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The Bully In The Linux Schoolyard

Bullies Hurt Linux Adoption

  • September 15, 2010
  • By Emery Fletcher
There are plenty of people who have offered explanations for why Linux thrives anonymously on servers and as Android on smartphones but lags behind on the desktop. Though reasons abound, at least one significant one is a self-inflicted wound: the Terminal Bully.

The Terminal Bully is the poster who refuses to offer a respectful and understandable solution to a genuine problem some newcomer has posted on a forum, and instead tries to show off their own knowledge by offering a lengthy and sometimes risky set of commands that only confuse anyone who is not yet familiar with Linux.

"Not yet familiar": let me emphasize this. Every form of Linux, just like every other complex topic, has an extensive learning curve, all the way from "Where do I click?" to studying for administrator certification. It's usually a self-teaching process, in which everyone can trace the curve at the pace that suits them best. That involves asking a LOT of questions, because Linux evolves so fast that it's impossible for documentation in print media to catch up.

On practically any good-sized forum there are people asking questions at all levels: some need advice on an obscure variant of a command, others need to know how to move an icon to a panel. It is usually easy to see how far up the learning curve the poster of the question is, and someone who really wants to solve the problem will reply in a way the questioner is likely to understand. Regrettably, that's not always how it happens. Occasionally someone replies to an obvious beginner question with a torrent of commands intended to impress the questioner with how complicated Linux really is and, by implication, how wise the answerer is. More often than not, such an answer is accompanied by a contemptuous remark.

I have about as much respect for someone who answers that way as I have for someone who cheats a small child at a game. It is intellectual bullying, plain and simple, the big guy beating up the little guy in the game of words. I used to see it when I was a professor, watching a graduate student lording knowledge over freshmen in a study session. Usually it was the least successful grad students who did that, the ones who lagged behind their peers and could feel superior only to beginners. No true Linux professional would visit a beginner's forum simply to show off expertise; if a pro is there, it's to help out in the spirit of giving that built Linux in the first place.

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