February 4th, 2010

  • evan

car analogy

A not-quite-so-technical friend saw me running Linux on my laptop and asked me what the deal was -- aka "Why do all engineers at Google run Linux while everyone else runs something else," something I often try to explain in terms of Morlocks and Eloi. This time I tried a new analogy that seemed to work so well I will share it with you.

At my high school there were a group of kids who were really into cars. They would spend weekends disassembling and reassembling their engines or trying out new speaker cabinets. The resulting vehicles -- almost always old Volkswagens and BMWs -- frequently were unreliable and rarely had consistent paint jobs. The rich kids in their Audis would scoff and say: "my car looks and runs so much better!" The kids who didn't much care about cars would confusedly say: "my Honda Civic is more reliable and ultimately costs less!"

But the beater Volkswagen was the car of choice of people who were into cars; those other concerns mattered less then the fact the car was theirs. Criticizing their cars by these other metrics makes about as much sense as criticizing someone who drew a picture and hung it on their wall: yes, the drawing isn't very good compared to what you could buy in a store or see in a museum, but that feedback isn't useful to the person who put their heart into their drawing and you just come across like an asshole.

PS: In case it wasn't clear, I don't think Linux is a plausible normal-user-oriented desktop OS. I think users / the market have confirmed this. I respect the people who are trying to make it otherwise but I am skeptical.

PPS: I am not trying to make some sort of labored analogy between car vendors and operating system vendors, so please don't read too deeply into it. (In terms of actual cars, I own a Civic.)