Evolution Of A Linux User

Feature written by James Baughn on Sunday, November 28, 1999

from the my-kingdom-for-a-funny-dept-name! dept.

During the past year, the scientists in Humorix's Vast Research Lab Of Doom have studied the behavior and attitude of the typical Windows and Linux user. They have found that the average Linux user goes through ten stages of development from a "Microserf" to an "Enlightened Linux User". An eleventh stage, "Getting A Life", has also been observed, but only on extremely rare occasions.

The 11 stages of evolution are summarized below. Note, however, that this life cycle is not universal. Many pundits, Microsoft stock holders, and PHBs never advance beyond Stage 0 ("Microserf"). Moreover, many extreme Slashdot addicts are stuck between Stages 6 and 7 ("Linux Zealot") and never evolve to Stage 9 ("Enlightened Linux User"). And, unfortunately, far too many people are unable to leave Stage 8 ("Back to Reality") and achieve Geek Self-Actualization due to problems outside of their control.

Stage 0. Microserf

You are the number one member of the Bill Gates fan club. Your life revolves around x86 computers running the latest version of Microsoft solutions: Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, Visual Basic, and even Bob. You have nothing but hate for those eccentric Mac weenies with their click-n-drool interfaces and those stone-age Unix oldtimers with their archaic command lines.

You frequently send angry letters to your elected representative about Microsoft's "freedom to innovative". You think lawyers are evil (unless they are defending innovative companies like Microsoft). You own an autographed copy of a book that was ghostwritten by Bill Gates. Your blood boils when somebody forwards you a so-called Microsoft "joke" by email.

In short, you are a Microserf.

Stage 1. Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt... About Microsoft

Your world-view begins to sour as you encounter a growing number of annoyances with Microsoft products. The number of Blue Screens increases, however you ascribe the problem (at first) to conflicts with poorly written drivers that came with your peripherals. Icons keep jumping around the desktop unpredicatably. You spend 30 minutes one day idly searching for an obscure configuration option in the Control Panel.

Slowly but surely, you begin to have doubts about the quality of Microsoft software. Then, the Microsoft Network, to which you have dutifully subscribed since 1995, begins to double bill your credit card. You attempt to rectify the problem, but are stymied by the burgeoning bureaucracy of Microsoft's Customer Support Department. Fear sets in... will you get your money back?

Meanwhile, something called "Linux" appears on the fringe of your radar. You immediately dismiss the idea of a viable and quality Microsoft alternative (Linux is Unix-based and therefore must suck, you conclude). Nevertheless, you wish something could be done for some of the annoyances in Windows. But you do nothing about it.

Stage 2. Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt... About Linux

You keep hearing about this Linux thing, and Open Source, and Apache, and FreeBSD as well. One of your friends installs Linux and says, "It's cool, dude!" You discover that the selection of Windows books at your local bookstore has remained constant while the Linux and Unix books are multiplying like rabbits. You argue, "Well, this just means Linux sucks... if there was such a large demand for it, there wouldn't be many books on shelves."

Nevertheless, as time wears on and Windows becomes more fragile, the temptation to give Linux a try becomes more and more irresistable. While at your local SuperMegaOfficeSupplyStore, you pick up a boxed version of Red Hat on impulse.

With much hubris, you completely ignore the documentation and attempt to install the OS by the seat of your pants. The installation is a failure; Linux simply cannot work with the WinModem, WinSoundCard, WinIDEController, WinPrinter, WinMonitor, and WinDRAM that came with your "Windows 98 Ready" machine from CompUSSR. You don't realize this however, since you didn't read the FAQs and HOWTOs. You immediately blame the problems on Linux and give up. You ditch your Red Hat copy by selling it on eBay.

After the installation fiasco, you leave fearful, uncertain, and doubtful about this "alternative" operating system. Windows may have its problems, but Microsoft will fix them in the next upgrade, you reckon.

Stage 3. Born-Again Microserf

"Linux sucks" is your new attitude towards life. Windows, all things considered, ain't so bad. You resolve to become a better Microsoft customer by participating in the Microsoft Developer Network and the Site Builder Network. You buy a bunch of "study guides" to pass the MCSE examination.

You launch a Windows advocacy site on some dinky free webpage provider, utilizing the latest innovations in VBScript, ActiveX, and other IE-specific features. Instead of lurking, you now actively participate in Linux and Macintosh bashing on various Usenet groups. Upon discovering Slashdot for the first time, you assume the role of the Bastard Anonymous Coward From Hell by posting countless flamebait posts about how cool Microsoft is and how much "Linsux" (as you call it) is a crappy OS.

You proudly wear an "All Hail Chairman Bill" T-shirt and display numerous pro-Microsoft bumper stickers ("Honk if you hate anti-trust laws") on your car. You never leave home without your Windows CE-based palmtop computer. You make a pilgrimage to Redmond to marvel at the glory that is the Microsoft Campus.

Stage 4. Disgruntled User

Your Microserf ways come to an abrupt end when everything goes wrong. You lose a vital work-related document to a Windows crash. You lose your job as an indirect result. You find that applying for jobs is difficult... everyone wants your resume in the latest version of Word, but you have an older version that has an incompatible file format.

You waste more and more time tinkering with Windows and other Microsoft programs to keep them in working order. You encounter serious problems with Windows, but your calls to technical support only yield the dreaded response, "re-install the OS".

