Kev Quirk

What Is a Linux User?

09 Mar 2022

The Linux After Dark podcast recently had an interesting discussion on what is a Linux user? So I thought I’d write my opinion on the matter.

Joe and guys on Linux After Dark were recently discussing what a Linux user is and who are the Linux gatekeepers. I thought it was a fascinating conversation, so I wanted to add my thoughts into the mix.

If you’re not a regular listener of LAD, you can find all the ways to subscribe on their website. For ease, here’s the full episode:

What is a Linux user?

To me, the definition of a Linux user is very simple; it’s a person who uses Linux. Whether that’s by choice, unknowingly or otherwise. There are some caveats to that though.

If we look at Windows or Mac users; I think it’s fair to say that most Windows/Mac users don’t really care what they’re using. Their computer is just a tool. But they’re still Windows/Mac users.

So then, if a Linux user doesn’t know/care what they’re using. Surely they’re still a Linux user, right?

Why do some hold Linux users to a higher regard? Why must there be certain hoops for one who uses Linux to jump through before they’re considered a real user by the community?

What about ChromeOS?

As I understand it, ChromeOS is based on Gentoo. So technically it’s Linux. Therefore, if someone has a Chromebook, they’re technically a Linux user in my opinion.

However, ChromeOS is in a category of its own at this point. So I personally wouldn’t refer to them as a Linux user. Instead I’d simply call them a ChromeOS user.

Android is in a similar boat. Sure, it uses the Linux kernel, so technically one who uses Android is a Linux user. However, a person with an Android phone would be widely regarded as an Android user, right?

But ChromeOS and Android users are Linux users too.

I think most people on the planet are Linux users. I’m a linux user because the server this website runs on uses Debian. But I’m also a MacOS user, an iOS user and a Windows user, since I use Windows for work.

You may be a Linux user if you’ve ever visited Google, or Facebook. They use Linux widely. Ipso facto, you’re using Linux.

Your car infotainment system might be running Linux. Your TV might be. Even your fridge might be! I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of computer users have, at some point, been Linux users too.

The user vs the enthusiast

This is where the big distinction lies for me. A user and an enthusiast are two very different things, and I think that many who tout about being a “real Linux user” are enthusiasts.

To me, a Linux enthusiast is one who uses Linux consciously and deliberately. It may not be the easiest tool to use for the job, but they prefer it for whatever reason.

This where the disagreements about Gnome vs KDE, or Fedora vs Ubuntu vs Arch vs whatever come from. Linux enthusiasts are a passionate bunch.

This is also where I think gatekeeping comes in. Because of their passion and enthusiasm, some folk almost become tribal over their computer choice and will die on that hill no matter the cost. Some will even try to recruit others into their tribe too.

Oh, you’re using Ubuntu? That isn’t real Linux. Why aren’t you using Arch?

Why on earth would you deliberately choose to run that horrendous Mate desktop? #KDE4Life

I’m sure we’ve all seen comments of this ilk within the Linux community at some point.

Anyone can head into a computer shop and buy a Chromebook, a Dell, Lenovo or HP computer that’s running some form of Linux.

At that point they’re a Linux user and there’s no more technical debt than that. Any gatekeeping at this point is just moot. It’s…tribal.

I strongly agree with something the LAD guys said; the enthusiast community is very small and the vast majority of Linux users really don’t care about any of this.

The majority have a job to do. Be it running a database on AWS, a web server on Digital Ocean, a local development environment, or anything in-between. As long as Linux enables them to do these things, who cares what desktop environment or distribution someone is using?

Final thoughts

From a purely technical perspective I think that most of us are Linux users of some description. A sub-section of those users a Linux enthusiasts, which I’d include myself in.

A fraction of that sub-section like to gate-keep and be elitist when it comes to their Linux usage, and I don’t think that’s ok.

What do you think a real Linux user is? Use the button below to send me an email with your opinions on this whole thing.

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