voted definitions for the word:

  • A passionate fan of various elements of geek culture (e.g. sci-fi, comics, Star Wars, video games, anime, hobbits, Magic: the Gathering, etc.), but who lets his passion override social graces.
  • A person who is completely loyal to a game or company reguardless[sic] of if they suck or not.
  • An arrogant person who goes into an outburst every time something he likes is questioned.

Since I am a regular on the Ubuntu Forums, the context in which I see fanboy is often in relation to operating systems. Linux fanboys. Mac fanboys. Windows fanboys. Just so people know, though, a Linux user defending Linux is not a Linux fanboy, just as a Mac user defending Mac OS X is not a Mac fanboy, and likewise for a Window user defending Windows.

What really sets a fanboy apart is saying only positive things about her operating system of choice and never acknowledging anything negative about her operating system of choice. Frankly, I haven’t found too many people like that on the Ubuntu Forums. Sure, if you speak mistruths about Linux or spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt without real concrete examples, then Ubuntu users will speak up and correct you. But if you ask them what’s wrong with Ubuntu or Linux, you’ll get a very, very long list of replies. I don’t think you’ll find many Ubuntu users who will say Ubuntu or Linux can do no wrong.

Further Reading
Mac Zealots, Linux Zealots, and Windows Zealots

Linux Ubuntu

Explaining Linux lingo to non-Linux users

The other day, I was trying to explain to my wife why I wanted to install Ubuntu on my Eee PC in place of Xandros. She is not tech-stupid. She’s quite tech-savvy actually. She just isn’t that Linux-savvy. I found myself spewing out a whole bunch of words I knew she wouldn’t understand. Why would any normal person know what a distro or a repository is? What’s a kernel? What’s sudo? Well, the sudo thing she got, because she’s a Mac user and has used OS X’s terminal before.

Explaining the switch to someone who isn’t Linux-savvy forced me to think about what’s important to me as a computer user and to realize that I’m a little geekier than I thought I was. Sure, I’m no programmer. I’m not a system administrator or even help desk (except as a volunteer on the Ubuntu Forums). But here I was with Xandros, a Linux version customized to work flawlessly with the Eee PC, and I was ditching it. The boot time on Xandros is about 24 seconds from the time I press the power button to having a usable desktop with a wirelessly-connected Firefox session.

That’s not enough for me. Apparently, I also want security. The fact that you cannot have sudo in Xandros prompt you for a password without rendering your system unbootable makes Xandros, as my wife puts it, “no better than Windows.” For almost all intents and purposes, you are running as root (the total administrative with all privileges). There are software packages you can’t remove without removing essential components, and you can’t even get Xandros to not have a “What do you want to do?” prompt every time you plug in a USB device.

Most importantly, though, Xandros’ software repositories are weak. There are workarounds, but they are all flawed – mixing and matching various repositories, keeping multiple versions of the same libraries, pinning sources. It’s too convoluted and risky. I had to explain to my wife the idea of a software repository as different from Windows and Mac. In Windows and Mac, if you want to install software, you launch your web browser and search for a program, download it, and install it. In Linux, there are software repositories that have collections of software and software package managers that take a look at what’s in the repositories and download and install whatever you want from what’s available. It’s a bit like online shopping… “like Amazon,” I said. The package manager checks what’s in stock, you put things in your shopping cart, and then you check out, and the package manager installs things for you. “Installing software in Ubuntu is like shopping on Amazon, where you can get just about anything, and installing software in Xandros is like….” I was trying to figure out how to bring Xandros into the picture here, when she stepped in, “shopping at 7-11?” Yes, that was it exactly.

In Ubuntu, you just need to click a few times to add several vast repositories of software with lots available and very few conflicting packages. In Xandros, you have to use limited user-maintained extra repositories or mix and match with Debian repositories (which are only partially compatible with Xandros), and then you sometimes have to force the package manager to install an older version of MPlayer to get certain functionality or manually “install” a newer GTK library to install the latest version of Firefox.

Don’t get me wrong, Asus has created a wonderful internet appliance with the Xandros Eee PC, but I think an internet appliance-like Linux operating system can also be created that allows people to easily tweak it without worrying about breaking things. Ubuntu gives me that freedom, and that’s why I’m using eeeXubuntu on my Eee PC… even if it does take me 56 seconds to boot.

Linux Ubuntu

Got-to-have-it-now software installers

Every now and then, someone on the Ubuntu Forums complains that it’s difficult to get the latest versions of software and that the software in the Ubuntu repositories is several months old.

