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Elitists? No, Selfish Revolutionaries!

Every now and then, someone trots out the tired old accusation that Linux users in general are an elitist clique. That old nag needs to be put out to pasture and not bother anyone again. It just doesn't stand up to more than casual scrutiny. Granted, many of us who use Linux will not hesitate to gleefully point out the advantages we see over lesser systems. But most Linux users will just as gleefully assist anyone else who really wants to obtain those advantages. Some point an accusatory finger at those who bemoan how easy it is becoming for anyone to use Linux and how it should be tougher, as it used to be. They are not the whole group of Linux users. Most Linux users seem quite comfortable with the idea of the inevitable improvement of ease of use and the resulting inclusion of more people. This universal inclusion and enabling is now in the process of changing the world.

We are, by and large and fundamentally, an inclusive group actively encouraging all who so choose to come join us. I do not presume to speak for other users, I am speaking only for myself and from observation of other Linux users. (If I didn't put that in, I would need some flame-proof clothing. It doesn't take much observation of Linux users to see most are independent, outspoken and will choose their own spokespeople, thank you, anyway). You will find those who are not so inclusive and not so welcoming to new users, but that is to be expected in any group of people. The facts argue against this bunch being representative of the whole group. Freedom, choice and inclusion are and have been fundimental parts of GNU, open source and Linux. The Free Software Foundation, the FreeBSD license, the GNU GPL, GNU programs and any software with open source offer their information to the world freely. They do not exclude you for income or geography or your taste in fashion. When Linus Torvalds posted the first Linux kernel on the Internet, he did not explicitly exclude those who do not share his programming skills. Linux began as an offering to the world, and with a welcome to anyone who wanted to use it, work with it or expand it. Putting the Linux kernel together with the free software development tools from the GNU project gave us the beginning of an incredible software revolution.

People like to do things their own way. Having access to the source and access to GNU tools such as the gcc compiler allows people to take the software wherever they choose, hampered only by their abilities or the hardware. Free and free choice seem like a good recipe to make popularity inevitable. Making professional quality software development tools freely available to anyone with a computer seems like a good recipe for rapid development in multiple directions.

The freedom explicit in GNU and Linux means that the system evolves at an ever-increasing rate. Since it allows anyone to use it, develop it and develop with it, as well as providing free tools to accomplish those tasks, it continually expands the number of people who can add to it and take it forward. A result of this is that the system itself, including all the GNU tools and piles of software, rapidly improves in ease of use. It's only natural. People try to make their tools suit themselves and easier to use. This in turn lowers the new user entry requirements and increases the power available to those new users. It includes more and more people rather than excluding.

The steep learning requirements for using the earliest Linux kernels and systems was not due to intentions of having an exclusive club of elite programmers. If that were true, it would have remained just a curiosity. Instead, the freedom and inclusiveness of the GNU/Linux system welcomed anyone to use it and expand it. I am very grateful that the kernel developers, hackers and programmers, who created and expanded all the software on my systems, did not have a desire to have an exclusive, elite club. I am very grateful that so many people offered their hard work freely to the world, for whatever reasons, so that people like me can use this software without the burden of first trying to learn as much about programming as the authors. I consider the immense collection of such software to be as great a gift to the people of the world, by the people of the world, as the printing press itself.

There was a time when books as well as literacy itself was the exclusive province of the rich. Consider how much the world changed due to the printing press allowing books to be within the reach of those who were not rich. Free public education, everywhere it took place, caused another explosive growth in the knowledge bank of the world. Global communication disseminated that knowledge. Digital global communication, computers and software are spreading that knowledge to more people more rapidly than ever before possible in the history of the world. They also facilitate the expansion of that knowledge bank as never before. With so much at stake and so much to gain for so many, free and open software is a powerful enabling force, while closed source software is a barrier to all.

It is time for the dark ages of computing to end. Free, open source software has begun a renaissance that I believe will surpass the Renaissance of history. Instead of each programmer being required to re-invent each software solution over and over because of closed source, open source means that each programmer can build upon the previous work. Having the fundamental software tools of computing available for free puts them in the hands of anyone capable of using them without the burden of also being rich. Who can tell what talent or even genius is frustrated and denied to the world because of the barrier imposed by the price of closed software?

That barrier is being dismantled by free, open source software. The outer wall was breached long ago. Now the breach is wide enough for many to pass through and the dismantling subsequently is accelerating. As more are able to assist, this free software spreads wider and enables more advanced operations. It is inevitable that closed, commercial software will eventually be relegated to niches. Closed commercial software excludes, if by no other means than the price. Those who unleash free and open software on the world are not elitists. They are enabling revolutionaries, inviting everyone to come along.

The tide can't be turned back. You can ride it, but you can't stop it. You cannot stop people from improving their tools. You cannot close them in a cage once they have the tools to gain their freedom. Join in the fun and hang on because it's going to be a bumpy ride!