The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Fanboi Stops Here

Let me tell you how it started for me...

My company computers were hacked in 2005...a three city network went down due to the Bagle virus, specifically referred to as W32/Bagle.J@MM

It was fast, it was tenacious, it spread through Outlook and it was devastating.

That was when I migrated my company computers and network to Linux.  Of course I had help and without a good friend who knew what he was doing, it would have never happened...

But it did and it worked for us....Professionally

Personally, I was hesitant to make the move on my home computer.  Why?  Well if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  We were using Red Hat back then at my shops.  My people were trained and after the obligatory bitching, things settled down and worked well for us.  My computer at work did the job it was meant to do.  Appointments, scheduling and email mostly.  It didn't need to do much to get the job done.

Ah, but my personal computer?  Windows XP. All those apps I used at home didn't have a Linux equivalent.  I couldn't be bothered with a changeover to Linux.  Until I hosed the registry so bad it had to be reinstalled.

That was the point where I felt I needed to get in line with my office machines...

But Red Hat?  No.  It was not what I wanted to see when I got home.  I looked at it all day.

First up on the hit list was Knoppix.  Back then, Knoppix was touted at the most new-user friendly distro, and if I remember correctly, it was...

But it didn't quite do the job.  Then I moved to Kanotix.

Ah...sweet relief.  Kanotix seemed to do the trick.  At least for a while.  I cannot remember just what I did to screw it up...It was most certainly a loose connection between the chair and keyboard.

It most usually is with new Linux Users.

I decided that it was the fault of Kanotix...of course I would.  I tried another distro that seemed to be catching on.

Most people who knew me back then will remember that I became a Zealot for this particular distro.  When I put this distro on my computer, everything worked without any hassle or drama.  I was ecstatic. goes deeper than ecstatic.

The clouds parted, Heaven sang, the dog quit peeing on the carpet and that obnoxious engine noise in my pickup truck stopped without reason.

I made it my calling to announce to the world that this Linux distro would be the salvation of the computing world and I trundled forth extolling the virtues of said distro.

I did it with the zeal of an Avenging Angel, fiery sword in one hand, a live CD in the other.

For a while, I was even listed in the Distro credits as the "Marketing" guy.

But as everyone knows, today's Golden Boy is often tomorrows Pariah.

In forum after forum, I went forth extolling the virtues of this Distro.  It chops, it blends, it slices, it cleans out the cat box for you.

My well-intentioned sermons did nothing but stir an already chaotic pot...better known as The Distro Wars.  And while I am no longer a soldier in that war...

The war rages today as brutally as it did in 2005.

Recently, I installed a Linux System on a client's computer.  Because of some known problems with the Sis motherboards, I installed a Community Edition of Fedora on his computer.  I like Fedora but personally I prefer a Debian-based distro.  Given the problem Sis boards cause in Linux, I put the only distro on that computer I know to work with that board and chipset.

All was right with the world.  I set it up to include the good repositories, I set his resolution (which needed some minor hacking of the Xorg file) and everything worked just fine.

Until Fanboi entered the picture.

Having a friend visit from Portland Oregon, my client showed him his new system.  Immediately the Portland visitor began chewing on Fedora.  He told my client that Fedora sucked and there was a much better distro to be had.

He talked him into letting him replace Fedora with Ubuntu.

Chaos ensued.

Nothing worked after install.  The boot defaulted to busybox and of course Fanboi had no clue as to why.  What had been a perfectly functioning machine became a large desk ornament.

My client's computer went from zero to doorstop in 1.2 seconds.

So here's the deal and this is a lesson learned at my expense...and the expense of others that had to experience my misplaced enthusiasm.

Linux is a tool. (yeah, yeah, I know it's a Kernel)  No, it is a set of tools and those tools are called distros.  Some distros do a job where another will not.  Because something works for you personally does not mean it will work for everyone else.

We primarily use one particular distro for the purposes of The HeliOS Project and we customize that to suit our purpose.  However it does not always work and we use other distros as the hardware and needs of the user dictate.

