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The decline and fall of the Linux forum - Episode IV : Sadly Linux got popular

Posted 01-09-2017 at 08:40 AM by cynwulf
Updated 07-02-2018 at 11:18 AM by cynwulf

The decline and fall of the Linux forum - Episode IV : Sadly Linux got popular...

(...and what you can't do about it)


This may be the final instalment. I wasn't going to write this one at all. In fact after the last one, I left various Linux forums for quite a while and perhaps during that time, things cooled off, or perhaps I did not feel the urge to publish my thoughts on this. But as issues with Linux forum culture and certain types of users, still seems to be a topic, without further ado, allow me to continue.


Since it's inception GNU/Linux was firmly in the realms of the geek/hobbyist user. It was probably never envisaged that Richard Stallman's re-implementation of something "UNIX-like" + a Finnish computer programmer's kernel would become what it has become today. Linux is now an 'open source', but also a commercial OS. The ideology of Stallman and what gets put on the fsf or gnu sites matter to few these days. A lot of people put in a lot of effort to 'make things easier' for a lot of different reasons. Some of this has come from "non interested parties" or individuals and some of it has come via corporate involvement or influence.

$DISTRO is too hard/for geeks/programmers

I recently participated in a thread where a certain user was convinced that a certain Linux distribution was purely the realm of 'programmers'. As with most Linux distributions, this particular one started out as one which required a lot of manual configuration and some hands on knowledge from the end user. As the years have passed, that distro has become much 'friendlier' to the inexperienced. Nowadays that distribution is almost as easy to get installed and use as it's well known derivative. I'm referring to Debian of course.

I have long since gotten past the point where I know that much of my advice, even simple advice, or help will be ignored, because it's "too hard" or too much thinking or effort might be required. I am not an IT professional, yet I have managed to install and use various Linux distributions and most of the *BSDs. For what appears to be many people however, as soon as it becomes apparent that some effort on their part might be required, they simply give up.

It seems that the mythology of "hard" distributions has taken over and "what I should/not be expected to do" is now ingrained in popular culture. We want it all for free, we want it easy and we want others to do all the work for us... well some of us do.

Overuse of the spoon - distributions leading the charge

So while some may get rather irate about spoonfeeding users on the forums, it's actually the distributions themselves who are mostly 'to blame'. If you're a few thousand posts, have been using Linux 10+ years kind of forum user, then you might have had to do things the hard way and actually sit down and swat over man pages and learn about the system. Unfortunately that was then, things are very different in the new age of "instant results/satisfaction". What you had to write configuration files for, is now "automatically" configured. But for some it's not simply that they don't e.g. have to write or understand configuration files anymore - it's that from their perspective they should not have to (and building from source is for the lunatic fringe).

If we sit back and look at all this from an outsider's perspective we would be at a loss as to explain why individuals are working "for free" to make the lives of individuals who "contribute nothing" easy.

You are not willing to try, learn make the effort? Not to worry, I am going to devote my time to write a script/tool which does this all for you, painlessly, for FREE. Yes just download an use my script/tool FREELY, you're a lazy arsehole, I'm a nice guy, I'm going to make your life easier, because...

Where is the logic?!

It's not enough that someone built the kernel, toolchain and all the software for you, packaged it and distributed it as a working OS, you want to get to a stage where you have to do NOTHING AT ALL. Guess what? It's already out there: PAY FOR IT.

So why are free software developers for a FREE UNIX CLONE bending over backwards to make an OS for customers...?

Homework time

An age old problem of course, but now much more common in the current climate. We have generations of kids leaving school/college who are "results" oriented. i.e. it doesn't matter how they get to the result, it's all about getting there. The goal is the lifestyle and the money and what it can buy. Everything in between can be leapfrogged, bluffed, sidestepped and filled in later on - just get there first...

Passing an exam is a formality for such people - if they can bluff their way through and google and copy and paste their way through assignments, many will do this and fill in the blanks later. For those that had to actually work hard and work their way up, feeding the leaches is just not acceptable.

And this doesn't end, it continues into the work place. I'm not a windows sysadmin, but in my job I encounter windows qualified people who are quite frankly useless at what they do. They have a windows "certification" a piece of paper which shows they can perform a few tricks - not a true academic qualification. For the most part they are advanced "windows operators", box tickers/untickers, not people who have any real understanding of computing. When they get out of their depth, they trawl the web or post questions on forums - and in many cases I have to hold their hands and walk them through. They go back to their boss with a "solution" - they get results and it's all about results of course.

The new era

It's no big revelation, that Linux has entered the corporate age, it's now highly relevant to business - and many ignore it at their peril. The "improvements" which many of us will take advantage of, or not really think twice about, are also the lures for the "causal" users, or the "point and click" sysadmins, to be more specific, users who 10 years ago would only have considered Windows and Mac OSX because Linux was "too difficult" or just too much trouble.

