Wisconsin Ubuntu fall-out

10:03 am community, freesoftware, gnome, marketing


That’s what I am. Bamboozled.

For those who haven’t heard this story over the last week, a young woman in Wisconsin accidentally ordered an Ubuntu laptop from Dell and dropped some college classes because she couldn’t make her internet connection work, because when she put in the CD it didn’t launch, and she didn’t have Microsoft Office, which was a requirement for her online classes.

The story, for me, is the total ignorance that both the university and the ISP have of other operating systems. Instruction manuals have information for Windows, maybe Mac, and outside of that, you’re on your own. A newcomer to Linux can’t get by on their own.

Course requirements list specific commercial programs you need to have. And we have a long hard battle to fight for minds & hearts of the universities, hardware manufacturers, ISPs and everyone else who gives software to users, or who exchange files.

The news station story had a happy ending:

However, we think we’ve helped her get back to school.

Verizon says it will dispatch a technician to try to assist her accessing the internet without using the Windows-only installation disk. Verizon says its high-speed internet does indeed support Ubuntu, but some advanced features and installation disks clearly don’t work with Linux.

MATC also says it promises to accept any of Schubert’s papers or class documents using whatever software she has installed.

Schubert’s computer came with Open Office, a word processing software package that is compatible with Microsoft Word. She says she wasn’t aware it was compatible. MATC promised to show her how to save documents in compatible formats so she could enroll in online courses again.

So – happy ending, right? We’re helping win the hearts and minds, we’ve solved a new user’s problems, and we’ve got some nice press showing how Linux users are neglected by the industry.

Ummm… no. That’s what has me bamboozled.

The story quickly got spun as “news channel said Ubuntu sucks” on tech blogs looking for a big headline. And from there, all of a sudden, the reaction of “Ubuntu fans” becomes the story. The young woman in question got some abuse for not figuring out how to solve her problems – she was “lazy”, “a dumb girl”. The news channel gets lambasted for “unscrupulous reporting”.

We all get lumped in the same bucket. When I go to free software conferences and say I work with GNOME, I hear stories about rude behaviour of others in the GNOME community. Outside the free software world, people don’t make a distinction between the lunatic fringe and people like Mark Shuttleworth or anyone in between.

One of these days that’s going to change. The loony fringe will become the loony fringe, and the mainstream will go mainstream. It’s happened with every “movement” to come from off the radar, and it will happen to us. In the meantime we need to start controlling the story – reminding people what’s important, and generally drowning out the fringe.

10 Responses

  1. Karl Lattimer Says:

    This is sad for two reasons;

    1, The Dell laptop in question obviously didn’t have any kind of introductory guide. You get these with windows licenses, a thin booklet giving you a kickstart. If Dell are serious about selling Linux/Ubuntu machines then realistically they should invest in producing material distributed with a new computer that;
    a) Reduces the number of “Out of the box support calls”.
    b) Clarifies points like, open office and internet connectivity, and more of the basics
    c) Inspires a little excitement about using linux for the first time.

    2, The arrogance of linux users shines through, while they appear to want people to use linux those same people are insulting and arrogant at every opportunity. How the hell do these people expect adoption to occur with behaviour like that. Or is it simply that they wish to remain part of the “linux elite”…

    Maybe our communities need to grow up a little.

    Maybe some kind of public statement from Mark Shuttleworth about how disappointed he is with Ubuntu users would help.

  2. Ann Says:

    Well said. I also think the arrogance is worse as time goes on. Those rude and dismissive of beginners in 1996 were a minority, and if they had not been, maybe I wouldn’t be doing what I do now.

  3. Stu Says:

    The rudeness/leetness is really stupid and needs to be called wherever it occurs.

  4. Dave Neary Says:

    Ann: Funny enough, I have plenty of memories of people on IRC talking way over my head when I was a newbie in 1996 – they were telling me how to fix problems, and I was asking them what every second word meant, and I was getting literal RTFMs back. I think part of what’s changed is that we’ve democratised now. You can feel superior now with much less knowledge than in 1996, where to feel superior you really had to know something, because even the newbies were editing XF86Config to get windows working, and to be on the internet in the first place you needed to know whether you had a fixed IP or DHCP, what your netmask and gateway were, and what the IP of the domain name server was. There was no other way.

    These days anyone who has installed Ubuntu and reads Slashdot can feel superior.

  5. Sean Says:

    I don’t expect either ISPs or universities to support Linux. how can they when the popular distros make new releases every 6 months, and each of those releases makes _massive_ changes all over the place.

    Menu layouts change with almost every GNOME release it seems, whole new (over-engineered and bloated) technologies keep popping in and replacing the previous two-year-old technology, and that’s all on top of needinig to support a half dozen popular distributions with three popular desktop environments each.

    Linux on the desktop is not consumer, and never will be until it actually becomes possible to write a single manual or introductory guide (that isn’t 1,000+ pages) that can stay relevant and useful for all distributions for at least 3 years.

    Most Windows die-hards I know hate Vista for no reason other than that stuff moved around. I’ve seen people throw fits over the fact that Add/Remove Applications moved from the Control Panel to My Computer. People do not want to have to relearn how half their desktop works every six months.

  6. Craig Says:

    This reminds me of when I was young and was invited to play “dungeons and dragons”. I like to try new things so I said sure… and then they proceeded to kill me off at the first opportunity with their high levels of skill, stamina, magic or whatever it is you build up in the game. It seems that wherever you go, people of weak character are trying to prop up their ego’s by squashing interested participants… even when they could really user more people.

    The sad thing is that I experience this with Ubuntu, and I’m a technical user. I’m not sure if it’s the minority – but they have enough of a presence that “the community” for the “distribution for everyone” feels taken over by the anti-microsoft anti-apple anti-user anti-anyone-but-themselves elitists.

    So here I am stuck between deciding between the monopolistic practices of Microsoft (Windows 7 is sounding offly nice) and the unpleasant / embarrassing association with a bunch of unfriendly elistists (who would rather burn than evolve their platform)

  7. Craig Says:

    (BTW – I’m not trying to label everyone in the community… it’s just the bad apples tend to float to the top and ruin the experience.

    Considering that some of the shining examples of open source are found on multiple platforms… what will keep people here)

  8. Jerome Haltom Says:

    Read about the Monkey Sphere.

  9. foo Says:

    Shuttleworth is the lunatic fringe.

  10. jinzo Says:

    I think, that it’s not that bad if Linux community stays the same. I would never learn as much as I did when I was asking people in IRC, and I got back “RTFM”s w/ links that contained concrete paragraphs of info. And why would we want closed-minded people in GNU/Linux sphere ? If she found a way to tell her story to the press, she would found a way to a nice, step by step instructions on everything she needs. And she could do it with the same amount of trouble as in windows – but she would need to be open-minded first.