Why forums are a bad way to help the community

Many people point to places like Ubuntu forums or Fedora forums or insert-your-distro-here resources as an example of how great Linux support is. It goes like this: if you have a problem just go and ask other people, wait for their replies and assemble the arcane scripting languages to publish a definitive HOWTO. This way if something doesn’t work you have a high chance of finding a thread or two with all the necessary scripts and workarounds. Great, huh? That’s where people fail.

Having a usable desktop system is all about having stuff working out of the box, not about being able to find a good enough workarounds. The latter often add to the confusion and FUD by offering the right console incantation backed up by technical descriptions that are utterly wrong. If you have a problem, file a bug. If something does not work, file a bug. If you see a ghost, call Ghost Busters. Filing bugs means fixing stuff at the proper place and by people with the right knowledge.

If you are afraid to file bugs upstream (where the software authors live), file them in your distro’s bug tracker. Nice developers should be able to forward it to the right place (and Launchpad makes it so much easier by allowing one to track upstream bugs). Just file it. Sure, do check if the exact same bug was reported earlier, do check if you have the latest packages available. But when everything else fails, file a bug. The worst it can get is that some developer will close it as already fixed or ask you for further details.

There’s no other way the developers know about your problems. It’s not like they spend 12 hours a day reading various forums and looking for problems to solve. In other words: if you don’t file a bug you have absolutely no right to complain about how your issue was not solved in the latest release. Be it Linux, GNOME or Windows, we can’t fix stuff unless someone tells us it’s broken.

PS: blog posts are no better than forums.

Edit: I certainly didn’t mean to ditch GIMP HOWTOs and other resources showing you how to use the tools effectively. The point is HOWTOs are not the proper way to get the stuff working as intended.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Poland
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Poland.