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Linux Software

Perception of Linux Among IT Undergrads 893

iconian writes: "The Linux Journal has a story on IT students and their perception of Linux. One of the funnier myths perceived to be true is that 'Microsoft's technical support is the best in the industry and is superior to that offered by the Linux community.' It just goes to show how little real world experience students have. It's a bit disturbing considering they will be the next generation of technology workers."
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Perception of Linux Among IT Undergrads

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  • by psychosystem ( 250263 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:50PM (#2723117) Homepage
    I didn't finish my undergrad work yet, and took a job in the linux field. Love linux, hated learning crap MS propoganda in school, so I left... Will finish eventually, but not yet... Enjoying what I do way too much... :)

    ps- First Post?
  • Not surprised (Score:3, Insightful)

    by msuzio ( 3104 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:52PM (#2723130) Homepage
    I'm hardly shocked. This is just the next generation of suits that I saw cranked out in the late 90s... mindless Visual Basic drones who couldn't program their way out of a paper bag, the schlocks who got all As but couldn't think on their toes to solve real problems.

    For the most part, we wouldn't hire them to work at the on-campus computer labs. They could never debug problems unless they had the manuals open, and even then... fat chance.

    These are the future ineffectual middle-managers, the guys who got into computers because 4 years ago, they were told dot.com was the way to go... oops, sorry kids, no jobs for you! (*)

    (*) unless your frat buddies get them for you, but we'll know that's how you got in, and we'll make you pay for it ;-)
  • by nam37 ( 517083 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:53PM (#2723142) Homepage
    Don't get me wrong, I'm no MS lover, but do you REALLY honestly feel Linux has better techsupport than MS products??

    Basically, in the past when Ive had a NT/2000 or MSSQL issues I've paid my $200 bucks and got it worked out... everytime. Its not free or fun, but generally MS's paid corporate support is actually quite efficient.

    Anytime I've had a Linux issue I have basically been told to RTFM.
  • Real Example. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by saintlupus ( 227599 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:53PM (#2723148) Homepage
    One of my interns at work is a CS undergrad, and I think he's pretty typical of the breed. Talks about Linux all the time to be 'leet, but still gave me a resume done in Word on his pirated Win2K partition.

    Schools are a tough nut to crack for OSS, because students have no moral qualms about piracy and a lot of professors demand closed file formats for assignments to be electronically filed.

  • by Big_Lamer ( 65521 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:55PM (#2723164) Homepage
    >One of the funnier myths perceived to be true is that 'Microsoft's technical support is the best in the industry and is superior to that
    >offered by the Linux community.'

    While I can not speak to using the pay-per-use support of the Linux Vendors, if you use Microsoft's Incident based support system, It is really really damn good. I have not contacted any other Vendors where you can call w/ a technical support problem and speak to the developers of the application at 11:00 at night.

    Please do not flame... I am not saying that the Linux community provides bad support. In terms of free support services, they kick M$ ass.... I am only speaking to my experience w/ Microsoft's Pay-per-incident support....
  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:56PM (#2723182) Homepage

    You have a Windows PC with a subtle problem which is preventing it from running (possibly a trashed library or something similar). It contains several complex pieces of installed software such as Visual C++ that have had their configurations customized. Obtain a fix for the problem and return the PC to service with all configuration exactly as it was initially except for the broken bit now working. This is a pass/fail assignment, any discrepancy will result in you getting an F for the course.

    Now do the same with a Linux box with a horked copy of bash preventing a boot.

  • by oldmildog ( 533046 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:02PM (#2723253) Homepage Journal
    Not surprising that kids coming out of college are blind to real life, considering how Microsoft-centric the world has become. It's a self-perpetuating problem: college kids only know Microsoft, so that's the only thing they'll push. Since it's the only thing they'll push, it's the only thing that will sell. Etc ad nauseum.

