Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ten Reasons Why Mac User Groups Should Embrace Linux

Analogies can take you interesting places sometimes. Think of the Macintosh as the Mediterranean Sea with gorgeous beaches, warm protected waters and beautiful snorkeling. Then think of Linux as the Atlantic Ocean -- large and bountiful -- with passageway to great riches. What happens when these two bodies of waters meet at Gibraltar? I've been spending a lot of time at this metaphorical Gibraltar and have concluded these two bodies of water ought to start mixing.

Let me tell you why. I'll list the reasons in a numbered list.

1. Linux enthusiasts tend to be very smart and typically share their knowledge generously.

2. The Linux and Mac operating systems are close cousins. Both can run Unix applications. (On the Mac, you need to use a free program named X11 to run Unix programs.)

3. More and more programs run on both Mac and Linux. (, Firefox, Skype, Gizmo, The GIMP, Apache, Audacity, iTunes (whoops, scratch iTunes for now.))

4. You can install Linux on dirt-cheap computer hardware, thereby bringing more people to the table. (See the $99 Ubuntu Linux computer being sold by

5. The Linux crowd tends to be young and enthusiastic. Mac user groups could benefit a lot from an influx of young enthusiastic members.

6. More and more schools, colleges and public libraries are moving to Linux. By being "Linux friendly," Mac user groups automatically have a common interest with these schools, colleges and public libraries.

7. Google likes Linux. Google's stock value just exceeded $100 billion.

8. There is the possibility that Apple might choose to offer a Linux line of consumer computers at very affordable prices. Think Mac Mini form factor at a $300 price point. If Apple user groups embrace Linux in 2006, this eventuality becomes a more logical choice for Apple in 2008.

If Apple made that move, that would smash forever the myth that Apple-designed computers are too expensive. Technology columnists would be required to eat their hats. Gastroenterologists would have more work than they could possibly handle.

The purchasing public would be able to say, "I bought an Apple because I honestly couldn't afford to buy anything more expensive."

9. Uber-geeks can salivate at the prospect of running Apple's Xgrid software on a bunch of very inexpensive Linux boxes. You can almost do that already, but if Mac OS and Linux continue dating, it'll be even easier to do. Rendering times can become more tolerable and other massive computational tasks become possible. Just move all the furniture out of the basement and fill it up with server racks. Who needs a basement anyway?

10. Diversity is a strength. Bringing Linux enthusiasts into the Mac user group fold is good for everyone. That's not to say Mac user groups should take over from the excellent Linux user groups already in existence. Just that Mac user groups can become known for being Linux friendly.

The Linux community brings incredible riches to the Macintosh community -- and vice versa. History might judge this to be a marriage made in heaven. On this one, you and I get to choose the direction history takes.

Phil Shapiro

The author, former president of the Virginia Macintosh Users Group, was recently hired to run a 20 station public access Linux computer lab in a community center in Maryland. He uses Linux, Mac and Windows computers on a daily basis -- and likes them all, for different reasons.

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For those who might be interested, a review of a $99 Ubuntu Linux computer can be found at