Reply to "Grok" Comments

By Charles Connell

Before heading home for the weekend (and tearing myself away from slashdot), I thought I would respond to some of the comments made about my recent Linux article.

First, thanks to everyone who posted or emailed a response. The vast majority of comments were friendly and thoughtful. I especially liked the reader who wanted to paste the article in every programmer's cubicle. :-) More substantially, here are some specific responses to major points raised by slashdot readers...

The Linux community is not a business, so no one can demand anything from it. This is an interesting point. You are correct in a sense. There is no "Linux phone number" for a user to call when they find a bug -- even if the user is rich and important. On the other hand, there are plenty of companies that sell and service Linux distributions or systems (Compaq, IBM, Red Hat...). These companies employ Linux programmers, and have customers who want bugs fixed and new features added. Also, when the CTO of a Fortune 100 company is deciding whether to commit to Linux for 50,000 new computers, he (or she) is certainly going to be demanding. They might be a little uncertain where to direct their demands, but the overall ability of the Linux community to meet her needs is going to influence that purchase decision.

Some technical people had even more trouble than I did installing Linux. Some of the comments on slashdot describe horror stories of smart, technically savvy people who failed in their attempts to install Linux. Or who spent 20 hours getting it to work right. Keep in mind that many future Linux users are very smart people, who happen to be busy with other things. If Linux is difficult to install or configure, these people will give up -- even though they are "smart enough". They just don't have time.

My first two articles as I posted them are not exact copies of the versions that appeared in the Boston Globe. (These were the articles that evoked the flames that evoked the Grok article.) This is true, but the differences are minor. On my web site I posted the articles as I wrote them, while the Globe edited and shortened in a few places. The differences do not alter the substance or tone of either piece.

We don't want Linux used by the masses. In some ways, this is unanswerable. If someone does not want Linux to be adopted by nontechnical users (or even busy technical users), then I can't really argue with this. I suspect that many people in the Linux camp *do* want wider use of Linux however. The percentage of the population that has the skill and time to use Linux (as it currently is) is extremely small. I would guess about 0.1%. It would be a shame to limit Linux to this few.  I am gratified that my article seems to have provoked a discussion on this point. What are the goals of the Linux community? Are you creating it for your use? Or wider use?

Again, thanks to everyone who responded by posting or email. I hope to write something else for slashdot, so we can do it all again.

Biography: Charles Connell is president of CHC-3 Consulting Inc., teaches computer science at Boston University, and writes frequently on computer topics. He can be reached at

(Copyright 2000 by Charles H. Connell Jr.)

small logo