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The New York Times On Ubuntu: Half-Right

When an article about Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical, and Ubuntu begins with the words "They're either hapless pests or the very people capable of overthrowing Windows. Take your pick," then I'm fairly sure I'm not about to read a good article about any of the above. But that's the first line of a piece about them in, incredibly, The New York Times.

When an article about Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical, and Ubuntu begins with the words "They're either hapless pests or the very people capable of overthrowing Windows. Take your pick," then I'm fairly sure I'm not about to read a good article about any of the above. But that's the first line of a piece about them in, incredibly, The New York Times.

Part of me remains unsurprised by the continually quizzical tenor of mass-media coverage of open source, for the same reason that the coverage of most anything technology-related tends to be lousy. Finer nuances get scrubbed down or ignored entirely, and hard-won distinctions are blurred.

The article in question -- "A Software Populist Who Doesn't Do Windows" -- at least gets many of the facts reasonably straight. But that doesn't excuse the way the tone of the whole thing slides into needless snark here and there: "Linux zealots have failed in their quest to make Linux mainstream on desktop and notebook computers. The often quirky software remains in the realm of geeks, not grandmothers." (Left unanswered is the question of whether or not Linux needs to be "mainstream" to be successful, which I think is a big part of the problem right there, but never mind.)

And then there were statements that just made me blink: "Ubuntu [as opposed to Red Hat or Novell] emerged as a sort of favored nation for those idealistic software developers who viewed themselves as part of a countercultural movement" -- which is a little like saying the only reason people ride bicycles is because they're trying to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

There's also some mention of others within the industry (Matt Asay, namely) who don't feel Mark's model for doing things is sustainable without someone like him at the helm and perhaps a ton of cash in the reserve, too. But more than anything else, reading the piece gives one a very strange funhouse-mirror sense of how the whole issue of open source and free software must seem to people who aren't elbow-deep in it every day.


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