Ubuntu is a phenomenal Linux Distro...but it isn't a cure-all.  Sure it works on most machines...the operative term here being "most". 

I believe we all need to remember this before we set forth to change the world.

One more nit to pick and then we can get to the flame war this is bound to produce.

We operate a small enterprise that helps people migrate their business and personal computers to Linux.  We use the proceeds from this project to help fund The HeliOS Project.  There isn't a month that goes by that we don't get a phone call that follows a conversation line something like this:

"Helios Solutions, this is Ken".

"Hi Ken.  This is Curious Computer User.  I want to find out a bit about Linux and if it will work for me."

"That's great Curious.  Have you had any other experiences with alternate operating systems?"

"Well, we did try Ubuntu for a while but I didn't like it.  I think we want to give Linux a try."

"Uh...well Ubuntu is one version of the Linux operating system.  There are several choices of the Linux operating system for you."

"Oh, OK, I thought Ubuntu was a system in itself."

I can understand why someone would think that.  Go to and show me the word "Linux" anywhere on the front page.

Now I am sure that the brain trust behind Ubuntu may think that the word "Linux" will scare off new users.

No it won't.  Maybe talk about it as "The Premiere" Linux distribution...

Or something.  Remember on who's shoulders you stand.

Of course, the vapid fanboi will want to argue the point...but that brings us back to the subject of Fanboi-ism.

It's doing more harm than good.

I'm just sayin'...

All-Righty Then


kozmcrae said...

Ah yes, the distro wars. My inspiration to switch to GNU/Linux (Hey, it's just my personal preference, I'm not making a statement on anyone's choices. OK?) was less inspirational. I never liked Windows. It might have been that I saw user control slip away with every advance of the Microsoft Dynasty. But the WGA boosted my inspiration to leave the Microsoft walled garden. My first distro was Fedora Core 3. I stayed with it until Core 6 when I switched to another distro that I still use. I had one machine I kept on Fedora for another 9 months or so for the same reason you illustrated here Ken. I discovered Fedora used the most recent kernel of all the mainstream distros. That meant newer drivers.

I think the "Rah rah rah, my distro is best" mentality is a holdover from the days when there effectively was just one operating system. It seems counter intuitive but if you remember the May Day Parades of the Soviet Union where no pageantry was too great, that's what I'm talking about. What sense does it make to expend so much effort and resources to declare your greatness when there is no competition? So now we have a vibrant, democratic and healthy system of distros and people still want to have only one.

There is another aspect to the "distro wars". I've been an active reader and commenter on discussion boards about Linux (yes, just Linux) for over 5 years now. I've learned to read Shill-speak very well. In fact, I could give them names and point them out. My powers of reading Shill are not the point. The point is that many distro flame wars are started by Microsoft Shills. If their deception catches on, they sit back an laugh. If any GNU/Linux user is going to staunchly defend their distro, make damn sure you are not being suckered by a Microsoft Shill. Microsoft will leave no stone unturned to shore-up their fading Empire and no detail is too small either.

aikiwolfie said...

Quite often it's the fanboi zealots that insists the words Linux or GNU/Linux are mentioned every other sentence. That's just not good marketing.

Personally I think what Canonical has done with the Ubuntu home page is exactly what it needed to do. They are marketing Ubuntu based on it's strengths.

The fact that Ubuntu is based on Linux and GNU isn't a strength in it's self. What those things bring to the Ubuntu project however is. The ability to customise, share and deploy as many Ubuntu installations as required without any need for a license or to part with any cash.

The fact that Ubuntu is a Linux distro isn't a selling point. It takes too much time to explain. When you buy a DVD player that runs an embedded version of Linux you don't need to sit through a lecture exulting the virtues of open source software and the freedom software movement. You simply buy the DVD player and enjoy your DVDs.

Similarly Vodafone aren't harping on about the virtues of Linux, open source software or Java with their Android phones. They just sell you a phone that does come cool stuff. The cool stuff the phone can do are the selling points Vodafone markets. Not the Linux kernel.