After much grief you finally land another job at a software company, only to find out a month later that Microsoft has announced a competing product to be "integrated" with the next version of Windows. You soon lose your job.

You can't take it much longer. You are now an official Disgruntled User, and are ready for a way to escape from the depths of Microsoft Hell. You are ready for anything at all... even a primitive, archaic, hard-to-install, grief-laden alternative like Linux.

Stage 5. A Religious Experience

You resolve to install Linux now, for real. Your friends say "It's about time", and tell you to RTFM this time. After losing yourself in the documentation for several days, you figure out why your previous encounter with Linux was a disaster: you need real hardware, not WinCrap.

With a new computer at your desk, and a Red Hat CD-ROM in hand, you embark on a voyage of discovery to the land of Linux. Your life is changed forever; words cannot describe the rush you feel when you first log in as "root" after the successful installation. You stare blankly at the screen in awe; you are unable to utter a word, unable to think of anything else except "HOLY SHIT THIS IS SO DAMN COOL!!!!"

You spend hours, and then days, exploring the depths of the Linux system: a filesystem layout that actually makes sense (no "My Documents" crap), a command line so powerful it makes MS-DOS look like the Stone Age technology that it is... and best of all, no Blue Screen!

"Why have I wasted my life with Microsoft? I'm never going back!" you exclaim wildly. You have thrown off the yoke of Redmond Oppression.

Stage 6. Linux Convert

You still keep a copy of Windows around, but you find yourself booting into Linux more and more. The meager amount of diskspace you set aside for your first Linux install dwindles; you decide to buy a second hard drive exclusively for Linux.

You re-install everything, including the kitchen sink (Emacs). Once you finally get PPP working (it was a nasty challenge, but you're so enamored with Linux that you hardly notice), you go on a Freshmeat Binge: downloading and installing every piece of Free Software you come across.

Stage 7. Linux Zealot

Your enthusiasm for Linux is unbounded. You do anything and everything to advocate Linux and spite your old master, Microsoft. Usenet, Slashdot, and LinuxToday are your hangouts. You have a strong opinion about the GNU GPL and you're not afraid to share it.

Linux World Domination is your new life's ambition; you put career, wealth, and dating on the back burner. You participate in flamefests against those braindead Windows lusers (stuck in Stage 3) that inhabit Usenet and ZDNet. You purchase all kinds of tacky made-in-Taiwan Linux merchandise (T-shirt, mouse pads, stuffed penguins, etc.) to show your support.

You rearrange books in a bookstore so that the Linux tomes are displayed more prominently. You get in trouble with your boss because you spend all your time surfing Slashdot at work. You petition your local government to migrate their computer systems to free software. You move to another residence just so you can say you live on Apache Street.

Instead of a novel, you read the Linux kernel source for pleasure. You establish your own regional Linux User Group in the hope that you can invite a guest speaker in the future and get their autograph. You learn Perl with the goal of automating common tasks, but you spend more time tinkering with "just one more perl script" than actually getting stuff done.

Stage 8. Back To Reality

Your zealotry subsides as you are forced to re-enter the Real World. Your boss demands that you submit documents in the latest Word format, nothing else will do. Some of your favorite websites become harder to use because they keep incorporating features enhanced for Windows and IE. The new peripherals you bought from BigEvilProprietaryCo don't work with Linux and probably never will.

Your ISP is acquired by another company, a very Microsoft-friendly company, to be exact. They "upgrade" the system; however, the only change you can notice is that Linux and PPP no longer work without extensive hacking. Then, citing "customer-driven demand", your ISP makes more "enhancements", and Linux no longer works at all. Calling their tech support is an exercise in futility, they simply say, "Linux? What is that? Whatever it is we don't support it, and never will. Go use Windows like everybody else."

Reality sets in: you are forced to use Windows more and more. Your blood pressure rises, you have more headaches, you waste hours and hours due to Windows "issues", but you have no choice.

Stage 9. Enlightened Linux User

Then you have an inspiration: you do have a choice, you can hack your own drivers for your hardware, you can find another ISP, you can get another job. Everything comes into focus, you have become a Linux Guru.

You kludge together drivers for your "Windows-compatible" hardware. You finally (after much searching) locate a local ISP that's actually run by competent geeks, not MCSEs and PHBs. You find a new, better job at a Linux-friendly company.

In your spare time, you work on various Open Source projects. You build up a reputation and receive "The Letter" to participate in the IPO of a Linux business. You join the bandwagon and create your own Linux portal website.

You're at the pinnacle of evolution for a Linux user. With much joy, you become 100% Microsoft free. You ditch your Windows partition and burn all of the Windows disks and manuals that you own.

Stage 10. Get A Life

You become bored with Linux, and computers in general. You're still a hardcore geek, of course, but you wonder if there isn't something better you could be doing. You've been told to "get a life" countless times during your existence on Earth, but now you wonder if maybe you should have heeded that advice.

Unexpectedly, a media conglomerate (i.e. Andover, Ziff-Davis, Internet.com, etc.) offers to buy your Linux portal website and domain name for an obscene price that contains a significant number of digits. Without hesistation you accept; this windfall, combined with your earnings from Linux stocks, is enough to retire on.

And that's exactly what you do. You move off to a small tropical island, and get a life.

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