TuxI love Linux, I love FLOSS. I love the ideas behind them, and what drives the community. I love that Linux Distro’s are more user friendly than their competitors. I love how they work, I love how much better the kernel is than anything else out there.

Why am I so critical during my reviews then?

Certainly A Free Product Needs a Break?

Often when someone critiques a linux distro in a forum a retort along the lines of “well if you want $X or $Y you can pay for Windows, you get $distro for free…”

Wrong. Right there the Linux community states clearly “we are not good enough, and like some knock off product you should expect to get what you pay for, or go get the real thing.”

Linux developers and packagers and artists and everyone who gets involved in pushing the next release of a distro out rightly take pride in their work. To suggest that it is sub standard because it is free is an insult to the talent and grit of these people. I believe they should be held to a high standard, their product should be compared with the best out there.

Imagine a youngster training for the olympics. He works hard, but due to financial constraints he constantly has to deal with a disadvantage that could possibly ruin his chances. Imagine now that on the day of the olympic tryouts no-one expects him to succeed because of this. For years he has worked hard, and grafted away at his fitness and strength. Imagine someone takes pity on him and says “Don’t worry son, let’s have you run in the ‘B’ tryouts for the college team – I don’t want you to be disappointed when you fail in the olympic trials.”

What an insult to the spirit of that athlete! He will now never know how he compares to those he aspires to be a peer to. So what if he fails? At least he will know how he competes against them, and can analyze his performance against them and come back next season – leaner, meaner and more ready to succeed.

I refuse to review a distro and say “ooh a nice distro that I really liked and looks nice and you should try it…” without making sure that I compare it to the best out there. The teams behind each and every Linux distribution deserves our respect, and by comparing them with the best we show that we admire their effort enough to expect the best from them.

But… Don’t We Get What we Pay For?

We get more. Over the past years Linux has come along in leaps and bounds. And it has been hard going. Only within the last five years have Linux become really mainstream. Sure you could have yourself a desktop OS with minimal fiddle since the days of Mandrake Linux that came in those blue boxes, and who featured the venerable Drake the Wizard to help you through the new experience.

Now you get the most full featured and best operating systems around only a download away. You get the best desktop compositing that money will not buy, you get the most stable kernel that is used on high end servers across the world running your netbook. You get security, features, stability, looks, compatibility and speed – at no cost.

As a total package no other operating system even comes close. Apple realized the value of a solid architecture and built MacOS on BSD. Windows costs a lot of money these days, and yet with ten times the budget of Canonical Microsoft succeeds to bring us such lame ducks as is the case with Vista.

Will I now sit back and applaud Ubuntu and live with a few minor niggles? “Let it slide bro, it’s free” is the operative mantra when suspend/resume does not work on your laptop.

Hell. No.

From a team of individuals that could deliver something as utterly breath takingly gorgeous as KDE4 is I expect only the best. Bug reports are there for a reason. Feedback is valuable.

It is Easy to Criticise, no?

As a rather opinionated blogger I am painfully aware of the fact that I contribute little of value to Linux in general. Sure I file bug reports from time to time, provide feedback via my blog or an odd forum post here or there and help out the new kids where I can.

I am careful to make sure my criticism is accurate, and constructive. Never malicious or derogative. I also make sure readers understand that I am not above criticism either – feedback is what made Linux great.

Summary

The much publicized e-mail debate between Steve Jobs and a Gawker blogger reminded me of a mindset that is really dangerous. Mr Jobs responded at one point with “By the way, what have you done that’s so great? Do you create anything, or just criticize others work and belittle their motivations?”

That is arrogance right there. Sure you might say that Steve Jobs can afford to be a little arrogant from time to time. Arrogance leads to downfall. If the Linux community is arrogant enough to believe themselves above criticism then they will fail. Linux will fade into history as the little OS that could, but didn’t, in the end.

As a South African I am constantly aware of being part of something great – and contributing to that greatness even though I am only one of Forty Million odd individuals. I am part of a dream in this country, and proud of my contribution to the great future that awaits South Africa – even if my contribution is as minuscule as being friendly to a foreigner, or submitting an anonymous suggestion to a state department office.

As a Linux, or FLOSS, user, developer, blogger or contributer you can contribute. Speak your mind. Hold this athlete up to the highest standards, and let it run with the big boys. Where it fails point it out – blog it, bug report it, fix it. Do whatever you can to keep improving it.

And most of all enjoy it – it is free, after all…

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