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Linux — La Casa Nostra

And no…I’m not inferring that this an announcement for a Mafia-oriented Distro. Lessee…what would that be if it were?

MafiaNix? MobBuntu?

Never mind…just riffin.

La Casa Nostra.

While I don’t have any mob connections, I did check with Google to affirm that it loosely translates to “This thing of ours” or “This Thing.” It implies a shared experience and benefit across a large number of joined people or participants. So yeah…Linux most certainly is “This Thing Of Ours.” I consider you and I in that citizenry.

mafiatuxHere’s why.

Almost 9 years ago, my youngest daughter asked me the one question that ultimately changed the course of my life. I’m the founder and Executive Director of Reglue.org, an organization that has placed somewhere north of 1600 refurbished computers into the homes of financially disadvantaged kids in Central Texas.

Computers made possible and powered by nothing more than the sheer will of a global community.

Computers powered by Linux.

And ultimately…computers powered by you.

For the record, when we first started out we did contact Microsoft and told them what we wanted to accomplish. On our third attempt to contact them, we did receive a response. They offered us Windows XP SP1 at 50 dollars a license.

So if we were going to rely upon Microsoft to partner with us in this effort, we wouldn’t be able to do 10 computers a year. Not at those licensing costs. Of course, we went on to discover that unless their name is blazed across the sky as The Hero…

Microsoft couldn’t care less.

But in the end, being snubbed by Microsoft was one of the greatest things that could have happened to us. That first year, my project placed 219 computers into the homes that needed them most. 219 children literally had the world at their fingertips. We couldn’t even afford 10 computers with the Microsoft licensing costs.

But in the end, this isn’t about me or my organization.

Linux teacher penguinIt’s about you.

You, just one individual that spends some free time helping others or creating art or code to make Free Open Source Software work. You are helping us do something a multi-billion dollar enterprise wouldn’t.

See, I don’t care if you are submitting your source code upstream for review into the kernel or if you answer the occasional question in an online help forum. Everything you do, every bit of information or talent you put into Linux or Free Open Source Software, will eventually benefit people all over the world. We, working together, can accomplish things…awesome things.

I don’t mean “awesome” as it’s been used in the past decade, to note or exclaim something you might like or of which you might approve, such as:

That movie was awesome.”

No it wasn’t. It was extremely enjoyable. It wasn’t “awesome.” I’m talking about something truly awesome. Awesome like world-changing efforts that forge ahead regardless of barriers or previous failures.

Despite huge obstacles.

Despite ignorance within those that try to impede your progress.

Despite the fact that sometimes you lose sight of just how important your contribution is.

Let me tell you how that sometimes works out. That seemingly inconsequential question you answered from a woman in a help forum may well have sparked an interest that became an obsession. Because of your help, she researched and worked until finally she was able to fix an irritating bug in Thunderbird. That smattering of success triggered events that lead her to bigger things, possibly a career in software creation, a blazing interest in particle acceleration or finding the cure for diabetes, just as helping my 12 year old daughter find the answer to a question changed the entire course of my life.

So as you worry that Linux hasn’t taken a significant hold with the greater computing public here in the U.S., it has and continues to flourish in about every other major country in the world. Even in the U.S., it is doing quite well.

You think not?

Check the latest sales numbers for the various Chromebooks and Android phones this holiday season. I live in a little podunk town of less than 15,000 people and the Walmart here can’t keep Chromebooks on the shelves. Those Windows 8 “slablets” gathering dust day after day? They’re not doing so well, but our Walmart is getting ready to accept their third order of Chromebooks since Black Friday. Our mailman’s wife took on some part time work over the holidays at Walmart and she works in electronics. She sees it every day.

For those that want to argue that Chromebooks don’t run on real Linux, that’s like saying oxygen isn’t really a part of water. You ultimately end up sounding like someone with a mouth full of sour grapes. So when detractors jeer and ask, “So when is this year of Linux we’ve been hearing about?” just shrug your shoulders, smile and get out of the way. They don’t see the megalith bearing down upon them.

In the coming weeks, we will place 20 computers in time for Christmas. 12 of you already answered the call to be one of the 12 Geeks of Christmas in your area. Combined with our work here, we will put 32 computers into the homes of kids that need them most before Christmas day. You and I will do that.

We can surely take a timid bow in a quiet moment of reflection and pride… Don’t forget that we couldn’t do it without the cast of tens of thousands of people across the globe who make what we do possible. These kids probably will never know the names of the people who made the software on their computer possible.

And that’s perfectly fine. Celebrity is grossly over rated. Trust me.

But with all of that being said, there are some things glaring back at us, things that need to be fixed, things that should have been fixed a long time ago. These problems or shortcomings in the Linux system aren’t really too hard to fix. The same tight-knit community that assumes someone else will fix it is the same tight-knit community that needs to pay attention to these problems.

But we aren’t.

We can fix them and I hope to have a discussion about those things shortly…things we can fix together. Maybe after the holidays. Many of us still have work to do.

La Cosa Nostra.

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project that refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area.

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