Matthew Graybosch — author of Without Bloodshed and Silent Clarion

When FOSS Users Attack

I think it's hilarious when frustrated FOSS users vent their frustrations in public, hurl abuse, and expect volunteer developers to placate them.

I've come to think of people who do this as "Eloi", from The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, because they seem to regard the techies they depend on as "Morlocks".

I wonder how many of these "Eloi" have read Wells' novel, or seen the movie. If they had, they might realize that their willful ignorance of how computers and the internet work has made them prey for those they regard as "Morlocks": the developers and those who pay their salaries and direct their efforts toward the creation of the current regime of surveillance capitalism.

On the other hand, I think the F/OSS community needs to do a better job of telling newbies what they're getting themselves into. For example, somebody installing Linux for the first time really should be told that they're installing an operating system that's designed to managed by a systems administrator so that multiple users can work concurrently. As such, if they don't know somebody willing and able to act as their sysadmin they need to step up and learn to be their own sysadmin.

Likewise, people considering the use of federated social networking tools like Mastodon, Pleroma, Pixelfed, Peertube, etc. need their expectations managed with greater care. They should not expect federated tools to work exactly like the corporate-owned sites they've fled. The federated tools won't be as slick-looking, either.

People coming to Free/Open Source Software need to accept that the knowledge and muscle memory they've brought with them from proprietary systems won't carry over. While most FOSS developers do their best to maintain compatibility, expecting perfect one-to-one replacements that can be used without any effort spent on learning and adaptation is unreasonable.

Then again, maybe I'm the one who's being unreasonable. The first computers I had exposure to were Commodore 64s and Apple IIs. After that came PCs running DOS. Then PCs running Windows 3.11 on top of DOS. Then Windows 9x with occasional Mac usage. I didn't get exposure to Unix until I was in college, and even though I've been using various Linux distributions and BSD flavors since 1998, I've still had to learn and adapt along the way – while still dealing with Microsoft tech at my day job.

Maybe it's cruel of me to expect newcomers to FOSS to adapt as I have had to, but I don't care. Not when frustrated users heap insults and abuse on the often-unpaid volunteers who create the software they've chosen to use and the documentation they've chosen not to read.

After all, there a reasons that the GPLv3 and BSD-2-Clause licenses have sections that state, respectively, that:

THERE IS NO WARRANTY FOR THE PROGRAM, TO THE EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW. EXCEPT WHEN OTHERWISE STATED IN WRITING THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND/OR OTHER PARTIES PROVIDE THE PROGRAM “AS IS” WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. THE ENTIRE RISK AS TO THE QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE OF THE PROGRAM IS WITH YOU. SHOULD THE PROGRAM PROVE DEFECTIVE, YOU ASSUME THE COST OF ALL NECESSARY SERVICING, REPAIR OR CORRECTION.

GNU General Public License v3, Section 15: Disclaimer of Warranty

THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED BY THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND CONTRIBUTORS "AS IS" AND ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE DISCLAIMED. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE COPYRIGHT HOLDER OR CONTRIBUTORS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES; LOSS OF USE, DATA, OR PROFITS; OR BUSINESS INTERRUPTION) HOWEVER CAUSED AND ON ANY THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER IN CONTRACT, STRICT LIABILITY, OR TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE) ARISING IN ANY WAY OUT OF THE USE OF THIS SOFTWARE, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.

The 2-Clause BSD License

I don't know about you, but when I see that something is available without a warranty and on an "as is" basis, that tells me that if I choose to use it I'm doing so at my own risk.

If the thought of using software without any guarantee that it will work as intended or as you expect it to is so frightening a prospect for you, then perhaps you should stick to proprietary, corporate solutions. There's nothing wrong with doing so, but remember two words if you do: caveat emptor; or, "let the buyer beware".

But whatever you do, stop acting like "Eloi" and treating tech workers like "Morlocks" who should know their place, stay out of sight, and make all of the machines work like magic. It doesn't matter how arrogant or elitist you think they might be. Do you honestly think they're going to be more responsive to your concerns or demands because you heap insults and abuse on them?

If so, it might be you who would benefit from a bit of humility.

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