    As somebody that supports a product that runs on both MS and UNIX, I've run into so many techs for whom Microsoft is a religion. They'd rather stretch the limits of running the product on MS, instead of sticking it on a Sun box where it'll crank along, because MS is the only system they know in-house. So the product runs slow... and I look bad. But you can't fault them too much: it's all they know. I blame their CIO for not being more aware of what's going on in the world.

    And don't get me started on what a useless certification an MCSE is. It was time wasted for me to get one, and I would maybe pay it passing glance on a candidate's resume if I were hiring someone.

  • Clanger is right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Exmet Paff Daxx ( 535601 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:02PM (#2723255) Homepage Journal
    The students felt that "The KDE/GNOME choice confuses most newcomers to Linux."

    This is listed by the author as a "clanger", or repeatedly offered mistruth. I wholehartedly agree with him. As an experienced Linux user, I feel that the KDE/GNOME choice does not confuse most newcomers to Linux, it confuses nearly all of them, as well as experienced users. What the students should have said was "the KDE/GNOME choice confuses everybody".

    I'm so tired of having to decide which featureset I want to use today. For C++ development I use Kdevelop, because of the nice C++ features like picklists for virtual functions. However I can't stand KDE's tendency to map its' own colors onto my X applications, nor can I take it desktop switching mode, so for casual web browsing I restart in Gnome. This means that I've had to memorize two control panels, two ways of resizing Xterms (I hate both their Xterm replacements), two ways of virtual desktop switching, etc. If there's anything that's important about the desktop metaphor it is that the metaphor must be intuitive. The problem with choice is that it requires you to gain knowledge in order to make an informed decision. To gain knowledge you have to spend time learning. When I pick up a lab instrument I don't want to spend time learning how to use it's desktop; I don't freaking care how it works. I want to use the instrument.

    The GNOME/KDE choice is annoying. Honestly I don't care which one goes away, I just wish one of them would.
  • Dead On (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chicagothad ( 227885 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:07PM (#2723302)
    I work for a corporation doing production support for large scale internet systems based on M$ technology. I absolutely agree with the statement "Microsoft technical support is superior". Why?

    1) Whenever I have a SERIOUS problem with the guts of something run by microsoft. I have actually had them custom write a fix for me for the OS.

    2) At the end of the day, I need someone to strangle. Am I going to go tell the CIO of a Fortune 500 company that some hack coder added something to the kernel that screwed us?

    3) I know EXACTLY who to call. Who do I call for a Linux issue? Redhat? IBM? Who did I buy it from? Who is supporting it?

    Redhat has done wonders for the industry. But I need ONE vendor to contact for ALL my issues who has deep expertise in all aspects of the software. I can't go to Linuxcare or any third party. I want to be on Linux...but I am running these systems on Sun and M$ for just this reason

  • Re:tech support (Score:5, Insightful)

    by skroz ( 7870 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:09PM (#2723316) Homepage
    This will probably get modded as flaimbait or something, but here goes...

    From a corporate perspective, IRC is very, very far from legitimate or reliable tech support. Same goes for usenet. People want a phone number that they can call and get an answer RIGHT NOW. Or if they don't get one RIGHT NOW, they want to know that a technician is working on the problem until it's solved.

    There's very little of such support available in the world of Linux right now. RedHat is getting there, and LinuxCare used to be on its way.(they're gone now, right?) So yeah, in the realm of Tech Support with capital letters, MS blows linux away.

    But you're right. I get answers faster through IRC and/or USENET posts than though MS tech support almost every time.
  • by Perianwyr Stormcrow ( 157913 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:10PM (#2723327) Homepage
    You're comparing Microsoft corporate support offerings to random hobbyist support offerings.

    Wait, wait, for my next trick, I think I'll compare the support you can get from your 20-year-old son for Windows to a Red Hat corporate support plan.

