Monday, April 21, 2008

Open Source: The Dangers of Elitism

This post is about Linux, and specifically failures associated with assumed knowledge and duplication of effort in Ubuntu. The so called, “Linux for people”, distro that has gotten so popular recently. And to a lesser extent the draconian methods employed by the rulers of the Ubuntu community.

I will be doing the majority of my future standalone posts in this manner to increase exposure. Humans are audio visual creatures.

This post was instigated by a fresh bit of hate mail I received on my blog, in response to a comment I made on a completely different page several months prior. At first I was merely going to delete the comment and play some titan quest, considering that it was a Ubuntu comment made on a page related to sociological issues, but I realized that this was a first. Never had anyone gone to such lengths to send me hate mail. After all, people are generally far more lazy than they are mean. The practical upshot of this is that I obviously struck a nerve. So in an effort to start a debate which may end up helping computer users and the open source community in general, I've made this video.

I gave Ubuntu a serious effort, and it was a dreadful mistake. It has mountains of potential but it is not ready for public consumption by any stretch of the imagination. I'm now going to quote a piece of a post I made which perfectly expresses my feelings on the issue at hand. Tutorials, assumed knowledge, elitism, and the distance between ignorance and stupidity.

What I said was this...

“I'd like the community to quit linking to other people's work when that work is not useful, if you guys can write a tutorial, then write an app, if its so easy and straight forward. If the tutorials are so good, then why cant they be batch files? Ignorance is not stupidity, and I'm tired of seeing people talked down to like not being born with Linux in the cradle is somehow a personal flaw. I have a decade of professional computer and tech support experience, I am not the problem here, and nor are most users.

This demand for continuous duplication of effort is unrealistic and elitist. Just because you had to walk to school and use a slide rule does not mean the rest of us should have to. Prior art is the foundation upon which all technology is built and this applies to Ubuntu. A Tutorial is not a solution, its a stop gap until a real solution is found. The community needs to acknowledge this. The standard defenses/apologies for why Linux is an unusable, impractical, specialist, piece of crap, do not apply here, as this is intended for normal users... "Linux for people." Remember? So don't tell us we should prefer CLI, don't tell us we should be comfortable with compiling our own ware. These are OPTIONS not requirements. “

For the complete post, see the links section in the description of this video.

My opinion on this subject got me banned from the Ubuntu forum for all time, no discussion. Although I'm sure they'd tell you I've broken some vague and subjective rule regarding what boils down to manners.

Despite my problems with the community, I still had faith in the operating system and was looking for more diverse ways of field testing it. I thought the best solution would be a live boot version that would run off of a USB flash drive. A quick Google confirmed that this was possible, but oddly enough at the time of the search, again several months ago, there were no downloads of a USB installer, or an image to be copied to a USB, or a zip file package, or any other automated and user friendly solution. There were however a wide variety of forums posts, numbering in the thousands, and tutorials that told me in exhaustive detail how I might build such a portable install myself.

This I feel is unacceptable for a variety of reasons. I chose to voice this opinion on another forum in response to one of these tutorials. My response entitled, “Why bother?” made in October of 2007 is as follows.

“I swear the more I see these "tutorials" the more I feel like they are written by newbs to impress newbs.

I'm thinking that if a person really knew what they were doing, which is implied via the creation of a tutorial, and really wanted to make it easy for others, which is also implied, and really didn't care about looking smart over being smart, again implied they'd write a simple app batch script installer or whatever.

In fact it's silly that canonical doesn't offer a usb reinstalled image or installer for usb. Some machines don't even have cdromss you know.

Ubuntu: Linux for People ...who are assumed to already know Linux.”

Part of one negative response was not surprisingly also draconian in nature...

"Your criticism of the author for not providing a(n) image is particularly out of line."

This theme is all too common among supporters of the open source operating systems generally, and if an alternative to this attitude is not accepted, I fear that closed source will dominate the operating system market right up until home AI becomes smart enough to translate human speech into machine code, and obviates software as we now know it generally.

I feel that I generally have the right to criticize whom ever I like for whatever I like and that my attack on software development priority and forum policy is hardly important enough to warrant limitation of on the freeness of my speech.

The only thing out of line about this entire exchange is the fact that many seem to feel their right to speech supersedes others.

My criticism is on topic, and I am far from alone in my opinion.

The others simply don't have the patience to speak up. They're busy using operating systems that work out of the box. And don't wish to go through the increasingly complex processes of forum registration.

For most, time spent equates to money lost. The whole open source operating system community with its fetish for guides, tutorials, and showing off, has resulted in a computer experience so time consuming, and annoying, that most would prefer to pay to avoid it. I have only to point to Microsoft and Macintosh to demonstrate the validity of this point.

Further, the community seems to forget, that a tutorial, as I said before, is not a solution in and of itself. It is a stopgap. In my opinion the whole community considers a tutorial a solution because the authors of tutorials, who often tend to be moderators of forums, like the one that banned me, like it that way, because they get attention and praise so long as their tutorial remains the only solution. To any given problem.

This is only natural from a human behavioral standpoint, but it must be addressed seriously and soon if open source, and perhaps more importantly the ethic it spreads, is to prevail.


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I'm a politically and culturally subversive author with obsessive tendencies and a lot of free time. I feel a sense of personal responsibility for the fate of my species. My writing is the result.

My primary blog is at but this G+ profile is a far more active representation of my viewpoint.

Generally I feel the answer to society's ills are technological in nature not political or cultural.

Having said that, I do have political positions of course and I strongly feel that we need to embrace nuclear power and deploy a universal basic income.