Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Column: "But mine is free"

Didn’t you ever drive behind one of those? One of those vehicles on four wheels that are legally considered cars, whose proud owner has a bumper sticker with the line: “Smile. But mine is paid”. Before the Berlin wall came tumbling down there were proud owners of Eastblock produce. Lada, Skoda en Yugo. During my years on Curaçao I had the Lada sportsmobile, the Lada Samara. It was ideal! The thing was a tank with a platework so thick no rust could get a handle on it. And when someone drove into it, the other car had the damage. You only needed to paint it army green, put a cannon on the roof and the monster was ready for the Cold War.

But, what was the sales pitch for these cars from the workers’ paradise? They were cheap, functional and robust. The owner were almost elated about the barren simplicity. These cars were so simple you could repair them yourself. You had to. The market value was zero point nothing and sales were less than sluggish. No, then the Japanese cars. More rust then metal. But sales were soaring, because they did have a deluxe shine with that metallic coat of paint. Hmmm, reminds me of an operating system I know.

Fast forward to the present. The workers’ paradise is no longer behind the Iron Curtain. The communist continues life as a Linux hacker and the Communist Manifesto is transformed into the GPL. World domination is to be achieved via an operating system and applications. Do you know the main sales pitch? Linux is free, secure, stable and functional. Yes, you can, are allowed, no, even should look into the source code. Ha, you won’t see that with those capitalist pigs from Redmond.

Yes, Linux even has a female spokesperson nowadays, a slender your woman who can tell you that Linux has 30 million users. Vista achieved 20 million in the first few months of it’s existence. Okay… put yourself in the position of a hormone driven teenager with his modded gamerig. Neon, shining lights, black and chrome. Got that? Picture Suse on it…. Or worse, Debian Woody, default install, because it is developed by a group of bickering hackers bound to a social contract…. See the problem? A nice paint job still does miracles, even 25 years later. Yes, yes, I can hear some of you think: “What about Compiz and Beryl?” True, but by the time that has reached mainstream Linux Vista has sold another 20 million. We have to change that.

It didn’t matter in those days for the average car buyer that the Yugo was a fine car for the money you paid for it and it doesn’t matter for average computer consumer Linux is superior in terms of security, stability and price. To push it’s way to the desktop, both in the business as at home, Linux needs a paint job. Free and reliable don’t do well in a sales pitch. It might, for the nerdy sysadmin, but not for his boss who controls the budget. By the way, I can still see the IT professionals during the employment heydays, waiting to pick out their company cars. And no, there was no Lada to be seen. The boss knows what sells.

Oh, and for those who are interested, you can download this bumper sticker for your computer: “Smile. But mine is free”

Tags: Linux

This column is part of a series I write for Digiplace.nl, where it appears in Dutch.

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