With these users come the overly critical, self important, entitled types, those who believe they speak for the many and who are good at rubbing some forum veterans up the wrong way. Their attitudes are so out of tune and incompatible that there were bound to be clashes.

With the likes of the gnome project or canonical ltd subscribing fully to corporate style software development practices, with all the "brand identity" B/S that goes with it, the future of "desktop Linux" looks more corporate and restrictive than ever. For my purpose, IgnorantGuru's old blog article is still as relevant as it was. It mirrors my own experiences of reading gnome developers' comments on various mailing lists. I see no need to duplicate, but read if you will - you might find it enlightening:

A few of the gems from that:

"Because we're not designing a desktop for people who like to choose their own terminal emulators."

"Facilitating the unrestricted use of extensions and themes by end users seems contrary to the central tenets of the GNOME 3 design."

"The point is that it decreases our brand presence. That particular user might understand what it is that they are running, but the person who sees them using their machine or even sees their screenshots on the web will not. The question we have to ask ourselves is: how do we make sure that people recognise a GNOME install when they see one?"

Still have doubts?

All preferences are stored in a single large binary file

Another well known proprietary OS uses binary configuration. The reason is that "it's faster", but the real reason is probably obvious from the above mailing lists. They simply don't want you to understand it and configure it yourself. Plain text configuration means having the ability to circumvent the GUI "configurator" - binary configs removes that.

It's no wonder we now have users of free software who see themselves as akin to "customers"... and some developers who are happy to see them as such.

The gaping chasm between users and developers is ever widening. The attitudes and ideologies of the gnome project are akin to proprietary products such as macOS or MS windows, supplying customers and ensuring those customers use their product as intended - displaying the "brand" at all times. The licence is the only thing making projects like gnome FOSS, the spirit just isn't there.

And all along we've been wrong - GNU/Linux was being developed for big business. You and I are actually irrelevant and this is all about the needs of fortune 500 companies and corporate Linux providers such as Red Hat. They are paying the wages, you as an individual running a desktop/laptop PC don't matter. They are investing in systemd and simply love it - what that means for you doesn't matter, the quality of the code doesn't matter, it works, so who cares, it pays the bills for sysadmins, so what's the problem? It all sounds very familiar...

The foolishness spreads

We are in a new era of pointless reinvention of the wheel. Linux is wrong, has always been wrong and these developers are going to fix it for you - whether you want it fixed or not. There are "too many distros" and it's not easy enough. Pretty much everything needs ripping out, replacing and standardising (the *BSDs are "irrelevant" of course). When these people have finished, you should hopefully have a "polished" desktop OS just like macOS or Windows 10 and server OS like Windows Server 20xx. None of these developers have really thought about what happens after that, certainly none of the users who subscribe to this have.

For example, the old apt package management tools for Debian were solid and if it ain't broke don't fix it... This is one of the reasons I gave up on Debian back in 2012'ish. For years we had solid dependability with the understanding that, the user did a good bit of the configuration for themselves. Now huge amounts of "automagic" crap has found it's way in and there are a staggering array of numerous meta packages, transitional packages and dummy packages.

Even the proprietary video drivers have been packaged in a fashion that they're almost indistinguishable from the actual X ones. And this coming from a project who are very anal about splitting off the closed source firmware blobs from the the Linux kernel and putting them in a separate "token" repository just to tick a compliance box to satisfy their own internal guidelines.

Much of this has been driven by canonical/ubuntu of course and the presence of large numbers of ubuntu people within the project. It's a case of the tail wagging the dog and the result is now a "base system" for ubuntu at the expense of many of the distribution's former loyal users. The needs of the masses, the lowest common denominator won through and the needs of the people who supported and used the distribution since the 90's or early 00's up until recently have been sidelined. Sadly for some, the gnome people and systemd people have a big say in Debian's development, so it's obvious where that's going. If I wanted an OS like that, I'd buy a real Apple with macOS (I'd also get a POSIX compliant OS in the bargain).

The "customers"

Sadly this is where we're at and this is the root of all evil for the forum users who have been here or at other Linux forums and take pride in what they do and actually want to pass that knowledge on to others (that old adage of the "hand up vs the hand out").

The reality is that if we all became leaches and if we all stopped contributing, we'd all be in a very fine mess. The bottom line is that unless you've subscribed to something like RHEL, then you're not a customer and have no god given right to complain or criticise, unless you can actually fix the problem/write and submit a patch. As a MS or Apple user, you bought a licence and probably a device and you can complain (preferably to the vendor) to your heart's content.

