Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

Summary:The one where I learn what a n00b I am with Linux.

A little over a week ago, I wrote a rant about how my Linux server had crashed. I was upset when I wrote the piece, having lost a lot of work. Since then, the article itself got almost 800 comments and even my respected colleagues here on ZDNet and elsewhere have weighed in (some with very angry emails and accusations directed at me).

See also: Why I’ve finally had it with my Linux server and I’m moving back to Windows

The following video uses direct quotes from many of the emails I've received:

To be honest, the cognitive disconnects amongst the most loyal Linux fanbois have concerned and disappointed me. I've long considered Linux the last bastion for operating system freedom and I'm learning that might not really be the case.

To have so many people jump down my throat because I wanted to migrate software I wrote -- a feature-rich, award-winning, online magazine publishing system called ZENPRESS, which is the basis for the business on which I've made my primary living for the last decade and a half, and a good portion of my life's work -- or install commercially well-respected software not included in an existing distro, or not hire an entire IT team, or run the distro my ISP requires -- or actually run recommended updates -- was really demoralizing.

I always knew that Linux (like much in the computer world) was a religion unto itself. But what I didn't realize was that most practitioners weren't free spirits doing their own thing. Instead, at least from the comments and emails I've received (even from respected colleagues), it appears that there are only a few doctrinal usage scenarios and if you (like me) choose to stray from those paths, woe will be your only reward.

Doctrine 1 seems to be the "use the packaged distro" only scenario. If you can use exactly what's been packaged and tested, and not add any additional software, whether home grown or even from an outside source, you should be fine.

For those of you who've written to me, telling me they just want to run a basic LAMP server and wondering if it's safe to do so, one source of packaged Linux appliances is Turnkey Linux, which seems pretty good for this purpose.

Doctrine 2 is for those who want to run something not packaged in a standard distro. I've had very respected Linux experts tell me that if I want to do this, I should hire an IT department and let someone with experience do the job.

This is where I'm most disappointed, because if Linux is truly the OS for the rest of us, then smart people, not corporations with IT departments, should be able to mold it to our needs.

What, I guess, bothered me most, was that these people seemed to assume they knew what I was trying to accomplish. I was lambasted in one email (again, from a respected colleague), who insisted that I just move my few HTML files to some existing CMS. I now have more than 70,000 articles written in a unique and wonderful editorial markup language and that migration is non-trivial.

In fact, that migration is one of the projects I'll be spotlighting here on DIY-IT. At the end of this article, I've included a lecture I gave at WordCamp last March showcasing the project and the migration effort.

These same people, because I was (a) unwilling to hire an IT department, (b) insistent on running the software I wanted to run, and (c) liked using modern conveniences like a GUI, made the assumption that I'd never set up a server. In fact, my servers (Windows based, for the record) have served more than a billion Web pages.

One reader, Jerry, told me I'm a "moron" for not using RHEL and, "paying like the rest of us". He also thinks I should have known better than use "any distribution of Linux that's open source for production applications."

I don't mind being called moron, or stupid, or idiot, or any of the other names the Linux faithful have ascribed to me this last week. I have a thick skin and if I'm willing to dish it out, I'm also willing to take it.

That said, I do have to say that some of you disappointed me with your own behavior. To go around the Web and post nastygrams and attempt to deface other sites I participate in, to be rude and destructive just because you don't like what was said, to threaten me physically, and to accuse me of all sorts of interesting and heinous acts -- well, that was just uncool and unnecessary.

For the record, a few of your messages (and you know who you are and what you said) have been forwarded on to my associates in law enforcement.

But, to be honest, what bothers me most, what saddens me the most, is that I've always held onto the myth that Linux was the last, best hope for those of us who like to do it ourselves and like to run software we've built ourselves.

And here's where my mea culpa comes in. It was, ultimately, my fault that I believed in Linux as much as I did. Those of you working with Linux on a daily basis aren't at fault for doing what you do or loving your environment.

That said, to be told and scolded by so many Linux fans and experts that doing it yourself and running my own software is wrong, that I should either run distros in absolute, unwavering lock-step, or wait until I can afford an entire team of Linux-steeped administrators, seems to be a betrayal of the very promise of Linux.

That's just sad.

Here, by the way, is the lecture I gave earlier this year:

Please feel free to TalkBack below. Let's try to keep it constructive this time, okay?

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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