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Alan Jacobs

Life Among the Cyber-Amish

Computer Control, Part 2

This is the concluding article in a three-part series.

Article 1: Computer Control

Article 3: The Virtues of Resistance

The one unique benefit that was creating this enthusiasm was not that this stuff was better or faster or cheaper, although many will argue that it was all three of those things. The one unique benefit that the customer gets for the first time is control over the technology he's being asked to invest in.
—Bob Young, CEO of Red Hat Linux, as quoted in Glyn Moody's Rebel Code

Sometime around the turn of this year, IBM started running a series of television commercials featuring—for reasons not clear to me or, I suspect, to many other viewers—retired professional basketball players enacting brief allegorical dramas about business computing. George Gervin, a.k.a. the Iceman, is the coach of this team, and some of his players include Firewall (played convincingly by the now portly and indeed rather wall-ish Bill Laimbeer, once a Detroit Piston) and Middleware (Xavier McDaniel, formerly the intimidating X-Man, and somewhat thicker in the middle himself). But for me the most interesting member of this team is "acted" by Detlef Schrempf, one of the more recently retired of the bunch—he was playing in the NBA as recently as last season. As Schrempf's name perhaps indicates, he's no boy from the 'hood, but rather a Germ an import, one of the first European players to excel in the NBA. Schrempf, the only player in the commercials who gets to dunk—perhaps because he's the only one who still can—plays "Linux," and the commercials identify Linux as the team's new star. This preeminence is not unrelated to Linux's willingness to work for "peanuts," simply because "he loves the game."

The casting of Shrempf was a witty move by the makers of the commercials, because Linux (the real Linux) is a computer operating system that originated in Europe—specifically, in Finland. In the last decade it has risen from a fragmentary set of routines whose existence only a few dozen hackers ...

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