I feel the need to comment about this (and, subsequently, this and this).
First, a summary, for those who get a case of the tl;dr’s. A woman bought a laptop to use for her coursework at a local college. She accidentally bought a Dell laptop with Ubuntu on it. When she realized her ISP’s setup disk wouldn’t work, she tried to get Dell to swap the laptop for one with Windows. The Dell representative apparently convinced her to keep the one she had.
She claims that this problem, combined with a lack of Microsoft Office, forced her to withdraw from classes. The local news ran the linked article; it is worth noting that the bottom portion (the part where the news agency contacted the college and Verizon, and everything got cleaned up) did not appear in the initial article.
Needless to say, the Linux community (and the Ubuntu community in particular) exploded. The article hit digg, slashdot, and reddit. The angry letters and phone calls started pouring in to the news station (though they got tons of traffic, naturally). More significantly, the woman in question was harassed on facebook.
This story shows mistakes from every party involved. The Dell representative should have helped her switch to a machine she was more comfortable with. The woman herself should have taken initiative, called Verizon and asked what she could do to get her connection working. Alternately, what’s wrong with using another computer (say, at a local library) until you can get the laptop issue sorted out? Dropping all your classes for the semester is overly drastic and melodramatic.
The worst perpetrators of stupidity here, though, are the Linux community members who not only lambasted and ridiculed this woman publicly on forums and blogs, but also attacked her personally on her Facebook account. This is childish, pointless, and it paints the entire Linux community as anti-social assholes.
Unlike most groups, the Linux community IS Linux. If a Star Wars fan blogs about how everyone who doesn’t know the difference between a Sith and a Dark Jedi is an idiot, the Star Wars franchise is not going to be damaged; there is a clear disparity between the creators (Lucasfilm et al) and the consumers (fans). On the other hand, if a Linux fanboy blogs that everyone should know the intricacies of iptables configuration before being allowed on the Internet, this will color peoples’ perception of Linux.
Why does this happen? Because Linux is Free, open to the world. Anyone can add to it. The community and the product are intricately intertwined.
This is a false perception, though; in reality, the rabid fanboys who would harass a woman on Facebook are a completely different set of people than the assholes that argue fine technical points on LKML. (I’m using asshole here in its rare application as a compliment) However, the impression that an outsider has looking in is that Linux is some wild, anarchistic (or maybe communist) creation. This stems from the growing cultural knowledge that Linux was created by and for the people that use it. This is not quite true. Linux was created by and for developers and technology enthusiasts, true. However, not every vocal member of the community actually contributes to Linux itself; only a fairly small subset of users are actively involved in improving the software.
I don’t mean to devalue the role of the community in development. Community contributors are important, welcome, and numerous. Bug submitters and other “active users” are vital to the strength of the open development model. However, the active users aren’t even the people that we see evident in this article. What we see here are fanboys:
fanboy (n): Someone who is so obsessed with some subject or thing that they are blind to its faults and harass and deride anyone whose opinion differs.
These are precisely the people that Linux does not need. The community would be doing itself a favor by creating public distance from this subset of itself. We need more rational, clear-headed people speaking out about the benefits of Linux. Fanboys ranting and harassing people will get us nowhere.