Sunday, 1 August 2010

The World Don't Care 'Bout the Gnu...or the Slash

It is true, my friends. The world at large does not care about the GNU or the Slash. Or, in the vast majority, the Linux part either.

We are in what we call the silly season': that slow-news period between the public holidays, of daylight-saving, camping vacations and the lack of any real stories. The time when the anchorman's "and finally..." story is a skate-boarding duck or a dog rescuing a drowning kitten from the bath. In the Open Source world, we usually get another outbreak of the argument for the 'correct' terminology. Yes, my friends, as the purists never tire of telling us, we must refer to our operating system of choice as GNU-slash-Linux.

And here's why you should ignore them...

  • To most people on the planet a Gnu is an especially grumpy member of the moose family. Slash is the guy in the silly hat and poodle-perm from Guns'n'Roses. Linux is an imported vinyl floor-covering. As the name of a software platform, it has not and will never, catch on. Trying to teach the world to 'correctly' name GNU-slash-Linux is like trying to teach a fish to ride a unicycle.
  • Nobody outside of the IT industry or open-source hobbyists has any idea what Linux may be. Even if you explain that it's an operating system, nobody cares what's an operating system. Unless you have to install a Window$ program yourself (and many millions of people never do), you will think Window$ IS the computer. Most users have no idea that an iPhone needs an operating system to work. It just works. Mostly. Sometimes. At least, it looks cool all the time and that's what matters.

    To most users, an 'Android' phone is a brand name for compatibility's sake, like 'Blue-Ray' or 'Hoover'. Tell, me, what operating system does the Nintendo Wii run? Or the Xbox-360? Or the PS/3? Consumers of those devices only care that their 'stuff' 'just works'.
  • GNU is a recursive acronymn: "GNU's NOT Unix". It fails to define what GNU is and worse, it introduces another foreign word; Unix. Nobody but us cares about Unix. Only geeks think recursive acronyms are in any way remotely cool. While the fanboys are sniggering at how clever is the GNU acronym, or preaching at us as to why the ideals of GNU's founders should be recognised, the rest of the world is screaming "speak English, boy!"

    The rest of the world wants recognisable brand labels, made out of proper words like 'Dolce and Gabana'. M-and-M's is just about acceptable because you grew up with it.
  • Nobody, but nobody, tries to preserve a distinction between component parts of a single brand, especially when one part is effectively ancient history, like the Enigma code-breaker and the Casio calculator.

    The moment you insert the 'slash' you become a pedant. Nobody else cares that GNU and Linux are, in fact, different, or why you need a slash to signify the either/or/and/maybe/possibly/used-to-be relationship. Slash just sounds unacceptably violent and we must censor it lest our babies grow up to be serial-killers.
  • People stop listening.
  • Life is too short.
No apologies, then, to Mr Stallman, or to the Free Software Foundation, or to the Open Rights Group, or to the many academics from Berkeley to Oxford who can legitimately hold up their papers and licenses and Venn diagrams.

I am not going to study the list of "Words to Avoid (or Use with Care) Because They Are Loaded or Confusing" because GNU-slash-Linux is itself loaded and confusing. The battle is not only lost, but pointless and irrelevant. Just call it Linux and install it on every device you can get your hands on.  RC

No comments:

Post a Comment

At least try to be nice, it won't kill you...