I don’t get this.

That’s the whole point. That’s a benefit. It’s one of the great things about Ubuntu (and lots of other Linux distros, too) that you don’t have to keep track of what the latest version is or download individual applications on their various release days. The whole point of package management is that the manager manages software packages for you. Every six months, you can get the latest software available for all your installed applications; or, if you don’t want to do a full operating system upgrade every six months, you can just keep your old software but install security updates for those programs.

I love this about package management (a feature Ubuntu and other Linux distros have). Gone are the days of keeping up with tech news and saying to myself, “Oh, I’d better download the setup.exe for that program to get the new version.” Windows Update will update only Microsoft’s software. Apple Updater will update only Apple software. But Ubuntu’s Update Manager will update everything installed on the system (provided all the software is in the repositories, and the vast majority of it should be).

Nope. Some people just have to have the latest and greatest right now. God forbid they ever run several-months-old software.

Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Teach kids computer skills, not computer programs

Frequently, in online discussions of the putting of Linux and/or open source in schools, the idea of preparing children for the Windows-dominated workplace comes up. The idea is that most workplaces use Windows and Microsoft Office and will sometimes even require proficiency in certain Windows applications, so how would putting Linux and open source software in schools prepare children for using Windows software in the future?

In “Should students learn Windows? Or Mac? Or What?” Scott Granneman points out rightly that technology changes quickly. Most of his examples have to do with changes in interface (Mac OS 9 is not like Mac OS X), but technology changes are far more drastic than mere changes in interface. I grew up in the 1980s using all sorts of computers that are out of fashion now (the colors were green and black or yellow and black on monitors), and finished my pre-university schooling before Windows 1995 was popular. Never was I taught to use Microsoft Office or any modern Windows interface. In high school, I took one computer science course, which trained me in Pascal, a programming language almost no one uses now.

Somehow, though, I’ve managed to actually get jobs and function in them, sometimes even excel in them. Now, more than two decades after my first exposure to computers, I use Windows XP and Microsoft Office five days out of the week and also use FileMaker Pro and Mozilla Firefox, two programs I’d never used in college or high school. In fact, in college, I could barely find anything on the web, because I had dial-up, and Google didn’t exist. Now, I can do mail merges, create pivot tables, and find information quickly on the web.

Technology changes quickly. It surely does. It really doesn’t matter, from the standpoint of preparation for the future, what operating system or software you use with children in schools. Do you think I’m still using turtles to draw colorful lines all over a tiny black screen now? No. Did all the F-keys I learned to use in my mouseless word processor in high school (I used a program called T3) help me with Microsoft Word later? Well, not directly.

What’s important to teach children is curiosity, not to be afraid of tinkering with things, the playfulness that computer software allows. You have to teach kids to be resourceful and get to know different tricks with whatever software you put in front of them. Do not have them memorize steps (click on this menu, then this menu, then this menu). Have them learn concepts. Really, this is what more schooling (not just from a technology standpoint) should be about.

If you stuck me in front of a program I’d never used before, it wouldn’t take me long to figure out its basic functionality and even how to get things done quickly with it. So putting Linux in schools shouldn’t hurt children’s chances in the workplace if you teach them concepts instead of memorization and exploration instead of rote instructions. And, who knows? Maybe they’ll be using Linux in the workplace twenty years from now anyway. Or maybe desktop/laptop computers as we know it won’t even exist at that point. We’ll have some new technology that’s even better, even more intuitive.

Further Reading
Linux in Education: Concepts Not Applications
In Defense of a Linux Education

Apple and Mac OS X Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Is security through obscurity better than nothing?

Before I started using Linux and getting into frequent online discussions with other Linux users about security issues, I had no idea about computer security. I thought having a login and password was enough to keep the “bad guys” out, should my computer ever be stolen. Most people I know think the same. My dad (who actually is quite tech-savvy and can, unlike me, program in several languages and build his own computers from scratch) thought a fingerprint reader on his Thinkpad would keep people from accessing his files, but I showed him (with the aid of Knoppix CD) that that wasn’t the case.

The truth is that most computer “security” for home users is bogus and just security through obscurity. It may (or may not, depending on how resourceful they are) keep nosy family members and friends out, but it won’t stop someone who’s stolen your computer from getting to all your files. Having separate passwords and usernames on a home computer (as opposed to authenticated on a domain at work) is mainly a way to just make it slightly inconvenient for others using the same computer to snoop into your files.

