Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Elderly Gentleman and Linux

The ultimate test of a man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard. --G. Nelson

Several months ago I was lucky enough to have an email conversation 52 replies long with the well-loved Cory Doctorow, a sci-fi writer and EFF fellow. In it, he said:

I hope and expect that firms like ZaReason will be critical... but it'll be by articulating a story about value and functionality, not (just) values.

His comments supplied dozens of improvements at ZaReason, but this one: "articulating a story", was the most delightful. For once, I had the, "Hey, I can do that!" reply instead of the, "Please, o, please don't ask me to do more," response. Recording these interactions on The Inner Workings of Linux Hardware is nothing but fun.


Occasionally I fill for someone at our Berkeley office, answering the phone, helping people who are interested in ZaReason. One day I answered a call that gave me a perspective I wish I could share fully with developers, especially Canonical people.

The man calling had a quaver in his voice, the type of quaver when vocal chords are EOL (end of life). He seemed like a nice elderly gentleman, polite. He asked if I could help him find a computer.

GNU General 1.2 David Gil
He explained how his computer kept crashing, how it was "always getting viruses." He explained how he had spent hours, even days trying to get his computer working. As he explained some of the problems he had experienced, one of which was typing in a product code that was too long, in print too small, mistyped again and again, his voice began to quaver. He began to cry. Not much, but enough to show that this man had been brought to his knees in frustration.

We got him a computer and he now had the virus protection he needed built in. No more humiliation asking family members or friends to clean the viruses off his computer that he inadvertently clicked in a moment when his mind -- probably intelligent and sharp in his younger years -- was now occasionally not as sharp.

I wish there was a way to communicate to developers how important your work is. You bug fix to scratch an itch, for the simple pleasure of bug fixing, but the end result is a happy collection of code that directs the desktop that I got to place on order for an elderly gentleman and ZaReason's shipping people got to ship, all to help minimize difficulties and soften the last years of this man's life.

The man on the phone took time to tell me not just about his frustration but also about how important it was to him that he be able to send emails to his grandkids without it increasing his blood pressure and stress levels. For those supporting FOSS, especially those fine-tuning the code, your work is more important than you know.

Cory Doctorow made it clear I have the values part of "value and functionality" covered. The above story (and many others) are testament to the functionality of a Linux-specific computer and a company built to provide that computer.

Functionality covers many, many areas: this is just one, but it covers a wide enough range of functionality to cover a full spectrum of needs that our customers have, from government labs to small businesses to elderly seniors who need Linux machines.

Developers, you won't hear enough thank yous in your lifetime to compensate for what you have created, not even close, but here is a drop in the bucket:

Thank you!