Friday, January 16, 2009

The more things change, the more things stay the same

I think this is more a reflection of computer users, or even people, than Ubuntu users. People that know and understand Linux, use Linux. I have used a variety of distributions, but I am pretty happy with Ubuntu. I have used Ubuntu exclusively for only a few years now, but I can still see where I am far behind in my understanding of many things based on the forums I visit. Ubuntu irc had been a fun place I would go to get help, and often spend some time helping others. It was very civilized, though there were a lot of new people. Years later, now, it might be hard to distinguish from 4chan or Barrens chat. I don't go there any more AT ALL.

But honestly, I think this is just what happens when popularity increases with anything. I remember when the majority of people on the Internet (if you would really call it that) were between intelligent and highly intelligent individuals discussing a wide range of topic (though usually leaning towards the nerdy side) in a civilized manner.

Going from telnet to web browsing changed everything! The number of people online was approaching a million! The number of servers you could connect to or 'sites' you could now 'browse to' was skyrocketing! People starting making their own web sites and hosting forums at home, and there were just tons of people all excited to be involved in this new medium, despite the fact they had no idea what they were doing.

And then AOL came along, and Geocities. Soon everyone had a web page for their cat, and flame wars seemed to be the thing in every chat room. It was just like the parlor times a million! This was about the time I stopped going into chat rooms at all, because it was just intolerable.

But eventually we got slashdot, google, ebay, wikipedia,, eff, findlaw,, youtube, hulu, piratebay, thinkfree, and so many others both recently and over the years.

I miss the days when every person I knew that had a computer had taken it apart and put it back together many times, they all had some minimal programming skill, and nerdy groups of people would be going around to business or telling our non-nerd friends "you could do that so much better if you had a COMPUTER!", to which they would reply, "that stuff is for nerds, I am doing just fine with my typewriter". "There's nothing I can do with a computer I can't do on my typewriter", and "computers just make it more complicated and expensive".

There was no convincing them. You would try to explain, but they wouldn't listen.

Then one day they would come you you and be all like "Hey, guess what? I got one of those Pentium things! Isn't that cool!" and all you could do is smile and sigh. And after that, it was the endless phone calls for little things that you didn't mind, because it was exactly what you had been pushing for in the first place. But sometimes it made you wonder.

Soon, the round table discussions over new technologies in the library were replaced with sheep-dip seminars (thank you Andy Hunt), row after row of zombies watching someone explain what a mouse was for, and how to put things in the trash. Soon you had all these 'experts' saying that they knew more about computers than anyone because they had taken a class. Oh, the humanity...

So what a surprise that after all these years, we are still seeing the same type of revolution. Yes, I miss the 'Internet' when it was between 10,000 and 100,000 users, but those times are gone, and in the big picture, the new even more nerdy stuff is worth it.

They say that Linux userbase / marketshare (or whatever way Microsoft feels like measuring it one day to the next) is about 1%, but it is easy to see it is the top 1%. Maybe it is just me, but I don't see an even distribution be user base as a whole of computer experts between exclusive Linux users and exclusive Windows users. It is the same one percent 20+ years ago trying to get people to use computers because it was the future. That same group (albeit a new generation) are pushing Linux. The gurus are already Linux users. Who do you think you are recruiting? Ubuntu has made great ground in working its way down from that top one percent to possibly the next 1%. It is going to keep growing, and I can PROMISE you it is only going to get worse. If the goal is Linux adoption, then that is exactly what is going on, but why should the adoption on Linux be any different than the adoption of computers or the Internet was for the general population.

The newbie, beginner Linux user is going to use Ubuntu. It is the pretty flashy cool new thing. And as expected, they are going to flame the boards, and spend way too much time uploading their new theme of the hour to The old school Debian users are going to be like "What the hell have we done?", and the Gentoo users are going to be laughing their asses off saying "I told you so", and things will progress, change, adapt, and get better. Computers now do amazing things, and no longer are our libraries filled with people trying to get their Mouse Skills Certification. I swear the bottom 20% only changes as people die off.

The great thing is that Linux will never have to play to the lowest common denominator. Ubuntu may, and that will be its place. To me, Windows has played to the lowest common denominator consistently, and fighting through their sense of what intuition would be for someone that has never used a computer drives me completely nuts. I was discussing this with a friend who has also been studying the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition (Anyone familiar with the Pragmatic Programmer series should be familiar), and we came to the same conclusion: If intuition is for experts, how do you create an intuitive interface for a novice?

The implications are nauseating.

This is a great reason for there to be many forks of projects any time it is deemed necessary, and distributions that can all be customized for computer users at any level of from novice to expert. That is part of the freedom I think we all hope for. It is also obvious to see that play out between Debian and Ubuntu users. Linux users may be the top 1%, and Ubuntu users make up the bottom 0.8% of that 1%.

So I can't help but point out that maybe the real fear shouldn't be for Microsoft, but for the Linux community, and to use everyones favorite cliche...

The Year of Linux is coming; brace yourself!

No comments: