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Anatomy of a well-intentioned Linux Troll (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the penguin)
A troll will always be successful on a Linux forum, and I'm about to explain why. Despite numerous protests of "Don't feed the trolls" and "The best thing to do is ignore posts like these," people will continue to respond to trolls because trolls (like Linux distros) come in different flavors and varieties. One troll in particular seems particularly impassioned and genuine and so always gets responses:
The "If I can't use it, nobody can" troll
I actually believe this kind of troll is well-intentioned, and that's why people respond. This isn't someone who's trying to just stir up emotions or just laugh at how people respond negatively to her post. This person has genuine concerns, so people try to genuinely address those concerns.
Here's what happens:
Someone with a lot of Windows experience--an insane amount of Windows experience--who knows a lot about programming, web developing, administering servers, DOS commands, etc. hears about Linux from some friends at work. She figures, "Hey, I'll give this a shot. People keep talking about how great it is, and I think I even read an article in 2001 about how it's almost ready for the desktop market. Let's see if it is."
She takes what's touted as a "user-friendly" distro--say, Ubuntu. Ubuntu doesn't recognize her screen resolution. She's used to being able to download a driver to fix that. She can't find the driver. She wants to install some software. So, she does what she usually does in Windows--finds a program on the web, downloads it, and tries to install it. Instead of a wizard, she gets a README file that tells her to type ./configure, make, and make install. Just about everything she tries to do she can't do because she tries to do it the Windows way. She also notes a lack of GUI for several things she's used to having (but that most regular users never need--say, finding the IP address of the computer). After a while, she throws up her hands in frustration. "I'm a programmer, for God's sakes. If I can't figure out Linux, how's an ordinary user ["Joe Sixpack," Grandma, etc.] supposed to figure this out? I'd better tell all these Linux people to stop telling people it's ready for the desktop."
So she signs up for a forum and does just that, not realizing this has been done many, many times before. She's well-intentioned. She wants to help people. What happens? Instead of "Wow! You're the first person to tell us that. We couldn't imagine a long-time Windows user having difficulty with Linux. Well, surely we must go into hiding and develop some more before we can release any Linux distribution to the general public," Linux users rightly get upset. "You're doing it the Windows way." This troll doesn't understand what Linux users are talking about. "The Windows way? The Windows way is the easy way. After all, I haven't had any trouble with it." What she doesn't realize is how long it's taken her to learn the Windows way and that now, like a second language, Linux seems hard not because it is hard but because it's different.
Her assumptions are also flawed. Her logic runs like this
IF var=computing experience, THEN I > the masses
IF var=Linux, THEN I have trouble
THUS, IF var=Linux, the masses have even more trouble
Using a new operating system, however, is a lot like learning a new language--the syntax is different, the vocabulary is different, even the culture is different. But a linguistic expert in English may have more trouble learning Chinese than the expert's four-year-old daughter (who clearly knows less about language than her mother does). Just ask children of immigrants how often they have to translate for their parents. Likewise, someone who is so ingrained with the Windows ways of doing things will have trouble with Linux. Most regular users (not programmers) won't have to ./configure, make, make install and find dependencies. They'll click a few things in Synaptic Package Manager, and all their programs will download and install along with their dependencies. "Regular" users, who know very little about computers, have less to unlearn. They may be accustomed to certain Windows ways of doing things, but ultimately, they're used to just seeing an icon and clicking on it.
