Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

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


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

    Wow, 800+ comments. It takes readers a lot fewer comments to tell me what they think of me.
    • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

      what 'mea culpa'?
      I haven't seen any!
      you should apologise for spreading FUD about Linux and go migrate back to Linux immediately!
      The Linux Geek
      • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

        @The Linux Geek 'Mea Culpa' means "My Bad" in Spanish, I believe.

        Or at least that's what my Spanish Professor taught me back in 2006.
      • Smuggaw: Actually, that would be in Latin.

        In Spanish, it would be, "Mi Culpa". Kind of sounds the same, but written slightly different, and sounding slightly different too. However, Spanish is derived from Latin, so, no big deal.
      • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

        @The Linux Geek ... suspect mea culpa is more inspired by Dear Abby's often and casual use of the phrase than anything else. It's generally assumed to mean "my mistake" or closer to its source, "my culpability" or "my mistake" in English. So I suspect like others, you don't really get the gist of it all but still try to make it appear relevant, which IMO it is far from and isi therefore an uncalled for comment from you. The article, in reality has little to nothing todo wth "mea culpa".
        OTOH, I think the post hits a lot of nails rght on the head where Linux is concerned.
        • Its always the same crap with these guys...

          Linux is perfect until you explain to the people why its not.

          But then of course your the one with the problem then.

          And they wonder why a free OS like Linux cannot garner any market share.

          They can scream and cry and rant until they are blue in the face. It will never change reality.

          Reality is that Linux is not ready for prime time and might never be.
          • What are you smoking? Linux *server* market share is huge.

          • I think Cayble refers to the desktop market

            But as other articles put it around this site, it's better just to call the OS some other name like "Android" and not say Linux.
    • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

      If you use something the wrong way - in any OS, you won't have such a lovely time..
      • If you make as easy as rolling off a log... use something wrong, even for an IT expert, that something will never have a lovely time.

        That is the unfortunate tale of Linux that will go down in history Im afraid.
    • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

      @khess Mea culpa is Latin for its my fault or through my fault, but yes could mean My Bad also.
  • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

    I'm afraid this is a little like domestic violence and you're playing the wife who thinks it's her fault. Really there is no excuse for these sorts of reactions and I commend you for passing on some to law enforcement.

    No it's not your fault - at all. Linux supporters have been saying for years it's a competitor to Windows and how easy it is to use and how secure.

    No, it's not - at least as a desktop or even a home server. Less than 1% after 20 years tells you it's not a competitor to Windows, it's easy to use compared to DOS and VMS perhaps, but it's not easier than a modern OS - even that reworked BSD Unix Apple is messing with is easier to use and it's even more ancient. As to secure, well if you do very little, have no bells and whistles, few applications and virtually no games or provide no new functionality then you'll be secure too.

    Linux is essentially a cheap software base for masochists or those unable to buy professional software. For hobbyists it's fine, as hobbies are rarely misson critical phenomena, but for the job you need to do, you need professional tools and Linux is sadly lacking.

    If you want to run a call center, simple database lookup or an embedded OS for your PVR (which I swear at when it screws up) then Linux might be your choice, but the rest of us have no need for a 20C OS.
    • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes


      Still threatened by Linux I see, some words of advice... next time when you are trying to spread FUD on Linux at least try and make it semi believable, there are so many outrageous claims in your post its like your taking the piss.

      You do want people to believe you don't you?
      • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

        Actually, tonymcs' experiences sound a lot like mine, and I've run various distros of Linux since around 1996 or so. I'm hardly a noob at it, and every single distro I try has something flaky going on. Every one. It's not that big a deal to me, because I like solving the puzzles, but not everyone is like me.

        If you have the time to futz with it and you enjoy the futzing, Linux is great. If you don't, you won't like it much.
      • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes


        HP, Windows, Sharepoint, Exchange. Find an HP employee, and ask them if they've had e-mail complete and utter failure lasting about six days, a week and a half ago. It shouldn't be hard, there are 300,000 of them now, I think. Almost every Linux distro I've used has had something flaky. I think that's a fair statement, but I'd caveat it with the fact that every Windows distro I've ever used(All of them since 2k) has been extremely flaky as well.
      • Actually...

        @guzz46: I have tried distro after distro, and have been for years, since I was in computer science courses back in the mid 90's. Every one in my opinion turned out to be a elitist's dream. Yes, I learned a lot about them but it's still too much for your average user, and far too steep of a learning curve for the average person. They want a toaster that works, not one they have to tinker with and learn a 20-step process when they want to toast a bagel instead of white bread. I like to play devil's advocate and consider more than one viewpoint.
        This was the conversation I had with a linux geek a few years ago:
        "Can't do that? Oh, you need THIS command line. "
        "But it's a GUI OS. Why should I need to memorize command lines?"
        "The GUI is just for show, the real nuts and bolts is command line"
        That pretty much sums up the fact that it's not a user's OS, it's still stuck in the days of UNIX/IRIX where everything that really matters requires a lot of arcane knowledge and/or time to look it up or ask around.
        The average user doesn't have time for that. They want it to work. Does Windows have quirks? Yes. But linux has a lot more.
      • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes


        I will take your comments with a grain of salt since I don't believe that you have tried distro after distro, and have been for years, since you were in computer science courses back in the mid 90's.
        To me it sounds like you haven't tried Linux in the last 10 years, you should try Linux Mint and then honestly try and tell me that its still hard to use and that you need to use the command line.

        I installed Debian 6 on my mothers laptop (who is completely computer illiterate) and she uses it fine, not once has she ever told me that its too hard to use, she is even using MS Office 2007 through Wine.
        And she has the added bonus that her computer won't slow down over time (which windows 7 has already done on her other partition) and she doesn't have any antivirus software to worry about either.
      • See, why would anyone feel threatened by Linux, or any OS?

        Is Linux going to attack me with a gun or knife? Will it eat my children? Will it make threatening phone calls?

        Then why should I fear it? I can simply ignore it, use the server OS I want to run our business on, right?

        If I say that Windows Server works just fine for me, who are you, or anyone else to say that I was wrong going that route?
        William Farrell
      • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

        @William Farrell

        Why do you fear it? well I wasn't replying to you but you tell me... maybe you work for microsoft?
        Why else do these microsoft fanbois continue to spread FUD whenever there is a Linux article, if Linux really is so insignificant then why even bother? why not just ignore it as you said?

        I don't care what OS you use, I just don't like it when people spread lies.
      • RE: Mea culpa: coming clean about my n00b Linux mistakes

        [i]Then why should I fear it? I can simply ignore it, use the server OS I want to run our business on, right?[/i]

        See? The tone of your own post borders on hysterical fear.

        Maybe it's time to answer your own questions, @William Ferrell. Why do you and your fellow shills feel so threatened by that '1%' anyway? Why can't you just ignore it?

        I'll tell you why. It's because [b]Linux really is a threat[/b] in spite of all the silly denials you and your Redmond shills engage in. That HAS to be the answer.

        The truth will set you free, @William Ferrell. Time to suck it up.