However there are those who walk among us who still haven't quite grasped this concept and these 'customers' time is actually far more valuable than yours. They will often admit that they do not have the time to learn, despite asking the question and soliciting responses full of solid information, advice and links.

And because all of this is not presented in the format of a copy and paste howto blog, the "urgent" problem is no longer urgent and they will simply continue/go back to using programme abc or OS xyz.

Many of the 'customers' will also state their proposed 'solution' to their problem and then request the 'recipe' to do that, rather than stating their actual problem. i.e. no willingness to engage and learn - just the typical 'bail me out' (with a quick and dirty fix) attitude.

"I'll have a graphical installer, no command-line please, my hardware must work exactly as it does on $PROPRIETARY_OS, and a large glass of entitlement to wash it all down..."

The general rule is that if someone needs Linux to work exactly like their windows/MacOS then they should just use their windows/MacOS.

I expect we've all been there. I have participated in threads where I have ended up being "part of the problem". i.e. I have advised people to use the terminal and just try things out and enjoy the ride... The response is usually the same misinformed demands from the latest convert to the "Linux is now mainstream" sect, specifically stating their exacting requirements to the effect that "it must NOT involve terminal use", "it MUST have a GRAPHICAL installer", etc, etc. Then quite often, despite the OP being essentially clueless, I often find myself on the receiving end of a lecture, letting me know inn no uncertain terms that "EVERY user wants GRAPHICAL [this and that] and should NOT be expected to do [stuff] using the terminal [usually followed up with a request for me to leave the thread)]".

These are the people who make a thread, not to be informed or advised, but to have their own beliefs/prejudices reinforced.

The "experts"

Linux's popularity also means there are a lot more users around who "know everything". These are the users who dive into the threads relating to a Linux distribution (or OS), which they don't use and presume to advise people, based on assumptions, guesswork and "theory". This is usually part technical/part ideological, part speculation... it usually helps no one and leads to confusing and muddled threads where the person needing assistance is left more confused than ever. For me it's particularly hilarious when said experts are opining on "BSD", despite having zero understanding of those operating systems - simply presuming that all "BSD" are the same and/or similar to Linux.

"The Pack" or "You're stupid, thin skinned and shouldn't be on the internet"

I've not discussed these people much because they quite honestly don't warrant much discussion. But right here at the rectum of this blog series they will have their special place - for the sake of completeness.

'RTFM grouches' are one thing, there is probably one of those in all of us, perhaps when patience wears thin, or when it becomes painfully obvious that someone is wasting their time and yours.

But there is a subset of people who seem to use an operating system in order to participate on a web forum and to to use that as a platform from which to ridicule and victimise others - often as a gang or "pack". Yes the "victims" might need to grow a thicker skin, but that does not excuse or validate the utterly cretinous behaviour of some forum denizens. This is another side effect of "popularity" that you get the kind of attitude more commonly found on non technical forums or certain computer gaming forums.

You will often see, especially where some unsuspecting soul sticks their neck out to post a rant, a familiar pattern. First one snide comment from one user, followed by several more from another. This sets the ball rolling and the victim usually requests account/thread deletion, etc. This is considered acceptable/fair game by the 'pack' because, in their view, the victim should not have posted what he did.

"The pack" usually has a certain structure. There is an "alpha", who will only post carefully worded "opening comments", knowing that the rest will rush in and tear the victim to shreds. The alpha may have one or two "sub-alphas", who will use the same tactic. The alpha will usually stay within the rules, the larger pack will fall foul and get the warnings/bans, etc and are the more volatile (their ranks get refreshed). Again we expect this on non technical forums, we expect this on a computer game forum which appeals to teenagers, but it's now a part of some Linux forums which cater to and encourage "fanboy" behaviour.

Turning the tables - and why it rarely happens

Like most of their kind they are cowards at heart, overcompensating via the safety and anonymity for their lack of personality, their social ineptitude and various other failings. If the victim can stick it out, they can and often will turn the situation around. The pack will usually go silent and drift away for 'easier game' once it becomes obvious they are on a loser. However this is usually never worth the time and effort for the victim - hence the pack's dominance and toxic culture is affirmed.

Of course most normal people understand that the latest "victim" hasn't run off crying because of this, ordinary people have neither the time nor the inclination to engage with this class of web user.

Last word

Linux forums are in decline, sadly because there is no real will left among experienced users to remain and use them - the [whatever]exchange style sites have been gaining traction for years and "classic" forums are nowadays mainly the preserve of official or de facto official fan forums. Sadly while some sites are developed into free volunteer tech support farms, with nothing for users to gain except points for providing "solutions" to the "customers", this is not going to change anytime soon.

The forums which were once a preserve away from the dryness of official mailing lists for those of us who wanted to actually learn something, exchange what we had learned and yes, pass that onto others is reduced to this kind of thing.

