Why supporting Tux500 is worth it
Ken Starks and Bob Moore are trying to raise money to put the GNU/Linux advertisement on one of the cars that will be participating in the biggest racing event on the planet, Indianapolis 500. The project is known as "Tux500" and is described as a "Community Powered Linux Marketing Program". The motivation behind the project is to put the GNU/Linux brand before the eyes of millions of people both at the event and around the world who will be watching the transmission, so that they may start asking about that penguin, asking what is this "Linux" thing and consequently letting us tell them that they have a choice, that they don't have to depend on Microsoft anymore for their computing activities.
However the project has been at least slightly controversial. Even if we set aside the rather ludicrous attempt at discrediting Ken and Bob coming from pretty much only one person in the community, there are signs that not everyone or at least not enough people really believe in this project as a positive thing, or are at the very least sitting on the sidelines. The project has so far raised barely $13 000 which is below what was at this point expected, based on the estimates of what this, not such a small community could accomplish. We should be, as Ken (aka Helios) said, having $35 000 in the basket right now.
I will attempt to outline some of the reasons some in the community may have not to support this project.
1. It's GNU/Linux, not Linux, the ideological reasons
I believe that a substantial portion of the GNU/Linux community is consisted of people who value the Free Software philosophy and agree with Richard Stallman on his insistence that GNU/Linux is the right way to call our Free operating system. Something tells me the number may be bigger than many tend to anticipate. These people tend to be very vocal and influential and because of that their support or lack of it can sometimes mean a lot. Every project with such ambitious goals as Tux500's which relies on the community for success should appeal to both the Open Source and Free Software part of the community, and not only one of them.
However, Tux500, by choosing to put the "Linux" only on the car and furthermore Ken's not entirely kind stance towards the Free Software view has helped put the appeal for Tux500 squarely on to the Open Source part of the community whereas prompting mostly ignorance from the Free Software part.
As a Free Software supporter myself that gives me a choice between two things. First would be to not support Tux500 and blame Helios and Bob for not taking enough care to appeal to the Free Software supporters. This would basically be a "if they don't succeed it's their own fault" stance. Second choice is to support the project despite what I think our operating system should be called.
I chose the latter.
First of all I wouldn't exactly say that the naming issue is on the top of the list of Free Software principles. No matter what you call it, GNU/Linux is still Free Software. Calling it either way doesn't change that fact. The insistence on the right terminology does not have so much to do with freedom as much as it has to do with the principle of doing the right thing (because GNU deserves the credit), but even more the strategy (because GNU in the name points to the GNU project and its philosophy, instead of only to the Linus Torvalds and his (often opposing) philosophy). This is fair enough and I support that fully, but when this is the only breaking point of our support for a certain undertaking, we have to ask ourselves whether breaking our support because of it is really worth it.
In other words, if the only thing standing between us and our support for Tux500 is the fact that the name on the car will say "Linux" instead of "GNU/Linux", maybe we shouldn't just run away immediately but think whether in this case compromising on this issue might be worth it.
This is not about putting non-free software on GNU/Linux and hence it is not the same thing as supporting non-free drivers in Ubuntu to get greater market share, for example. It is pure and simple a shout out, an attention seeker. Once heads start turning towards that penguin and the "Linux" name, everyone of us gets to say something to those people, and that includes us who believe the right name is GNU/Linux. We can simply tell that to them once we have their attention, and this time it wouldn't take such a deep compromise to get their attention as adopting non-free software may be.
There is a difference between compromising a fundamental principle and compromising what may be a principled "best practice" which the naming issue could be described us. It is more often worth to make the second compromise than the first one.
So, even if you disagree with the name on the car, if you agree that this could bring this diverse community which we are all part of a good deal of attention which we can then use to tell the people whatever we believe about GNU/Linux, you should support the project and stop ignoring it.
2. Tux500 wont bring that much attention as the project claims.
This is another reason why some people ignore or just refuse to support the project. They don't believe that this marketing effort would really bring GNU/Linux as much attention as Ken and Bob anticipate.
But I would urge you to rethink that stance. If it really is that insignificant then why do the major brands like, for example, Coca Cola compete to put their ads on those cars? Many in this community tend to underestimate the power of good marketing and are also quick to forget that most people in the world don't really respond to anything else but good marketing when they make their choices. There is also a psychological realm which has already been pointed out quite a few times. People remember, even if subconsciously, the logos and names of the cars they are watching. This is an exciting race. Many people are fixed on those cars for a while for enough time to scan every detail of it, including every picture and every word that is written on the car, especially if they are cheering on it to win (perhaps because of a bet).
They will remember it and if they see an advertisement of something unknown many may very well be curious about it. This curiosity would then lead them to us.
I believe this sort of exposure very well compares if not exceeds the exposure that a TV commercial may provide. The race will, after all, be transmitted by numerous television networks around the world at once.
In addition, what makes Tux500 project special is that it is all done by the community, not by corporations. This is something that may give this particular advertising undertaking a special kind of attention which not even Coca Cola may enjoy.
3. I don't want the masses to jump on to GNU/Linux
There are indeed people in the community which are quite content with the current state of GNU/Linux adoption, or would even like GNU/Linux to be even less known than it is. This probably gives them a sense of being special, and in an "elite". Not all of such people may be called "elitists" nor be as obnoxious as we often consider "elitists" to be, but many of such people are elitist indeed.
Well, for one, if you are looking to be so special there is still an abundance of ways to be that. GNU/Linux represents a diverse set of distributions. New switchers will be switching to only a certain set of easy to use distributions, but you can be so special and use Gentoo, Arch, Slackware and other distros that switchers wont dare to touch. ;)
If this isn't enough then go and use something like FreeBSD or OpenSolaris. There are plenty of ways for you to feel special. GNU/Linux is poised to go mainstream sooner or later. Your quest for being an elite will not stop that.
However, why not consider the benefits of making GNU/Linux a mainstream operating system on the desktop? Business opportunities, for example, emerge most for those who have the most experience for GNU/Linux, from support businesses to various web projects attempting to serve the emerging market.
Yes, you fellow webmasters. The more GNU/Linux users there are in the world, the more potential visitors you have and hence the more space for various GNU/Linux support sites. Nuxified.org is one of them, and you bet we are waiting for an influx of users who would appreciate the kind of site we are.
We are prepared to take questions of the new mainstream GNU/Linux users, and to adapt to their needs and desires, to help them as they break their Microsoft addiction. Are you?
Don't be a bystander. Mainstream GNU/Linux adoption brings multitude of opportunities for all of us, whether our goal is to change the world to the better, earn more money or both. So, let's start making some noise! Tux500 gives you the opportunity to do something today. Use it!