Friday, December 23, 2005

Rings shall vanish from our noses, And the harness from our back. Or: how to irritate your readers.

Title is from George Orwell's Animal Farm.

If there's one thing I can't stand, it is when a writer is patronising others, eventually patronising his readers. Case in point:
From a DesktopLinux column by Frank Richards:
"However, many liveCD distros can be used as a day to day desktop without ever installing them to your hard drive. Huh? Wait a minute, everyone installs the OS to a hard disk! Well yes, that's the way it has always been done, but I am not sure why we should continue in that direction... "ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now" (Robert Allen Zimmerman).


Let's for a moment ignore the "Well yes" style, which is more imminent in early high-school composition than serious articles, but noticed the bold lines, and especially the artist, slightly better known as Bob Dylan.
Was there any reason to write Dylan's full, original name? Not really.
Did it serve the article any better, or helped deliver an argument the writer was, or will be making? Hell no.

So, what's the point? Notice the entire style of the paragraph. The writer is describing an unorthodox method of using Linux. He is assuming people will object to this method. He considers them old-fashioned and closed. He thinks of himself better than those people, and therefore more intelligent. Please observer the choice of words: "Huh? Wait a minute, everyone...". Those who present the "old" views are talking like they just woke up from sleep. They are not as coherent. Their argument is "everyone's doing it". His retort? Just because it's always been done doesn't mean it's the best way of doing it. Out with the old, in with the new. "We'll change henceforth the old tradition, And spurn the dust to win the prize!" (The Internationale). His use of the Dylan quote, is, in fact, quite apt. Dylan writes that he (his opinions) were "old" (dated, conservative, unwilling to change) back then; but that he's "younger" (more radical, open to other opinions, adaptive) now. The scope might be a bit over the top, we're not talking about a new way of feeding the poor, or that Microsoft is not the AntiChrist, but about using a LiveCD/Business Card GNU/Linux Distributions, in the likes of DamnSmall or Puppy (both well recommended, btw).

It's a novel idea, but not something unheard of. I've been using either Puppy or DamnSmall with my laptop for ages now, as it's 64MB of RAM are not that well adequate to handle a full-featured GNU/Linux distro (Although it did work pretty well with Ubuntu using FluxBox as the Windows Manager, which is the same WM DamnSmall is using). As with everything in the GNU/FOSS world, it's a question of choice, of being given enough tools to suffice for every job, and to apply to every need. Both LiveCD distros and HardDrive "full" distros have their place and their usage. Using one over the other isn't more radical, or conservative, it's simply a choice of the right tools for the right job. And, despite what the writer might be thinking, snubbing your readers isn't going to change that.

(Edit: Apparently using an outside link in your post title makes it impossible for RSS to link to the right post)

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