Geek stampede

So, the original story goes something like this: girl buys laptop, laptop comes with (gasp!) Linux, Linux isn't compatible with her High-Speed Internet or her college classes. Girl drops out of the college.

The original article isn't great journalism by any standard, but it tries to spread both blame and instructive explanations into as many corners as it can find: the girl didn't immediately realize what she'd bought, Dell told her everything would be fine, Verizon was going to send someone over, the college promises to accept OpenOffice documents from now on.

Then someone links it to Digg with the wonderfully helpful headline: Ubuntu Causes Girl To Drop Out of College [sic] As of this writing, there are 3,296 "diggs" and 1,158 comments at Digg.

Enter the fanatics:

The original story […] received more than 120,000 page visits on Thursday. To put that in perspective, our main page got about 15,000 hits… That's also when the comments – many of them angry, rude, and hateful – started pouring in…

Many Ubuntu users also wrote very personal attacks about the young lady who was having trouble using the operating system. They called her "lazy," "a dumb girl," and "not worthy of a college degree."

The young woman also contacted 27 News to report she's being harassed on her Facebook account by Ubuntu users.

Read more at wkowtv.com

Seriously people? Us geeks are already marginalized by our society, do we really need to give them more reasons to think we're creepy, anti-social clods? How is any of this helping anyone? Do you really think harassing someone on their Facebook page will make more people inclined to try Ubuntu in the future?

The reality is: you all just made it harder for Dell to sell more computers pre-loaded with Linux. "More Linux? I don't know, remember all that fuss about Ubuntu awhile back. Let's just put Windows on it and save the hassle."

For what it's worth, I think there's an interesting story or two underneath all this, but the local news team went with the brain-dead "problem solvers" approach. (The original story is a just hair's breadth away from some kind of Onion parody: "Technology, Despite Improvements, Still Hard to Understand".)

The college here is MATCMadison Area Technical College – basically, a local, two-year, or community college, that focuses on technical skills. Given that their primary student demographics are underprivileged and technically challenged, I'd have hoped that they'd make free and open source software their default.

But that's the challenge of the moment for technical colleges like MATC: Microsoft's expensive tools are the de-facto standard. Ubuntu is a great operating system, and OpenOffice… well, it isn't that bad, but no matter how good the free software gets – no matter if it's perfectly suited to their student's situation – as long as the recruiters want to see "Microsoft Word" on the resum&eaccute;s these schools are going to treat it as the standard that it is.

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