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GetGNULinux.org misconceptions

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ariadacapo's picture
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Joined: 2006-07-13

I write this post because in various communications I find that I am bound to repeating the same things again and again; so hopefully this will help.

It is a regular occurrence that people misunderstand the goals and ideals of the GetGNULinux.org project. In particular, I am regularly challenged with the following statements:

- GGL.o should stay consistent with the real name "GNU/Linux", Linux is just a kernel and misrepresents the philosophy of free software.

- GGL.o should not point to distributions such as Ubuntu, which include proprietary drivers and are not fully free as speech.

Most often people don't ask "why don't you stay consistent?" or "Why do you still point to Ubuntu?". They simply criticize and just assume one or several of:
- I am rather ignorant of the ideas behind free software;
- I am looking for popularity, things such as freedom in computing are quite unpopular and tend to push visitors away;
- I am looking for cool stuff, GNU/Linux without 3D effects is not cool, fully-free distros are not cool so I bypass that;
- I am a Ubuntu guy, the other distros just will never equal it in my opinion.
So let me set this straight: none of that is true. You have my word for it. If I wanted cool / popularity or even money, GGL.o would be very different and a lot more entertaining. And not continually discussed on Nuxified.

So Why?
My answer is that GetGNULinux.org is not GNU.org.
The strength of the free software movement is at GNU. It's all entirely there and there is nothing GetGNULinux.org will do better than these people.
I am very, very thankful to the FSF and a vivid admirer of their stands and achievements. I want to spread their work more. So why not staying within FSF-approved language, and recommend FSF-approved distributions?

I say: to know the answer, try switching people. Pick one random user quite happily using Windows, approach him/her, and talk him/her into trying GNU/Linux. It may be your mate's girlfriend. It maybe your friend's mum. It is one random computer user. Not your best friend, who's comprehensive, who's quickly determined to use free software, who will never give up in front of a computer problem. Ah, no, that doesn't count. It is one Normal person.
Well good luck. Because you will probably fail.
Normal people don't change easily. They don't care about their software. Even if they care a little, they will give up easily. Normal people won't use a bicycle in a town center even if it's plain obvious they're wasting time, money, and the planet sitting in their car. Normal people won't give 1% of their salary to causes they find very important. People stick to Windows+MSN+Hotmail+WMA+DRM not because they believe in it. Just because it's there and it works.
Even with a formidable community (size-wise and efficiency-wise), Firefox only reached 20% market against IE6. Even with the most sensible, well built ergonomics advantages over its competitor. Even when it costs just a 5MB download to install and it imports your favorites in one click.
So you try switching people to GNU/Linux.
Do you think it's going to go fine? Of course not, there is going to be that little thing that is not quite working (not crucial, but needs fixing). Only a little hack. "It's because this and this and this", and "You need to open a terminal and type this and this and this". But if you are not there, our Normal Person will have to find out by herself.
And, believe it or not, people frown when they have to type blagblagblag.org to look for help, or it takes a long time just to find out that BLAG might probably just mean Blag Linux And GNU's Not Unix, or the website of their distro doesn't even explain it's an operating system, or they have trouble pronouncing the name of their distribution and it sounds midway between awckward and funny, or they have to speak and write English to communicate in the forum of their distro, or they are talked about overthrowing corporate control. (they work for a corporation, you know, and they also own an iPod and a car where the wipers switch on automatically and they like things to work).
And they will give up if they are asked too complicated questions during install. Or they might give up because they don't have network when they chuck their wi-fi card in their computer. Or because they can't eject the stupid CD (it required unmount). Or because or because or because... each person will find a reason, if they are not 100% determined like you and me were the first time (and they're not).

So you have failed? Maybe like me you have failed to switch one person. Maybe like me you were not maybe even able to talk another person into switching. Or maybe you even failed to switch someone even to Firefox? Heck, my dad still browses with Internet Explorer.

Too bad for us. Because on the next computer these people will buy, there will be a new Windows version. And on the one after that, maybe another. Everytime it gets harder to get fair use out of media. Everytime it gets harder to have a choice in applications. Everytime it gets closer to a perfect, symbiotic, multi-corportation Trusted Computing environment, where culture is a disposable good, where hacking and source code don't exist, and where "freedom" is long forgotten. There might not even be much space for your computer, in that world.

So maybe, at this point, you will be ready to make compromises. Maybe, if a distro is particularly friendly because it fits on one CD, boots as a liveCD without asking a question, stays friendly throughout install and boot, has very popular forums and a reassuring website, but has proprietary blobs in it, maybe you will still consider it for recommendation.
Maybe, if so many Windows users hear of "Linux" (because for most people, "Linux" is not a kernel) and they type linux.org and get instantly sick with "Linux" and will never want to try it again, maybe you will consider talking to these people as well. Try getting their attention before they land on linux.org and make sure they know that you are speaking of "just Linux" and try on the way to tell them it's actually "GNU/Linux".

Well these compromises I am ready to make. Because GetGNULinux.org is for these people precisely. It's not a complete resource about free software. It's an attempt to spread free software, and spread it the most efficiently way.
I would rather have 10 people switched to the not-quite-completely free Ubuntu, rather than 5 switched to BLAG or gNewSense, and the 5 others disappointed with their experience, telling all their relatives that GNU/Linux is something for geeks. Would you not? Especially if these 10 people actually learned something about free software on the way, and choose GNU/Linux based on freedom, not on coolness.

