Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Corporate allegiance

Why is it that consumers who specialize in a certain product tend to treat that product's producer as a patron saint? I'm looking at you, all you Microsoft devotees, you Apple fanboys, you Linux saints. Why is it we are all engaged in OS holy wars? How is it that the competition between Windows, OSX, and Linux became personal? The battle has practically become a war. Inevitably, people on the Internet cannot meet without eventually dividing themselves from each other simply for their choice in operating system. Good Lord, people are disliking each other for no real reason!

It would be impossible to say that any one 'group' started it. Rather, the fight has existed for a decade or two. UNIX and OS/2 used to be a part of the holy wars! So it's impossible to lay the blame solely on specific supporters, since the shift in OS popularity involved separate groups of people. Instead, I'll categorically blame everyone: Everyone for being simple-minded, everyone for being confrontational, everyone for acting like stuffy, arrogant aristocrats.

Right now the major conflict lies between Windows and Mac users, with a touch of Windows vs. Ubuntu on the side. But when you look at the sides that are fighting, you have to ask, what's the big deal? I mean, if you look at Windows XP/Vista and OSX, it's critically apparent that the two are fundamentally the same. It's not like one operating system has a magic program that does everything better; it's not like one is solidly superior. Techies use the tools they choose because those are the tools with which they are most efficient. Just because you like your Mac doesn't make you superior; just because you like your Dell doesn't make you more cost-effective; just because you like Ubuntu doesn't mean that everyone else should.

What aggravates me so much about this issue is how pervasive it is; even I have been drawn into it. The problem of course is that every conversation about operating systems eventually turns into deciding which is better. The answer is that none is clearly supreme. You can cry and kick and moan, but operating systems all have advantages and disadvantages. Ignore, for a minute, the advertising and the branding and the image and the perspective, and in the end there really isn't that much difference. Operating systems simply have different methods of accomplishing the same objective.

Let me give you a little bit of American history. In the debates between the presidential candidates for the election of 1860, between Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, both candidates slapped one another with labels and epiphanies: Douglas called Lincoln a Negrophile, and Lincoln called Douglas a slavery lover. However, if you were look at both candidates' true facets, we see a strikingly similar picture: The two are practically identical. Both candidates perceived slavery as a problem with no easy solution; both candidates were comfortable with slavery; both candidates grew up in Illinois. American history does not fail to recognize their similarity, but in 1859, the two candidates seemed radically different.

Windows XP and OSX and Ubuntu and even OpenBSD all have several traits in common: They are all able to get things done; they all have tools for maximizing performance; they all have tools for managing data. Why is there so much fuss? Type on your keyboard and hit the Enter key already. There shouldn't even be an argument here. It's not like one side is right and the other wrong - not by a long shot.

But here's the big picture: Your choice of computer does not matter. History will not recognize your brand of laptop; nobody will scrutinize your distribution of Linux of choice. Computers are like cars - tools for getting things done. I wholly believe that arguing about which kind of computer you use is not only detrimental to your potential contributions to society but also detrimental to your mental health, creating a virtual arena where choices become boxing matches and every option becomes a dual. The real world isn't about fighting; get up from your computer chair and experience the world for what it is - an opportunity to build a better Earth. There is absolutely nothing to gain in getting lost in the details - not even the size of your e-penis is consequential.

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