The Linux propaganda/FUD machine


Lately I’ve taken note of a dark trend in the Linux world, and looking back it’s one that has been present throughout the history of Linux advocacy. Linux users commonly mention that large corporations spread propaganda about the superiority of their products and FUD about competing products in order to get ahead. This sort of trickery is pretty widely regarded as low on the ladder of civility, but I’ve found it to exist in spades in many open source communities.

Two main incidents currently in play come to mind.

Picasa

The first and most recent is that of the release of Google’s Picasa for Linux photo management application. While hailed by some as a step forward for the Linux desktop, other voices dissented for puritannical reasons.

Namely, Picasa was ported to Linux using WINE, a subsystem which provides Win32 API compatibility to Windows software running inside a Linux or UNIX based operating system. Curiously, many Linux users denounce Windows compatibility environments as an impurity and refuse to even try Picasa because of this.

Additionally the developers of competing native Linux applications such as F-Spot and DigiKam denounce Picasa, appealing to both the WINE argument and their own argument that their software trounces Picasa feature for feature [1] [2] [3].

Here’s the problem:

Linux users refusing to use something for idealistic reasons are forgetting that compatibility environments have long existed to facilitate migration from one environment to another, and have even aided the ascension of operating systems like Windows and Apple’s MacOS X to prominence. They’re also refusing to provide themselves the benefit of well-designed and elegant new Linux software for an abstract and superstitious reason. And this is fine, except for the fact that I’ve seen many of these types of users actively attempt to dissuade others from trying Picasa. This is harmful to the cause of getting companies to adopt Linux as a supported platform and works against the welfare of the end-user.

This places it squarely in the category of FUD designed to appeal to emotion and the misplaced fear that Microsoft code running under Linux exposes it to the same vulnerability and instability.

Concordantly, developers of competing applications making the claim that their offerings are superior have little basis in fact[4]. While F-Spot may ostensibly maintain a similar featureset as it’s the same type of application, it’s neither as feature rich nor as stable when subjected to real-world use. And while DigiKam may have feature-parity with Picasa it again is nowhere near as stable during usage, frequently freezing up and presenting the user with baffling dialogs.

This qualifies the claims coming from developers of these competing applications as propaganda designed to falsely represent their applications as superior or equal.

MacOS X

Another example is a recent posting claiming Linux to be considerably faster than MacOS X at many scientific functions. To the uninitiated this places Linux a cut above, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

The first is that the conditions and preparations made for the benchmark clearly favored the Linux setup. This became evident when several bloggers and news editors pointed it out, and the original poster was forced to republish corrected results demonstrating no lead at all.

Second, while Linux may demonstrate faster response times in some conditions, it has a lot to learn on the usability front. No one is going to want to deal with the present state of the Linux desktop. That much is self-evident in the types of applications in which Linux is currently most popular: embedded software and server software, where the operating system has no direct interaction with the user.

These facts come together to represent Mr. Jasjeet Sekhon’s comments as both propaganda and FUD, designed to falsely represent Linux as a superior choice and scare people into believing that the newly repopularized competition is lacking.

Propaganda and the appeal to fear are commonly used by those who have no other valid arguments to make. They are sinister and dangerous, and eagerly used both by corporations and volunteers/hobbyists such as members of the open-source community. I’m sad to say, these seem to be human traits, and not just greedy corporate ones.

How about some honest competition from the grassroots?