I got my laptop to boot up into Windows. This sounds idiot proof, but it's not.
My laptop opens by default into Linux. Certainly you've heard of Linux. It's a computer operating system, an alternative to Microsoft and their Windows operating system.
Technology is full of differing approaches. But Microsoft v. Linux goes beyond a simple disagreement. It's a Hatfields-and-McCoys feud, a drama of honor and justice, a fight for the way things ought to be.
You've got your Hatfields--Windows XP, 98, NT and Millennium--and across a gurgling Appalachian creek, your McCoys--the Linux clan.
It's not hard to find the Linux homestead. Wander two hills over and take a right at the old well. You'll know the place by the flag of the pudgy, somnambulant penguin that hangs next to the satellite dish. Even in Appalachia, geeks gotta have their toys.
From the outside, the Linux house looks like a decrepit shack. But appearances can be deceiving. Open the creaking front door, and you discover an opulent interior that stretches out spaciously. (It's like the phenomenon of Doctor Who's Tardis: On the outside, a tiny police call box, yet inside, a sprawling timeship.)
But wait! The Linux house feels oddly familiar.
Do you hear the words "see-ment pond" echoing in the marble foyer? Waddaya know! It's Chez Clampett, the mansion that Jed bought after he discovered the bubblin' crude, and they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly Hills. Along with a stash of killer hardware.
In the kitchen, Suzy May--she's Elly May's minimally-clad sister--and her posse of programmers discuss SuSE Linux 8.0.
Jethro relaxes out by the pool with his buddies. He wears a scarlet fedora hat tilted at a jaunty angle--he's the poster man-child for Red Hat Linux.
Granny stands out on the patio boiling some clothes in a huge cauldron. She loves Caldera Linux and 802.11a wireless networks.
And here's Harry Potter in a Mandrake Linux magician's hat! Before you can say "muggle," he's run off to join Uncle Jed and the Slackware Linux crowd. They're watching Star Trek re-runs and eating Cheetos in the rec room.
You've landed in paradise--if you're a programmer or that strange breed of consumer known as the computer hobbyist. If you're neither, the Linux lair might seem pathetic. But you'd be wrong.
This is war, the Hatfields and McCoys duking it out for the future of the operating system. Some would even call it a holy war, with Bill Gates as the Antichrist and Linus Torvalds, writer of the Linux kernel, as the Messiah. (At the very least, Bill and Linus ought to face off on MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch.)
The key difference between Linux and Microsoft has to do with the open source movement. Let Granny explain with this homespun analogy:
"Say yer known far 'n' wide for yer squirrel stew. Now Ethelanne Stafford asks ya for the recipe. Are ya gonna tell her 'Nope, ya can't have it 'cause it's a secret?' That she's gotta come to ya for the stew, and pay for it?
"Why that ain't neighborly t'all!"
Microsoft has their squirrel stew, which the Linux camp would deride as a cholesterol-laden mess with millions of lines of bloated code.
In contrast, Linux is spa cuisine. It's lighter and healthier, the flavor clarified through an economy of hacking. A programmer can change the code because he got the complete recipe--for free. Linux is a Stone Soup for the soul of the new machine. You make your changes, I make mine, and it's a brighter, better operating system for us all.
Except for me. I use Windows, something that I'm not particularly proud of. At times, I'm actively upset by my Windows "habit," especially after I've had to restart my computer five times in three hours.
But you can't discount the prevalence of Microsoft's Office software. I've compromised with my husband, a Linux man: My machine boots up into either system.
Our "you like to-may-toe and I like to-mah-toe" approach doesn't work seamlessly. Like today, when I was pushing to meet a deadline. My laptop got confused, so it took 15 precious minutes to boot into Windows.
Things could be worse. When my toddler son starts to program, he may decide that he wants an entirely different system, one that some 19-year-old wiz in Helsinki is just now dreaming up.
Then we'll be a triple-booting family. And I might decide to boot the computer entirely and return to pen and paper.
Nancy Peponis, a principal of Luminosa Consulting, focuses on marketing and business strategy. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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