Well-intentioned trolls also operate under the assumption that Linux is supposed to work for everyone. It's not. Nor is Windows. Nor is OS X. Contrary to what some companies would have you believe, no OS is for everyone. Now, for some Linux purists, that means not for the weak-hearted. These are the Read the F'in Manual people. They've been with Linux a long time and don't believe that Linux should cater to new users. If new users like Linux, fine. If they don't, they should bugger off. Others, like me, believe that at least some distros should cater to new users (and many do, actually), but that doesn't mean Linux is for everyone. It's for those with an open mind and certain computing habits. For example, if you use Windows-only software, are a big fan of every commercial computer game that comes out, and have a winmodem, Linux isn't for you. If, however, like the majority of computer users, you do what I call the "basic six," you'll be happy with Linux:
1. Check email/instant message
2. Surf the internet
3. Organize pictures
4. Listen to music
5. Word process
6. Play silly games (Solitaire, Tetris)
The last bad assumption these trolls have is that Linux distros are Linux. They try one distro and assume that all distros must be like that. Then, they start making "suggestions" for how Linux "must" improve in order to woo Windows users, not knowing that many of those "problems" have already been fixed. I've seen these trolls complain that there are too many programs installed for any given task (solution: Ubuntu--one program for each task) or that the boot-up is verbose instead of silent (solution: Mepis, Mandriva, just about any user-friendly distro) or that themes are difficult to install (solution: Gnome) or that there needs to be a Windows clone distro (solution: Linspire). The amazing thing about Linux is how much variety there is. You can choose a lightweight distro or heavyweight one. You can choose a do-it-yourself or an automatic. You can choose KDE, Gnome, Fluxbox, IceWM, XFCE. You can't make judgments about "Linux needs to do this or Linux needs to do that" until you've tried several major distros. And by "try," I don't mean pop the CD in, tinker for a few minutes, and give up.
And we're tired of all the "it should be easy to install like Windows is" arguments. Windows isn't easy to install. And most users don't ever install Windows. Period. It doesn't matter how easy Linux gets to install and configure--people aren't going to adopt it en masse until companies start buying more Linux computers for their employees to use, schools start getting more Linux computers for their students, and companies like Dell start preloading computers with Linux.
Many regard Mac OS X as the most user-friendly operating system around. Well, for a long-time Windows user (me), it was quite difficult to use OS X at first. I had to get used to a whole new set of keyboard shortcuts (Cmd-tab instead of control-tab, Cmd-comma for preferences, etc.). I didn't know how to install software by dragging things from some white disk-looking thing to the Applications folder. I was used to wizards. I didn't know I needed third-party software to turn off the bootup noise. I didn't understand why clicking the + sign on a window didn't maximize it. I didn't understand why minimized Windows wouldn't maximize when I Cmd-tabbed to them. The list goes on and on. I was a frustrated user. I sucked it up, though, and now both my wife and I are proficient in daily Mac OS X tasks. Same for Linux. I sucked it up. Now, I've embraced Synaptic Package Manager, and I can't stand wizards any more. That's twenty years of Microsoft and four months of Linux talking.
By the way, I am not a programmer. I'm not a sys admin, a web admin. I'm not a graphic designer, a game designer, or any kind of engineer. I'm just an ex-English teacher who gave Linux an honest-to-goodness shot, and I'm a total convert now. I'm not anti-Microsoft. I'm not anti-Apple. I'm just pro-Linux and tired of hearing all the same "suggestions" over and over again.
The well-intentioned trolls should save themselves some typing. It's all been done before. And I hope the next time we get one of those trolls, that you just link them to this post. I know I will. I'm tired of typing these rebuttals over and over again.
If you really want to do some good, instead of whining on some Linux forums, do one of the following:
1. Put some of those programming skills to good use and help develop Linux
2. File a bug report at the appropriate distro/software website
3. Donate some money to help Linux developers
Other than that, no one's resting on her laurels. Linux distros are constantly being updated and improved, and new Linux users are popping up every day. Linux isn't for everybody's desktop, but it's ready for many people's desktops (read my sig for more info).
P.S. Here are some links, just to make this post as comprehensive as possible:
Wow, I must say that that was a VERY well thought out and well written article. You hit the nail right on the head.
