REVIEW: User Friendly
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., 1999

"Launch marketing drones!". Linux comics come of age.
Rating: 9/10

Stern is the president of Information Markets Corp.
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The Scenario

In the 1950s, Charles Schultz taught the world that cartoon art doesn't matter, characters do. So who are the characters of User Friendly, the greatest open-source-savvy comic strip?

Pitr and Mark: the technicians at Columbia Internet
Greg: the Columbia Internet tech support guy
Miranda: patronized sysadmin and tech support woman
Stef: the marketing guy with slow reflexes and a cute tush
Dust Puppy: a fuzzy thing which programs well and plays a mean game of quake
Crud Puppy: his evil twin
Erwin: the AI

Together, they have the sorts of adventures you would expect: supporting stupid clients, fighting evil corporate acquisitions, and thwarting Windows NT installations. The also cross into adventures you might not expect, including SWAT attacks on Microsoft headquarters. The collection wisely ends with User Friendly's legendary satire of the original Star Wars movie.

The naive might compare User Friendly to Dilbert, since they're both set in technology industry offices, but it's really more like Doonesbury. Illiad relies on big talking coke cans the same way Gary Trudeau brings in "Mr. Butts," the big talking cigarette. Where Trudeau has cameo appearances by Donald Trump, Richard Stallman and Eric S. Raymond pop into User Friendly. Most importantly, both cartoons are always topical. Readers of User Friendly do well to keep up with their technology and share certain technical opinions if they want to get the jokes. Among these opinions, that

The cartoon assumes certain other shared beliefs as well,

Anybody reading this review at Slashdot is probably well equipped to enjoy User Friendly. In fact, most people reading this review have probably already enjoyed the cartoon, since it is available for free over the web.

What's Bad?

Illiad from time to time pulls out a very old joke, such as the customer who can't find his power switch. The graphics are crude, but frankly that's part of the strip's charm.

What's Good?

The strip is very, very funny, especially when Illiad allows himself to daydream and the storylines become more bizarre. Follow Erwin the AI, as he suffers the successive indignities of being ported to Windows NT, then over to an iMac and a Palm III. Picture Pitr furtively buying "Evil Geniuses for Dummies." The Star Wars satire is brilliant. However strange the story grows (a fuzzball in a hockey mask attacking the marketing staff with a knife?) it never becomes unmoored, and by reading it, you will always feel like a member of the open source club.

So What's In It For Me?

Unless you have a flat panel display in every room and the bathroom, there's probably space in your life for a User Friendly collection. Leave it on the coffee table to impress your guests and to signal your membership in the Open-Source-erati. Leave it in the bathroom and you'll never lack for toilet paper.

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