August 6, 2005

Is Linux more than an operating system?

Author: Jim Westbrook

Recently our LUG mailing list experienced a significant quantity of messages which many participants considered to be off topic. During the several days of exchanges, one person voiced the opinion that to him Linux has always been as much about the free exchange of ideas as it being a developing operating system. There are reasonable arguments both ways.

The posts in question were mostly well-written, thoughtful statements of opinions and observations. Yet none of the messages had anything to do with Linux, unless you consider Linux to be a form of social change, thereby making discussion of other topics relating to social change somewhat related to Linux.

To many early users of Linux (some in our group started with kernel version 0.9), the objective of expanding the operating system's user base is akin to religious zealotry. They recognized the potential of Linux from the outset and felt a compelling need to "convert" users of other OSes to Linux. Today's Linux users owe much to these people for helping to make it the viable operating system that it has become. For them, Linux was and is a cause rather than a distributed programming project.

As the use of Linux took hold around the world, often in locales where the freedom to choose was extremely limited, it began to be viewed by some as a global social modifier. This is not necessarily incorrect, but the social changes came about in response to a need for an affordable operating system, not in response to the existence of Linux. Linux just happened to fulfill people's needs by virtue of being free.

On a personal level, Linux has brought about great social changes. My desire to use Linux led me to our local LUG for information and assistance in getting it working on my hardware. In the process, I developed several new friendships which provide a rare opportunity for interaction between "geeks" in a social setting rather than a work setting. This has produced many face-to-face discussions on topics greatly divergent from computing. To me, this is the social change which should be associated with Linux.

What about for you? Is Linux more than just an operating system?


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