I had decided a few months earlier to install Linux because it was cool (I maintain to this day, that this is the only
valid reason for a desktop user to install Linux). I was all set up, I had my beautiful beloved Vaio laptop, all I needed was a Linux. I decided to go for the "Mandrake Linux" distribution, because a) one of my email buddies had told me it was the easiest to install, and b) they were giving it away free on the cover of a computer magazine that week, and I was fucked if I was going to pay for "free software". Yes, yes, I've read "The Cathedral and the Bazaar", but let me point out to you that if you've been boasting to your honey for three weeks about how cool you are for installing "free software" and the first thing you do is come home with a box you paid $99.99 for, then she's going to laugh pretty hard. And the laughter of a beautiful woman can feel surprisingly emasculating, particularly when you're feeling a little dumb yourself, and a hundred bucks out of pocket. So Mandrake it was.
Here is my first comment of substance on the subject of Linux, which is certainly applicable to the so-called "newbie distro" produced by Mandrake, but which, I think, has more general application.
They broke my fucking computer.
Perhaps it is because they are French, and perhaps the words have a different connotation in that magical language, but I venture to say that when Mandrake use the word "resize", as in
"Would you like to resize your Windows partition?
(best said with a subtly sardonic Parisian accent)
... they do not perhaps realise that most people are going to assume that they mean "resize" in the sense of "make bigger or smaller by stretching or squashing, perhaps affecting the internal bits somewhat in the process, but basically retaining the structural integrity of the thing". When you use the word "resize" to a normal English speaker, he does not assume that the word means "delete a chunk of, irrevocably, without first checking whether something vital is on it, then render yourself unable to find that deleted block ever again".
This is the basic problem with the much-vaunted "newbie-friendly" Mandrake Installer; five times out of the six I tried it, its two main functions appeared to be to
- Seek out and render inoperable any copies of Windows hanging around and
- Itself fail to install properly.
When operating systems are something about which you have never had cause to think in your pre-Linux career, and when you find yourself staring at a blank screen where a desktop should be, reading in an old school font the words "Missing Operating System", and when you do not know what the hell those words mean, then I must tell you that you tend to go pretty sour, pretty quickly, on the people who put you up to installing the fucking thing in the first place. So it was with me and Linux. If you knew me during the Linux period, and if you gave me some advice on how to deal with my computer then know this; the only reason I didn't threaten to sue you, call you a useless shit-heel and send you the very nastiest virus I could find, is that with my computer completely fer-zucked by Linux, I was unable to get in touch with you to do so. I don't know anybody who knows a fucking thing about computers (the reason for this is that I am not working class). I am not prepared to shell out money for someone to mend my fucking computer; that's what warranties are for. I chucked away the warranty card for my computer the moment I opened the box. Cut off the web connection of my one and only computer, and I am truly and utterly on my own. So that's when I started buying books.
Books are one thing I will buy, because I am a bit of an old sap for the feel of the pages between my fingers and the wonderfully brainy weight of a briefcase full of paperbacks on esoteric subjects. On the other hand, I must confess to having developed a burgeoning resentment of the false advertising of "Free Software" and a growing sympathy for the transparently propagandistic Microsoft concept of "Total Concept of Ownership" when faced with the following calculation:
- Microsoft Windows:
• Cost of operating system: $0 (came with the computer)
• Cost of applications: $299 (proper copy of Office, couple of games)
• Money spent on books relating to Microsoft Windows: $0 (the very idea of buying one would have seemed weird to me)
• Time spent reading books: 2hrs/year (occasionally looking up how to write macros in the manual)
• Cost of operating system: $3.95 (the magazine was fucking useless except for the CD)
• Cost of applications: $0
• Money spent on books: $200 (vast numbers of them seemed to need to be bought to understand what the hell was going on and no one book explained anything properly)
•Cost of sitting around drinking nasty coffee in dingy internet cafes trying to work out how the fuck I was going to get my modem to work again: $40
• Cost of entire new fucking computer after I found out that I wasn't going to be able to, because fucking Linux doesn't support it: $500
• Time spent reading books: all my free time for a fucking week.
You see how the cost mounts up. And that was just to get my computer fucking working again. Christ knows how much time and expense I'm going to be put through if I ever decide to do anything with it.
