I had a moment or two's identification with Caitlyn Martin, who blogged about fallout from a distro review. Yes, I, too, have noticed that there's a cult of sacred-cow-worshippers who take "Linux advocacy" to a dark extreme - believing that loving Linux means never admitting you're wrong.
Hey, remember when I was down on Ubuntu? Things like that. I panned it at the time for exactly the same reasons that Caitlyn was down on Puppy - it wouldn't run on most of her machines. For three years, I had the identical experience with Ubuntu - only this last year, when Ubuntu had a problem with my video (a kernel upgrade broke my nVidia driver, so I had to reinstall it) and booted into a safe recovery desktop which was usable did I finally heave a sigh of relief and declare Ubuntu usable for my purposes.
The famous example of my own experience with community backlash is when I said "Ubuntu is not Linux," which some hotheads were so determined to take the wrong way. I clarified that point in what became the biggest multi-part series I've ever posted, "The Tragedy of Linux: You Can Hack an OS, But You Can't Hack People". Finally, it seems like people got it - "it", (for the TL;DR version) being that we need beginner's level distros and advanced-user's level distros, and that doing so is the only way we can both keep Linux strong and build its user-base.
It's even more shocking to see Caitlyn Martin's example. This is the Puppy Linux community? The sweet, cuddly puppy? Somebody in the comments also invoked the name Kathy Sierra, another female geek and tech blogger who was also the subject of an online harassment campaign.
EDIT: Just to be clear, Caitlyn Martin isn't charging sexist motivations here - but some of the comments on the linked O'Reilly page do. That's also where somebody brought up Kathy Sierra.
But let's have no more jabbering about how "the Linux culture is hostile to women" - the Linux culture is a place of sweetness and light and harmony, including the flames on Kerneltrap. The hotheaded kids just outside the fringes of the Linux community, however, are a bunch of bunny-boiling psychopaths. And I'm living proof that you don't have to be female to draw online harassment. From the various controversies I've engaged in over the years, I've gotten threats of everything from legal pursuit to death to dismemberment and maiming, and I think there's still a few voodoo dolls of me with pins in them out there.
The geek culture is hostile. End of line.
It does seem that that hostility turns to threats when its target is female more often, but in fact there's a hell of a lot of online flames going on at any given time. It seems to me that there's fewer women in tech, Linux, and blogging, so there's a higher ratio of female geeks getting hit. Men get hit too, all the time. We just don't bring it up as much. Me, I tend to shrug most of the time and say "that's life" and move on. If I whine about it in my blog, that's just to point out that it happens - for every one I mention, there's nine more I don't. If I respond to it sometimes, well, I'm human, too. I enjoy a good fight. I find it funny.
It also doesn't help that we have some jerks giving feminists a bad name by sounding false alarms of sexism when really people don't like them for being mean and rude, their sex notwithstanding. Just be clear, I'm talking about somebody else whose name isn't getting mentioned here.
Because, see, we can't stereotype all Linux users together, and we can't stereotype all women together, and we can't stereotype all geeks together, and we can't stereotype all men together, and, since we have Microsoft asstroturfers out there making a bad name for some of us, we can't stereotype everybody who has a criticism of a piece of FOSS software together, either.
I say Linux distros should be reviewed objectively. Every review that I've done, I've done from the point of view of a paying consumer - even though the software was free of price, I hold it up to the same standards I would use for any software I would have bought off the shelf at the store. I apply that to everything from distros to the most incidental command-line tool.
Linux is not a special-needs handicapped child who has to always get a blue ribbon just for showing up. Linux is running on 89% of supercomputers, it is the foundation for the Internet, it is run by Google, Amazon.com, and the US friggin' Army, it powers CERN laboratories and the Hadron Collider, it's making headway in the mobile phone market... it's therefore big enough to take some constructive criticism.
The Linux desktop user community, however, is not big enough. So, ah, can we please not be painted with the same brush?
Take these points home:
- Not every geek is male.
- Not every man is sexist.
- Not every flame against a female is directed at her being female.
- Not every flaming retard speaks for the whole Linux community.
- Not every person reporting a negative experience with Linux is an enemy of Free Software
Now then, I said I wouldn't get back into Linux community politics, and I'm not. But when I see somebody else getting their stuffing kicked, I'm just asking that we all take a deep breath, step back from our Internets, and - men, women, pro-FOSS, anti-FOSS, pro-distro, anti-distro, and all - get ready to enjoy the upcoming Holidays in peace?
Or, at least, as close to peace as the geek culture ever gets.