    It would be wiser to compare the support from an actual Linux company, such as Red Hat or IBM, to that of Microsoft.
  • by jafac ( 1449 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:12PM (#2723344) Homepage
    kde vs. gnome didn't confuse me. It just frustrated, then bored me, then drove me to Mac OS X.
  • by ag3n7 ( 442539 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:16PM (#2723370)
    Not exactly a fair comparison. In the Microsoft version, you have not narrowed down the problem space at all. In the Linux version, you have narrowed it down to bash.

    A better set of problems would be if the windows one was something along the lines of:

    The command prompt in NT isn't coming up when someone types Start -> Run -> cmd.exe. Fix it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:20PM (#2723391)
    Does KDevelop for some reason not work with GNOME? Does your web browser not work with KDE?

    I mean, they're just X clients, right? And you have all the necessary support libs, right?

    So, what's the problem? Just use the desktop environment or window manager of your choice and all your applications of choice.
  • Re:Not surprised (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ichimunki ( 194887 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:20PM (#2723400)
    I don't know, but these were the same students the author is quoting as saying (as of mid-to-late 2001) that "Linux is too hard to install". I bet I could train my dog to install Red Hat 7.2 with nothing more than two floppy disks and a high speed network connection. The puppy's biggest challenge would be that she lacks opposable thumbs and can't read. I assume these college kids have the former and can do the latter. Hell, Linux was *written* by some college kid, and these kids can't *install* it?
  • by Gameshow Bob ( 31940 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:22PM (#2723411) Homepage
    That's a pretty silly attitude. If one of them went away, you would just have to deal with the bad features of the other. This way you can pick and choose what you like.
  • by ranjy ( 544816 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:22PM (#2723415) Homepage
    I have a different version of "day" and "night" students...the day students are those who were mentioned earlier (just in it since they thought they could make money out of it...), they know nothing and end up dropping out. The night students are those who actually know how to program and know how to make a computer work. These are the ones you want to ask.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:24PM (#2723430) Homepage
    mysql trouble - $150-200 bucks and the trouble is worked out.

    Redhat trouble - About the same.

    Linux technical support is identical to Microsofts. you just have to ask the right people. asking in a IRC channel is NOT product support, you didint go to IRC asking about the MSSQL problems did you? why did you do the same for linux?

    It's unfair comparasions like this that support the FUD out there.
  • Re:Not surprised (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Darren Winsper ( 136155 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:29PM (#2723467)
    You'd be surprised. I know a number of people who can program fairly decent apps in Ada95 and even Scheme, but they can't seem to handle Linux at all. Some of them almost failed the Principles of Programming module because they couldn't figure out how to leave their programs in a runnable state in their Linux user directory.

    To be honest, I think that anyone doing a CompSci degree who can't get the hang of Linux could be doing the wrong degree, but never mind.
  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:30PM (#2723473) Journal
    I dunno -- I've never heard a Linux newbie complain about having to choose between KDE and Gnome. I've also never heard them complain about being offered a choice between KOffice and Star Office, pico and joe, Galeon and Konqueror, zsh and ksh, or any of the other decisions that supposedly make Linux difficult for newbies. On the contrary, they generally seem to take whatever their distro gives them as the default, and if they stick with Linux, take to gleefully flaming the alternative they've never seen.

    What does bother them (again, this is in my experience) is a) Linux isn't whatever OS they're used to, b) it doesn't have Office, c) problems with hardware support (although I've had better luck with Linux than with Windows) and d) it doesn't offer a compelling reason to leave the OS they've already paid for and know how to use.

    Incidentally, as far as your own situation, I don't understand (not flaming, just suggesting) why you don't either just run KDevelop and your preferred terminal in Gnome or spend five minutes looking through the KDE Control Center and changing the things you're complaining about, all of which are in there.

  • by sangretoro ( 255104 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:33PM (#2723504)
    I never did understand this problem. They work really well together, and honestly, the average user is hardly aware that a program they are running is a gnome or kde program at all. To the user, a program is a program. Period.

    There is nothing that says you can't run kdevelop in GNOME if you so desired. The desktops are there for choice, not to obligate you to use them.

