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What Are We? 12?

I've grown more and more accustomed to that phrase. Being on IRC, blogs, forums, mailing lists, and other forms of digital social gathering, it still never ceases to amaze me the responses that come out of people these days. Case in point? The tragic ending to what should have been a happy one. I'm referring to the news story that WKOW 27 in Madison, WI ran concerning a girl in college who dropped out, because Ubuntu was installed on her Dell laptop, and she couldn't install some software programs. WKOW, by the way, has run a follow up on the piece, showing the initial reaction of the Ubuntu community.

When I first read the story, I admit that I thought she was looking for a scapegoat to drop out, and Ubuntu on a laptop was the perfect excuse. Then, I started reading the comments, and I was floored by the community's reaction. Almost immediately, I found myself defending her and Ubuntu comment after comment. After letting the emotion settle for a bit, I re-read the article, this time paying attention to the smaller details:

  1. A Dell representative recommended that she stay with Ubuntu over Windows. This is a serious win for the Ubuntu community! When an OEM is recommending a Free operating system over a non-free, things are on the upswing for that OS.
  2. A Verizon representative said that they would send out a technician to get her Ubuntu install online. This is another serious win for the Ubuntu community! Verizon is willing to support Ubuntu as an operating system for their software.
  3. Lastly, the school said that Windows and Microsoft Office was not required for her courses, which means Ubuntu and would fit the bill nicely. Three out of three!

So, I ask: Why the backlash? One thing we need to understand as technical users, is the average user doesn't think to pull up Google to troubleshoot his or her problem. If something doesn't work as expected, such as putting the Verizon CD in Ubuntu, then it's broken to them. They're not going to pull up Google, and figure out how to make it work. They might call a family member if they have a computer expert in the family, but even then, the computer is still broken. Having just purchased a brand new laptop from Dell, and things not working as expected, she has every right to be upset.

Yet, everything came out positive for her, and the community responds the way it does. This story should have been a positive one for our distribution. Instead, it turned into a heated attack against her, and the news agency. Whether or not these attackers are Ubuntu users or Windows users or Mac users, it matters not. What matters to me is the maturity level of the response. Which brings me to the title of my post:

"What are we? 12?"

Look at the details of the article. Look at how three organizations were willing to handle her specific case. She looked for support, and got it! Dell, Verizon and her school should be touted as heroes! They came to her rescue, and then we respond the way we do. I found our response unfortunate, sad, and very disappointing. Linux won't succeed on the desktop if these are the cards we play.

{ 20 } Comments

  1. oliver | January 16, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    "Look at how three organizations were willing to handle her specific case. She looked for support, and got it!"

    Maybe I'm overly pessimistic, but I suppose it's rather that "WKOW looked for support and got it". The media backing has probably helped quite a lot in this specific case.

    "They’re not going to pull up Google, and figure out how to make it work."

    That's an interesting point. If Ubuntu wants to reach amateurish end users, maybe it needs to be even more offensive about leading people to help forums and IRC?

    Personally, I wouldn't recommend any non-technical user to set up his computer on his own anyway, no matter whether it's Linux or Windows - it's way too inefficient and frustrating. And having a somewhat-expert (a friend or colleague) directly available for questions is minimum.

  2. Aaron | January 16, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    No, Ubuntu users don't need to be more offensive in bringing people to the fold. That certainly isn't a way to be successful. The way to success is education, not offensive tactics. This is exactly why Red Hat and Slackware haven't succeeded on the desktop- RTFM gets everyone no where.

    Your last point is exactly how we need to approach the problem. We need to educate people where to turn for support.

  3. Nathaniel McCallum | January 16, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Why doesn't Ubuntu add a feature? When you insert a CD, if it is obviously a Windows CD (AUTORUN.INF, etc) Ubuntu should check against a known database. This database will prompt something like:

    This CD was intended to run on the Microsoft Windows Operating System. You can:
    1. Download the linux version of this software ($URL)
    2. Use an open source application that has equivent features (automatically install similar software)
    3. Attempt to run this application through a Microsoft Windows emulation layer (launch in WINE)

    What do you think?