And this is where the Linux and open source communities have got their marketing wrong in the past. Ask anybody what Linux is good for who has voluntarily chosen to install Linux and I guarantee they'll repeat the open source mantra of security and it's open source so you can see the code blah blah blah.

Frankly who cares.

No really. Who outside of the open source community cares about these issues? Nobody is who.

If Linux is to conquer the desktop then it's supporters need to take a marketing leaf from the Canonical and Vodafone books. They need to understand that Linux on it's own isn't a selling point.

Anonymous said...

No, Linux may not be a "selling point" but it's only common courtesy to somehow, somewhere publicly acknowledge that you stand on the shoulders of giants.

I have spent more time than I want to in explaining that Ubuntu is a version of is not Linux.

My hat off to Canonical for getting as far as they have. I simply agree that actively hiding the fact that they are a linux distro is a bit shady.

Gavin said...

To a certain extent, I do not think that zealotry about FOSS will deter new GNU/Linux users. It is certainly not limited to FOSS, and it is certainly not limited to computers or technology. Even beyond The Distro Wars, the Windows people are divided. So are the Mac people. So are the BSD people. Then you have Intel vs AMD or ATI/AMD vs nVidia for hardware. Beyond that, there was BluRay vs HD-DVD for a bit, and the ongoing DVD-R vs DVD+R. Plasma vs LED for HDTV's, Bud vs Miller for beer, red wine vs white wine, Ford vs Dodge trucks, etc, etc, etc...

This could go on forever. There are choices out there in the world, not just in technology. And everywhere you go, there are opinions. Some opinions are light & frothy, others just froth at the mouth. Opinions to fanboy to fanboi to zealot. That is the progression of things. And this is everywhere, so people generally expect opinions in everything. Computers and technology are no different, and I think people are generally smart enough to spot a fanboi or zealot even if they do not understand the content.

On the other hand, fanbois and zealots are a very vocal minority. If potential new users to GNU/Linux are ONLY exposed to the very vocal minority, well... I think it is safe to say that potential new users have already been lost. And people tend to not change rather than change, even without emotional baggage upon entry. It is no wonder that most "normal" users dislike computers. No matter what you buy, what you use, what you click, someone has already declared it to be "EVIL" before you even know it exists. So what is the impetus for the average computer user to try something new? Why bother changing anything? Is it not better to stick with the devil you know vs the devil you do not know?

I think that is the big question for computer users today. Which devil to choose? This is a big opportunity for FOSS to deliver (pun intended). If user-friendliness (an ominous term) is the main focus for at least a few distros, then FOSS will continue to push into new user territory. This will increasingly mean separating the jargon from the intent. Make it easy for people to figure out what they want to do. "connect to the internet" means the same as "going online", and yet it does not - because "connecting" is an action that one does not need to take for always-on internet types such as cable. But that is all semantics to most people. Performing a search for both should yield the same results, with footnote links for more information for those who are curious. Likewise, "internet explorer" should do the same thing yet again. Make it cohesive, not pedantic, because anyone who needs to search for something like that needs some hand-holding. Everyone else will be putting Firefox in their taskbar at first login. And people who prefer elinks may not even be running a desktop session, so leave that out, too (unless it is an explicit search term).

Gavin said...

I think the new Ubuntu 10.10 installer is a major step forward in this aspect; it even includes the option to add DVD playback support, for instance! That is awesome! Because DVD playback ability is something that many new users will not even know they have to add, much less how to add it. (Honestly, do you really think they remember that they had to add it to their WinXP box 5 years ago, assuming they were even the ones who added it?) Bringing it up during the install process is a stroke of genius, and is certainly better than pointing new users to the wiki/community pages, patting them on the back, and saying "good luck". Or even worse, making them aware of the problem with a mere error box when they put in their first DVD movie. "codec not installed"! How helpful! That is akin to being pulled over by the police for outdated tabs and being told "violation of state code blah blah blah"! Sure, technically the police officer told you what the problem was, but... yeah... could have been more helpful. I applaud Ubuntu for trying to be more helpful, and I applaud it again for succeeding most of the time.