    As a developer, you probably would want to have the flexibility to see what your program looked like in each environment as much as a web page designer would like to say what his/her page looks like in different browsers.
  • Unsurprising. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:33PM (#2723513) Homepage Journal
    The question to ask is, what does 'technical support' mean?

    Does it mean 'fix it for meeeeee! wah!'? If so, Microsoft stomps the hell out of Linux. Their whole _concept_, including for developers (see Visual Basic), is for there to be inner circles and outer circles, in a centralised authority structure. You can have teams of Microsoft insiders working themselves into ulcers for you if you need it- you do NOT get control, ownership of the product, or the final say. Guys like Ballmer expend HUGE effort into making sure the MS insiders ARE still willing to sweat blood to assist J. Random Developer (i.e. hold their hand, wipe their nose, fix their problem). If not for this huge effort ('developers developers developers developers!'), you would be unimaginably screwed dealing with them. The dependency relationship is based on an immense effort on Microsoft's behalf to be the caretaker.

    They could stop at any time (Ballmer dies, new CEO is bean counter or something) and it's worth considering just HOW hard Ballmer tries to keep the monolith centered on the needs of certain customers. HE knows that the natural reaction is to screw the customer, get lazy and stop providing good service since you've got them locked down anyhow.

    By comparison, if 'technical support' means 'give me the power to do it myself', it's tough to beat Linux, simply because you can get ownership of so much (for all practical coding purposes). For many projects it's easy to get full disclosure of source code. You get to fork off versions if you have a need- you get to incorporate other people's stuff into yours if you follow the licensing rules- there's no 'inner circle' to it at all, and so people get snippy if asked to behave like they are an inner circle. It's 'RTFM' because they know you have just as much capacity to fully acquaint yourself with the situation as they have- and they are not hired to help you, they produce things and you can TAKE them and HAVE them to do with as you will, again with full disclosure. The idea is to take advantage of that.

    The interesting comparison here is that this time, if anything drastic happens to Linux, your ownership of your parts of it, and your access to information and your effectiveness, are quite unchanged. It's not a dependency relationship, more like a forced self-sufficiency relationship. You get no support in dependency, but you get resources for self-sufficiency (including legal ones- the licensing) that you flat cannot get from Microsoft.

    The question becomes, what sorts of programmers are more relevant and useful to the world? Ones that seek dependency relationships, or ones that seek self-sufficiency relationships? I think there's something to be said for each, but you're a hell of a lot more likely to find cutting edge stuff in the latter camp- which will be pretty unpolished, but that's normal for innovation.

    You'll find less innovative software coming out of the dependency camp.

  • by the gnat ( 153162 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:39PM (#2723559)
    My university (one of the top in the US, supposedly) just started teaching the intro CS class (for non-coders) using C#. Why? God only knows. They used to teach it in Java- they switched from Pascal very early on, which was probably a bad choice. But now Java is superbly well-documented, and becoming an industry standard. C# may become an industry standard, but only because MS is behind it. So now that course is essentially Windows-only. (The standard data structures and systems programming courses are, of course, still done on Unix- by now, of course, in the form of RedHat 7)

    There are quite a few people who push Linux as the best and only solution. These people are dorks. However, most of us react more strongly to MS products being pushed as the best and only solutions because:

    - MS software pricing is an obscenity.
    - Linux companies haven't used illegal coercion to make their products the market leaders.
    - Until recently, people did not choose Linux-based solutions simply because they had the word "Linux" in them.
    - the possibility of single-vendor lock-in is virtually nonexistent for Linux.

