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Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective
Posted Aug 04, 2004 - 12:21 AM
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As computer, OS and technology aficionados, many of us have become all too familiar with the rivalries that occur between different camps. At some level this back and fourth dialog is healthy because it exposes others to alternative solutions which might be better than what an individual is currently using. But somewhere along the line, these rivalries got out of control and individuals in the same camp started creating division where unity is needed most. Daniel R. Miessler submitted the following editorial to osOpinion/osViews, which analyses how out of control the situation has become. Can't we all just get along?

"Linux sucks as a desktop."
"Windows is insecure."
"OS X is for rich, trendy art majors."

Depending on who's in earshot, spouting off any of these statements in the company of geeks is likely to get you anything from a dirty look to a severe tongue-lashing. Geeks tend to take their choice of operating system and applications very seriously, and this has both its benefits and disadvantages. On the good side, it’s a great feeling for developers when they see such quasi-religious followings behind their products, and it can help get the word out about potentially helpful tools. But on the negative side, many people tend to take this loyalty to an extreme - losing sight of more important truths in the process.

The Classics

Many battles between similar information technology tools have raged on for years and even decades. Some of these include Vi vs. Emacs, C vs. Java, command line vs. GUI, Pine vs. Mutt, and Linux vs. BSD. In the more mainstream tech arenas, the ranks are formed along the lines of Windows vs. Mac or Linux, IE vs. other browsers, Mcaffe vs. Symantec, AdAware vs. Spybot, and Zone Alarm vs. competing personal firewalls. This, of course, is just scratching the surface.

These debates are quick to invoke anger, aggression, and condescension from those participating. They often start off in a somewhat civilized manner, but most end up analogous to the French guy shouting at the knights over the castle wall.

The Linux Case

Even within sub-groups you have severe infighting. One particular battle that I have watched for a few years now is that over which Linux distribution one uses. Recognize that most people using Linux in the first place have in common the fact that they’ve turned their back to Microsoft and Windows. You’d think this would give them some sense of community, but in forum after forum the users of different distributions insist on treating each other as enemies. This is particularly true from the top down. In other words, those who use some of the more advanced distributions, such as Gentoo, Debian, or Slackware, tend to give those using more user-friendly versions like RedHat or Mandrake a very hard time. This of course, makes them eager to upgrade to a more “leet” distro so that they can in turn make fun of the people that use what they just came from. It’s quite hilarious.

It’s even possible to unofficially document these trends on a large scale. Around 4 years ago (when I started paying attention) anyone using Linux at all was fairly respectable. There were the highly-skilled people then too of course, and most of them were using Slackware or Debian, but just making the jump to Linux from Windows was worthy of some measure of respect. As Linux became more popular, however, people started coming on board with Redhat and Mandrake at a rather brisk pace. This killed the novelty of using Linux as a whole, since more people were now able to do it. As a result, the only way to preserve one’s superiority was to make the distinction as to what kind of Linux they were using.

Humans are funny

This continued on until the coming of Gentoo. Gentoo Linux shook up everything and quickly became the “in” distribution. Both wannabes and power-users alike flocked to the source-based paradigm offered by the newcomer, and it was (and continues to be) a resounding success. Ironically (or obviously) enough, that same success then led to a backlash from the “hardcore” crowd – a phase that we are largely still in, by the way. Many Linux gurus steadfastly refuse to use Gentoo simply because it’s so popular. They instead elect to “get back to the roots” by sticking with Debian or Slackware. Again, this is often (but not always) an attempt to separate themselves into the ever-coveted “more geekier than thou” group.

Recently, this desire for identification as part of the elite has led to an exodus to BSD. It’s the funniest thing – it’s as if the only thing cooler than saying you use Slackware instead of Mandrake is to say you use FreeBSD instead of Slackware. (See “it’s more Unix-like”). Ultimately, someone will dig up some of the first Unix builds, modify them so they are barely able to be used, and they’ll become the new craze.

The general rule for these types is that if something they like becomes either too popular or too easy to use, it must be abandoned in favor of something relatively obscure and/or cumbersome. (see punk bands)

Hardcore Insecurity

Even more frustrating than watching geeks fight among themselves over the tools they’re using is watching old-school, highly-skilled (either real ones or the wannabes) tech users struggle with an older application because they steadfastly refuse to use a more modern (often superior) tool. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are times that the older tools are just as good or better than newer tools that do the same thing. There are also many people who simply started with one of the older tools and have been putting off trying the new one. For these folks, it’s not that they are against using the new tool; it’s just that they haven’t got around to it yet.

