Everything I Needed to Know about Linux I Learned from My Pets

My relationship with my motley crew of cats and dogs is similar to my relationship with Linux. In both cases, I've learned that patience pays off, and life is better with than without them.

Perhaps you aren't a pet person. Some of my best friends aren't, either. Or maybe you are Apple-obsessed or a Windows enthusiast. I love my Mac and know plenty of people who work with Windows. In any case, here are a few ways living with my pets reminds me of living with Linux.

Not Everyone Shares Your Feelings

Today I invited someone into my home and when she saw my cat she backed away from the door and said, "I'm terrified of cats. And that's a really big one." 

To me, June is just a big, fluffy, neurotic, friendly ball of love. To someone else, she's terrifying and to be avoided. Linux is like that — some people love a particular flavor, or enjoy trying several or even running a few at the same time. Other people find the very idea of "Linux" terrifying, without even ever laying a hand on a Linux machine. That's why there are pet rocks and other operating systems, I suppose.

Sometimes They Require Tweaking

Otis is our shelter dog who patiently waited almost two years in the local Humane Society before finding his forever home with us. He's had a lot of issues, and each of us has contributed to his training. We had to show him how to climb onto the couch, and even then, he didn't really understand it at first.

Otis eventually figured out how to climb the stairs. Now that we've all gotten used to each other and settled in, Otis fits in much better and, for the most part, we've worked out his bugs.

Otis is like a fresh install of a new operating system. For that matter, he walked into our house as a beta release and only recently became a stable release. Like a new release, Otis was frustrating at first and sometimes we wondered why we got him when there were better behaved, trained dogs that also needed a home. But now that he's stable, he's exactly like we want him and we can't imagine not having him in our home, funny little quirks and all.

You Can Dress Them Up

Not everyone in my house liked it when I painted our pitbull's toenails red, but I consider Otis to be "my" dog, so I told them I could polish him however I want.

My kid considers our other dog, a Boston Terrier, to be hers, so she picked out Olive's new collar. On our shared Linux laptop, each of us has different wallpaper and customizations that make our Linux experiences uniquely our own, but without annoying other users in the house.

Change Isn't Always Appreciated

Our black cat, Maggie, likes drinking water out of anything other than the designated water bowl. She really likes sticking a paw in water glasses the second we set them down and leave the room for a moment. She's also a big fan of drinking running water from taps, which is why I got her one of those water bowls that works like a fountain. Whereas Maggie loves drinking the water that bubbles out of the fountain, Otis (the biggest, most intimidating member of the pet family) is terrified of it and won't get near it. He hates the sound of the fountain, and now he's so afraid of it he avoids it even if it's unplugged. Ubuntu users had a similar reaction to Unity, for example. Some users had an open mind and tried it, but decided they preferred the old Ubuntu instead. Others really like it and think Unity is awesome. And then there are the rest of us, who don't have a strong opinion as long as it tastes good... err, lets us check email and surf the web.

Productivity Might Decrease

I don't know about you, but I've had more than one Linux install that took hours out of my day and killed all my productivity. This is rare, but, much like my cat Johnny when she tries to get between me and my keyboard, a bad install or wonky updates can slow down or even kill my productivity.

Maintenance Is Required

Like my pets, Linux isn't something I can just ignore. My pets require food and fresh water, attention, cleaning, and trips to the vet for checkups.

For the health of my Linux system, regular updates and some attention is also required. In both cases, the regular maintenance pays off with cleaner, healthier, happy operating systems all around.

Enjoy the Entertainment Value

I'm not sure what Olive contributes to our household other than being hilarious comic relief on occasion, super cute, and overall entertaining.

My Linux systems offer me the same kind of entertainment by allowing me to listen to my favorite music, watch videos, surf the web, keep up with friends, or play with photos.

Feel Safer

When I leave the house, I feel pretty confident that my pets are helping to keep us safe. Maggie prowls the outside for rogue snakes or mice, while the dogs bark at anyone who comes near the front door.

That doesn't mean I don't lock the doors and set the alarm each time I leave, because you can never have too many safety precautions. Linux is the same way — I know my family's web surfing and online activities are safer because of the operating system we use, but we still try to exercise caution by being wary of what information we reveal, who we connect with, and what we download.

I'm sure there are many other lessons my pets have to teach me about Linux and life in general, but these are a few that came to mind. Any Linux lessons I should add to my list?

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey 2021: The results are in