    I work part-time in tech support here, and I cannot tell you how annoying it is to have to deal with all the Microsoft fanboys who think Windows is the final point in computing evolution. These are techincally astute students, among the brightest in the world, and incapable of dealing with anything that doesn't have the Start menu and Explorer. For my part, I'm glad I'm studying computational biology, where MS products are by and large recognized as utter garbage. If Windows ever becomes the platform of choice for serious scientific computing, I'm going to law school instead.
  • by towaz ( 445789 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:44PM (#2723585)
    I think its more down to the motivation of todays students. In the old days people were forced to use command lines and if you came across a problem you used any reference material you could find to get the problem solved. Now days most windows faults can be solved by just a few clicks of a mouse and if that doesn't work, in goes the remaster cd. If they can do the job without having to learn very much then why bother learning dos. Its not very suprising that most students don't use linux....they is indeed a GUI but to get it working perfectly you need to start tinkering under the bonet.

    IMHO ;-)
  • by SaDan ( 81097 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:51PM (#2723618) Homepage
    It's easy to get confused about Linux distros if you're on the outside looking in. You've got different versions of the kernel and different distros of the OS with different versions of each distro.

    One thing that Microsoft definately has is better marketing, which translates into a better understanding of what versions of their products are current, and which ones are outdated.

    What's more current, RedHat 7.2, Slackware 8.0, SUSE 6.4 or Debian 2.2? What kernels do each of these distros ship with, and what's the latest kernel any of them can reasonably run?

    No, it's not hard to figure out which Linux distro is the latest and has whatever features you require. It does take time, though, and patience if you're new to Linux. Microsoft removes the time and thought required to shop and support their products (or at least, that's the rumor).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:54PM (#2723637)
    As much as the Linux zealots dont want to admit it, there are some very serious usablity, support and attitude changes that need to be made before Linux goes anywhere.

    1) Support

    Still not good enough. The fact is I can still solve problems faster using MS resources that with Linux ones. MS resources are also dumbed down a degree, with a fair bit of hand holding. This is opposed to Linux where you need to be technically proficent.still overall. Not good enough. Support and documentaion does need to be clearer because the point is, MOST of the users will take one look and scrap Linux.

    2) Attitude.

    Drop the 1337 crap. Half the Linux zealots know fuck all about computers. STFU becuase your an embarrassment. And the true elites, maybe a dose of reality might help bring yourself down to a level where your approachable to the newbies. The fact is somethign like XP is much easier to use than Linux. It's your attitudes that drive newbies away "RTFM!!" PAH! Hand hold the newbies once and they wont fucking EVER go back to MS.

    3) Usability.

    Here is an example. Ask a newish computer user to add a network printer then connect to it. Firstly in Windows, then in Linux. Now see the confused looks first, then with a touch of do this, they can. Then ask them to do it again without help. Windows, they will guess their way. Linux will be NO FUCKING WAY. Simple shit like that is not dumb enough to do in Linux yet!

    Unless I have those three issues solved, Linux aint going anywhere. Wake up and see it for yourself.
  • Re:tech support (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:00PM (#2723672) Homepage
    They get a ticket number. They get a phone number that they can call back, and a person's name, and an escalation path. If they are large corporate customers, that path can get to the development and QA departments.

    Most commercial software has a two-way communication between QA and support. Last I checked, the people on #linux didn't have direct and constant access to the bug-tracking databases for each and every linux application that popped up.

    There are some development efforts in linux that have good 2-way communication like that - abiword, for example. But for the most part, there's nothing comparable to the relatively few players you have to deal with in the commercial world.

  • Re:Not surprised (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:06PM (#2723700) Homepage
    Because most linux knowledge is just that - knowledge on a practical "I know where they keep this and where to put that and what to edit" kind of knowledge, not any kind of conceptual understanding at all. It involves knowing through the grapevine that the NVidia driver gets downloaded by the NVidia installer that came with your distribution, that certain components are SUID are some require their own accounts and a thousand other bits of trivia that you just don't get by application of first principles. While computer science and programming is mostly about the application of principles and theories to closed domains, not about accumulating technical anecdotes.
  • by SlashChick ( 544252 ) <erica @ e rica.biz> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:10PM (#2723735) Homepage Journal
    I was really disappointed with this article. I was hoping that the author would explain some ways that Linux could fight the "only-for-geeks" perception. Perhaps he would even have a suggestion for how we could introduce Linux more easily to junior system administrators!

