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Woman Quits College, Blames Ubuntu, Is Flamed by Overzealous Fanboys

By Katherine Noyes
Jan 19, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Operating systems have been charged with a variety of grievances over the years, but perhaps none so dire as the one that was laid at Linux's door last week.

Woman Quits College, Blames Ubuntu, Is Flamed by Overzealous Fanboys

Yes, last week Linux -- or, more specifically, Ubuntu -- was blamed for nothing short of ending a Wisconsin student's college career.

How could that be possible, you may ask? Well, the student in question -- we won't reproduce her full name here for fear of worsening the response she's apparently already gotten -- accidentally ordered Ubuntu on her new Dell computer.

She called Dell to switch it to Windows, but the sales rep convinced her to stay with Ubuntu, according to the report. The result? Nothing short of mayhem, it seems.

'No Internet and No Microsoft Word'

"Her Verizon High-Speed Internet CD won't load, so she can't access the internet. She also can't install Microsoft Word, which she says is a requirement for MATC's online classes," reported Madison's WKOW 27, which broke the original story.

"As a result, with no internet and no Microsoft Word, Schubert dropped out of MATC's fall and spring semesters," the station reported.

Now, we in the Linux community can get upset when those on the Windows side of the fence complain about smaller things they view as deficiencies in our favorite operating system. But when someone says it's so bad they had to drop out of college? Well, you can just imagine the situation in the blogosphere.

Explosion in the Blogosphere

More than 3,000 Diggs and 1,000 comments greeted the original story within a day of its posting on Digg on Thursday -- not to mention more than 1,500 comments on Slashdot.

"God knows if your Verizon CD won't load then you can't get on the internet," wrote knuj in Digg's comments. "I think it's a miracle the editor was even able to post this story -- how poorly researched. The 'Girl" shouldn't be in College -- perhaps McDonalds is her calling."

"Dugg to expose her ignorance!" added thenativeaver.

"Linux: weeding out the stupid from college. Awesome," chimed in photonics.

Hate Mail and Harassment

The not-so-understanding comments went on from there, but apparently not all the hostility was limited to the blogs. In fact, later on Thursday WKOW posted a follow-up to report on the overwhelming -- and overwhelmingly negative -- response both the station and the young woman in question had received.

That followup, in turn, was posted on Digg on Friday as well, garnering within hours a further 1,600-plus Diggs and 800-plus comments. This time, however, the comments were focused less on the woman's situation and more on the community's response.

"Whoever the jackasses are that were sending hate messages to the woman, you should be ashamed of yourself -- that kind of nonsense isn't going to help anyone," wrote Bicep, for example. "It's one thing to share your constructive thoughts and criticisms with the news station (in a non-vulgar manner), but it's another thing entirely to assault upon someone else's freedom by acting like a rude idiot to someone else -- that's just not the right thing to do."

'This Needs To Be the Target Audience'

That said, however, "I also don't think it's logically accurate (or even fair) at all to say the 'GNU/Linux community' as a whole is to blame for a few of the overzealous type idiots either," Bicep added. "Let me say that again...The GNU/Linux 'community' didn't impinge upon the woman's freedoms, a few idiots did."

Another perspective: "I love GNU/Linux but this just shows how far-fetched 'XXXX Year of the Linux' is," added Snap65. "Personally I think she is an idiot but I wouldn't harass her for lack of brain cells. I would actually help her learn Ubuntu. This needs to be the target audience."

WKOW and Dell are apparently both working with the young woman to get her problems solved. In the meantime, however, the situation is highly reminiscent of the teacher who recently caused a firestorm for her anti-Linux comments. LinuxInsider took to the streets of the blogosphere to get some more insights.

'Hard to Get Past "Silly"'

"If Dell is talking people out of buying Windows in favor of Linux, they've sure come a long way," Slashdot editor Timothy Lord told LinuxInsider.

"But the story really is about as bad as all the angry comments to the WKOW site make it out to be -- the 'misled' customer here could be the subject of an Onion article if she believed that pesos are commonly accepted at New Jersey tollbooths or was angry that Monster cable was not in fact made out of monsters," Lord added. "Hard to get past 'silly' here."

The fact that the woman quit "not one but two semesters of college because things didn't 'just work' tells me that there is more to this story than just Ubuntu," Slashdot blogger Mhall119 added. "Others will no doubt go on about how all of her 'problems' weren't actually problems with Ubuntu, but a lack of understanding on her part," Mhall119 told LinuxInsider.

Lack of Social Skills

"It looks like most of her complaints boiled down to, 'it doesn't work the way I expect so I gave up'," agreed Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack. "Had she called either her ISP or her college, they would have both explained that there was no problem."

Still, "I think some of the behavior from the Linux crowd was out of line," Mack told LinuxInsider. "Calling her names and harassing her on Facebook were clearly unacceptable directions, and I think some of the harassers need to spend some time away from their computers and learn some social skills."

Blogger Robert Pogson recently took a college course to upgrade his skills, and saw for himself that course descriptions sometimes do give "dire warnings like 'must use IE and XP'," he told LinuxInsider. "I used Opera and Mozilla and had little trouble with the course management system."

A few assignments required using particular apps for "that other OS," he adds, but "I asked the instructor and was told I could use whatever I wanted."

As an educator, "I use Moodle in my own work," Pogson explained, "and since Moodle has been modified to work with most browsers, I have never been inclined to ask students to use any particular equipment to work with it."

Snowball Situation

The woman in question should be pitied, Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider.

"She probably started out with the best intentions, and because no one sells anything with a straight story anymore, she thinks she buys 'a laptop' and gets 'Ubuntu on a laptop,'" he explained. "So, she makes a mistake, and her universe piles on: Dell talks her into keeping Ubuntu with assurances it's what she needs; her school insists on Microsoft when all they really need is compatible file formats; her Verizon high-speed Internet CD won't install because it is a Windows format executable."

It all sounds "unbelievably bad, but it's more unbelievably simple and soluble," yagu added. "Unfortunately, none of the actors knows this and unwittingly compound the problem(s)."

'The White Elephant in the Room'

Dell and the woman's college both must shoulder some of the blame, he said. Dell, for instance, "could have prevented any and all of these problems by being more clear about their product -- i.e., it should SHOUT Ubuntu," yagu said.

Once again, however, "the white elephant in the room for all of this is Microsoft," yagu concluded. "Microsoft has so dominated and convinced the nontechnical community that if it isn't 'designed to run Microsoft,' it's deficient.

"People don't know (yet) that Ubuntu, among others, is a perfectly viable solution for most people -- even the woman in the story," he added. "Unfortunately, Linux and Ubuntu get the ding here, but neither deserves it."

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