Up Periscope

No good deed goes unpunished

By Bill Machrone
PC Week

November 4, 1996

That's one of my least-favorite phrases in the English language. It bespeaks cynicism, negativity and the ultimate futility of trying to improve the world. I try to do some good in this column, especially in the area of pointing out new or perhaps overlooked technologies, of broadening readers' perspectives or encouraging them to try something new.

In that spirit, I recently wrote two columns about Linux, the Unix clone written by Linus Torvalds, and how it's grown into a mini-industry (see "Linux: Microsoft's real competition?" and "Taking a second look at Linux").

Linux has taken the development community by storm, for a lot of good reasons. The level of cooperation of programmers from all over the world in the ongoing development, adaptation and porting of Linux is a unique phenomenon, and I wanted to make sure that PC Week readers were aware of it. However, I made an error. I wrote that Netscape 3.0 and Java were not yet available for Linux. I read information at a Web site and neglected to check the date on the page--it was old. In fact, Netscape does have a version for Linux, but it's unsupported. The support, I'm told, comes from Caldera. Fair enough.

I started receiving E-mails from Linux users minutes after my column was posted on PC Week Online, informing me of my mistake. Most were straightforward, some humorous, in the vein of "If there's no Netscape support in Linux, how do you explain the fact that I'm using both right now?" Then I started getting far more messages, and their tone changed. They got nasty. One of the subject lines read: "You're a dork." Another message began with, "You're a moron. Plain and simple. Normally I don't flame people on the Net because I think it's rather rude. But this case is different. You need this." The author went on to explain more about my inadequacies, for which I was duly grateful.

Thus motivated and repurposed, I looked at Usenet groups comp.os.linux.advocacy and comp.os.linux.misc to see what folks might be saying about my column. I found this missive:

"This guy at PC Week who calls himself 'Vice President of Technology' says that Linux doesn't yet have Netscape 3.0 or support for Java! What incompetent journalism that is. Unacceptable!

"His name is Bill Machrone and E-mail: bill_machrone@zd.com. ... Fellow Linuxers, you know what to do. ..."

Indeed they do. But I've been called worse things in better places. And as flames go, these guys are amateurs--but committed amateurs. Of course, I'm replying to everyone. I may be a moron, but at least I'm a moron with manners.

I'm having a strong sense of deja vu about this. The last time this happened was when I tried to say some nice things about OS/2. That caused an unbelievable onslaught of flames and huffing.

Which makes me ponder anew why people adopt this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't attitude. Perhaps some Linux advocates regard it as their private club. Maybe they don't want mainstream attention. Perhaps others, with hyperdeveloped software skills, have let some interpersonal skills atrophy. No matter. I've been a programmer. I've managed programmers and engineers. I should be used to it by now.

Bill Machrone is vice president of technology for Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. He can be reached at bill_machrone@zd.com.

Copyright 1996