  4. Aaron | January 16, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Works for me. There are probably other areas where user experience could be improved. This is a great 1st step I think.

  5. Joseph | January 16, 2009 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    3. is already done, at least if you have wine installed. Try it.

  6. Jef Spaleta | January 16, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Did she look for support and get it? Or did the news agency look for support and get it for her on her behalf?

    For all we know, she contacted Verizon and the school through regular customer service channels, and was rebuffed by the first level of customer service. The article doesn't say if she contacted Verizon or the school.

    What the article does say is that the station interceded on her behalf by talking with Verizon and school (No response from dell.) Verizon's tech is coming out because the news station contacted Verizon about the article. The school is going to accept material produced by OpenOffice...because the news agency contacted the school.

    Sometimes consumer advocates, like tv station news teams, can get a lot farther in a customer service dispute and get a business to respond to customer service issues in a way that an individual can not. WCBS out of New York runs a series called "shame on you" that acts as a piece of viewer advocacy to help viewers get equitable action from government agencies or businesses.

    If you want to turn this back into positive, organize an effort to identify every educational institution that has a standing policy of requiring MS Office document formats, and start a grass roots campaign from inside the student body of each of those educational institutions to amend that policy to explicitly state that OpenOffice produced files are acceptable as well.

  7. Aaron | January 16, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    The point of my article isn't how the support was initiated, but the fact that it came. She was still the initial instigator, even if she contacted the news directly.

    No, the article is about the Ubuntu community reaction to the support. It's pathetic, disheartening and frustrating.

    In regards to your grass roots campaign to turn all schools to Free Software supporters, I personally have better things to do with my time. Growing the user base of Linux in general will bring about that change anyway, as it has already happened at her school.

  8. oliver | January 16, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Oh... My point about "more offensive" was easy to misunderstand, I see now 🙂

    What I really meant: maybe after installation, the Ubuntu system must make it more visible that there are forums and IRC available for getting help. That might prevent people from getting frustrated with their new system. From what I've heard so far, once people are seeking help on the forums they are quite happy with it. Only new users (esp. when they are getting the system preinstalled from Dell) don't know about these help channels and that the people there are really nice.

    (No, we certainly don't need _people_ to be more offensive - fully agree 🙂

  9. Aaron | January 16, 2009 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Ahh. I see. Take the offensive, as in make smart tactical moves to educate users. I'm 100% for that. But yes, I misunderstood your initial comment. Thanks for clarifying.

  10. Lo0m | January 16, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Got your point! Totally agree, I'm sick of this type of behaviour, too.. I'm trying to ignore it...

  11. Tom | January 16, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Where is Jono Bacon in all this, isn't he the "community" guy?
    I'm all for having hardcore fanatics that will defend the linux community to the death but people like Jono have a responsibility to teach the younger minded folks how to deal with those who criticize linux. Remember the linux haters blog? The poor bastard never did reveal his real name, obviously out of fear. Its too bad he quit, he would have a lot to say about this I'm sure.

  12. Aaron | January 16, 2009 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    A couple things. First, Jono is the community manager, but that doesn't mean he is responsible for teaching everyone how to behave. His job is to take existing communities around Ubuntu, and strengthen them.

    Second, there is no doubt in my mind that the LHB admin was a Linux user. He was tired of the fanboyism that plagues our operating system, and started sharing light on how to make it better. The reason for quitting isn't known, but I doubt it's out of fear.

  13. Tom | January 18, 2009 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Well looks who's working on a book "The Art Of Community" by Jono Bacon, looks like he's doing his job after all.

  14. Landon | January 16, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I am actually embarrassed to be associated with most of the people that left comments about this. Not a good thing for the distro that boasts...

    Ubuntu is an African word meaning 'Humanity to others', or 'I am what I am because of who we all are'. The Ubuntu distribution brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.

