And the apathetic shall inherit the earth...

Short URL:


Last week I wrote about using GNU/Linux, and justified why I use it. But, as I confessed, the main reason I started using it wasn't because I'm a rigorous political activist with a go-get-em attitude. I'm Australian, people! America might be the land of the brave, down here we're the land of the apathetic... Anyway, I started using GNU/Linux because it was put in front of me and my old system was taken away. And I could get all embarassed about the beginnings of something I am now a firm believer in, but then I ask myself, does the means justify the end? Does in really matter how and under what circumstances I became involved as long as I'm here now? Does it matter if I'm using it because it's cheap, or because it's better, or because I like the politics? What if I don't give two hoots about the politics? Is there a good way and a bad way to use FLOSS?

There were a couple of pertinent news articles from the last couple of weeks that prompted this particular bout of navel gazing. Firstly, there was the furore caused by Keir Thomas when he confessed that he was 'going back' to Windows for his work because certain elements of didn't cut the mustard. He was pretty reasonable about it really, and made certain we all knew he wasn't forsaking Linux forever but he got quite a lot press for it in the form of being dugg and linuxtoday-ed and publicly maimed. In response to this he wrote another entry where he said that it was stupid to politicise free software too much and we have to account for practicality and usability. Then a couple of days ago an article came out about a state grant project in Indiana that is providing Linux machines to high schools under the ACCESS program - because of affordability. So we have one guy who is emphasising usability, and some guy who is emphasising cost, and me, saying I'll just use whatever is in front of me.

So my argument might sound like the lamest. However, that's what the schooling one is all about. In the article, the technology guy at the Department of Education says that the thing is, they aren't emphasising that the machines the kiddies are using are Linux. It doesn't even come up. Isn't that weird but not weird? At first read I thought "that's weird, why wouldn't you stress the nature of the computer?" but then as I recall, they don't do that with Windows, they just assume, and the kids assume, that Windows is what you use. So there are now the makings of 22,000 kids who are being given a Linux platform to work off, and the fact that it isn't Windows ISN'T EVEN MENTIONED. And if you think about how normal that is making Linux flavours for these kids, that is pretty cool stuff. It's being put in front of them. And that's why they use open source.

Apparently, while the reception is pretty good, they are still keen to get a handle on what the kids think about using Linux. But during a survey done with some of the kids last year, the techie asked one of the kids what he thought about using Linux v. Windows. "Who cares?" was apparently the kid's reply. Which, if you think about it, is a far more positive response than "Linux is for geeks/Windows bites". By teaching kids who don't have preconceived notions that there is other stuff out there than Windows, and doing it in such a way that normalises the other stuff... isn't that great? So apparently my apathy isn't that bad after all!



Scott Carpenter's picture

Is it terrible that your primary reason for using GNU/Linux is that it was just placed in front of you? Of course not. That's most people's primary reason for using Windows, after all, which is I think what you're getting at. It's just what's normal.

Now, should we be concerned about the commitment of these kids to free software if they really didn't care originally what they were given? I don't think so. They might not care about GNU/Linux vs. Windows now, but if they grow up with free software and being able to do whatever they want with it, they will bitterly resent the loss of that freedom if they are later forced to use MS Windows for their job or whatnot. We can hope, anyway!

Scott C.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Actually, the state with the ACCESS program is Indiana, not Louisiana. But Linux is making progress in a lot of US schools, such as this program in New York state:

Bridget Kulakauskas's picture

So sorry! You are absolutely right, it IS Indiana NOT Louisiana, as clearly stated in the linked article. That serves me right - I'll never talk to my friend Louisa while I'm writing about Indiana again. Thanks for picking that up - it should be fixed now. :-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

To some extent, the article is right. When my daughter began using my Linux laptop instead of her Windows PC, she asked me what were the steps required to turn the machine on, login, logout and turn it off.

Now that I turned her PC into a dual boot machine, she indistinctly uses one or the other system, and she seems comfortable working with both.

