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Editor's Note: Heroes of the Revolution

From the rec-room... a barbaric "yawp!"

  • August 20, 2001
  • By Michael Hall
Several months ago, I turned my back on a petition that, as near as I can tell, never made it off the ground. It was an exercise of editorial prerogative that might have once been called "round-filing" in the days of paper. These days it's referred to in a slightly less jaunty manner as "clicking the delete button."

At issue was hardware support: near and dear to the hearts of Linux enthusiasts everywhere, and meaning anything from hot-swappable PCI support for your standard giant enterprise machines down to the little bits of code that make a printer print pretty instead of at 300x300 black and white. In this case, the particular bit of hardware was the KBGear Jam MP3 player: a low-cost ($49.95 at my neighborhood Target: I looked for it Friday) MP3 player that comes with a little bit of memory (16MB), but looks about right for someone with a short commute or bus ride or whatever.

Petitions for hardware support are nothing bad. I'm in favor of them when they're organized, politely worded, and not likely to convince the people being asked to give something (support for hardware to a relatively small portion of the computing consumer base) that they're dealing with demanding ingrates who can't check their own petition's spelling before tacking it to the doors of the business in question and plopping down on the beanbag chair in mommy and daddy's rec-room with their hands out.

That was a mouthful, and it would be unfair to imply that most Linux petitioners are like that. Generally, the people organizing petitions are polite, well-mannered folk who are just trying to show that there's maybe more of a market for a given manufacturer's hardware than said manufacturer might have realized without the help of a collection of signatures saying "If you support us, we'll buy your stuff."

The petitioner in this case, though, wasn't polite or well-mannered. The individual in question was rude, demanding, and happy to include in his letter to the editor (that'd be me) his belief that the people manufacturing the product were "total morons for not giving away the specs to their crappy hardware" and that a petition would teach them a lesson they wouldn't soon forget. Evidently, if the letter was to be believed, the petitioner had called up their tech support line and demanded a rundown of the protocols in use on the device, and let them know what morons they were before hanging up.

The wording of the petition itself was equally nasty, if along separate lines that ran more to "condescending" and "threatening," pointing out to the company that it needed to give up the specifications to its hardware right now so someone in the Linux community could go to work making its product work "correctly."

Totally, dude.

So I thought, for a few moments, about how I'd feel if I were on the receiving end of that petition. I thought about how one of my jobs is making sure that the tone on the sites I edit is reasonably respectful and professional. I thought about how, for the last six years of Linux as my primary desktop machine, some of those years have been spent wanting some things to work with my machine under Linux that simply might not and some moments have been spent thrilled because a given device finally does have support either from the manufacturer or some hacker's own time and sweat sniffing serial port traffic or analyzing the arcana of system logs. I thought about my responsibility to the reasonable people who use and work on Linux every day and how it would be flatly irresponsible to allow someone to even appear to speak for them who plainly had little self control or willingness to even pretend to be reasonable.

Having thought on these things, I deleted the letter and went on about my day, never giving the matter another thought. If the petitioner wanted to launch a petition drive, he'd have to work out the "civility" part first. And maybe think about a basic precaution experienced Linux users usually take: checking for hardware support before going out and buying something. The Linux community is remarkable at at least archiving clues and hints.

So months went by, and, as I said, the issue of manufacturer support for the KBGear Jam MP3 never crossed my mind, until Friday when Linux Today correspondent Fred Mobach passed along a bit of writing from Theodore Kilgore. Mr. Kilgore, it seems, had come upon one of the devices courtesy of a friend who found it was locking his own machine up. As is often the case, Windows is a requirement for these devices and Linux isn't mentioned on the box.

Undeterred by his inexperience with USB support under Linux, MP3 players in general, or even his own lack of programming skill (at least, Mr. Kilgore isn't willing to call himself a programmer) he sat out to make the thing work with Linux. I won't reiterate the entire tale, which we carried in full on Linux Today, except to say that, in the end, having done a little poking around and experimenting, he came up with a solution that works. Readers pointed out a few extra little tips, such as how to use his solution with a graphical file manager, and the sum of Linux knowledge increased. Another device that isn't "officially" supported is pretty easily managed under Linux without special software or interfaces, and the world now knows how to do it. People looking for a cheap MP3 player have one more choice. Good stuff. Stories like that have been happening for a decade now, as Linux enthusiasts sit down to solve problems without making demands of anyone or anything but their own brains and the tools with which their OS of choice provides them.

Faced with a profane kiddie who seems to have come into the world with a.) no native curiosity and b.) a transcendent sense of entitlement or Mr. Kilgore (and the many people like him out there), and asked who to pin a "Hero of the Revolution" medal on... I'm picking Mr. Kilgore. He made something happen and we're all better for it.

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