These people, however, aren’t the types I am talking about. I am referring to the guy who thinks using bash instead of sh is a sign of weakness and inferiority. It’s the guy who’d rather use stty every single time he logs in so he can use the backspace key. And it’s not even as if the person uses any of the advantages of that particular shell over the newer one (if that were the case it would be understandable). They could be doing nothing more than a bunch of directory changes, repetitive commands, etc. – all of which would benefit from using bash or tcsh. But no – they refuse to change to one of those because what they think their peer group would think of them. When a person is willing to do way more work solely to avoid being thought of as “newbie-like”, they have some issues.

What these people have in common with those above who fight about who’s stuff is better is that above all else he wants to get the rush of being “old-school”, and therefore superior to the next guy. Nothing makes people like this happier than being able to say, “Oh, you use Bash? I like the plain ol’ sh better…” “Oh, you like Mozilla mail? I use Pine.” “I see you’re using Pico; try Emacs, it’s way more powerful.” The people I am talking about live for opportunities to say these things.

Why It’s Not Important

Ok, so I’ve highlighted a few of the issues that various geek sub-cultures seem to have, but what’s the point? Well, my point is this:

If someone insists on judging another person, it should be based on what they do with their tools – not what tools they use to do it.

I am not condoning judging someone based on this ether, all I’m saying is that it makes a lot more sense. There are people out there running FreeBSD or Gentoo as their desktop because it gives them a high to know that few people are doing the same. Well, what do these users actually produce with these highly superior environments? That’s the question. Many in this category create little or nothing at all; they instead spend their time on USENET and in forums for “lesser” products berating the mouth-breathers for not being as advanced as they are. You seldom see them using their vast powers to actually create something useful.

Objectivity and Perspective

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what tools one uses to accomplish a given task – it’s only the output that matters. Of course, if one tool does the job better than another, by all means use that one – but that should be the only consideration. People caught up in the camp politics of “my x is better than your y” can’t help but become resistant to truth when that truth implies something negative about their golden OS or application. It’s much more healthy in my opinion to not care one way of the other and focus on what the tool allows one to do.

I’ll leave you a picture of two people. Bob is a highly technical Linux user running a dual processor, 64-bit workstation with 2GB of RAM. He spends his time putting down Windows in public forums and generally wreaking havoc on anyone who doesn’t use the same applications he uses. Alice, on the other hand, is a WindowsME user who’s running Word 97 and a 4 year old Pentium II. In her spare time, she writes proposals for increased science education in local middle-schools.

Who commands more respect?

For me it’s clearly Alice. Why? Because she has a goal. The goal in her case is to get more money for field trips to the planetarium this year.

Bob doesn’t seem to have much of a goal – other than convincing people that were he to have one, he’d be able to go about accomplishing it better.

As geeks, let's focus on respecting people less based on what they use, and more on what they achieve. ::

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Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective


Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective | Login/Create an account | 19 Comments
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Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective (Score: 1)
by (Tarential@hotmail.com)
on Aug 04, 2004 - 01:23 AM
(User info | Send a message) http://www.newagecoders.net/
Excellent article. You make some wonderful points, and I hope everyone takes the time to read them over carefully.

[ Reply to this ]

  • Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective by Non-member on Aug 05, 2004 - 12:38 AM
Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective (Score: 0)
by Non-member on Aug 04, 2004 - 02:39 AM
If someone insists on judging another person, it should be based on what they do with their tools – not what tools they use to do it.

Uhh... Then I guess many Linux users should stop using Linux since they are only use Linux because it's not Microsoft. There goes 80% of Linux' market share.

[ Reply to this ]

  • Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective by Non-member on Aug 05, 2004 - 03:08 AM
  • Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective by Non-member on Aug 11, 2004 - 09:06 AM
Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective (Score: 0)
by Non-member on Aug 04, 2004 - 07:36 AM
This is the best article I've read on the Linux 'community' in a long, long time.

I am constantly shocked by appalling behavior of some Linux users in forums. Whenever I look for help as a relatively inexperienced Linux user, trawling the forums turns up so many insults and childish comments.

Judging from the appalling spelling and grammar of these posts, it would appear that many such Linux users are low-intellect adolescents attracted to the OS through a need to have a cause to fight for. Their technical arguments are almost always flawed and they obviously have precious little understanding of what Open Source and the cultural underpinnings of the Free Software Foundation are all about.

What they do have, unfortunately, is an abundance of misplaced aggression and too much time for lurking in newsgroups and forums.

[ Reply to this ]

  • Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective by Non-member on Aug 04, 2004 - 11:44 AM
  • Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective by Non-member on Aug 04, 2004 - 12:02 PM
  • Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective by Non-member on Aug 05, 2004 - 11:26 AM
  • Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective by Non-member on Aug 05, 2004 - 02:34 PM
  • Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective by Non-member on Aug 11, 2004 - 09:11 AM
Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective (Score: 1)
by bav on Aug 04, 2004 - 08:28 AM

(User info | Send a message)
Good article. I think a lot of what you point out is not just visible in the technology sector. I think humans in general have gotten much more hostail and we are much more likely to verbally abuse others for stupid things like this.