If they had a little bit of knowledge and really wanted to snoop, however, they could. In the case of Mac OS X or Ubuntu, all it would take is booting into single-user mode and copying your files to their folders and changing ownership of those files. Or, if they didn’t want to be stealthy about it, they could change your password and log in as you. In Ubuntu, Mac OS X, and Windows, if you have a live CD (like Knoppix), you can boot it, mount the hard drive, and read any and all files on the computer.

Of course, in addition to having a username and password, there are other ways to slow down intruders and snooping friends from exploring your computer’s contents (setting a BIOS password, for example). Ultimately, though, once physical security is compromised, your computer’s contents have been also compromised… unless your drive is encrypted.

Of course, if one single person learns anything new from reading this, then the obscurity is that much less obscure now than before, but this understanding leads to the next question of “Is security through obscurity better than no security at all?” The Pidgin developers seem to think it’s not, as you can read in their justification for storing instant messaging passwords in plain text. In answer to the question “But surely something is better than nothing, right?” they say No. When a Pidgin user looks at her accounts.xml file, she can tell immediately that it’s a sensitive file and should be treated as such. When an application attempts to ‘trick’ the user into thinking its passwords are secure by obfuscating it in some way, the user assumes it’s safe.

In one sense, I agree with this. I don’t believe in giving users a false sense of security. In another sense, though, I think what they’re saying is ridiculous. Most users of instant messaging programs never look to see whether their passwords are stored in plain text or not, so they will almost always assume it’s safe. What would make much more sense by their line of reasoning would be to have a huge warning the first time you launch up Pidgin saying “Instant messaging is never secure, and that’s why we store your password in plain text.”

I’m a little ambivalent about all this, if you couldn’t tell. On the one hand, I do believe that for most purposes (keeping snooping family members and friends out), having usernames and passwords for unencrypted data serves its purpose. In this regard, security through obscurity works. On the other hand, this does give people a false sense of security, as they may think that not having an autologin will prevent laptop thieves from getting their data. People won’t be careful when it comes to their data and the real “bad guys.” On a lighter note, they may think that forgetting their administrative password means they have to reinstall the entire operating system instead of just resetting the password.

I guess if it really comes down to it, I believe in education. I believe people should know what is secure and what is not secure. What do people think? I know I have a lot of tech-savvy folks (people who know a lot more than I do) who read this blog. Is it ever the case that security through obscurity is better than no security at all?


A Linux live CD can save your data

You don't have to convert to Linux full-time to need Linux. In fact, a Linux live CD is a great thing to have if you're a Windows user. Here are a bunch of Windows and Mac users who thought they'd lost all their precious personal data (documents and photos) just because of a Windows or Mac crash.

If they'd had a Linux live CD, they could have saved all those precious memories and all that hard work. Honestly, even now it's possible they still could. It breaks my heart to see these people thinking it's all gone. This happened to a friend of mine, and she was about to cry, thinking all her years of photos were gone, and then I recovered them with a Ubuntu live CD.

These folks win my Linux live CD award...

08.12.04 - My own version of holiday hell:

I had that happen once, when Brianna was a baby, and we lost about 3 months worth of baby pictures. I still wonder what pictures were there that we won’t see ever again, what smiles are gone. And the videos! So please, invest in a back up hard drive, enroll in a service like Carbonite, but do yourself a huge favor and back up all your files!

08.10.23 - a brief Hiatus:

Our computer system crashed in our business and I am having to re-create every single transaction we've done since February. I've been eyeball deep in paperwork and still have a mountain to go.

08.10.21 - sigh:

my computer crashed and me being the genius that i am, i didnt backup anything
i lost all my shit
my music
my writing
my bootleeg poetry
my fake short story
my music
my pictures
i said my music twice didnt i?
well im distraught

08.10.14 - Crashed:

My computer crashed! Serious stuff here people. I have been without it for 6 days now! [...] So until my computer is back up and running I will not be posting very much. i got a great guy (my brother-in-law) working on the problem. He has said to be prepared to loose everything!

08.10.11 - When it rains, it pours!:

Our computer crashed. As in, KA-BOOM. Everything is gone. Well, not anymore, because we'll be able to pay the nice geeks at Best Buy to get everything off. But, it's expensive and we also have to buy a new computer. We were also planning on buying Slade a laptop for schoolwork. It gets expensive.

08.10.09 - A Night at the Opera:

I have loved the Opera building here in Lille from the first time I saw it. It's gorgeous. Since my computer crashed I can't get my pics onto this new hard drive, so I can't post pictures. Darn it...

