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Need Linux or FOSS Help? Ways to Make Sure You Don’t Get It

One of the great things about free and open source hardware is the availability of help online. There are ways, however, to make sure that help is never forthcoming.

The Video Screening Room

Emily Dunham delivers these nuggets of wisdom in an entertaining way in this four minute lightning talk at this year’s Great Wide Open conference in Atlanta. Watching this I laughed and learned — and laughed some more.

Read a fascinating interview with Dunham by Nitish Tiwari on

Incidentally, do you have a personal open source story to share? loves to publish them. For information on how to submit, visit the site’s Writing for webpage. My own personal open source story. “The Day My Mind Became Open Sourced” is also on the site.

Open source — it’s more than just software, but you knew that already, right?


  1. tracyanne tracyanne July 26, 2016

    I rarely go to Linux help forums for help. Mostly when I can’t work out something myself I do a simple IXQuick or DuckDuckGo search, most of the time the answer is there withing the first 3 results, if I phrased my question correctly.

    Very occassionally (maybe once or twice a year) I will go to a Forum, because I can’t find the answer to my problem, but no matter how I phrase the question, I never get a sensible answer or even an answer sometimes, or as was the case recently with the Ubuntu Forums, I had my [new] account canned because in an attempt to make it clear what my problem was I posted a link to an example of the problem, Turns out the admin didn’t like the link because in their words I was spamming.

  2. Charlie Charlie July 27, 2016

    I agree with the above comment.

    Usually when you encounter a problem, either it is common enough that you can get your answer from search engine, or you won’t get any help from forum.

  3. tracyanne tracyanne July 27, 2016

    Another thing. I downloaded the video of the talk, because our crappy satellite internet, here in the Australian bush, won’t let me stream well in real time.

    So I watched the video… I hope it was just someone trying to be funny, because it was rather unhelpful, otherwise.

    There are several things that simply aren’t options. For example; it’s at least 4 hours drive from where I live to any possible Opensource group, and getting to conventions really isn’t something I can afford (LinuxAu in Sydney is at least a 4 hour drive plus another 2.5 hour plane trip plus hotel costs, this year it was in NZ). Also I can’t imagine that anyone actually gets on a Forum or IRC and does any of the things this woman suggests.

  4. CFWhitman CFWhitman July 27, 2016

    She did touch on a couple of the things that people do that prevent them from getting help. The two most common ones I see are:

    1) Don’t provide enough information. People ask a question and are vague about the important details. This is excusable until they’re asked for specific information and they still don’t provide it. They don’t give the actual error message they received or they won’t follow instructions to discover more configuration information.

    2) Ask your question in a hostile manner that belittles the system, the developers, and anyone who might have otherwise helped you. Be sure afterward to complain about how hostile Linux help forums are.

  5. tracyanne tracyanne July 27, 2016

    I’ve never met anyone who asks a question in a hostile manner. Almost always they are simply afraid to ask a question, assuming they are the problem, but too afraid, I suppose, to test the water and confirm their fears. Which are almost always unfounded. Most of the people I deal with seem unable to see the difference between lack of knowledge (ignorance) and stupidity.

    They are not the sort of people who would get on an IRC channel or a Forum… they never visited Windows help forums when they were Windows users, so it’s unlikely they will start using a Linux Help forum.

    And yes many Forums are intimidating. Many have rules that discourage new posters, as indeed does the Ubuntu Forum I visited recently. New users aren’t allowed to post links.

  6. syntaxman syntaxman July 28, 2016

    I thought the video was good, but it seemed she focused on the more general end of the issues. I started with Linux in ’98 or so. When I needed help, I couldn’t avoid buying books. The Internet was only available on dial-up, and there wasn’t nearly as much available. Still, if you asked for help in an e-mail list or Usenet group, would frequently be told to RTFM.

    If you did the work of trying to find your answer via manpages, README files, web searches, e-mail list archives, and relevant books, you did it the right way. This is the attitude of just about every reasonable expert that has helped me … AFTER I had done that reasearch. And… if they are experts, they can tell if you did the legwork of reading at least the manuals and documentation that come with the software.

    They feel that way because of a few reasons. One, they had to do it that way… they aren’t anyone’s personal tutor. They just know that there are parts that will stump, confuse, or uncover bugs. They remember the frustration and want to help with that. However, they are likely to have already been burned by someone who is just a blackhole for time, effort, and knowledge. They usually want the user to do their own work, then they’ll provide a boost as needed. If they can tell you didn’t look at the bug-tracker or read the fine manual, they will just tell you to RTFM.

    Second is a situation my Mom got into when she decided she was going to set up a new photography business using coppermine (I think). She was in over her head. She didn’t learn the basics and build on it. She didn’t read many docs because she didn’t understand them. She went straight to the mailing list and barraged them with basic questions. They were polite enough to give pointers to docs and answer a few questions to give an obvious noob a nudge in the right direction. She responded by expecting them to explain all the stuff she didn’t understand. They were not as polite about her sense of entitlement, or the drain on their time. She complained to me that she thought they should understand that they need to help people if they want their software to be used. My response was A) Lots of people already did a ton of work to write and explain the stuff you need — don’t expect them to do it all over again for you, and B) Those people don’t particularly want to be teachers. They want to be *programmers*.

    The folks who support any software don’t want to just regurgitate the same stuff that was already documented. Solving problems might interest them if you care enough to work at it. They certainly know that the users who are worth helping, are the same ones who are interested/motivated to self-teach and research. Everyone else? RTFM.

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