There may be a devil on, but there need not be a devil in everyone's computer. Do not make people choose. Coercion makes more enemies than friends.

Anonymous said...

The problem with naming Ubuntu "Linux" comes when a user is looking for support. Googling for " + linux" might turn up results that, as you say, don't work on Ubuntu.

Gavin said...

aikiwolfie - "And this is where the Linux and open source communities have got their marketing wrong in the past."

Actually, there has been no marketing in the common sense of the term. Difficult to get something wrong if you do not do it in the first place! ;)

I think it would be incorrect to talk about marketing and selling points and conquering the desktop when it comes to FOSS. This assumes that such aspirations exist and are the goals of the projects. For many, this is simply not true. Which leads back to your other question about the purpose for GNU/Linux to exist. And why anyone would care about open-source software and copyleft. The core of all of this can be summed up with one idea: choice.

That is really all there is to it. Everything else has gathered around that idea. The GPL provided the legal framework for securing choice. The myriad projects were started to create more software that could be chosen. The distributions were started to make it easier for people to choose FOSS. Non-free software was added to allow people to control how much choice they had. Companies were created to make money so that FOSS could continue to provide choice without relying solely on donations. And the communities consist of people who believe in choice and want to help others choose what they use and enjoy. It is all about choice.

Marketing the idea of choice is difficult. "You should choose us! Or them! You decide!" Yeah...

The selling points of choice are... what? That it can be free? That it sometimes costs money? That it can be both easy and difficult at the same time? That there are legal implications to securing the right to choose?

And conquering the desktop is not the point at all. Yes, by having choice, it is possible for everyone to choose GNU/Linux at the expense of everything else, but is that a reality? The point of choice is coexistence, not conquest.

So in essence, you are correct about what GNU/Linux is not doing well. But this is because it is not doing, not because it is failing to do. And anyone who wants to see GNU/Linux do some desktop conquering is detached from the core idea of choice. There is some serious fanboi-ism right there!

Oh, and by the way, I am choosing to write this comment in Win7. ;)

Colonel Panik said...

Why is everybody picking on me?
Any experienced Distro Dancer can make Ubuntu
run perfectly. Or Fedora or Slack or Debian.
They all suck, except Source Mage and nobody can
make that one work.

Now, most of the chafe in the air is about the
"{\ Community /}"

Nobody told you to get on this bus, it was your
choice. There is probably some stoopid payaso
that is going to say they love Fords, Fords are
the best. Nope. Not so! But do what you want.
If you need help, the Colonel's wrenches fit all
the vehicles, and I will help. Same goes for
the distro you choose.

Anonymous said...

"No, Linux may not be a "selling point" but it's only common courtesy to somehow, somewhere publicly acknowledge that you stand on the shoulders of giants."

It is publicly acknowledged on the "About Ubuntu" page, among others. Not to mention "Open Source" is plastered everywhere on their site.

Frankly, I think Canonical markets Ubuntu the right way: by showcasing the applications and what you can do with them.


Xetheriel said...

I personally switched from the core Ubuntu distro to Linux Mint (yeah yeah, an ubuntu derivative) because Linux Mint just works better. It has worked well for me, and has worked well for everyone I have installed it for.

Unknown said...

I'm with you on the "find the distro that fits" points. I'm also with you on the point on using Linux. Both are understanding the situation and what applies appropriately. Both include points of education and points of marketing. What is sad is when people extol FOSS for code but not for marketing.

The people whom I install Linux for know its a certain flavor. Its very simple say different companies or groups take the same base and add to it or tweak it the way they want. For 99.9% of the people I help, that's enough. They understand Android is Linux as well as the Ubuntu I (usually) install. They don't care the details of kernel, X11, shells or whatever.