  15. Alex | January 16, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I think the reason this article caused such an uproar is because it's so improbable (without assuming foul play). Here are the problems:
    1. As far as I can tell, the only machines Dell publicly sells with Ubuntu preinstalled are the Mini series of netbooks, and it can't be a Mini, because she apparently tried to use the a Windows-only CD, and the Mini does not have a CD drive. In order to buy a Dell with a CD drive and Ubuntu preinstalled, you have to be specifically looking for Ubuntu. There is no way you could accidentally buy an Ubuntu Dell with a CD drive.
    2. Furthermore, in order to accidentally buy a Mini with Ubuntu, you have to ignore the text that says "Featuring Ubuntu Linux Operating System" and, in the case of the more expensive Minis (the ones that could reasonably reach $1100), you have to click on the button that says "Customize with Ubuntu".
    3. The Dell support representative encouraged her to stay with Ubuntu? Seriously?
    4. She dropped out instead of returning the computer or getting help? Seriously?

    I also read somewhere (don't remember where; source may be unreliable) that she bought the computer five months ago. If true, WTF?

    In short, the premise of the story is very difficult to believe. The two conclusions that require the fewest outlandish assumptions are the following:

    1. The whole story is Microsoft propaganda.
    2. She made a mistake in deciding to buy a machine with Ubuntu, and now she doesn't want to take responsibility for it.

    Of course, that doesn't excuse the behavior of those who are harassing her personally on Facebook. That is most certainly crossing the line. Also, those who say she is stupid are incorrect, as I cannot see how even the most egregious case of stupidity could lead to this situation.

  16. Lo0m | January 16, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    "2. She made a mistake in deciding to buy a machine with Ubuntu, and now she doesn’t want to take responsibility for it." ... my bet .. but still, as you've wrote,this behaviour is just plain stupid

  17. Aaron | January 16, 2009 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    1. Dell ships desktops, laptops, servers and netbooks with Ubuntu preinstalled. You just have to search them down in the site.

    2. She probably changed her operating system, noting that it dropped the price $50, but didn't realize that it's not Windows. I find this much more believable.

    3. As far as the article is concerned, yes- she contacted Dell, and the customer service rep suggested sticking with Ubuntu.

    4. She was probably faced with overwhelming homework piling up, without a computer to do it on. So, rather than fail all classes, drop out early enough to get your refund back, fix the laptop problem, and try again next semester.

    The story doesn't seem like Microsoft propoganda in the least. It seems very much like a true story to me. But, she may have been looking for a scapegoat out of college, and found it. Her true intentions are known only to her. All we can do is judge the facts, and it seems very clear to me that it was a win for her, and we backlashed anyway.

  18. pdusen | January 17, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    1. That wasn't what he was saying. He was saying that while they are available, you have to HUNT THEM DOWN. The only place to find them is in a tiny little "Open Source PCs" link in the bottom-left corner of the product page. How the hell do you accidentally do this?

    2. A plausible theory, except it doesn't explain #1.

    3. Irresponsible behavior at best-- it should have been obvious that she was incapable of getting Ubuntu to work the way she wanted without help.

    4. Five months later? How long ago were you in college? That's about the length of your average semester-- certainly past the drop deadline. If she did keep it for that period of time before dropping out, she didn't get any refund.

    I'm loathe to admit that raging fanboys are right about anything, but how can people seriously not laugh at this story? It doesn't make even the slightest bit of sense.

  19. derrek cooper | January 17, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    he said, she said.. im a big fan of ubuntu and would love it to become more mainstream.

    fact is the community needs to listen and learn. its all about user experience. no software is bullet proof, but we should strive for improving the basics.

    big steps have been made, long way to go/

  20. keri | January 17, 2009 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    i totally agree with you. we should all be kinder to each other, for most of us are fighting a hard battle. (those words were posted on my grandmas fridge- but don't they totally apply?) you are an amazing addition to the linux community. way to go!

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