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Are you ready for Linux?

Linux will probably run on your computer. Despite hardware manufacturers who tightly target Windows systems, Linux developers have extended the habitat of Tux the penguin to an amazing range of platforms and peripherals. Distributions no longer require a technician's knowledge of computers just to install. Most devices will be detected and configured during the installation. Installation typically includes a good looking, easy to use graphical user interface. But just because your computer is probably ready for Linux doesn't mean that you are.

Bleeding edge hardware is mostly released with Windows drivers and it is still too rare that the manufacturer releases any specifications for open source developers to use. That's just the market as it is today. Once you step outside that closed Windows world, you enter a sort of wilderness.

The hackers and programmers of open source are the trailblazers in this wilderness. (Please, please do not confuse "hackers" with "crackers". I am not referring to the vandals that the airheads on television and other clueless journalists mistakenly call hackers). These trailblazers hack through the tangled barriers that are deliberately or carelessly placed in the way of computer users by commercial interests. They also hack their way to new territory, sometimes for commercial interests, and open new vistas for the rest of us to explore.

Closed source carefully re-erects the tangles and barriers so that each programmer passing that way must take the time and effort to clear their own path again. Open source leaves the code as a sort of trail marker so the next programmer can take it a bit further without the waste of repeated work. Each builds upon the past instead of repeating it. The way is marked with documentation that explains to us non-coders how to use the code the trailblazers and programmers have built.

You will need to read this documentation if you expect to make the most of the system. At the current pace of change, soon, perhaps, everywhere you want to go with Linux will be a well-paved avenue. But not yet. You still need a little pioneering spirit to get some places you are likely to want to go. That's why the documentation doesn't just deal with decoration and icon placement. It includes information for the next programmer as well as for the user. If you want to travel off the main highways, you are expected to read some of this documentation. Complaining about the pavement does not help.

It seems that those who complain the most are those who have always used a computer with Windows pre-installed and have never even taken the trouble to venture outside of mouse-clicking. I don't have a lot of patience with their complaints. I usually tell them, "Stay with Windows. Wait for Bill's next release, then buy it." When they complain that Linux needs to be easier, is too much trouble, or shouldn't require mounting a floppy before use, I remind them that nobody twisted their arm or spent a few hundreds of millions of dollars to persuade them to use it or engaged in predatory practices to force it on their computer.

Note that this is not the same situation as someone asking for help. Someone asking for help is usually trying to gain some independence. There are a lot of people willing to help a newcomer find their way, so long as the newcomer is trying. But, those whining that Linux isn't Windows are just seeking a free Windows or seeking to join the newest cool thing. In my opinion, it is a waste of time helping them to install Linux. They will revert in less time than it takes to get them through the installation. I have no qualms about recommending a trial of Linux to anyone willing to read. But to those who just want everything done for them, as it was with their pre-installation of Windows, it's better that they stay with Windows. Let them continue to blame Microsoft for the dollars, instead of switching their complaints to Linux for its requirement to think.

If you are not just seeking a free Windows, if you are not just looking to join the latest cool thing, you may be ready for Linux. I believe the most important question for the potential new user is, "Can you handle independence?" That independence includes the freedom to fail, and the freedom to try again. Many millions of people of all ages and backgrounds successfully install, configure, and use Linux. Why do they risk getting off the limited access, well-lighted commercial thoroughfare of Windows? Why do they dig through documentation, push their systems to new limits, engage in heated debates over the shortcomings yet vigorously defend Linux from outside attack? What is the value of Linux and GNU, since they are free? It's not the price tag that gives it value.

They value its freedom:

They value its freedom:

They value these freedoms enough to seek answers to problems they encounter off the beaten path. Happily, there are many who have trod the path before who are willing to reach back and help newcomers over the rocks and around the pitfalls. Are you ready for independence? Can you handle it?