Its hard for us techies to speak the language of others. And most non-techies are happy to know that "hey XYZ Linux works great". And, hopefully, if they're happy with their Android phone that runs linux and their home Ubuntu laptop that runs linux, they won't be upset that RedHat (or whatever) goes in at work. They may even look forward to it and encourage others about it. And all that is with knowing just enough to make the connections, and no techie understanding what-so-ever.

Unknown said...

Amen Brother.

Give me any Linux Distro and I will quickly find a problem with it. I do have my preferences, but at some point, they all disappoint.

But the beauty lies in that I can change that; and I do and then I move on with life. As you said, it is a tool! Not a single tool, but a "swiss army knife" of cool tools. You just need to pick which "knife" you want.

The worst Fanboi I ever met ... his name is Seth, "Ubuntu is the devil and Fedora will destroy it." His favorite app is YUM. Put 2 and 2 together. :-)

Like you said, you pick what works and move on!

Anonymous said...

He talked him into letting him replace Fedora with Ubuntu.

Chaos ensued.

Nothing worked after install. The boot defaulted to busybox and of course Fanboi had no clue as to why. What had been a perfectly functioning machine became a large desk ornament.

This is a common problem with new converts. They learn just enough about Linux to get them into trouble. Unfortunately they often leave a line of hosed machines in their wake. I've seen it enough to know that it isn't uncommon. Not knowing what video card the computer uses or not understanding intro commands like acpi=off can indeed render a computer useless until it's properly installed can indeed be a disaster.

It's a good thing when people are excited about Linux. It's a bad thing when their lack of experience screws others up. Luckily, you had a good working version of Linux up and running before this happened. I imagine that if the guy experienced this Ubuntu install failure himself, he would assume that Linux just sucks.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, backed by observation spending a lot of time in the forums. it seems to me that Ubuntu has purposely tried to distance itself from its Linux roots. It never occurred to me to do a simple search for "Linux" on the front page of That is odd indeed.

However, Linux does have a certain stigma of being a geek tool, foreign to most computer users. I personally think that the average computer user chooses to stay ignorant on all matters tech and I don't mind showing a mild disdain for anyone who thinks of a computer as an appliance. I think that Ubuntu has gone farther than any Linux distro to accommodate the computer idiots of the world. What ever it takes, right?

Still, Ubuntu IS a Linux Distribution. The lack of honest disclosure on the front page of their website bothers me a bit. The whole "shoulders of giants" thing.

Mike Regan said...

"personally switched from the core Ubuntu distro to Linux Mint (yeah yeah, an ubuntu derivative) because Linux Mint just works better. It has worked well for me, and has worked well for everyone I have installed it for."

Bingo. It amazes me that Ubuntu doesn't coordinate with Mint to implement some of the hacks and improvements Mint incorporates. Same here. Bugs and "features" that Ubuntu has had for years are fixed in Mint. the whole ctl alt backspace removal was stoopid.

Then again, some of the comments alluded to the fact that Ubuntu was gearing itself for the "average" computer user.

If you cannot trust your users to use a simple three key command to log off or restart, then you are no better than Microsoft.

and oh yeah, what's the deal with clicking shutdown or restart and the dialog box popping up saying it will shut down or restart in 60 seconds. If I hit shutdown, I mean for it to shut down now.


Anonymous said...

"No, Linux may not be a "selling point" but it's only common courtesy to somehow, somewhere publicly acknowledge that you stand on the shoulders of giants."

It is publicly acknowledged on the "About Ubuntu" page, among others. Not to mention "Open Source" is plastered everywhere on their site.

No it's not. It is not published on the front page of their site. Therefore it is not "plastered everywhere".

Obviously someone has convinced Mark S, should avoid any prominent association with Linux. That may or may not be prudent from a marketing standpoint but from a FOSS point of view, I think it is a bit slimy.

Anonymous said...

According to Google the word linux can be found at 1300 times ( So, I do not believe that Canonical is hiding the fact that Ubuntu is linux distribution.

Sum Yung Gai said...

