The Revolution Continues...

From Jeppe Sigbrandt

Linux (*) is free and increasingly popular. People have started taking it up on a large scale because of all the wonderful free software that comes with it. The exponential growth has mainly been due to word of mouth - the most trustworthy marketing tool on this planet (if trust and marketing can be juxtaposed :)

The companies making money from Linux implicitly use this marketing force, the best one, and it sells their products.

We, the users, SUSTAIN this force. We ARE the ambassadors. We ARE the marketing force. Over-hype? Not at all. Consider that people who use free software, don't just tell their friends, but usually end up publishing reports or informative documents on the products they're using. Any article sent to a list or usenet conference has a potential audience of millions. These documents also have an annoying habit of being well informed, to the point and unbiased.

There are many companies out there, amongst the most advanced in the world in terms of philosophy (i.e. with good support for their products and a very healthy attitude towards interacting with the internet and usenet), doing a great job pushing and supporting Linux. Good on them. I wholeheartedly support them.

But there are some, using Linux as a fast way to make a fast buck via exploiting the phenomena it has been. By exploiting free software they're exploiting the work of thousands of volunteers who have created, developed, maintained, tested, ported and supported a growing collection of excellent software. These linuxphiles, for whom the computer is more often a toy than a tool, are reluctant to speak against any effort which is making (their?) excellent free software better acknowledged and more widespread.

However, these companies deserve to be exposed. They might not have done anything unlawful, but neither has Word for Windows! Word is simply not a top rate program and increasingly people are discovering this, having been exposed to better elsewhere, and making no qualms about telling their friends.

The same goes for commerces that depend on the portfolio of work donated by volunteers. If they are not seen to be doing their bit in making their contribution worthwhile to the whole community - action must be taken.

High quality, in the average market place is not asking much. By making a simple contribution to the product being sold, e.g. via technical support you've joined a very small percentage of companies. It shouldn't be difficult to be seen as providing a high quality service. Being seen as high quality in the linux market, on the other hand, may be harder ...

But the excuse is weak. If an anarchic group of volunteers can create some of the best software in the world, an organised structure should be capable of filling the gaps left by lack of time or motivation.

If you are unhappy about a company then mention its NAME, say what its doing wrong, give us the facts. You won't spoil the reputation of a good company because they will respond adequately to your unhappiness (provided of course, you ensure they receive a copy of your complaint).

You won't spoil the reputation of a good company, because if your complaint is based upon opinions which are subjective, this will get pointed out rather fast on the internet ;)

You won't spoil the reputation of good companies, because if you're the only one with this problem, then you and the net will be made aware of this.

Recently I witnessed a vindictive attack on a leading matrix-maths software supplier. The customer claimed the company was unhelpful, incompetent and non-caring. The complaint was immediately followed-up with mail from satisfied happy users indicating his complaints to be ill founded in every sense. The long term effect, of this shower of support, was to increase my admiration and trust in the company, leading to a larger commitment from me to their software. Openness pays !

Linux and its accompanying software is of the best quality I have used. I am very happy, and a keen advocate. I do not want to see this spoilt by companies exploiting the phenomena. Recently there has been a spate of posts on usenet on the subject of "bad distributions". In the name of the wee man, why don't they mention who the bad distribution come from? There are hundreds of newbies reading the c.o.l.* newsgroups every day, and the first question a potential convert will ask is "which is best?"

Lets tell him.

Its not as simple as pointing to one distribution. Each has its merits, and invariably a downside. Most intelligent people will react positively to hearing the disadvantages associated with their choice instead of discovering at their own cost.

Don't be afraid of complaining but remember the Swedish motto : moderation is best. No vindictive vendettas!

Of course we don't want to wreck the prospects of Linux et al. By pointing out a commercial company doing a bad job, you might indeed scare companies away from joining the linux market. But it will be the bad companies that will be running scared: the ones that hate concepts such as "openness, honesty, service, customer support, ...".

By being critical, you only encourage healthy enterprises. And the market will remain healthy. And more good companies will be attracted. And linux will gain the user group it deserves. And people will communicate both its failings and its advantages. And the market will remain dynamic as the world's free software collection gathers momentum. And the quality of the system will increase. And on the seventh day ...
(couldn't resist :)


alias him "him/her"

* In fact "Linux" is an unfair name, and even "Linux based GNU system" doesn't tell the whole story, however the name of the OS is catchy and has stuck, so it is usually used to speak of the whole system.