Words by c.z.robertson

Developers and Disdain

2002-06-25 01:00:00 UTC

Alison Hawke:

They [Linux programmers] don't want the herd using their system, or they would have designed it so we could actually use it. And it's pretty obvious the disdain they hold towards us in the herd. ... Most of all, it shows in the patronising attitude of the Linux Elite.

Well, that's a pretty thorough misreading of Roblimo's Making Linux look harder than it is. What Roblimo (uhm, is he part of the "Linux Elite"?) was actually saying was that the uber-geeks should move over and let the less geeky Linux users help the newbies. There shouldn't be anything particularly controversial in that. It's simply that those of us who've been using Linux for a long time are too familiar with older Unix tools that may not be the most usable and with all the complexities of the system that would confuse anyone who was new to Linux. Therefore we don't always make the best teachers. That's a fairly humble position to take. It's hardly patronising.

I've often been in a position where my level of knowledge made it difficult for me to be a good teacher. If I have an understanding of all the complexities of something, I'll often try to introduce all those complexities at once when teaching it to someone else. I'm really not very good at separating the essential parts from the inessential details.

Most of Alison Hawke's rant is not really directed at Roblimo's article (which is probably a good thing, given how carefully she read it). The gist of it is that Linux is unusable and that Linux developers don't care about "normal people". If she is correct, the answer to her problems is simple: she shouldn't use Linux.

I don't want to be quite so negative. It's unfortunate that her experience with Linux was so unpleasant. Linux would be a better system if people did not experience those sorts of problems.

That said, though, a little more civility would be desirable from those for whom Linux isn't an adequate system. Many people work on Linux, the vast majority of them unpaid, and they have a variety of motives for doing so. A lot of the people working on Linux are doing so simply to improve their own computing environment. To say that they are ignoring "normal people" is a perverse complaint to make. Are you paying them to work for you? And, of course, it would be ridiculous to complain that the ones who are altruistically working on the incredibly difficult tasks of documentation and usability aren't working hard enough.

If Alison Hawke had bought her copy of Linux from vendors who had made unfulfilled promises about the system then she would have every right to complain to those vendors. To accuse all Linux developers of disdain for "normal people", though, is quite unacceptable. I'd like her to explain what obligation Linux hackers have to someone who obviously holds them in nothing less than disdain.