Ubuntu, (open)SUSE, GNU and Linux: Roses and Other Names

There’s much to consider in a pair of articles on how best to evangelize Linux to the masses. The tech and other cents: There’s more to Linux than Ubuntu argues that too many writers, and users following them, think that Ubuntu IS Linux. He wants to remind people that there are other distributions out there.

Meanwhile, over at the citizen journalism site, Newsvine, Vinnl wants you to believe that telling people you use “Linux” is confusing to new people. When you instead tell people about the distribution you’re using, you endorse  “that combination of packages, software availability, and community support that you so appreciate.”

Comments in both pieces also raise the even more touchy subject of calling the whole ball of wax “GNU/Linux,” as Richard Stallman prefers/insists on.

As a writer, words are important to me. As a “Linux guy,” I’ve been committed to bringing my favorite operating system to the masses (some have called it “world domination”) for all of this century. For me, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution for how to win people over–and that’s actually the way  I like it.

There’s nothing all that new to the “Ubuntification of Linux.” When I was first coming around the Linux community, Linux = Red Hat, at least in North America. In the corporate world, that’s still largely true. And there was a backlash. I have to admit that at the time, I didn’t want to leave Windows into the waiting arms of the “Microsoft of Linux.” So I first tried SUSE (but didn’t have a good enough machine to install it), and then got (and this will surely date me) Corel Linux. This  was a modified Debian desktop distribution with an easy install designed for ordinary users. I guess you can consider it an Ubuntu ahead of its time. There was lots that was wrong with the distro, which I won’t go into here. When it died, I used to tell people that the distro that combined the rock-solid stability of Debian with a simple install would be a killer.

I’m digressing, though. My point is that there’s always been a trendy and/or dominant distribution. After Red Hat, there was Mandrake (another tidbit: until very recently whenever I spoke to a support guy at SBC/AT&T/Yahoo and mentioned that I ran Linux, they’d tell me about their Mandrake experience. Every time!). Then Fedora Core…and now Ubuntu, which combines the rock-solid stability of Debian with a simple install and a very supportive community. Not going to gloat here.

So am I wrong to tell people “I run Linux” instead of openSUSE? Well, my publisher might like it better if I didn’t say “I write Linux books in my spare time” more often than “I wrote openSUSE Linux Unleashed.” (oh, there goes that plug again). But I figure that most people who even care about their operating system know “Linux” better than any distribution–yes, even Ubuntu. So I’ll continue to do that, and say “openSUSE Linux” if there’s some “hint of the geek” in the person I’m talking to.

Besides, now that I have my dual-boot Kubuntu/openSUSE Dell laptop, I couldn’t honestly say what collection of packages and community I like better. to my mind, it’s all Linux. Let’s go with that.

Anyone for a KDE/Gnome debate?

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