One particularly distraught new Linux user came to me and shared how his meeting with a number of Linux "pros" turned to a bash Windows, bash him and bash everything he said gathering. Instead of answering his question regarding which GUI they prefer to use on their systems, the response was a clear: "you ignoramous! Go back to your Windows."
Today, Linux offers so
much for the beginning user and those moving from the Windows world.
There are major successes with file sharing (thanks to work of
projects like SAMBA and their excellent documentation), effective
ways to run applications across platforms (thanks to the blood and
sweat of many including those from the Wine project).
And there are so many more great examples and helpful beginner guides.
In other words, there is very positive work going on in the Linux community to help new comers get up to speed and productive. However, there are a few remaining issues that prevent people from experiencing the depth, breath and quality of Linux and Open Source in general. Some are minor, but others present very real barriers to entry into the world of Open Source and Linux.
When I started work on this article I assumed I would be writing about something else, like user interfaces, or perhaps issues with applications compatibility between the Windows world and Linux. Or perhaps the continued FUD that exists and the barriers to communication. But instead, I found myself encountering more and more new users who referred to another issue, a very real barrier to their entry into the Linux world. Many new users were telling me they were encountering something that effectively turned them off Linux.
First, let me declare my point with all this. As I state in the conclusion below, often personality can influence decisions such as business expenditures. Second, I want to make sure you know my conviction that most of the people I encounter in the Open Source world, and among Linux engineers and project members specifically, are some of the smartest and nicest people I've met. Notice the coupling: smart AND nice. Being smart doesn't make you automatically nice and vice versa. In my case I had met many who were both.
Yet, there is a resounding, unwavering reaction among many newcomers I've talked to about people who make the Linux community look bad (read some of the Slashdot replies or Digg replies for examples). I'm writing about Linux, not the whole realm of software support. I'm also referring to people who ask reasonable and sensical questions. And most importantly, I'm not the only one stating this. For other good examples of Linux snobbery please read this great article as well as this insightful one.
As I spoke to newbies,
one Windows user who wanted to learn about Linux shared the
encouraging and constructive note (not) he received from one of the
project members. The responding note read:
"Hi jackass, RTFM and stop wasting our time trying to help you children learn."
Lovely little encouragement. This particular Windows user was a newbie to Linux but had been in the I.T. industry for years. His question, regarding "how do I start process daemons like a web server" was reasonable, not childish. His reaction to the Linux "guru" was also reasonable. He basically said that he doesn't have time to deal with people so fanatic and terse they reject questions on message boards created to answer questions.
But was this simply a situation of a particularly rude Linux junkie, who perhaps had missed sleep or woken on the wrong side of the bed? Or is there something more serious going on? I will not point to any particular group, distro, or person in this article but do hope that my examples clarify an issue that is real.
Two days later I learned of another new comer to the Linux community who had been in a meeting with a Linux engineer. Jason had met what he considered one of the outstanding experts in Linux, who had been on one of the Linux teams for a particular distro. The meeting began with the usual warm greetings, but shortly moved into a tirade by the Linux "guru" that resembled a three year old's tantrums.
As described by Jason, the engineer began to mock Windows users, declared that Jason was "obviously ignorant and inexperienced" and continued by giving his personal opinions on various topics from religion to political philosophy.
Jason, speechless, walked out of the meeting telling another friend, "my question had to do with his thoughts on the different distros. I had no idea it would get such a response!"
Calling an interested new Linux user "obviously ignorant and inexperienced" as a component of the answer to his question seems a bit off.
As I inquired about this rather peculiar meeting, it became obvious that this engineer had some basic problems with any people unlike himself. In other words, he respects only those who mirror him.
Sadly he was not the only example. Mind you, there are MANY good examples of helpful Linux people. But this article is trying to convey that issues in communication do exist. Most important of all, I propose that one such person, with xenophobic and hyper-conformist tendencies, can ruin a batch of good work. One such person can turn off a slew of interested people and even organizations from Linux use. In this case he did, and Jason returned to his office the next day with very little positive to say about the help they can expect from the Linux community... at least his own local community.
Later, I decided to start meeting some of these unique folks myself. I figured, there has got to be some misunderstanding. Highly cognitive people, people of intellect, have more sense than what I was hearing from these newbies. Besides, I had some very pleasant experiences getting help myself. So I decided to check on it first hand.
I ended up meeting with someone who I considered highly versed in the Linux realm and who was also well respected for his experience with Open Source development.
The meeting began on a positive foot as we shared about personal travel experiences. The conversation was mild and reasonable. But as I continued to ask questions such as "which database you find more effective for scaling" it apparently hit the delusion of godhood nerve.
Suddenly, this person was standing up waving his arms and yelling about database theory and "how f-ing stupid I was" and how "little I understood about databases" and their "f-ing inner workings." How little I knew about "keys and locking" that he had experience with. He went on to tell me how he was one of the "most well versed database" people and that "you can learn a lot from me."
I had to wonder what he included in his morning coffee? I was contemplating calling 911 to get this guy a respirator and some valium. Or maybe I should have interrupted to remind him that it was unlikely he had reached the apex of human evolution ahead of the rest of us.
One of the Linux pros I talk to regularly, Richard, who is far more stable and intellectual about this issue, shared some sage advice: "People are people -- and in every community you have some really nice and some not so nice ones. But we work together because of the greater good and the common goal."
I wholeheartedly agree. But I want to add that it does matter HOW we respond to a question, even an inappropriate or poorly stated question.
So, what about the sincere new Linux users asking questions and getting these kinds of responses? He candidly said, "Most people who fly off the handle like that are not deliberately mean, they probably are under a lot of work pressure, or maybe their marriage is breaking apart or something even more painful is happening personally, and unfortunately the newbie gets dumped on."
Richard's wise advice is to deal with each other in some reasonable semblance of grace and mercy.
Are newbie's now required to show greater grace, more patience and richer respect than those already in the community? I'm not sure that's a better way.
Instead, I propose that one person who gets an opportunity to vent on new comers leaves an indelible impression on others regarding the Linux community. Of course, this doesn't mean the end of the community. The Linux community will grow just fine regardless and there remain many helpful people involved today, but it's a point I find few people like to admit.
So the point of all this is to say, although most people don't choose technology based on personality, often personality can influence important decisions such as business expenditures.
Today, Linux growth includes a vast number of new comers, sometimes well versed in technology but at other times not so well versed. These new users are coming to us and asking us to help them cross the great divide. I hope that more people will extend a hand to someone who sincerely appreciates Linux and wishes to be part of the Linux community, and help offset those who see new comers as bad.
After all, we do share a common goal, and the growing and continued success of Linux invariably depends on each of us individuals. My hope is that many new comers to Linux will see what a great community and what a great promise Linux holds not only for themselves but also their organizations.Want to learn about Linux? Please take a look at our complete list of encouraging beginner articles.