Ken's right. Distro "holy wars" are not helping us. I don't give a rat's backside what distro it is, as long as it is the best tool for the end user.

I don't much care for Ubuntu, personally. My personal favorites are Slackware for the desktop and CentOS for servers. But sometimes Ubuntu is the best tool for the user, so I'll gladly install it when appropriate. Hey, that's a new GNU/Linux install! Dang right I'll do it!

The "UNIX/Linux is for geeks" fear is one that I know very well. Here's how I handle it...while talking up GNU/Linux in general.

I always carry in my truck a laptop, running the latest distro that I happen to consider most Dad/Mom-friendly (currently, that's Ubuntu; pre-Ron Hovsepian, it was SuSE). I then show it to the people. They go "ooh, what is that?" I tell 'em, "that's modern Linux."

At this point they are very surprised. "*That's* Linux??" they ask in wonderment. I say "yup, sure is! Neat, eh?" Then I tell 'em about my own initial apprehension, and my Dad's. Then I show 'em all the gratis software, via Synaptic or YumEx. A virtual catalog of free stuff!

Then they ask me excitedly if it'll work with their iPods and iTunes. Total bummer. I tell 'em the truth, yes to iPods, but no to iTunes, and why it is that way. After I'm done, they don't like Steve Jobs as much anymore.

At that point, I've got a 50/50 chance of getting GNU/Linux on their computers. We're gettin' there....

Anonymous said...

Every new user should have a used computer to experiment with Linux and keep their main computer in working order so they can use it to seek help online about their used pc Linux install.

Sum Yung Gai said...

The name "Linux" is on the Ubuntu Web site, the forums. But it is nowhere to be found on the homepage. I looked through the more prominent of the pages immediately off the homepage. Nope, no "Linux" on the first pages that I'm likely to click on as an end user. Whoops....

By contrast, Red Hat puts it on the homepage and indeed flaunts it. So do Slackware, CentOS, Fedora, Mandriva, Debian--heck, even SuSE all trumpet that they're Linux.

That's what Helios is talking about.

kenholmes said...

Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I actually recommended Ubuntu to someone on Saturday. He is a rep for a company that markets assistive technology solutions for the blind and vision impaired. We were at an event showcasing one company's wares. There wasn't a lot of time for the conversation and I discovered we were starting just above zero relating to open source in general and Linux specifically.
I recommended Ubuntu 10.4 because of Wabi and because I could point him to the 160 page PDF file. Saturday evening I emailed him with more detailed information, but still confining the focus to what may be helpful. I explained how the install would provide him with not only the OS, but applications and utilities as well. I explained the repositories and how to use the Ubuntu Software Center as a starting point, among other things. I offered a few caveats, like hardware that may not be recognized and the missing codecs. I explained briefly how these issues may be dealt with. He expressed interest and needed a starting point. I made a point to explain Wabi since I have played with it quite a bit recently.

But I don't care which distro someone uses, the fanbois can go play on the Interstate until they get hit for the last time (and good riddance). You can't print anything else I can say about them.

Unknown said...

I offered a few caveats, like hardware that may not be recognized and the missing codecs.

It's discouraging how often I get complaints about Ubuntu not working from new users. I am hearing that the new installer gives the new user a chance to get them installed when they are actually installing the system. I still get "Linux sucks" comments because they cannot play dvds or use flash/Java sites right after install.

Hopefully the new installer on 10.10 will change that.

Wiktor said...

He talked him into letting him replace Fedora with Ubuntu.

Chaos ensued.

The guy should have installed Ubuntu on another partition, so the computer would multiboot and let the user decide upon start which Linux flavor to run. Sure, it takes extra steps and knowledge, but the Ubuntu installer detects other installs and adds them to its GRUB menu.

This is what I do with my computers. I always have at least two Linux system partitions, one for the currently running Linux, and the rest are for experimentations. Combined with a separate home partition and some symlink magic I always have the same important data in the same directories. At the same time each Linux is configured independently, and this way I can see, understand and appreciate (or hate) all the nifty differences between them.