I have a confession to make.
I have been using Linux since 1997.
It's sort of a confession because, to most people I know, using Linux daily seems crazy. They ask me how I play games. I seldom do, but those infrequent times I feel like playing, I either play my games in Linux or sneak into Windows 98. They ask me how I browse the Internet, write letters, calculate in spreadsheets. To me, those questions border in the ridiculous. But to them, they sound perfectly natural. If they don't know how their everyday tasks can be accomplished in a Free Software desktop session, wondering about the usefulness of Linux comes as second nature.
You see, the people don't know about Linux. It's not the general public's fault: ignorance is not a sin, especially if one hasn't been shown otherwise. It's not Microsoft's, or SCO's, or your monopolist of the week's fault, either. We're only to blame, if there is blame to be assigned. Spreading Linux, at this point, is the sole responsibility of its users. There's no marketing department, and the enterprise traction is pulling on an entirely different terrain. That's why you don't see widespread Linux usage in the consumer market segment. And, in a Catch-22, computer manufacturers (assisted by you-know-who) fail to see demand for Linux desktops.
Why is this important? Market forces and agendas are pulling everyone away from Linux. Widespread consumer adoption won't just "appear" out of nowhere. We, Free Software users, cannot risk becoming an island. Do you use Linux? Perhaps some Free Software applications? Spread the word! People concerned about Nature regularly take matters into their own hands, planting trees to save the planet. People concerned about Free Software should take a hint from them and start planting Free Software everywhere they'll have them.
Well, I'm about to change the subject quite a bit.
I've noted that the path to computing is just like a road: one travels farther when the road is toll-free. My road has been toll-free since 1997. That's something I don't regret.
With Free Software, all I ever learned was right there to be learned. Think of Free Software like this: you not only get the programs, but you get the insider info with them, as well. The skills and knowledge I now possess would have been unattainable, had I never installed Linux. Before Linux, I was lucky to get thirty hours of uninterrupted usage from my computer. Now I eat TCP sockets for dessert, and do Python for a living. My home computer is as stable as an old-fashion jukebox (mostly used to play music - hats off to the amaroK developers), and it never stops working. Our terminal server in the office never gets to reboot (though I have a few complaints with Gamin).
It's been useful in my company as well: Free Software gives us a "leg up" against our competitors. Most of them stand baffled when they lose contracts against us, wondering how we got to provide outrageously cheap prices while peddling software and services of such high quality. We've had a few of them call us to get quotes, off-the-record, only to find out that they couldn't match our prices if their lives depended on it. Today, Free Software is a weapon you can't afford not to have in your business arsenal.
Oh, well, prepare yourself for another subject change.
Most people I know disagree with the ideals of the Free Software people. I disagree with them, mostly. Free Software is good. It's plain good for everyone; not despite its principles, but because of them. I know for a fact that I would never have learned so much, were it not for Free Software and its principles. Its principles have always been the stronghold that keeps its products free and available for everyone to use and learn.
You see, Free Software is the great equalizer: it lowers the bar for education in nearly every subject and discipline, either as a facilitator or as subject to be studied itself. Some people would not have it that way; they'd rather have a clan or an elite of learned people, because ignorance is something to profit from. Reducing overall wealth and production so that few can extract more profit. That's unethical, not to mention economically inefficient.
I'd like to see everyone take a hint from Free Software's philosophies, and realize that, when you're dealing with "intellectual property", less is more.