Home > Amber Graner, Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation > Mea maxima culpa

Mea maxima culpa

September 1, 2011

Yes, I know LinuxCon has come and gone, and I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing, the gala party, and with Linus being there and all. The buzz is still going, and that’s good. But if you’re going to a Linux show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

My friend Amber Graner, an editor at Ubuntu User magazine, took Jim Zemlin out to the woodshed over the topic of yesterday’s blog item, saying yesterday in a Google+ post to me:

“I take issue with leaders in the community using the word ‘idiot’ to describe users who don’t give back. While I realize the article was pointing to business at first glance the casual end user may think, ‘I use Linux but I’m not giving back yet?’ ‘Am I an idiot because I don’t know how or where my skills are needed?’ But maybe that’s just me reading everything through the lens of an end user. I think this message could have been conveyed differently without the use of name calling.”

Granted, I’m not a “leader in the community,” but I’m sure this scolding was levelled at me as well. That’s OK, because Amber is right, and I’ll apologize before I clarify.

Mea culpa, folks.

The word “idiot” is a little over-the-top in this case. “Myopic” may have been a better choice for Jim Zemlin in the Network World article quote and, afterward, for me in my blog item. Though “Don’t be myopic” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, it’s probably more accurate. Also, while I agree with the sentiment behind Jim Zemlin’s quote, this sentiment is generally reserved for those who, for all intents and purposes, have been around for awhile and freeload on the FOSS paradigm’s dime.

Amber is right about the use of harsh words intimidating end users, putting them on the defensive; especially new users. I can’t speak for Jim Zemlin, but I think his quote was aimed at business users of Linux and I don’t think he meant to call out new users who have yet to contribute. Speaking for myself, it was not my intention to be off-putting; rather, I had hoped that my item would be a rallying cry to volunteer. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your distro can do for you — ask what you can do for your distro.”

The reason I wrote my blog item yesterday was to point out there is a lot to be done and, with an increasing user base, hopefully a lot more people to do it.

If you’ve been using Linux and FOSS for awhile and are comfortable in some area — graphics, documentation, “people” stuff — then step up. If you’re a new user and you don’t know where to go, take your time to get your proverbial feet wet in Linux and FOSS and, more importantly, get used to what’s generally known as “the community.” With the exception of some “bad apples” you’ll encounter from time to time (mostly in Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, channels), most people in the community are willing and able to help you along.

One thing new users can do immediately is file bug reports when you find something wrong or when you find a glitch in a program. Most distros have a vehicle — Bugzilla or something along those lines — where you can point this out. Try to be as complete as possible in your description, but if you feel you must contribute right away, that would be a good place to start.

Also, as Juan Rodriguez commented in the last blog, you can always donate money to those distros and/or FOSS programs that have a mechanism to collect donations (usually, there’s a “donate” button on their site). That’s always a useful resource.

So contribute where you can, how you can, when you can.

You’d be myopic not to.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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  1. Bob McKeand
    September 2, 2011 at 7:49 am

    More like non compos mentis than mea culpa.
    If you say good morning to the Linux Community there will
    be an argument, with about a jillion different points of view
    and each of them right.

    Jim Zemlin made a good point, thats why people say things.
    To pick one word out of a statement and use it to negate the
    entire statement is, wait for it, stupid. Even worse is to use
    something like choice of a word to negate a person is, well,

    Larry, please have Jim’s statement engraved on my tombstone.

    Peace, Bob

  1. September 1, 2011 at 6:22 pm
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