General advice on dealing with critical press
Linux is going to come in for a lot of criticism from the press. I'd like
to give some general advice on how to deal with it.
We will be attacked because:
1. There is a general social trend in English-speaking countries (and most
likely elsewhere) to treat technically-educated people as the social
inferiors of non-technically educated people. This is a terrible ill
affecting our society - I'm not apologizing for it. The media takes
advantage of it: for example, notice the anti-nerd motif in the
advertising campaigns of Sprint and IBM. Unfortunately, Linux is being
identified as "nerdware" in the press.
2. Many people who make a good living writing about computers (even though they
aren't technically knowledgable) see us as an immediate threat to their
livelyhood, because they don't know enough about Linux to write about it
intelligently. Their response will be to try to sweep us away with criticism
on an emotional, rather than a technical level. They will also print
inaccurate technical information because of their lack of understanding.
3. Vendors of Windows software, Windows programmers, and
information-systems departments see us as a threat because they haven't
learned how to program or administer Linux systems. When these people
talk to the press, they'll bad-mouth us.
4. Linux isn't quite ready for the naive user yet, it shows, and anyone
who wants to attack us will latch onto this.
First, let's talk about dealing with a press that eschews "nerds". A
key to this is to not sound shrill, because the shrill voice is neither
believed or respected, and shrillness is expected of a nerd.
Unfortunately, replying to an unjust and distorted article is almost
guaranteed to make you sound shrill. The letter you write will sound
that way because you are already "hurt" by the bad press. The
publication has control over the way your response will be presented,
and has a vested interest in not losing face from your criticism. They
will edit you to look stupid if they can. The point is that it will not
be a fair fight, and you _will_ lose. A recent article did its best
to bait us into shrill responses, even going to the length of personally
insulting Linus Torvalds about having a messy bedroom! Do not play into
these people's hands.
Another problem with responding to bad press is that if they publish your
reply, it gives a second hearing to their slander. It's also sending the
very publication that slandered you free material.
So, what to do instead of replying? Get us _positive_ publicity. Write an
article that is favorable about Linux, and get it published elsewhere.
Run a Linux seminar at your company, your school, or your public
library. Help the local grade school that can't afford fancy equipment
to set up a Linux file-server or net router, and then write a press-release
about it. Write a program that replaces something that you can only get on
Windows today, and GPL it.
To deal with a press that doesn't understand Linux, you can try to do
end-runs around them. For example, an article about designing
electronic circuits with Linux software might be received better by an
electronics publication than an article on the Linux operating system
would be received by a rag that only runs stories about Windows
software. While you explain your application, you'll be able to say a
good deal about Linux. The press is very watchful of what other publications
are saying, because of the competitive atmosphere. You are more likely to
get respect from them if the editors are already reading favorable things
About the best thing you can do about programmers and information
systems departments that don't like Linux is to evangelize individuals.
At the movie studio where I work, I've been able to place a few
company-purchased Linux systems in the homes of key engineers. This is
the first step to getting them to buy into Linux at work.
Regarding the problem of Linux being inaccessable to naive users, this
is something we must deal with at least as well as Microsoft has if we
are to compete with Microsoft in the same market. First, one might ask
if we really want to do that. If we do, there has to be a lot more work
on hardware auto-configuration and GUI tools. If we don't want to do
this work, we might as well live with criticism on that issue.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't answer negative press
with more negative energy. It helps Linux more if you do positive things
for it, and let the negative press go by.
Debian Project Leader
Bruce Perens K6BP Bruce@Pixar.com 510-215-3502
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