Updated: September 25, 2009
It started off as a few passing remarks between men and women, the first pointing out how Linux is not meant for women, the latter defending their right to be proud members of the open community. Then, a notable, prominent figure, no other than Mark Shuttleworth himself hit the spotlight with his own share of thoughts. And thus started the First War of Linux nerds.
Seriously, I do not really know what Mark said. I have not read his speech anywhere. But I've come across a number of angry posts, written mainly by women, accusing Mark of sexism and calling for a boycott on Ubuntu. As the most rational personal on this planet, I've taken upon myself to explain things and restore peace and balance to the world.
Males are sexists. That is the definition of being male. Otherwise, you're probably androgynous or something. Just kidding. Or not.
Men have this need to be disparaging, condescending and plain abusive. It's a part of the power play. The more you oppress the other side, the more powerful and awesome you are. It's in the very fabric of our souls. We love pictures like the one below - it makes us feel better and more secure about the size of our car.
Oh yes, if you've read my article Expanding Linux desktop market, I've mentioned the geek attitude as one of the major obstacles to Linux growth. The English word snide probably describes this behavior most succinctly. Ah, you may assume that the problem is specifically related to Linux use, but it has roots much deeper than that.
The best way to explain this is by the following example: Richard Stallman having a sampling of the dead skin peeled off his right foot in the middle of a conference, in front of a shocked audience ...
What? Are YOU shocked by this? Why? Isn't this what all geeks do?
Seriously, let's try to analyze the problem scientifically. Who writes code? A special kind of people who has the mental profile of sitting in a cubic all day long and staring at long lines of ASCII characters all mangled up in a funny fashion.
Think about it ... when you're sort of suffering from ADD, PDD and OCD all at once, you sort of naturally gravitate toward code. A high level of intelligence has its toll. The human mind that prefers the solitude of C language to the bursting colors of human interaction is a mind blessed with certain specialties and wrapped in a protective cocoon of behavioral disorder, one or more.
Well, one day, this or that geek gets famous - and then they get to leave their cubicles. They start talking to the wide world and share their thoughts and opinions with others. Not much of a problem, except that sometimes they say a funny thing here and there, now and then, which erupts into a major PR scandal, tearing apart the community with controversy.
I've always claimed that programmers and software developers should never be let out into the sunlight, lest they inflict damage unto the real world. But every once in a while, one manages to escape and become a big star in the geek spotlight.
With most companies, this is not a problem, because most companies have very tight regulations of who says what and when. What more, the people they let speak are usually carefully screened, with sly tongue and lovable character.
In the Linux community, the boundaries are much more relaxed. Pretty much everyone can say what they want, without any special obligation. Microsoft employees are no better, but they know that if they talk out of line, they'll lose their job. As simple as that.
My sincere belief is that geeks should not be allowed to talk. They make for excellent principal engineers and such, but they should never be given the stage to express their thoughts and ideas. People representing companies should come from the financial and marketing sector, people with an almost pathological ability to lie, an honest, straight face and a big, buck-toothed smile of a diehard salesman, offering you cyanide-flavored toothpaste without so much as a blink: it's almonds, dear!
The public relations should be handled by dedicated teams of damage-control spokesmen, with good knowledge of law, politics, marketing, and whatnot, who will be able to spot and avoid the chokepoints of contention and snake around these obstacles.
Software developers should do what they do best. And just like children, software developers require a daily beating, just to keep in check.
Don't get me wrong. Physicists and former physicists fall into this category, too. They also deserve a decent electrocution once a week, to refresh the quality of their attitude. You may also count me in, expect that I'm so damn charming.
OK, now that we know what the source of the problem is, we need to focus on the big questions? What now? Do we boycott Ubuntu because of what Mark may have said?
The answer is no. It comes to the same points I've outlined in my article Using Linux for the wrong reasons. Microsoft is not the Devil. Canonical is not the Devil. Projects are so much more than one man. And they do not come tumbling down because of what someone may have said. Usually not, anyway.
If you're after pure, total morality, you should probably not wear any jewelry, especially diamonds, you should not watch Disney movies, drive Ford cards, use Swiss banks, or buy anything Japanese. You should also not wear any shoes, because they are made by children in sweatshops in south-east Asia. Once you count them all in, you should probably quit life.
If you boycott Ubuntu, you'll achieve three things: 1) reduce its chance of becoming an ever bigger and better operating system, on its long way to stealing dominance from Microsoft; as a Linux geek, you want that to happen 2) hurt many clueless Linux newbies running Ubuntu who will turn to you for help only to be scorned over some political thing they have no clue of 3) hurt yourself by taking the easy way out of the conflict; instead of facing down the problem, you make it go away.
Brings me back to this image:
It's not about sexism or feminism or communism or anything at all. It's about dealing with people and problems and problematic people. It's about taking things in the right perspective and making the right choice.
It's also about being selfish. If you can make money by using someone's product, then by all means do. Politics have nothing do with it. When you disassemble the code, it's written down in ASCII, the same for any program written anywhere.
One more thing that comes to mind is the basic human nature. We usually react rather negatively to direct criticism. People tend to get defensive when their most dear tenets are assailed. You won't get the other person to learn from their mistakes if you point a finger and start screaming.
What more, sometimes people do and say things just to provoke a reaction. It's like when you get an angry email
from a reader baiting you, almost begging you to reply. There's nothing more satisfying than ignoring the
email. You let the other person fret endlessly, wondering whether that message ever reached the inbox.
Nothing makes a better statement than ignoring someone. It does not mean you did not take their words to heart. It just means that the quality of their message is not worth the time and effort needed to bake a reply.
If you really care and want to make things better, then you may want to engage the other side in dialogue, try to rationalize their actions, help them understand the error of their ways. Just remember, people are like epoxy glass - they get harder under pressure.
Just forget about it. Who cares what this or that person said. If you've ever worked in a hi-tech company, you've probably, more than once, imagined your way through a Doom-game-style scenario, where you run down the cubicle aisles with a chainsaw in your hands mowing down evil geeks ... ehm ... Never mind that.
My advice to the women of the open-source world: Take it easy. By getting upset, you let the geeks win. You show them you're upset by their snide remarks. Just remember it was they who got beat up when they were growing up, and this should bring the smile back to your face.
On a closing note, this article only proves how totally awesome I am. Maybe I should change the name of the site to: awesome-dedoimedo.com. Or maybe not.
See you around!