08.10.08 - My kitty.... and Derricks too i suppose...:

So i don't think that i have posted a picture of Hendrix here at all..... and infact my computer crashed last weekend i lost all but the one on my phone from when he was much littler....

08.10.08 - Fall shadows, copyrighted:

My computer crashed last week, I now will have to get used to a new system, I just hope i can recover the data from my old hard drive , my son is working on it.

08.10.05 - Apron Swap Sadness and a Crashed Computer:

my computer crashed again. This is the second time this year, and you would think I would have learned my lesson about backing up information after losing four years of work the last time it crashed. But alas, I apparently did not learn my lesson. I do keep almost everything on an external hard drive that I back up to our main home PC. Everything except MY RECIPES! ARGGGG!!!!!!!!!

08.10.03 - CRASH AND BURN:

Long story short: I fixed my computer, but I lost EVERYTHING. All my files, all my music, all my photos.

08.09.29 - Computer crash!:

My computer crashed last week!! All my photos I’ve taken with the new camera are gone!! All the documents, pictures and my favourite links, all gone… I’m so angry with myself for not taking backups more often.

08.09.22 - Computer Crash...offline:

mine has crashed, so I will be offline for a few days!...arhhh!

I think I have lost alot of my latest photos and docs....moral here is to 'BACKUP'

08.09.18 - forgetfulness:

Over the summer my computer crashed, and even though I had everything backed up on a flash drive, all my stuff was lost. I got a new hard drive, the computer guys said I could hire someone who could likely get everything off of my old, broken hard drive (albeit for a four-figure price, most likely), and I plugged in my flash drive to get my novel out. Lo and behold, it has crashed and deleted as well. If all my files are deleted, I think I’m quitting writing. Really. This book is too important to me, and this is not the first time I have had computer problems that have deleted my work. What kills me this time is that I was actually backing things up, and the backup failed as well.

08.09.14 - My computer crashed…:

my lapatop crashed, and all my translations were in that laptop… *grimaces*

08.09.13 - Computer woes:

My computer crashed Wednesday night. It's presently in the hospital and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a full recovery! Thus, no image of the book.

08.09.13 - Crash:

Well, our computer crashed, and I haven’t been able to get my pictures off of it to upload to my blog

08.09.12 - Let There Be Light::

a week ago my computer crashed and I lost everything and am still trying to sort out all the bugs.

08.09.11 - The new place:

my computer crashed the night before we moved. Three computer guys, way too much money, and three weeks later it’s finally up and running. But I lost all my files. All my photographs. All my digital drawings. All of my music and videos and all my little notes and junk I’ve accumulated over the past 5 years.

08.08.29 - My computer crashed on the 15th (?) this month:

so I haven't been able to write or reach the document at all. I finally have a computer again now, so I will do my best from now on. Though first of all, I will have to figure out how to install word 2007 in order to open my document.

08.08.28 - computer crashed (again):


08.07.02 - Computer Crashed!:

Well our computer crashed yesterday to the point I could not even get into windows. I tried to do a system restore but no restore point was there. Tried repairing it and it failed eight times, so my last bet was to reformat the computer. Before doing so I had the option to backup the files on my external hard drive, and of coarse I did. So I thought. After getting everything reformated I went to my external hard drive to find nothing had transfered at all.

08.06.30 - Computer Crashed:

Our computer crashed recently, and we lost a lot of photos.

I had some saved on disks, but some I didn’t.

08.06.11 - Know what sucks?:

My computer crashed.

Thank god for starting brand new.

But I am sad that I lost some shit. Oh well

08.05.01 - May Day:

I'd post pictures of our fun but our computer crashed, completely and we lost EVERYTHING.

07.12.22 - The Geeks are No Freaks:

You see, my desk top computer crashed and with it all my files gone kaput (or until I find my recovery discs from the heaps of CDs scattered all over the apartment) -- and with the meltdown goes thousands of my personal stuffs from pictures to writings to videos to music that dates back to about three years ago.

07.09.28 - My computer crashed -It’s all gone…:

husband tried everything, and it just kept locking up and programs would not work. So we had to do a full restore on the computer. It’s pretty bare now. All my pictures, digital programs, homeschool downloads (the kids are thrilled) and all my e-mail address - GONE!
07.07.12 - my computer crashed !!! =(:
Wow my computer totally crashed. I was just checking my email when all of a sudden it just like completely EXPLODED and I was like ... just woah. So all of the documents and crap i had saved on that computer... which was like (no joke) about 500 documents are down the drane...