After countless nights solving my friends' troubles over the phone, I started putting Linux on their machines. After a very short introduction to the desktop and menu systems, they quickly adopted the new system without complaints.

Midnight calls asking for support are over.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Not all people have the luxury to upgrade their machine spec every 2,3 years. Thats my reason. After using my pc for 5 years (some of the component are actually 6 years old), the windows is begining to kill it.
To bootip, to load movies and all the other stuff.

Installed linux, boot to gnome, and Voilaaa! my 6 years old Duron 1GHz, 650MB PC133 RAM feels like brand new. Even my Geforce 2 GTS is looking sharp :)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

And some of us are stuck with our data in proprietary programs for which we haven't yet found a good Linux replacement. (I have 1600+ contacts in ACT!, and I haven't figured out how to move the 80 fields of data from each record - plus my calendar info for the next five years - into Kontact.) Suggestions welcome!

(And then there's the fact that on this 350 MHz PII with 385 MB of RAM, Win 2000 'just works.' KDE + Open Office might be a challenge.)

Fr. Stephen

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

And Master Seven doesn't care what platform runs Abe, just so long as it runs!

Oh... that and Kiki the nanobot, of course. (-:

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

...I will only start referring to Linux as "GNU/Linux" the day that Richard Stallman starts referring to the GNU project as the "Linux/GNU" project. Rather than GNU being crucial to the success of Linux, it was Linux that was crucial to the success of GNU. Particularly since, in the last 15 years, Linux has been successfully ported to two dozen different major processor architectures, while Stallman has yet to get his Hurd kernel to work properly on even one.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro

Terry Hancock's picture

I too prefer to just say "Linux", but in fairness...

"GNU/Linux" is a preferred (more accurate or more complete) term for a complete operating system distribution containing both Linux (which is the O/S kernel) and the GNU utilities and shells which collectively provide the POSIX/Unix-like command line environment with which you are familiar. So your particular objection isn't all that logical.

My issue with this is that GNU+Linux is also a very incomplete and unfairly abbreviated term. After all, X isn't GNU or Linux, it's maintained by (or XFree86 before that). Likewise, there is KDE, Mozilla, Inkscape, etc. All produced by different organizations with different goals.

Is X less important than GNU? I could be quite happy with an alternative set of utilities (e.g. FreeBSD derived or Busybox), but X is essential to my needs (I don't know of any replacement, and X, being a GUI is an enormously complex and highly interdependent piece of software -- I'd wager it was a much harder project to complete than the GNU utilities).

In fact, that's a pretty important point: Linux may be small compared to the collected body of GNU utilities (I'm not certain about that statement, since the Linux kernel code is quite large), but compared to any single one, it's huge. And, unlike a bunch of separate utilities, the Linux kernel is a highly interdependent system. As any system engineer understands, that corresponds to a highly non-linear increase in difficulty (the "combinatorial explosion"), and thus many more programmer-hours to complete -- especially with regard to testing. Linux may be only "one part" of the system, but it's clearly the most important part.

Emphasizing the GNU part is, if anything, only reasonable for political and historical reasons -- acknowledging the important role of the project in championing the GPL license and proposing the idea of a complete free software operating system (though, considering BSD, that wasn't truly an original idea either).

So I'd probably rather say "Linux/X" instead of "GNU/Linux", or even Linux/X/KDE, or maybe GNU/Linux/X/KDE/Mozilla/... and as you can see, that way lies madness.

Of course, even "Linux" isn't truly important. There's more than one Unix-clone out there that I could use. So the real point is that I'm using a free software operating system. Of course, focusing on that is the whole point of this magazine, as opposed to all the Linux-focused ones out there.

Author information

Bridget Kulakauskas's picture


Bridget has a degree in Sociology and English and a keen interest in the social implications of technology. She has two websites: Illiterarty and The Top 10 Everything. She also handles accounts and administration for Free Software Magazine.