[ Reply to this ]

Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective (Score: 1)
by (kelly@osviews.com)
on Aug 04, 2004 - 12:30 PM
(User info | Send a message) http://www.osviews.com
I just re-read my intro paragraph and noticed how rife with grammar and spelling errors it was. Though it is fixed now... I would like to offer a apology to Mr. Miessler for my mistake.

[ Reply to this ]

Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective (Score: 1)
by dscribner on Aug 04, 2004 - 12:48 PM

(User info | Send a message) http://www.nichedev.com/

Thanks Daniel, that was an excellent article.

As a user of various distros, whether it be FC2 or SuSE on my laptops, Debian, Whitebox or FreeBSD on one of my servers, or anything from Mandrake, Knoppix, Slackware, Gentoo or a number of other distros on my multi-boot desktops (including the DamnSmallLinux I keep in my shirt pocket or the LNX-BBC in my briefcase), they all have their advantages and is why I love them all.

I certainly don't consider myself "leet" by any stretch, but I enjoy working with them (or just about anything else tech-oriented), and getting to know the highs, lows and quirks of each is exciting. That's what allows me to help others as I learn, and that's what I get a kick out of. I have met too many people that are so absolutely brilliant in what they do (John Terpstra for example), that I find most every "l33t" person I meet to be little more than a self-appointed, self-inflated, ego-driven idiot. I respect knowledge and mastery, not attitudes.

Unfortunately, as another poster pointed out, I think we'll always have people around with the "I'm superior than though, so therefore you are trash" attitudes, no matter where you turn. I've seen it everywhere from auto mechanics to top-level retail/business managers, so they can't be missed. All we can do is ignore them (what they despise most) and hope they shut up (not likely), or go away (more likely, as they need the attention and flame-wars to exist).

Have a GREAT day, Daniel, and I truly hope your article strikes to the heart of many and is well heeded.

[ Reply to this ]

Security is another area (Score: 0)
by Non-member on Aug 04, 2004 - 05:50 PM
Though I certainly understand the need for brevity, I think the message this article is sending could easily be demonstrated by looking at what the current climate surrounding security on Windows is brewing.

It seems that in any forum I frequent there are "old school" Windows people who cling desperately to work-arounds. Rather than embracing newer, more secure software for basic tasks (Firefox and Thunderbird are the most commonly mentioned), they insist anyone who asks security related questions continue to use Internet Explorer and Outlook or OE. If you just follow dozens of circuitous steps you can have an environment that's soft of safe, for now, they'll say. Then when these users contract the next bit of malware to make its way across their desktop, they'll jump on it as a chance to prove how much they know about getting rid of it, but will never suggest a way to close the security holes in the first place, since that would remove their opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge.

[ Reply to this ]

Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective (Score: 0)
by Non-member on Aug 04, 2004 - 06:17 PM
Great article! I wish lots of people would read this. Im primarily a Mac OS X power user, but I also use Linux and Windows every so often. Im getting sick of stupid little battles like the ones you mention, and things like the KDE vs GNOME battles. I shouldn't have to log out of one environment and into another one just to get help with minor issues I have.

Im stuck between Safari & Camino for web browsers, but I don't look down on other users who use Firefox or IE (though I do reccomend people switch to something besides IE because of security concerns and technical merits and not because of my personal attitude.)

[ Reply to this ]

It Boils down to MEN finding something else to fight about... (Score: 0)
by Non-member on Aug 05, 2004 - 07:57 AM
I am a man and I have been guilty of fighting over ultimately inconsequential points on bulletin boards etc (and I believe aggressively arguing the benefits of your distro/app/OS over someone else's is inconsequential or just plain pointless and counter-productive).

It is just a symptom of our proprensity to indulge our egos, and it is laughable. We need to stop pointing fingers and stopping wasting time.

It's such a waste of time

[ Reply to this ]

Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective (Score: 0)
by Non-member on Aug 07, 2004 - 12:16 PM
Wow! This article is almost my mouth-piece! I totally agree with you Daniel. This certainly should kindle some thought in the minds of those linux gurus! As a 8-month newbie to Linux who used Knoppix and using Mandrake now, I've experienced and experiencing the same kind of treatment as portrayed here in this article in almost all the linux forums that I've subscribed to!

[ Reply to this ]

Re: Geek Battles : A Call for Perspective (Score: 0)
by Non-member on Aug 09, 2004 - 08:33 AM
Anyone who doesn't use heavily patched SELinux-enhanced kernel compiled from source, is stupid.

[ Reply to this ]

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