06.12.16 - So yesterday my computer crashed about 6 times in succession:

I lost my final paper for Science Fiction Writing among who knows what else, so you can imagine how pleased I am about that.

06.05.17 - My computer crashed.:

Which sucks. Because I have A LOT on my computer.

05.09.19 - So, my computer crashed:

and I lost:

1 english paper
30ish hours of work
all my mail
fish stuff
pirated movies
family guy stuff

plus a bunch more
this sucks

05.07.08 - welll my computer crashed for a day:

and then it got fixed and all my pictures are now gone. and im pissed but whateverrr.

05.02.20 - Well this sucks...:

our computer crashed and we lost all documents we had. I had most likely over 100 documents on this damn thing and its all gone..

04.11.29 - My computer crashed.:

So of course lost everything.
It's sad, isn't it? When the solution is so simple and completely cost-free and yet you think everything is lost? No Linux users who can help out these folks? Or non-Linux users who know these folks and just happen to have a broadband internet connection and a CD burner?

Further Reading
Recovering Windows files with a Ubuntu CD I: the backstory
Recovering Windows files with a Ubuntu CD II: getting your files
Recovering Windows files with a Ubuntu CD III: deleted files

Linux Ubuntu

How did Ubuntu end up so popular?

No one has hard numbers, of course, but based on how much it’s talked about on the web, Ubuntu appears to be the most popular Linux distribution for home use (as opposed to for servers). Every tech news article about Linux mentions Ubuntu and will often recommend Ubuntu to new users. Many YouTube videos about how to do something on Linux will feature Ubuntu. Ubuntu is the top distro on DistroWatch (again, just meaning there’s a lot of interest in it—not necessarily that the largest number of Linux users are choosing it over other distros).

How did this come to pass? Seriously. I was there… not from the very start but from very close to the beginning. The very first release was Ubuntu 4.10, nicknamed Warty Warthog. I started with the next release, Ubuntu 5.04 (Hoary Hedgehog). My first experience with Ubuntu was not the best. The CD froze up part way through the installation, which led me to use Mepis for a month instead. But I came back to Ubuntu. Why?

On the surface, to a new user, Ubuntu would seem like a bad choice.

  • It doesn’t come with popular proprietary software.
  • It doesn’t have additional CDs (meaning, for software installation, you probably need a broadband connection).
  • Its documentation Wiki (especially at the time I started using it, less so now) is a mess.

I figured in 2005 that distros like Mepis and Linspire would thrive and be at the forefront of bringing Linux to ex-Windows power users, if not “the masses.” After all, in Ubuntu, I couldn’t (in Hoary) edit the applications menu, get numlock to stick, install Nvidia drivers, or add software repositories without resorting to the command-line, which was a very daunting thing for me to use when I first started on Linux. The word terminal was a scary word to see. In retrospect, I don’t know why I was so scared of it, but I was. And, yet, only a month after using Mepis, I moved to Ubuntu and stuck with it for three years. No, it didn’t come with Flash, Java, Nvidia drivers, Skype, Adobe Reader, or MP3 playback. It just had something.

The amazing thing is that even back when Ubuntu was barely functional (no easy-codec-installation or restricted-drivers-manager or Ubiquity installer) it was getting buzz. What got it off the ground? As far as I can tell, these are what Ubuntu had going for it:

  • Unlike giants Red Hat and Novell, Canonical was targeting home users first with its catchy (if slightly misleading) “Linux for Human Beings” slogan. Servers were secondary.
  • Unlike homebrews Mepis and PCLinuxOS, though, Ubuntu had the backing of some serious money (Mark Shuttleworth’s).
  • The free CDs worldwide (including shipping) is a nice gimmick that set Ubuntu apart, even if a lot of those CDs were given away to people who later threw them in the trash.
  • The Ubuntu Forums is a good compromise in that it has knowledgeable users but is generally free of the elitism and noob-disdain of other, more difficult distros’ forums. As a matter of fact, this was one of the major deciding factors for me. Much as I liked Mepis and much as their forums were friendly, they just didn’t have enough knowledgeable users to support me in all my questions. The Gentoo forums were far too intimidating for me.
  • I think this goes along with the forums being less intimidating, but associating the Ubuntu “Humanity Towards Others” philosophy with the distro seemed to give it a purpose and a flavor beyond mere technology.
  • The lack of confusing options really helps new users. You don’t have to know what KDE and Gnome are or choose what applications to install or which of five text editors to use. Ubuntu picks one application per task as default. If you want to switch to different applications later, that’s up to you when you’re more familiar with Linux programs.
  • Even though the Wiki isn’t the strongest representative of this, the Ubuntu documentation is pretty easy to follow. When I started with Hoary, the Ubuntu Guide was the best around, and since then a series of screenshot-heavy and video tutorials have sprung up to help new users who feel lost.