I don't want GGL.o to become a complete free software resource. Honestly, apart from a couple of screenshots, what could we propose that's more than the FSF and GNU websites?
All the really good stuff is in there. They're the people I greatly admire and to whom I am so grateful. I am not a "funky new" Stallman, I don't pretend to know things better nor bring anything better.
It's just a series of compromises. GetGNULinux.org goes a middle way, and talks about a "slightly easier" GNU/Linux, and mentions the word "Linux", and explains dual-booting. A good deal about free and proprietary software is explained, but without detailing and analyzing it fully like the FSF does. All of this because: it is a different mindset. The GNU project maintains the philosophy and develops Free Software. GetGNULinux.org simply tries to reach out to Windows users.
It is like allowing dual-booting. It's pointless, freedom-wise, to have one side of your computer on BLAG and the other on Windows. But it's something we would all recommend to a newcomer. It's the same thing with GetGNULinux.org. Allowing for compromises, like non-consistency in the word "GNU/Linux" or non-completely-free distros like Ubuntu, can actually benefit the spread of free software.

I hope that this explanation will help a little and that I will not be misunderstood. Of course there are also the people asking why there aren't Google videos of 3D desktops and why we don't get rid of the boring philosophy parts, but that's easier to answer ;-)

Thank you,

Olivier.

libervisco's picture
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Joined: 2006-05-04
Hmm, you've said so much

Hmm, you've said so much that I don't have much else to add. The side of me which bows to the uncompromising view of 100% Free Software is being squeezed from multiple sides these days. Your arguments ring real and true.

What else to say...

Let's just not forget to put support and effort into replacing the remaining non-free parts in these friendly distros like Ubuntu and let's not get over ourselves by providing too much, the not-so needed proprietary components such as non-free 3D drivers even where free alternatives exist. Keep it balanced and hold your eye on the ball, the goal of completely free friendly distro in the future (something I'd call Ubuntu without non-free parts, but with the functionality those used to provide).

If we compromise just enough to get to that few more miles up, but don't lose sight of the finish line, we may still reach it. Sometimes just running a straight line is not the fastest way to a goal I suppose. Sometimes you just bump into something that way.

ariadacapo's picture
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Joined: 2006-07-13
Just a side note

Just a side note: I have thought about re-phrasing this long post so as to make it less severe, but I could not find a good way.
Overall I'd just like to say that I wish I sounded less "angry", for this is not representative of the atmosphere or mood behind GGL.o ... it's just a meddle of what I've said many times in different places, so that I may point further discussions straight to here. I unstickied the post, because it's not such a welcoming message for a community work Smiling

Otherwise I fully agree with you libervisco. Let's not lose sight. This is even truer today with the direction Ubuntu is taking, which worries me a lot.

O

Gustavo's picture
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Joined: 2006-09-11
Hi. Well, I agree with

Hi.

Well, I agree with you.

Maybe this page might help to open their minds regarding several aspects: http://lkml.org/lkml/2006/9/25/161

Linus Torvalds wrote:

(...)
Similarly, the fact that rms and the FSF has tried to paint Linux as a GNU
project (going as far as trying to rename it "GNU/Linux" at every
opportunity they get) is their confusion, not ours.
(...)

Cheers.

libervisco's picture
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Joined: 2006-05-04
Actually I wouldn't

Actually I wouldn't recommend that Linus's post at LKML at all. While I respect the guy, some of the things he says there are not true at all. The quote you posted is exactly one thing this is completely untrue. FSF nor RMS never advocated renaming the kernel from "Linux" to "GNU/Linux". RMS himself says "Linux" when talking about a kernel alone.

What RMS is referring to when he says "GNU/Linux", is the whole operating system of which the kernel is just a part of.

Unfortunately, to see him quoted like this tells me a lot about the kind of confusion he can cause by his outspoken and not so well thought through statements. Sad

I debunk, among other things, him in this article I wrote recently.

Gustavo's picture
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Joined: 2006-09-11
I agree with you

Hi, Libervisco.

libervisco wrote:

Actually I wouldn't recommend that Linus's post at LKML at all. While I respect the guy, some of the things he says there are not true at all. The quote you posted is exactly one thing this is completely untrue. FSF nor RMS never advocated renaming the kernel from "Linux" to "GNU/Linux". RMS himself says "Linux" when talking about a kernel alone.

What RMS is referring to when he says "GNU/Linux", is the whole operating system of which the kernel is just a part of.

Unfortunately, to see him quoted like this tells me a lot about the kind of confusion he can cause by his outspoken and not so well thought through statements. Sad

I debunk, among other things, him in this article I wrote recently.

I agree with you: what I said previously is that this Linus' message might open their mind, because it looks like they think that there exists a consensus in the FLOSS world, but it doesn't.

However, this doesn't mean that I agree with Linus; actually, I'm an FSF associated member and I'm on the FSF-side.

Cheers!

libervisco's picture
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Joined: 2006-05-04
Oh I see. I suppose I made

Oh I see.

I suppose I made a wrong assumption, sorry. It's not like being on the other side, like Linus, is wrong though. What bothers me is just when someone says something that isn't true. That's all. Otherwise, I can just safely disagree with Linus.

Anyway, thanks for the clarification.

Gustavo's picture
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Joined: 2006-09-11
it's ok
libervisco wrote:

Oh I see.

I suppose I made a wrong assumption, sorry. It's not like being on the other side, like Linus, is wrong though. What bothers me is just when someone says something that isn't true. That's all. Otherwise, I can just safely disagree with Linus.

Anyway, thanks for the clarification.

Don't worry Smiling

Cheers!

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