    But no, he lists the (common, cliched) reasons that Linux isn't fit for the desktop, and then goes on to deny them, point by point. He then throws in a little Microsoft-bashing, which makes the article seem less like a helpful "Where do we go from here?" and more like a "Linux rocks; I don't understand why everyone isn't using it" rant.

    Case in point: He cites the "infamous reliability" of Windows, then says: "it has become okay for a PC (running Windows) to crash once a day (or more often)." Since when? And since when does a non-9x OS from Microsoft crash more than once a day? I run Windows 2000, and it doesn't crash. If it crashes, it's a hardware problem. Applications crash, sure. But no one has yet solved the application crash problem. Windows NT and XP have about the same reliability. Uptimes of 5-100 days (which I have seen with Windows 2000) are perfectly fine for workstations, most of which get turned off at the end of the day, regardless. As much as I hate some of the features in Windows XP, I am still encouraging people to upgrade to it if they use a 9x-based OS. Folks, no computer should crash more than once a week, and you don't have to run around saying "Use Linux" if you want that type of reliability.

    The author then goes on to quote students who say "Linux is seen as a geek's OS. Programmers love it and that puts everyone else off." But instead of explaining how Linux can be more friendly to non-technical users, he cites the "anti-Linux FUD campaign coming out of Redmond". Microsoft or no Microsoft, Linux vendors and programmers are just now realizing that ease-of-use matters, even to technical professionals. Instead of addressing this need in his article, he points fingers at Microsoft, which isn't productive.

    One final comment which really irked me was his response to the following complaint: "The Linux command line is hard to learn and use." He responds with "No, it simply is not." How does this comment address the real issue? If your students feel that the command line is hard to use, give them a training manual. Better yet, sit down with them and explain that the command line may have a steeper learning curve, but show them how much more powerful it is!

    Let's be honest: there is a lot of FUD in the computer world, made worse by those who think they know what they are talking about. "Windoze crashes constantly. Linux is too hard to use." Instead of regurgitating the same old excuses, let's figure out how to work with these problems. Fight FUD with education, not with more mindless flaming of the supposed "enemy". If your friend says that the command line is too hard to use, don't blow him or her off and say "No it isn't! See, all you have to do is pipe it to wc -g." Instead, sit down, start from the beginning, and explain the benefits of your method of working!
    That is what the author should have done with his students.
  • Exactly (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SirWhoopass ( 108232 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:14PM (#2723772)
    In the article, the author describes his own institution as a "third-level educational establishment". This is not a university and these students have had (according to the article) exposure to Windows exclusively at school.

    These are not the system administrators or NASA programmers of tomorrow. They're getting a 2-year tech degree and then they'll be on the news bitching about how there are no good jobs in IT.

  • by jdreed1024 ( 443938 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:14PM (#2723774)
    I see a lot of posts here claiming new students only know about AOL, MSN, Office XP, etc. Can you blame them? When Mom and Dad by them their new Dell Optiplex GX150 with a TFT display, does it come with Linux on it? Of course not.

    When I first came to MIT, I knew about Windows and MS Office. That was it. Was I criticized for running Windows? Was I sneered at by zekr1t n1Nj@ Haxxor dudez who were running Linux or NetBSD? No. Instead, someone suggested (nicely; not by saying "Try running a _real_ OS") that I give Linux a try - If I didn't like it, I didn't have to boot into it, and I would only have lost 300MB of hard drive space (those were the days). I was given a RedHat 4.0 network boot disk and the IP address of an NFS server, and I installed Linux. My friends were willing to help me learn things, and give me pointers. There is a community mailing list that people who use Linux can subscribe to and get their questions answered by other members of the community who've been using Linux for much longer. The people on this list didn't get annoyed or flame if you asked dumb questions, nor did they gve you snide "MS sux" remarks if you inquired how to mount a Windows partition in Linux. Because of that environment, I am now a competent Linux user, administrator, and halfway decent developer. You can't expect students to rise to that level if you only offer criticism.

