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Dude, you’re a 35 year old with a neck beard

As most of you probably know, I’m pretty much the equivalent of a newborn in the world of free software. This open source gig has been going for almost 30 years, but I only got involved within the last 12 months. So, consider this the opinion of a (young, non-geeky) outsider looking in who’s now experienced the full force of Ubuntu.

During Mark’s keynote at the last Ubuntu Developer’s Summit in Brussels when I wasn’t hastily taking pictures and updating OMG! Ubuntu! live, I enjoyed listening to some of what Mark had to say – particularly this thing about crossing the “chasm.”

In free software there are a tonne of annoying people (including me). I suppose that can be said for any community. Possibly one of the most annoying groups of people are the extremist diehard Linux geeks – you know, the ones that refer to it as GNU/Linux, run as many commands as they can from a terminal window and think that taking their dog for a walk is adequate exercise for a year. I’m aware of the blatant stereotype. Let me continue.

The simple fact is that everyone on the “other” side of the chasm, you know, normal people, don’t care about freedom so much. They don’t give a rat’s ass that Docky is written in mono or that some of the artwork for Ubuntu is created in Photoshop. Case in point: Look at how many people use Facebook or Twitter. There are a number of reasons why these services are popular, but generally the main two are:

a) their friends use it
b) it’s cheap (and in this case, free).

Unfortunately it is true that exactly the same thing can be said about clothing manufacturers who utilize cheap production methods, or companies that genetically enhance vegetables and fruit. In the first instance, people buy the stuff because it’s trendy (a), in the second, because it tastes good. In both cases, the cheaper price is certainly a huge factor (b).

In my own life I have learnt to minimize the amount of friends I have who are vegetarian, religious or have extreme views about something. If I didn’t, I’d probably be so depressed from being lectured and told off all the time for eating meat or not believing in God. I went to a religious school and spent 13 years going to Church for an hour every week. Thankfully they valued teaching both sides of the story, and I made an informed decision to not be religious.

In my opinion, the worst kind of are the people who refuse to use Twitter, Facebook, or even any Google product due to privacy concerns. Dude, you’re a 35 year old with a neck beard living in your Mum’s basement, no one cares enough to breach your privacy and steal your mainframe!

I use Docky because it gets the job done and it looks pretty. I also dual boot with Windows 7 because I use Photoshop for design. Does that make me a bad person? Does eating meat make me a bad person?  In an ideal world i’d probably be looked upon as the worst thing since black jellybeans, but unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world.

Do you really, really believe that Android is in widespread use because it was marketed as being free as in speech?! No, of course not! It’s mainstream because it works, looks good, and offers consumers a choice other than what Apple has on offer at a cheaper price.

So, sorry free software evangelists but I bring some bad news. The only way we’re going to cross the chasm is by being better than the competition, and if that means Canonical has to do some closed testing on the Ubuntu font before it’s released or keep the Ubuntu One server code closed source, then so be it. (Up until now, Canonical have always open-source their code in the end).

If the product benefits as an end result, who’s complaining other than this small vocal minority who put off the rest of us? The worst thing is that this minority is usually the same people who are in a position of responsibility or decision-making.

All you have to do is go and read The inmates are running the asylum by Alan Cooper which was first published over 10 years ago and you’ll see so many similarities to the present, it’s mind boggling – we haven’t advanced at all, we’re still serving up exactly the opposite to what real users want and then forcing them to learn all this crazy shit developed by programmers who laugh at anyone who doesn’t know what a terminal is. And if the end-user fails to understand it, then we criticize their intelligence in a condescending manner.

Until we change this attitude where “M$ is the devil,” and actually try to create something for them and not us, I fail to see free software taking off based on principle alone – that’s if you want it to take off in the first place.

Discuss.

Edit: Just to avoid some confusion, this post is about people who are in-your-face about open source. There are plenty of developers who have their own beliefs but don’t try and slam it down your throat. I’ve met a lot of developers and I am good friends with many people in the community and at Canonical, in no way would I want to disrespect their hard work that they put in every day on making open source software rock.

This is just my opinion. What you think is of interest to me, and I read every single comment. What is not of interest to me are comments that use profanity, so keep it clean please!

Benjamin Humphrey is the founder and leader of the Ubuntu Manual Project, an Ubuntu member, and was sponsored by Canonical to attend the Ubuntu Developers Summit for the Maverick release earlier this year. He studies design and psychology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. When he’s not upsetting the internet by writing controversial articles, he also has a pilots licence and plays the drums, trumpet and guitar. Benjamin enjoys the work of Seth MacFarlane.