I’m a little conflicted on the single CD nature of Ubuntu. Even though I think not having additional CDs hurts the idea of Linux for Human Beings (since it really assumes users have a broadband connection or never want to install new software), I also found the multiple-CD distros confusing when I was a new user. I didn’t think of Mandriva as the first CD for installing the operating system and the second and third for only additional software. I thought I needed all three to install Mandriva. So I steered clear of Debian, definitely, which I think had fourteen CDs at the time.

I am quite proud of the Ubuntu developers’ work. Even though I have minor complaints, I like what I’m seeing: more point-and-click options, less need for the terminal, prettier artwork, easy codec installation. Yes, there are bugs. There will always be bugs. But Ubuntu is a solid distro with a large userbase to support and welcome you if you want to come. It was a dark horse rising up and now appears to be the de facto distro for new users.

If you’re too lazy to install the proprietary codecs yourself, though, you can use a Ubuntu variant like Linux Mint, which includes them by default.

Further Reading
Five Reasons Ubuntu Is the #1 Linux Distro

Computers Linux Ubuntu

The writers who cried YOTLD

If you have followed tech news closely at all within the last ten years, you’ve probably heard the phrase year of the Linux desktop before. This is the year that Linux makes a breakthrough with home users, and suddenly Microsoft’s dominant market share comes toppling down. I believe people have been proclaiming various years as the year of the Linux desktop since as early as 1998 (possibly even earlier).

Sometimes the writers will say the current year will be the year of the Linux desktop. Sometimes they’ll be a little more conservative and say some year a few years from now will be the year of the Linux desktop. For example, if I were one of these writers, I would either write 2008 will be the year of the Linux desktop! or with the progress we’re saying right now in 2008, it’s likely that by 2011, we’ll see the year of the Linux desktop.

Did we see the year of the Linux desktop? Nope. That, at least, I think most of us Linux aficionados can agree on. But some naysayers go a step further. Through a leap in logic, they decide that the fact that none of these previous predictions have come true precludes the possibility of a future prediction coming true. In other words, the extrapolation goes something like this: Oh, come on. For years, people have been saying such-and-such year is the year of the Linux desktop, and it’s never come. It’s never going to come. Microsoft will always be on top. Just deal with it.

I would contend that we have no way of knowing whether that year will ever come or not. Just think of the fable “The boy who cried wolf.” In it, the boy tells the village that a wolf is coming. The village gets all up in a panic and then realizes the boy was lying. He cries wolf a second time, and a second time the village is in a panic and realizes the boy was lying again. The third time he cries wolf, there really is a wolf, but no one in the village believes him any more. That’s what’s happening with this whole YOTLD business. These writers who keep proclaiming that some year is the YOTLD are losing their credibility every time the year doesn’t come. But it also means that it’s possible the year might come, and no one will believe the writer who really does get it right.

So I guess it boils down to two things: 1. If you’re a writer who wants to proclaim that such-and-such year is the YOTLD, don’t even bother. Even if you’re right, no one will believe you anyway, as people have been saying that for years. 2. If you one of those people who thinks the YOTLD will never come, you have to come up with other reasons than “They’ve been saying that for years.” After all, I could say every year that I’m going to die that year, and I may be wrong most of the time, but one year I am going to be right. Whether I say it’s going to happen or not has no bearing on the actual outcome or occurrence.

I’m just beginning now to read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which talks about the moment when there’s a huge sociological change (crime rates dropping, fashion trends being adopted, new technology going mainstream), and it’s made me change my mind on Linux adoption. I used to think the growth of consumer Linux would be gradual and stay gradual indefinitely, but there is a tipping point, and if we get to that point (maybe about 15%), there will be a huge flood of new users. I’m not going to speculate on what year that might be, but it clearly happened for cell phones (as Gladwell points out) in 1998, and it also happened for iPods in 2003, and Firefox in 2005. It won’t necessarily mean the end of Windows’ dominance on the home user’s computer, but it could mean a lot more third-party support for Linux—the kind that Macs currently enjoy.

Which year will be the YOTLD? No one knows. There very well still could be one, and it would probably be a year and not a decade.