I got an email from a reader a few days ago and he pointed me to a blog entry by the developer of Linux Mint, one of the most popular Linux distributions. I did a review of it recently and came to the conclusion that it’s pretty darn good for anybody interested in Linux on their desktop.
But the blog entry in question was red-hot in terms of its political subject matter:
Palestine Written by Clem on Sunday, May 3rd, 2009 @ 12:34 am | Main Topics
This is not the place to talk about this but I am deeply touched by what is happening over there. I feel disgust and guilt with us passively witnessing it and our money and weapons supporting it. I don’t want to use my name or this project to push my own ideas about this but I spend a lot of time working and giving away, sharing and receiving to and from a lot of people.
I’m only going to ask for one thing here. If you do not agree I kindly ask you not to use Linux Mint and not to donate money to it.
I hope for these people to be able to live decently in the future and for me not to have anything to do with the misery they’re in at the moment.
I promise not to talk about this anymore. I don’t want any money or help coming from Israel or people who support the action of their current government.
Thank you for your understanding. This is very important to me.
The page in question has been taken down so I got the comment from the Google cache version (the cached page may have changed by the time you read this column). Unfortunately the original post was deleted.
There were, at one point, around 300 posts or so when I checked the page but there are only about 156 in the cached version. Needless to say the developer’s comment drew a very partisan, very heated batch of comments.
Another blog post was made later trying to shift the focus back onto technology:
Well this was tough and it certainly has a lot of consequences but it was necessary and I’m glad it was done. A lot of people commented on the previous blog post and I would like to thank them for that. Whether they agreed or not with my stance, they heard it and that is what I wanted.
Of course this will have an immediate impact on the distribution and its success, but I’m confident we’ll continue to work hard in the long term and attract more people to it eventually. I said it in the previous post, I wanted to make things clear, and this is now done. There will be no room for politics within this blog or the forum (you can continue to comment on the previous post of course) and we’ll now focus, with the people who are left, on technical matters.
The i386 edition of Mint 7 was approved by Exploder so it’s only a matter of days before it gets released as an RC. We’ll try to get everything ready as soon as possible and the work on the x64 edition will begin in the days to come.
That also has drawn a lot of responses, some nice and some not so nice.
I don’t want to get into the Israeli/Palestinian issue itself in this column so please don’t start discussing it in the thread for this column.
But I do want to discuss whether or not distro developers should talk about politics and if users should care one way or the other.
Technology and Politics?
So was the developer right in bringing his politics into the equation? And should users even care? Well clearly I’d say it was a mistake on his part since it’s now caused a partisan political split in the Linux Mint community and some people have abandoned the distribution because of it.
The topic itself is about as red-hot as you’ll find anywhere. It just doesn’t get more difficult than Middle Eastern politics and anyone who ventures into that particular morass is well advised to do so carefully and with much thought before jumping in with both feet.
For my part, I will continue to review Linux Mint and if I was a regular user of the distribution I’d continue to use it. Why? Because frankly I really don’t care about the developer’s politics, one way or another. People always have opinions on various issues. That’s just humanity. There’s no way to avoid the fact that two or more people are going to part company.
In this case politics was inserted into a context where it really didn’t make sense. The developer probably hasn’t converted anybody to his cause and he ended up alienating a lot of other people away from the distribution he’s clearly worked so hard on. So what was gained? Nothing constructive that I can see. He seems to have shot himself in the foot and wounded the Linux Mint distribution.
It would have been better for the developer to post his thoughts on a personal blog and keep it off the Linux Mint site. I understand though that he’s human, just like the rest of us. And sometimes we all behave emotionally rather than rationally. It’s messy and it causes friction but it happens sometimes.
Linux Mint: The Distribution Not the Developer
So where to now for users of Linux Mint? Should you still download it and install it if you disagree with the developer’s politics? Sure, why not? As passionate as you may be on the particular issue he brought up, be sure to remember that it’s just one issue.
And remember that the developers of other distributions all have their own politics too. Chances are that there’s another issue or two or three that you totally disagree with them about too. You just don’t know it because you don’t know what their politics are and you probably will never know unless they too come forward and share them with you like the Linux Mint developer did.
The real emphasis needs to be on the technology, on the distribution itself not on the developer. If all of us decided what technology or other products we used solely on the basis of the politics of the people making them then we’d never be able to enjoy much of the goods and services we’ve become accustomed to throughout the course of our lives.
So my advice if you’re a Linux Mint user and you’re upset about this, the solution is to simply let it go and not worry too much about it. There’s plenty of other stuff going on in life that’s far more important.
Undoubtedly there are going to be people who refuse to let go of this issue. Fine. They’re human too and sometimes people just can’t or won’t let go and move on. So here are some alternatives to Linux Mint for those who are determined never to use it again:
Ubuntu (it’s what Linux Mint is based on so it’s a great place to start)
That’s just four other distributions, there are tons more available for perusing and download over on DistroWatch. Not all of them will be as polished as Linux Mint but that won’t be a problem for most ExtremeTech Linux users. And some of them have their own neat features and/or interfaces for you to explore and enjoy.
So there you have it, folks. The Great Linux Mint political train wreck of 2009.
Let’s hope that we can all put it behind us and move forward together in a spirit of Linux geek brotherhood and sisterhood; united in technology and focused on getting the most fun and utility out of Linux Mint and all the other various Linux distributions.
What’s your take on all this? Tell me in the comments.