Advocating Linux

Some advice to people who wish to advocate Linux. Especially to those who want to criticise other operating systems in the process.

16 August 1996

Linux is my operating system of choice. I want to have many people use it, if only because then it has a higher chance of surviving. Many people want the same thing, and some of them are actively telling about Linux to other people, often in public newsgroups. This is advocacy, and it's one good way to spread the word on Linux.

Unfortunately, some of these people seem to suffer from what has been called the Amiga syndrome: whenever anyone discusses computers, the stereotypical Amiga user will always claim that the Amiga is a better, faster, cheaper, more user-friendly computer than any other, ever, and any opposing view is treated as treachery, oppression, and a declaration of nuclear war. Some Linux users are using the same tactics. They make both themselves and Linux look bad. I'd like to stop this by making a few suggestions for advocating Linux better.

There's no enforcement of these suggestions, nor will there be (the mere idea is horrible). Linux users are supposed to have brains. If you don't think I'm making sense, fine. One of us might consider the other an idiot, but that's life.

Stay calm. There's no reason to get excited. If someone says something about Linux that you don't like, so what? It's just computers, it's not important.

Don't take it personally. Even if Linux is your dream system, there's no reason to be offended if someone points out problems with Linux (even if you wrote that part of Linux, which you probably didn't). It's not a statement about you personally. If they flame Linux users, they're idiots and you should ignore them. They're probably just trying to get some attention.

Ignore flame baits. Like I said, some people just want attention. They enjoy starting long flame wars by crossposting something insulting to several unrelated groups (e.g., both to Windows and Linux groups). Don't respond to these posts. It isn't productive.

Stick to facts. If someone says something wrong about Linux, reply with the correct facts. Make sure they're facts, though, not just something you heard about. Don't spread lies or rumors. Check your facts. If you don't know how to do that, then perhaps you shouldn't take part in the discussion, except perhaps by making questions. Even better, give references so that other people can also check the facts.

Linux is not flawless. Linux has bugs, including design problems. If someone points out something that is wrong with Linux, acknowledge it and do something constructive, like forward it to the proper maintainer or fix it yourself. Find a workaround. Write a summary of the problem and make it publically available. Don't just whine.

Don't flame other systems. Perhaps Windows does crash more often than Linux (although I have no hard data on this, just anecdotes, so I don't know if it is true; remember, facts only). That doesn't mean you tell it to every Windows user. If you must say something about other systems, keep to facts (and make doubly sure they're facts) and present them politely.

Don't flame people because they use other systems. Ever.

Bill Gates is not Satan. Some people claim that Microsoft's business practices are immoral (or at least overly predatory). I don't know if this is true, but using such claims as arguments does not make the discussion productive. Conspiracy theories sound really, really silly (as long as they're theories; feel free to provide verified facts).

We aren't taking over the world. There's no reason to get offended if someone claims many more people use Windows than Linux. It's true. It doesn't matter. No-one knows how many Linux users there are. That doesn't matter, either. Market share isn't the goal. Solving problems is the goal. Having fun is the goal.

Linux can't replace Windows. Windows has applications that Linux lacks. There's no reason to get excited about it. Windows can't replace Linux, either. No system is perfect for all things. Don't make yourself look ridiculous by claiming that LaTeX is a better wordprocessor for the masses than MS Word. If you want Linux to have better applications than Windows, write them or encourage others with something better than talk.

Avoid crossposts. Many advocacy discussions live long because they're crossposted to many popular groups for specific systems. Whenever someone says something about one system, there's a whole bunch of people who will jump on him, just because he's supporting a system different from their's. If you must crosspost advocacy discussions, only crosspost to advocacy groups (such as comp.os.linux.advocacy). Never, ever crosspost to other groups, it ruins them. If you respond to an advocacy thread that is crossposted to a non-advocacy group, remove the non-advocacy group.

Keep to the Linux groups. Don't go to non-Linux groups to pick a fight. Each advocacy group exists for discussion about one particular system. Don't try to invade other advocacy groups. That's rude. No-one likes big-mouthed strangers.

See also: What Byte wrote about Linux users in Februrary, 1996.