cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the Walk

If you care about more people using Linux, put it in their hands.

I recently attended the Open Source Business Conference, and as I walked along the aisles of the main keynote hall, I watched my fellow conference goers, and it got me thinking.

Clayton Christensen was up there going on about innovation this and company that at this well-attended gathering of what I would consider pretty high-end executive talent. The talk of the conference was, as you have likely gleaned from its title, open-source software development, methodologies and business. How you use it. How it came to be. How others use it. How it is maintained. How you can take part. How is company X taking part? Why is open-source software so grand? And so on and so forth. All of them were good talks, mostly given by people for whom I have a good amount of respect. There was only one glaring problem.

In this gathering of people, who I can only assume value and are enthusiastic about free and open-source software, very few people actually were running an open-source operating system. I was running Linux on my laptop, Brian Behlendorf was running FreeBSD on his PictureBook and I saw one or two others.

This gave me pause. Why, at a place where so many people are interested in Linux, was so little of it seen? Why were these people somehow unable to walk the walk? A number of them were running iBooks, so it wasn't that they're afraid of alternative operating systems.

I thought to myself, is Linux still not very fun? It almost always has been for me. Is it difficult to install? No more so than any other OS, and it's easier than some. Are there no compelling applications? With the noted exception of Microsoft Office, most applications have a capable analog available for Linux or are themselves available.

Then, is that it? Is it Office? Nah. I think the fault is ours or, if you're not in the mood to accept some responsibility, mine. Not that I think we have an obligation or duty to promote Linux. But it's something to consider.

Doing so is simple, really, go to the Knoppix or SuSE Live Web site. Download the ISO image and burn it. Then, simply, give it away. It won't hurt anyone and it could show them that Linux is a terrific operating system. It's happy simply to be there in your bag, ready to run from the CD-ROM to rescue your friend's Windows machine. It's there for you when you need to retrieve a file from a stuck Windows installation. It's there for you when you need to plug in an old zip disk, formatted with HPFS, and read the old documents off it. It's there for you when you need to pull some tar data off a tape drive. Linux is there for you when you want to play Quake or surf the Web or send e-mail or compose a document or code or work on your digital camera pics or design a Web page or build a database.

It also is there for you now, tomorrow and the next day.


Because it is yours to enjoy and yours to control. It's yours to modify--just distribute your changes if you disseminate your binaries. Burn it and spread some of that love around. CD-ROMs are cheap, 15 or 9 cents is what it costs you to make the image. No big deal if you leave one on the subway or at the coffee shop. Hell, I'll even pay for it. Burn an image, give it away and I'll give you a dime--if you can find me at a conference or something.

Clearly, I'm a big fan of Linux and I've gotten a lot out of it. The point of all this text is to convince you that you, that anyone, can help Linux grow, if such a thing is important to you, simply by giving it away. And, after all, who doesn't like receiving a nice gift?

Chris DiBona is the Co-Founder of Damage Studios, a San Francisco based game company working on the next generation massively multiplayer on-line game, Rekonstruction. He was formerly an editor for and was the co-editor of Open Sources - Voices From the Open Source Software Revolution.



Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

Anonymous's picture


I also went to a LALUG meeting the other day with my IBM "StinkPad" running Linux and of all the "users" in there, virtually none of them, not even the presenter that evening, were running the OS in question!

I recently had to buy my kid a notebook so, I brought a copy of Knoppix with me, and only chose from those that ran it correctly.

That then gave me the same idea, there was a couple looking over my shoulder, so I handed them the disk.

Since then I have done exactly as Chris suggested, I burn a few Knoppixes every week and hand them out whenever I have a chance. I put my ISP's URL on the label,, and tell people they can get their Internet Service from me, but regardless, they can just run Linux for free!

Walking the walk isn't really that hard!

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

jackdaw26's picture

I think giving away or making available Knoppix CDs to people is a great idea. I'm going to try it out myself. I think many kids (teenagers etc.) could pick it up fast. This would increase the user base. Great idea, Chris!

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

Anonymous's picture

I'm running linux/freebsd on my laptop for the last 4-5 years and I can tell you that it's not ready for the average user, though it's getting a lot closer.
1. While open office is good enough for most people, it's not for others that use office proffessionally. But the price is right.
2. Things are different enough to make it a hassle for people to switch over.
3. There's still a software gap specifically in games.
4. Probably the most serious one, hardware support is still lagging. I recently bought a netgear 802.11g card and tried to use it on my laptop. It took me a few days to get it just right. On windows, I would have just installed the CD that came with it and been up and running in less than 30 minutes.

Now I'm a linux/freebsd fan, but we're not quite there yet. We need to have some more mass market appeal so that the hardware vendors will write device drivers and software for us.

Probably the best bet is to take Knoppix CDs and drop them in high schools.

Confession time

Anonymous's picture

I know why I don't spread linux disks all over, or encourage all I know to install Linux (or *BSD). I don't want them to call me at 10PM with a question like 'how do I get my camera to work', or 'I bought a new mouse and it doesn't work'.

I use linux, contribute considerable time and energy to my favorite project (, have my family using Linux happily. But I'm very hesitant to say anything about my knowledge or skills or interests. I don't want people calling me with their computer problems. No kidding. I have had people suggest I help them set up accounting packages because 'you know about computers'.

On top of that, I know the tweaking required to keep my box in order. It's only recently that my digital camera worked flawlessly.

Maybe my high expectations prevent me from seeing how good it really is. Or maybe there are still a few issues that need to be sorted out before I can wholeheartedly recommend Linux to an inexperienced user.


Re: Confession time

Anonymous's picture

If vendors would supply linux drivers and /or hardware would plug and play you would have a lot of crossovers. Some would find the CLi.


Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

vizkr's picture

Well the iBook phenomenon is an easy one...most department heads will not approve the purchase of new equipment to be wiped out and replaced with a BSD or Linux for fear of reprisal from the CIP/CTO. But an iBook and well the checks get cut because it's simple to understand. There's no thinking about it with regards to the warranty or support et's a false sense of security for them. Pullin the wool over their own eyes as it were.

So Chris what's your problem with FreeBSD, anyway? Open source is still opensource. Personally I'm leaving McLinux to the kiddies.

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

Anonymous's picture

I agree. I am new to PC's. 2 years experience. I am just a normal user-meaning i don't program as a job, don't work my PC, except for pleasure. In my thirst for the web, when i got my first one, i found a linux site in about 6 months.I didn't even know what Linux was. I had hit a Debian page. I tried one,and man it was a hard unit, but it made me learn, and i stuck with it.
Since then, Linux has come a long way,and i have too.
I have been running Linux(only) for about 6 months now, and i will not go backwards by reinstalling XP. I love my Linux.
Now onto the meat of it. I have turned 3 people on to linux, just 3 normal windows users. I did this by making it avail to them by giving it to them, or they would never have tried it.
So you are right in that : it is probably a very good way to get it out there.
I did pay for mine. and do support the distro.
give them a shot of MEPIS..very good. Its a LIVE CD.
and it's sure cool to be able to 'take' my system with me when i travel, everyone has a cd rom. Knoppix too, i like that one
Give it to them and they will, at the very least remember Linux, if they don't wanna run it as a secondary unit or primary one.
Thank You Linux.

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

aTypical's picture

Wouldn't it be nice to see the LiveCDs in the stores? I wonder what it would take to get BestBuy or CompUSA to setup a bin for LiveCD distros?

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

Anonymous's picture

Half Price computer books here in Canada has them. My machine was screwed, and five bucks for Knoppix burnt already was well worth it!

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

Anonymous's picture

Just the will to do it, I would imagine.

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

Anonymous's picture

Great article, exactly like I feel, no need for zealotry to promote linux it can and should do it on its own merrit- I have given a few free cds away before, mainly knoppix for those interested in learning more about linux and how it looks/feels and gentoos ut2003 live gamecd because gamers love this technology (just needs a nvidia screencard)!


Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

Anonymous's picture

Why aren't more people using open source solutions? That's easy. At the end of the day, the tasks have to be done and they use the solutions that they are comfortable with and work for them. If an open source solution does exist that will do the same task, there's really not much impetus to change if what they are doing works.

I skipped all the linux hype and went directly to FreeBSD years ago from Win31. The selection of FreeBSD over linux was primarily due to the chaotic nature of the linux distributions. The perception of FreeBSD was one of an organized group of people producing a complete operating system with centralized control.

The concept of open source is about choice and empowerment and not that of a particular operating system. I've not been brainwashed to think that open source = linux at all.

The idea that everyone should be converted to linux is absurd. That's just a mono-culture of a different color. Besides, the majority of computer users are really not competent to run an operating system where all the choices are made for them, let alone an operating system where they (*gasp*) have to make a choice.

I think its time for the zealotry to die down and let people make their own choices... after all, isn't that what its about?

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

Anonymous's picture

Wow! you certainly took off on a tangent!. I don't think DiBona was suggesting that "everyone should be converted to linux". He clearly states in the article that his beef is with the fact that not more people at the conference were using "free and opensource" solutions. In his count of people using opensource he includes Brian Behlendorf who is using FreeBSD. Clearly he is not saying all these people should have been using Linux.He proposes actively promoting Linux, presumably, because thats what he uses.

You argue that people are not using opensource because
"At the end of the day, the tasks have to be done and they use the solutions that they are comfortable with and work for them."
Well, the article was about a group of people at a conference promoting opensource. These are people who were giving talks claiming open source is great/good. If they think its great why aren't they using it themselves. Its a fair question. Its not a matter of people complacently sticking with the solution that works for them. They are after all proclaiming "here is a better solution, use it" and then not using it themselves.
Finally you should be careful to avoid being an anti-zealot zealot. Nobody has been brainwashed into thinking Opensource=Linux. You obviously have issues with Linux that have more to do with you than with Linux. You claim to have picked FreeBSD o ver Linux because of the chaoticness of Linux distros. That's like someone saying they picked Windows because of the chaoticness of Free and Open software. It maybe the rationale they give themselves, but it makes no sense on its merits. The whole field of Linux distros may look chaotic (as may the whole field of BSDs) but one uses a single distro not all of them. Among the Linux distros there are plenty that are tightly and well organized with a hierachical structure. Debian, Slackware and the commercial distros come to mind

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

Anonymous's picture

Just because people aren't running Linux on their laptops doesn't mean they're not ardent Linux users. I use Linux every day. On a server!

Re: cat /dev/DiBona/brain: Spreading the Wealth and Walking the

Anonymous's picture

If you like it on the server you'll like it on the laptop. Cut the cord - give it a try.

Walking the walk.

Anonymous's picture

I've noticed this too. Why is it that people would extol the virtues of a system that they have only fleeting experience with? At some of the lugs I used to attend, some of the most vociferious proponents of Linux did not even use it! I thought this phenomena was just confined to my area.
Chris, do you have any idea why this goes on?

Geek Guide
The DevOps Toolbox

Tools and Technologies for Scale and Reliability
by Linux Journal Editor Bill Childers

Get your free copy today

Sponsored by IBM

8 Signs You're Beyond Cron

Scheduling Crontabs With an Enterprise Scheduler
On Demand
Moderated by Linux Journal Contributor Mike Diehl

Sign up now

Sponsored by Skybot