I, too, am so tired of all the (mostly well-meaning) troll static that's seemed to invade not only these forums, but the Free Software community in general as of late. I understand to an extent the reasoning behind so many of the misguided views on Linux and Free Software, but I for the life of me cannot figure out why seemingly every single individual who has such an epiphany believes himself or herself to be the first person in all of history to have such a revelation. It's almost as though there were this mentality that trying out a Linux distribution (or sometimes just reading or hearing about one) magically transforms a user into an expert software engineer, capable of creating the ultimate operating system with the most advanced bells, whistles, and applications. This, of course, is ludicrous, but people continue to see fit that they inform the Free Software community of its obvious oversights. It's almost disheartening...
Anyway, enough of my little rant. I guess I don't have much of anything to add to your wonderful piece of writing, but I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for taking the time to write it as well as share it with us. I, for one, will be taking your advice and making a deliberate effort to direct future well-intentioned trolls here.
Thanks again for taking the time to write this I sincerely appreciate it!
"Someone with a lot of Windows experience--an insane amount of Windows experience--who knows a lot about programming, web developing, administering servers, DOS commands, etc. hears about Linux from some friends at work. She figures, "Hey, I'll give this a shot. People keep talking about how great it is, and I think I even read an article in 2001 about how it's almost ready for the desktop market. Let's see if it is.""
Actually the trolls are written by people paid by Microsoft to write trolls. It happens to be illegal false advertising, as is this thread.
Nice article. But you forgot to mention that most of these trolls are just attention-seekers and they succeed when they get attention.
Simple as that. It doesn't matter what you type, the moment you type anything at all in response, they win...
Well-intentioned or not, attention is what they seek and when they get it, irrespective of what it is, they win and you've wasted another ten minutes of your life.
My premise is that nobody is so dumb as to think that they are going to get praised or applauded in a Linux community by criticizing Linux. The very subject is controversial as such and even the dumbest troll recognizes that controversy attracts attention.
And of course, I've analysed this phenomenon myself from a slightly different angle in my "Reverse Elitism and the Linux Community" essay which received quite a good feedback.
Last edited by vharishankar; 08-19-2005 at 05:37 AM.
I personally don't think trolls exist. People will always have different opinions. Some of those opinions will contradict someone else's core beliefs. I think "troll" was invented just simply to ignore debate and quickly cast aside new comers who came to vent their frustrations. Instead of calming them down and working the problem, most people just yell troll and move on. Sure some people will post something just to get a response or to make people angry. But I truly believe it is a small number compared to to those labeled as "Trolls". I mean, so you had a tough time with linux, where do you go to vent your frustrations. Well, the common sense place would be somewhere there is people who are using linux. Why? Because people might help. Same goes for windows frustrations.
I believe calling people trolls here only fosters the the belief that linux is "elitist" community.
I believe calling people trolls here only fosters the the belief that linux is "elitist" community.
Err.. no. Trolls exist. You would be surprised, but there are many people in the world who go around just seeking attention. You'd be surprised at their number.
You're right, opinions always exists, but trolls don't come with a genuine intent to argue rationally. Many people love seeing reactions and that's why they post like that.
That's the very definition of a troll.
Tell me how many intelligent people would walk into a Linux forum and scream "LINUX SUCKS!!!!!!!!!" and expect a rational debate on that subject. I guess very few would do it unknowingly.
Most people know what kind of reactions they willl stir up by posting like that on a Linux forum and they still do so deliberately and in the most provocative manner possible.
If they wanted a rational, reasonable debate, they would do their research first and find out all the previous arguments and then go to some neutral ground to carry on a rational debate.
Characteristics of Linux trolls:
1. Calling Linux users elitists.
2. Assuming that something must be wrong with the rest of us for using Linux.
3. Demanding Linux developers to "not rest on their laurels".
4. Beginning by saying, "Microsoft have nothing to fear, folks!"
5. Making the assumption that their experience of Linux is THE universal experience of Linux and that any other people who find Linux easy must be in the minority.
6. Painting the whole community of Linux users into one single faction or group and then using the "us" vs "them" logic.
7. Did I mention "reverse elitism"....??
It doesn't require any Linux knowledge to work that out...
