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

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.

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.”


  • Okay, first things first. If she bought the computer with Ubuntu from Dell, she could easily have talked to a support representative and recieved a Dell restore disk with Windows for a small fee (most likely less than the fees she had to pay for dropping out of school). Second, I used to install Verizon Internet for customers (as a sub-contractor) and rarely if ever did thier install CD work on Windows systems. Most times we had to call in to the support line and have them do the set-up from thier end manually anyway (the install would go about half-way and give the customer an error and tell them to call support). Third is that I use Ubuntu at home and I go to school on-line. Every class claims that you need to have Word and IE. You never "have to have them". Also, the last time I checked, computers do not ship with Microsoft Office anyway (unless you pay extra). Would this woman have quit school if she had gotten Windows on the machine and it did not have office? There has got to be a lot more to this story! I switched my parents over to Linux (this was thier second computer). They had no problem making the switch. In fact, Ubuntu has gotten so close to windows at this point that you can do almost everything you can woth windows (except I-tunes and some games). If the machine comes with Ubuntu already installed and configured, the hardest part is already over. People do not drop out of school because thier computer doesn’t work. Is she going to school in Guam? Does her school not have a computer lab? What about her local library? If you are determined to go to college you will find a way to make it work, not drop out at the first sign of trouble and blame an operating system! There were obviously other issues at hand.

    • Just to put the original story in it’s context, the "silly stupid woman" contacted the department of that local news station called "27 News Troubleshooter" NOT to tell the world, but just to get her little problem straightened out. It’s like a help desk that people can call when they don’t know where else to turn to.

      I wish people would give the poor girl a break, she had no idea what was coming. The TV station and the editor could have handled the situation much differently to avoid it blowing out of control like it did but they just wanted that stupid story to fill in the time. Well, it’s all water under the bridge a week later except for the young woman who’s probably still a nervous wreck!

      • any chance someone will tell her about wine, cedega, and crossover (by codeweavers)? She might be able to install Word after all, no joke and ie8 as well. That is what I would do, as for verizon, I agree that they are part of the problem and that the college itself could have done better, but from my point of view, everyone is to blame here, the linux community, Microsoft’s linux FUD, dell for trying to send linux to the unprepared, the education system for force feeding kids with Windows all the way into college, microsoft partners like Verizon for attempting to do everything in their power to bar non-Windows operating systems from their service (anti-competitive like a cartel indeed) the linux community with its flame wars and finally her for not asking the right questions to the right people. I would have loved to help a new linux user out in the best way I could. I would have solved every problem except the verizon one rather quickly with apt get (to install wine and winetools as well as unity integration for winetools) for her assuming she wanted word working. I would even have taught her how to install word using wine. By hell I got skyrim working with wine on a shitty laptop. I use gentoo but know how to use every distro’s package manager (the latest I learned was pacman in arch) and know Windows(3.x and above, know how to use dos as well), Linux(my first distro was redhat 6.2 with kde 1.1 and kernel 2.2.14), and Mac (Classic, including System 6 and above and OSX 10.0 and above) pretty well too.

  • This isn’t just a problem with a silly stupid woman.

    She went to the news to get this published all over the world.

    Who does that sort of thing?

    Usually someone who is paid to do it, or someone who is desperate for attention. She got plenty of attention, so if she was paid (by Microsoft), hopefully she was well-paid.

    Think this doesn’t fit with Microsoft’s idiotic ad campaigns recently? Go watch them again, where you get "everyday" dolts raving about their computer.

    No, this whole story reeks of the Microsoft marketing department.

  • I’m happy to say that I was one of the ones who defended the poor woman, who only believed what she was told.

    The real culprit here is Verizon. I’ve been using a Verizon connection with Linux operating systems for several years, but I’ve had Verizon support staff tell me that it can’t be done. In order to initiate the account, I had to install Windows on my machine. It was a pirated system, but I only ran it long enough to establish the connection, and to get myself a username and password. I deleted the Windows system, and from that point on, I’ve been using my Verizon connection with Linux.

    That was a couple of years ago. Maybe things have changed, but the refusal to support Linux that I have experienced from Verizon seems positively willful. To put some Unix compatible software on the installation disk, or to allow me to initiate a connection by phone, should have been easy for a huge corporation like verizon. I’m frankly amazed that selective support of operating systems is legal– especially considering that, as a distributor of MSN services, Verizon is a Microsoft partner. This seems to be the very definition of anticompetative practice.

    Please, everybody, stop flaming the unfortunate people who don’t get it. If you want Linux to succeed, please skip the anger and go straight to the opportunity to educate.

  • Its not a major surprise that Ubuntu didn’t work out for this student. We keep forgetting that people other than those who are intrigued by computers use them everyday. We also forget that the default support structure for most colleges and their student’s desktops is Windows. If you use Linux or a Mac, your likely response from the college will be: you are on your own. Many people in the world treat their computers like their toaster. And when it doesn’t work, they want an easy, and I emphasize, EASY solution to get them down the road. Not easy for people with a technical bent. Easy for everyone. Until we create open support communities to supplement our open source communities and make them broadly available and broadly known, Linux will continue to be the desktop solution only used by a fringe of population. Yes, its much better today than a few years ago. I spent weeks getting my first Red Hat desktop setup and working in my small office in 2004. I configured Opensuse 11.1 on my spare desktop last night in about an hour, including WiFi, and Evolution and without downloading any additional software. This is partly due to I’m a little smarter now than then, but mostly the distro anticipated my questions.

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