In any case, I find it necessary to mention at this point the people who helped me get my computer back into action. These are a group of people to whom I feel a degree of gratitude, because they helped to rescue me from the peculiar hell which is the Mandrake installer with handy tips like "yes, the default size of partition is 2Mb for root and 0.5Mb for /usr, no, nobody knows why". But only a degree, because they refrained from giving me the best piece of advice possible, which would have been "don't fucking bother". This merry bunch of pranksters go by the name in the online community of "Linux advocates". The word "advocate" comes from the Scottish term for a lawyer charged with the hopeless task of defending an obviously guilty suspect, and is common parlance among computer types (see the Jargon File) for a mindless zealot who has mistaken the market share of his preferred computer operating system for the girth of his penis, and who believes it to be vitally important that "his" (no, never her) operating system is marketed as efficiently as possible by word of mouth to ludicrously inappropriate consumers.
However, in the case of Linux, it is inappropriate to call the zealots "OS advocates", as the vast majority of their time is not spent on comparing the features of Linux with those of other operating systems, but rather on making up excuses for the shortcomings of Linux on the desktop, and boasting about the stability and speed of Linux installations (usually webservers) utterly incomparable from the one they are recommending you install. You may think I am making this up; I wish I were. I have lost count of the number of times a Linux zealot has seen fit to bring up the subject of the hosting of Slashdot ("and numerous big companies like IBM!") in the context of a conversation about why I can't read my fucking documents any more. It is for this reason that I have coined the following truism:
Windows and MacOS have "advocates"; Linux has "apologists".
Conversations with Linux apologists tend to have three distinct phases:
- Very erudite-sounding discussion of your problem in terms of software projects which are either pre-alpha vaporware or, more likely, entirely theoretical ideas once floated on Slashdot. ("Yes, what would solve your problem would be the integration of Samba into the kernel with the correct RFS extensions. I think that this is a problem that Alan Cox is working on in the unstable release of Debian 4.9.01a")
- Grudging acceptance that there is no very good or workable solution to your problem under Linux, coupled with castigation of the iniquities of the software industry. ("Well, of course the real trouble is that HP won't open the driver source specifications so the project has to be carried out on the island of Nauru. Damn that DMCA! I heard Bruce Perens talking about a secret data repository under the sea like in this Neal Stephenson novel ...."
- Banging on for hours and hours about how fucking wonderful Apache is, if you let them. ("... and even Microsoft runs it for 83% of their intranet servers according to recent Gartner surveys and it really shows that Free Software works in the business environment and it was just put together by this bunch of guys and it just goes to prove ...."
The important concept to bear in mind when discussing software issues with Linux apologists is the "Linux Fault Threshold". Clever use of this concept helps you to avoid losing your temper with someone who might actually be able to render practical help, while ensuring that you give the correct dose of venom (60cc of scorpion juice, administered per anem
with a rusty syringe) to the vast crowd of mindless apologists who just want you to use their pet operating system because it makes them feel good and gives them something to boast about on Slashdot. I provide this as a service to all the blind, alcoholic, incontinent grandmothers out there who appear to be installing Linux without any trouble if the Slashdot comments on any article remotely related to user interface design are to be believed.
The Linux Fault Threshold is the point in any conversation about Linux at which your interlocutor stops talking about how your problem might be solved under Linux and starts talking about how it isn't Linux's fault that your problem cannot be solved under Linux. Half the time, the LFT is reached because there is genuinely no solution (or no solution has been developed yet), while half the time, the LFT is reached because your apologist has floundered way out of his depth in offering to help you and is bullshitting far beyond his actual knowledge base. In either case, a conversation which has reached the LFT has precisely zero chance of ever generating useful advice for you; it is safe at this point to start calling the person offering the advice a fucking moron, and basically take it from there. Here's an example taken from IRC logs to help you understand the concept.
<jsm> Why won't my fucking Linux computer print?
<linuxbabe> what printer r u using?
<jsm> I don't know. It's a Hewlett Packard desktop inkjet number
<linuxbabe> hewlett r lamers. they dont open source drivers <------LFT closely approached!
