More Ubuntu Adventures

UbuntuI’ve been following a story that came out of WKOW 27 the ABC affiliate in Madison, WI.

The headline WKOW uses, “Woman blames Dell for missing online classes”, doesn’t accurately reflect the crux of the issue. Slashdot boiled it down as “Woman Claims Ubuntu Kept Her From Online Classes“, and story is called “Ubuntu Causes Girl To Drop Out of College” on Digg.

Check out the story, and the station’s follow up for details. They are definitely worth reading.

The short version of the story boils down into a few points:

  • The young woman bought a computer from Dell.
  • It arrived with Ubuntu preinstalled.
  • Because it didn’t run Windows, her Verizon high-speed internet CD wouldn’t install its software.
  • Because it didn’t run Windows, she wasn’t able to fill course requirements for Microsoft Word.
  • Support from vendors weren’t able to help her because technically speaking, she didn’t have a problem.
  • Seemingly unequipped for school, she dropped out of her courses for two semesters.
  • Out of frustration, she reached out to WKOW’s Consumer Reporter Dan Cassuto.

After the story aired and hit the station’s website, WKOW was overwhelmed with traffic from various geeky outlets. Digg-stormed, Slashdotted, all that. According to WKOW, the story had 120,000 visits yesterday, as compared to 15,000 for their home page. Apparently, the station’s infrastructure was crushed by all the traffic, web and email.

Reading the stories, watching the newscast, and reading the station’s blog posts on the affair and the comments offer insight into the parties. It’s too bad that there are no winners.

I feel bad for the young woman whose frustration drove her to contact the news. Sure, the story has produced what I assume is the desired effect: Dell is working to fix her issues. I’m not sure how, but I doubt they want any more negative press. However, the unexpected side effect is that she’s been attacked on Facebook and all over the ‘tubes. No one deserves that.

I feel bad for Ubuntu and Open Source. The hard work put in by advocates won’t be what’s remembered after this incident. The snarky and rude commentary will be, and worse yet, it’ll be attached to Ubuntu and Open Source in the minds of many who who haven’t been exposed previously. Not good for PR. Plus, you can bet Dell isn’t pleased with this tempest, which can’t be good for the relationship between Dell and Canonical. Not a good use case for Ubuntu and n00b users either.

I’m surprised that the news station didn’t have a better picture of what Open Source and Linux are. From what I’ve heard, Madison has a solid tech scene, attributable to its place as the main campus of the University of Wisconsin and other higher education institutions. The tone of the story reads a lot like the Linux is “holding our kids back” story from last month; both anecdotes show a lack of knowledge about Open Source and Linux as viable alternatives to Windows (and Macs).

It’s not clear if the woman approached her college about either the Microsoft Word or her general Linux problem, but my guess is someone could have helped her eventually. Of course, ongoing frustration probably pushed her to turn to the news.

Even people who know a little about Open Source don’t necssarily get what it’s about; I recently told a colleague I was installing ClamAV, an Open Source virus scanner for Mac/Linux. The colleague remarked that a free anti-virus software package would be tough to trust because anyone could put code into it.

While it is true that anyone can contribute code to an Open Source project, there are strict controls and code reviews that prevent malware and buggy code from getting released. This is why projects like Firefox, OpenOffice and various Linux distros have succeeded; they are run by passionate people whose extreme passion keeps the code clean and highly functional. Their passion frequently leads to rudeness, as they are deeply attached to what they do. Good for software, bad for arguments.

I guess the one winner here is Microsoft because it further underlines the dominance of a) Windows and b) Office. Even though Microsoft’s browser and O/S market shares continue to fall, there still are scads of people out there who directly equate computer with Windows box.

One good note here is that apparently many people volunteered to help the woman with her problem; too bad they won’t be remembered.

Ubuntu is a great O/S. I’ve run it happily (and lauded it here) for nearly a year; Rich runs it too (or he did). It’s a solid choice for people of any skill level, provided they have a someone to support it. That’s the key point, especially if you’re switching someone from Windows. Even though Mac, Windows and most Linux distros look alike (as mentioned in the newscast); they do not always behave alike or run the same software.

Of course, your mileage will vary; see Chet’s recent Ubuntu exploits if you’re not convinced.

Anyway, I’m curious to hear your thoughts, minus all parts about who’s smart/dumb. This use case feels like a blow to Linux as a mainstream O/S, which is what Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical have planned for Ubuntu.

Find the comments and be nice.




  1. It was sad for the girl and I do feel bad, to a point.

    I think my issue is more with the news station and the Troubleshooter types. The person is typically billed as the victim (can't pay the mortgage, bought a computer with Ubuntu, etc) when in fact they are directly responsible for their choices and decisions.

    That quip about “Ubuntu is an operating system that contains Linux.” What? The reporter even mentioned in his blog that he runs Linux so how could he mistate it so badly.

    Anyway (I'm not drinking, but I'm still rambling), I know reporters are supposed to be objective and all, but couldn't he have offered to help since he was familiar? Did it really require a call to Dell or MATC to resolve? Seems like it was a slow news day and he had a deadline to meet to me…

    Go Ubuntu! Next up, installing Oracle…

  2. Yeah, the story is definitely sensationalized; how many Windows or Mac users have felt similar frustration? I've been to a Genius Bar, unfortunately and against my will.

    Even better, from the first story:

    “That's an operating system for your computer similar to Windows that contains Linux. It's highly regarded among some people and extremely popular with certain circles of computer users because it's free.”

    Highly regarded because it's free, they've onto us 🙂

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