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I want you to imagine for me a zoo.  It should be a large zoo, with animals from all over the world.  But it should be a long drive to get to it.  At least 2 hours, preferably more.  Now imagine that at this zoo, they recently acquired Mongo, an 800 pound silverback gorilla.  This zoo (whichever one you are thinking of) is proud of their newest acquisition.  They spend an inordinate amount of time and money advertising this “eighth wonder of the world.”  In fact, you can hardly go through a normal day without hearing something about Mongo.

So you decide one weekend to drive to this zoo to see what all the hubbub is about.  Four hours on the road, you have to park a mile away because the lots on the site are full or charge an arm and a leg.  While there, you have to jostle among all the other people who for some reason also decided this was the weekend to make the same trip: whiney kids who are tired of wandering aimlessly, babies crying because they are hungry, and the know-it-alls who like to tell everyone (whether they are listening or not) everything they know about the creatures they see on display.

Finally, you make it to Mongo’s enclosure.  And there, behind glass thick enough it must be bulletproof is the 800 pound gorilla.  Mongo is impressive.  Huge, full of strength and intelligence, he sits there watching you watch him.

And that’s all he does.  All day long.  You made this trip because of the advertising and hype to see something which in the end doesn’t really do anything special.  Behind him, is another, younger gorilla.  This smaller upstart is active, full of energy, and loves showing off for the crowd.  But you can’t really see him.  Because of the 800- pound gorilla in the way.  You can’t hear him, either, because the zoo is busy shouting everything they can about Mongo over their loudspeakers, trying to distract you from the smaller one in the back.  After all, they paid good money for him, and they want your money in return.

How would you feel?

Let down?  Irritated?  Would you try to find a vantage point that lets you see the younger gorilla playing in the background?  Most people are drawn in by the spectacle and wonder, and buy into the hype the zoo is spreading about their newest star to even notice the little guy.  The zoo therefore makes all of its money on Mongo, and the loner in the back goes pretty well unnoticed.

I am a Linux user, and artist and a gamer.  And in all three of those areas, there is an 800 pound gorilla.

In the art world, I was told by more than one of my instructors that my reliance on the cheap supplies would not let me properly express myself.  The only way, they said, to produce an accomplished piece of art was to use the more expensive paints (or charcoal, or pencils, etc.).  In this case, the gorilla is business.  School is business, after all.  And business looks out for business.  My school tried to teach me that I could not shop at Wal-Mart for my supplies, not if I wanted to be taken seriously.  And I do want that.  But I defy anyone to look at a painting and tell me what brand of paint they used.  It can’t be done.  In this case, the little gorilla, the one trying so hard to be noticed is the guy who lets his creativity through, as opposed to his wallet.

Of course, not so many people know about the art supply world, so let’s move to something a bit more recognizeable.

Linux vs. Windows.  Which one weighs 800 pounds here?  Odds are, you’ve never heard of Linux, or if you have, it’s described as too technical for the average user.  That’s the zoo’s hype at work.  You know all about Windows.  Windows is everywhere.  You can’t turn on the TV without seeing an ad for some Microsoft product or another.

In my experience, Windows is not worth the hype.  Let me make myself clear:  I have used Windows, a lot.  I used to be an old DOS hand.  Remember DOS?  It’s what computers ran on before fancy graphical environments were created.  Instead of a point and click interface, you actually had to know what the names of the commands you were invoking meant and how to use them.  Then Windows comes along.  Now everyone is writing software for Windows.  They won’t run right (if at all) under DOS.  Windows.  Windows 3.1.  Windows 95.  Windows 98. ME, XP, Vista…well, not vista.  I never used Vista.  I stuck with XP because of the mess Vista turned out to be.  I’ve never touched Windows 7.

But to keep Windows from going belly up, you need a solid anti-virus program (a good idea regardless of OS, I admit).  You need more than one ad-ware and mal-ware scanner, because no single piece of software catches them all.  In fact, you still have ad-ware and mal-ware no matter how many you use.  And yes, I know Linux has it too.  It just isn’t as bad.  You need registry scanners and fixers, hard drive de-fraggers, all of which are just to keep it in tune and running.    That’s like hauling a pit crew in your back seat because just driving your car around makes it fall apart.  And then, at least in my experience, it still goes belly up, blue screens and dies.

The last time it happened to me, I installed a new copy of XP as a dual boot so I could still get to my old files.  that’s when I realized that I had re-installed Windows almost exactly a year prior.  Thinking back on it, I never got Windows to function properly for more than a year at a time, and often considerably less.  With Linux, I’ve been up and running with no issues for going on two years now.  The only time I’ve had a problem was when I had an issue upgrading from one version to the next.  It was my fault.  I was impatient, and thought the computer had hung for some reason.  Eventually, the in-complete upgrade gave out.  But it takes less time to re-install Linux and all of the software I use than it does to do the same for Windows.  And it just works.  No fancy configuring, no guessing at what settings to use.  I can turn on my computer, and it boots and connects to the internet, no problems.  And, it’s free.  I don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to rent Windows.  (Look at the fine print, you don’t own your copy of Windows, you have a license to use it.)

In gaming, it’s much the same.  I don’t play Dungeons and Dragons anymore (though I used to).  It’s gotten too complex (depending on version), and too munchkin-y for my tastes.  4th edition sounded good during the preview days, but once we tried putting it into play, it sucked.  I won’t go back.  I was already burning out on d20 games before then anyway, and the new edition did nothing to help.  Now I’m back to trying out all those smaller, less well known games.  I’m looking for a good fit, something that lets me run the game I want to run, and lets me keep my players from throwing their books and dice at me in disgust (unless I earned it, like with a TPK).

If you take nothing away from this post (and really, its nothing more than a 1300 word rant, anyway), take away this:  Try out some of the other games.  Try an alternative OS, heck, find a decent hybrid car.  You never know, you might find something you like even better.

It sure beats trying to toss bananas (thoughtfully provided by the zoo, for a small fee) at an 800 pound gorilla.

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