<linuxbabe> but we reverse engineered them lol. check the web. or ask hewlett for linux suuport??<------ but avoided, he's still talking about the problem
<jsm> Thanks. I already did that. But I can't install the drivers on my fucking computer. I've got a floppy disk from HP, but my floppy drive is a USB drive and Linux doesn't have fucking USB support.
<linuxbabe> linux DOES have USB support!!!!!!
<jsm> yeh for fucking infrared mice, and for about a thousand makes of webcam it does. Get real here. For my fucking floppy disk drive, I am telling you through bitter experience it does not. Even if someone has written the drivers in the last week
<jsm> which I sincerely doubt, how the hell am I going to install them given that my floppy drive doesnt work?????
<jsm> this ought to be in the kernel. what good is a fucking operating system that doesnt operate?
<linuxbabe> Imacs dont have floppy drives at all <----- useless point, but not LFT. All apologists make pointless jabs at other OSs
<linuxbabe> so you ought to be greateful that Linux does. drivers like that shouldn't be bundled in the kernel
<linuxbabe> makes it into fucking M$ bloatware. bleh
<linuxbabe> download drivers from the web!!!! apt-get is your friend
<jsm> So everyone keeps telling me. Unfortunately the fucking modem doesn't work under Linux either, and since the Linux installation destroyed Windows, that leaves me kind of fucked.
<linuxbabe> Linux doesnt destroy windows
<jsm>mandrake installer does. It "resized" my Windows partition and now the fucker won't work
<linuxbabe> you shuold have defragmented. windows scatters data all over your hard drive so the installer cant just find a clean chunk to install into. it isn't linux fault <---- distinct signs of LFT being approached
<linuxbabe> that windoze disk management blows
<jsm> so why doesn't my fucking modem work?
<linuxbabe> what computer hav u got
<jsm> A Sony Vaio PCG
<linuxbabe> that doesn't have a modem
<jsm> I assure you it fucking does. I used to use it to check my email back in the days when Windows worked.
<linuxbabe> its got a winmodem. thats not a modem <----- nitpicking over technical terms is a sign of impending LFT
<jsm> what do you mean?
<linuxbabe> a winmodem isnt a proper modem. it just uses proprietary windoze apis. doesnt do the work of a modem at all.
<jsm> Very interesting. Now how do I get the fucker to work with Linux?
<linuxbabe> well the trouble is that micro$oft won't open up the drivers they just keep it proprietary and becos theyr a monopoly all the lameass manufacturers fall into line
LFT REACHED !!!!!
<jsm> So in other words, my fucking modem is never going to work with Linux at all?
<linuxbabe> no no no. in the first place you never had a modem you had a winmodem. in the second place its M$ fault that the drivers are closed and you can go to jail for trying to reverse engineer them like this guy dimitri skylab and the DMCA. its nothing to do with linux that M$ fills the world with its proprietary crap
<jsm> But in terms of actually getting my computer to work with Linux, I get the impression that it won't?
<linuxbabe> M$ should have to open up the drivers have you read CatB? and vaio sucks because they won't open up their standards either.
<jsm> Congratulations on wasting half an hour of my life, you fucking loser. And stop pretending to be a fucking woman. Your advice is useless. You, and the other hundred members of the so called fucking Linux community for which you stand, have broken my computer, wasted my time, patronised me senseless, revealed your lack of real knowledge, patronised me again and you *still* can't get something as simple as a fucking laptop computer to fucking work. Your so called free fucking software, like your
so called fucking free advice, is still too fucking expensive. I cannot believe that you have so little fucking self-respect that in order to find the attention you clearly crave, you have to spend your life lying about the usability of a fucking computer operating system, purely for the joy of creating problems which you can then pretend to solve. You are worse than a fucking fireman who sets buildings on fire. I have had enough of your fucking Munchausen-by-proxy version of tech support. Now get off
<jsm> this fucking channel, hunt down someone who knows what they're fucking doing and bring them here or I will never, repeat never, use your fucking system ag ....
That's basically what it's like. Don't ever, ever believe anyone who tells you that you can get technical support from "the community". Because "the community" with whom a computer journalist, website operator or Open Source loudmouth interacts, is not the same community that is open to you.
Next episode: Linux the hard way -- I discard all Microsoft products and head for StarOffice