To broaden or not broaden the GNU/Linux user base. This topic has generated a ton of discussion and emotion within the community. Whatever your particular stance, one thing is guaranteed. Change! And human beings are typically adverse to Change!
Change is maddeningly inevitable. Change may be planned, such as a wedding. Change may be unplanned, such as a job termination. Change may be hard-earned, such as a graduation. Change may be filled with energy and hope. Change may be filled with uncertainty and doubt.
Change is an integral part of our life-fabric
I believe we live in a great age of change. A very partial list of recent changes includes:
- The continued convergence of increasing processor speeds, decreasing hardware costs and rapidly advancing software development
- The internet Boom/Bust/Resurgence
- Weekly releases of new GNU/Linux Distributions
- The Novell/Microsoft agreement
- The Release of Microsoft Vista
- The development of 3D Desktops
- The adoption of Community methodologies outside of software development. “We are Smarter Than Me” is a business book being written as a Wiki. The project uses a similar development process as Wikipedia or free software.
- The increasing use of internet video for communication among Deaf people.
Back to the question of whether to broaden or not broaden the GNU/Linux user base.
First, the increasing integration of computing into our global culture ultimately answers this question. More and more people are drawn to GNU/Linux and free software in order to access and participate in our online, global culture. The user base is ALREADY broadening.
Second, I believe the GNU/Linux and free software community has an ethical responsibility to expand the user base. We must take advantage of the decreasing hardware costs coupled with free software to make computing technologies more available to poorer nations/individuals. Imagine the boost some schools could receive with the gift of a single computer loaded with KDE's Edutainment package and internet access to Wikipedia.
In order to accomplish this social goal, the software must continue getting more user friendly. We risk becoming technological aristocrats if free software and GNU/Linux are only available to the advanced user. Free software can drive positive change by narrowing the gap between the technological haves and have-nots.
Third, we should expect this change to be challenging simply because change is rarely EASY. The free software community should expect some resistance to this change. We will have to hammer out compromises. We might move from our current favorite free software if they don't adapt. We can anticipate that some approaches to include new users may fail while others succeed.
I've personally learned that you can often identify the proper choice by the degree of difficulty. It is easier as an employer to not deal with an unproductive employee. But we all recognize that good employers should deal with unproductive employees. It may be easier to not accept less technical users, but easier doesn't make this the proper choice.
Historically, significant changes are messy, chaotic transitions (ie: the Industrial Revolution), but cChange is also ripe with opportunity. So, hang on, we should be in for a heck of a ride!