Nowadays we see know-it-all types who defecate all over established and proven software and who generalise and pretend to be all knowing and all seeing - it's easy - just give me ten minutes with wikipedia and I can conjure up the same class of substance-less nonsense in the blink of an eye. None of these people are developers, they read a few blogs, then they know it all.
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  1. Old Comment
    After having read all 4 installments, I share your POV on most of the point you've covered. Thanks for taking the time to "say what begs to be said". Due to the "spoon" issue and other dysfunctional patterns you've mentioned, visiting LQ carries such a low priority that I seldom get 'round to visiting this particular site. Somehow, during my last visit, I landed on the multipage "meta" topic started by jeremy in which "looking forward, gonna make some changes... kinder/gentler" was being discussed.

    No, not 'somehow' -- I do recall exactly what led me to that topic: a google search query involving {username} {linux} {past month} returned links to LQ topics my buddy had participated in among the search results. Buddy? Ha, I don't even know his email address, but we've often bumped into each other across various linux forums over a span of years. He's the helpful type, quite patient (kudos). I'd stop short of describing him as a spoonfeeder, though. I'm guessing he got bored or burned-out for a spell. From what I read in that "meta" thread, he's obviously still passionate about advocating linux (not just one specific distro) and bent on assisting the new blood, the next generation. In contrast, my passion for mentoring/advocating has waned considerably and, I suspect, permanently. Exactly as you described, all except perhaps two folks I've introduced to linux (among well over a hundred) have "gone running back to windows" and neither of them spend much time "computing" nowadays, period. Their attention has turned to smartphones, Netflix, Hulu.

    Within various knowledge domains, given the rapid rate of pace of change, seat of the pants learning is sort of a necessity for tech professionals. So I'm not in full agreement with that aspect of your rant, I'd think twice before pointing a finger and labeling any workplace peer as a "poser". On the other hand, and I don't recall seeing that you mentioned this aspect, do-my-homework has become a profession in its own right. Enterprising paid advisors, soliciting contract work via AskDuhExpert dot com, Fiverrrr, and similar sites, have learned to outsource-for-free much of the coding they are being paid to deliver. Magento, Prestashop and similar SaaS product -oriented discussion forums are especially rife with the surreptitious inquiries of these posers (perps engaged in representing themselves to paid clients as 'pros', coding toward developing a salable addon product).
    Posted 01-10-2017 at 03:15 AM by verdaz verdaz is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Originally Posted by verdaz View Comment
    Within various knowledge domains, given the rapid rate of pace of change, seat of the pants learning is sort of a necessity for tech professionals. So I'm not in full agreement with that aspect of your rant, I'd think twice before pointing a finger and labeling any workplace peer as a "poser".
    Fair enough, but I did not apply this label to all, just some. "seat of pants" learning is quite different to just getting solutions off the web - but perhaps we're thinking of different scenarios here.

    Originally Posted by verdaz View Comment
    On the other hand, and I don't recall seeing that you mentioned this aspect, do-my-homework has become a profession in its own right. Enterprising paid advisors, soliciting contract work via AskDuhExpert dot com, Fiverrrr, and similar sites, have learned to outsource-for-free much of the coding they are being paid to deliver. Magento, Prestashop and similar SaaS product -oriented discussion forums are especially rife with the surreptitious inquiries of these posers (perps engaged in representing themselves to paid clients as 'pros', coding toward developing a salable addon product).
    Yes that is indeed a good point.
    Posted 01-10-2017 at 07:32 AM by cynwulf cynwulf is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Well said my friend, well said. It's a shame that veterans have come to such a jaded view of things, but it is nonetheless the reality of things as they are.

    Worse are those who are being spoonfed are those who are arrogant about the amount that you put on that spoon, they want that spoon spilling over, so as to not have to do anything for themselves. Then afterward, turn to mommy and say "look I fed myself with no help!" making it look like they had actually achieved something when it was actually done for them.

    This is the future, and I feel sorry for it.

    The next generation should actually be quite amusing. With the current getting along on the backs of the older, they will be in no position to do the same for the next. This laziness and slothfulness is going to rear its ugly head.

    Originally Posted by verdaz

    Within various knowledge domains, given the rapid rate of pace of change, seat of the pants learning is sort of a necessity for tech professionals
    If those we speak of are making an attempt to learn, then there is no issue, but let's be honest, a lot of those that come to LQ for solutions just want the solutions. When we try to point many in the direction, they get upset and in cases uncivil and demand the complete solution. That is not learning in any way.
    Posted 01-25-2017 at 12:03 PM by goumba goumba is offline
    Updated 01-25-2017 at 12:06 PM by goumba


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