If an isolated perspective of a newbie might be entertained for a moment...
The thread creator's comments were right on for a number of reasons. The intended one, to throw a spotlight on objectionable behavior, has a great deal of validity. The second, and perhaps unintended point, is that Linux is technically complex, and an awfully hard nut to crack. Thirdly, I kinda smiled when the author alluded to a history as an English teacher. The comments were well crafted, obviously by a journeyman of the written word.
Now, to my second point. Linux is incredibly complex, difficult to fathom, etc., etc. I have been a 'toe-tipping' newbie for all of two years [and more], and have only recently gotten to really digging in-with this self-configured perspective. Knowing the provenance of Linux (coming from the minds and imaginations of some of modern computings' founding fathers) I see it as an immense, deep, and reliable tool to wring out a computer--if used in the right context, as a command line tool. With that thought in mind, I've plunged into all the bash tutorials, etc., etc. that I can find in this and other forums. BTW, these places REALLY ARE a repository of some incredible pools of guidance, if one will only plunge in. For that reason [alone] they are well worth the, ahem, money.
But here's the rub...Linux' complexity can be almost inhibitively intimidating. For instance, there is (I think in this forum) a fellow who is trumpeting the glories and elegant simplicity of GRUB. I couldn't follow ten words in a row of what he said, let alone try to emulate it (don't try this at home, folks!) On another forum, one of the (I think) moderators was describing his virtual electronic farm of computers, and how they were tied together with RAID, how this and the set of files had been set so and thus, blah, blah. Would I have even a clue of figuring out how to follow his advice and logic? Don't THINK so!
I'm trying to learn Linux sitting here alone at my computer, with only the depths of my imagination to help me absorb the 'ins' and 'outs'. I would dearly love, for just a little while, to look over someone's shoulder and see how some of it all comes together, what Linux can be made to do, and how to get started on page one with this or that. But, I can't. Don't know anybody. I'm in this alone. All I've got is the forums. It ain't the same thing as someone sitting next to you. Sometimes the frustration can be overwhelming. And I long ago learned that frustration can be the first step to irrational behavior.
Originally posted by Netizen I personally don't think trolls exist. People will always have different opinions.
You must be new here.
Oh wait, this isn't /.
Yes, trolls do exist. On this messageboard they existin the form of "distro X is not Linux" or "Linux is not ready for the desktop" (funny, I've booted Windows a grand total of 9 times this year, including a reinstall after a motherboard upgrade), or "Vista r00l2, Linux is teh 5vxx0r5" - or as subtle as "I've had it with Linux, blah blah blah not plug and play because I have to install a module blah blah blah" -- as if Windows doesn't suffer from those very same problems PLUS more. The Microsoft fanboy troll. They're just here to cause trouble and not to learn nor to help anyone else. Some may even be Microsoft vendors who want to continue spreading anti-Linux FUD.
And then there is the opposite kind of troll: the kind who says that distro X is the solution for everybody, if you can't install Gentoo and compile everything from scratch you should not be running Linux, etc. - that is the elitist troll who thinks that he is better then everyone else.
Lastly, there are those people who are just jerks.
Harishankar and KimVette - you are both right, I think I might have to agree. I mean if your first post to LQ is "Linux sucks" and then you proceed to bash Linux users, ok, yeah they are a troll. No good will come from a post like that. But responding to a post like that with the same attitude towards the poster will only perpetuate the problem.
but that being said, I think some people are labeled trolls too quickly.
Most Linux users will agree (at least I hope) that switching from Windows to Linux is not an easy task when all you know is Windows. And I firmly believe “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime” holds true with learning Linux or anything for that matter. But I think Windows users often walk away believing Linux users are "elitists" because we believe for someone to grasp Linux, they cannot simply be told what Linux is, they have to see what Linux is. They want Linux to be Windows and it is not. Then when they spend a large amount of tying trying to use Linux like Windows and it doesn't work, they get mad. And then they take it out on the Linux community by making angry posts in Linux forums.