    And can you blame students for using MS Office formats to exchange files? The media rarely mentions Linux without saying "hackers" and "computer crime" in the same sentence. Ignorant website developers and system adminsitrators think Microsoft Office is the only answer. I've even encountered people here at MIT who refuse to accept PDF documents, saying that they don't want to deal with the extra effort required to open them. (Who hasn't heard of Acrobat Reader?) In order for this bias to change, colleges need to foster an environment in which Microsoft Office is not the only format for exhanging documents. The campus computing environment here runs on a variety of platforms, including Solaris, IRIX, and Linux, so by default all course-related documents have to be in a format accessible from all platforms. This is accepted for the most part, and materials appear in HTML, PDF, and PostScript (though StarOffice has given some people an excuse to distribute .doc files). If other colleges start creating policies like this, that might just cut down on the Microsoft-centric atmosphere.

    Education is a key point in this topic, and colleges are a good place to start. I would venture to say that the majority of college students who only use Windows do so not because of choice, but because they are unaware of the alternatives, or because the alternatives seem daunting and unnecessary. These perceptions have to change before more college students will start using Linux.
  • reality (Score:4, Insightful)

    by staeci ( 85394 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:25PM (#2723832) Homepage Journal
    while 90% of the students arguments where false it is important to note that they:

    1 - Don't have any exposure to non-MS technology
    2 - Beleive everything they read in MS PR
    3 - Beleive that crashes and unreliability is a fact of life and unavoidable.
    4 - Are unaware of goings on in the rest of the computer world.

    And these are the people who are supposed to be our future computer experts and are more knowledgable than the common joes. God help us all.
  • Re:Not surprised (Score:2, Insightful)

    by juno ( 70153 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:27PM (#2723845) Homepage
    Wow! I've taken courses in functional programming, systems-level programming, programming language theory, defect analysis, and advanced data structures, got hired to do corporate systems administration in high school, and run various Unix/Linux flavors for the past several years, but I'm getting a degree in Information Systems... so absolutely, you must be right! I'm a mindless VB drone who can't debug to save her (yep, her, no frats to help me out) life! Trying to understand how to make applications actually useful, how to manage a project schedule, and how to deal with customers makes me an ineffectual middle manager!

    My goodness, aren't you full of yourself. People with your attitude are just as bad to work with as people who think VB is the sum-total of available programming technologies.
  • Linux Support. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuperDuG ( 134989 ) <be@eclecREDHAT.tk minus distro> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:53PM (#2723964) Homepage Journal
    EX. Connect to ANY major IRC server and pop into #Linux and Ask a question "How do I rename a file" ... if you are kicked, you are told RTFM. But low-and-behold a man rename ... or help rename doesn't HAVE and information.

    There is quite a problem with the active linux users thinking that they are almighty and superior. Personally I use both windows and linux and I have no problem answering questions for either OS. Both are a complete pain in the ass to use.

    If you have a problem with windows, you can call up your neighborhood 14 year old and get the problem fixed with a pepsi, if you have a problem with linux ... you can _try_ to get a support package or find a local lug to help you out, but that's not as conforting.

    The only thing keeping Linux alive right now is LUG's and their support for newbies. I have found that even inside LUG's you will find the egotistical types who want the user to "Learn on their own". My only problem with telling them to learn on their own is the simple fact that if they're question is "I don't have man pages installed what do I do" ... and you answer RTFM ... you just lost another linux user and their influence on other users.

    For every one user you convert to linux ... they will convert three more ... it works for drugs and religions ... so be it ... it will work for linux.

  • by J.J. ( 27067 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:58PM (#2723981)
    The fact that Redmond and Cupertino engineers have already ported (most of) the Office technology to Mac OS X indicates that a port to the X Window System would not be too difficult.

    He should add this to his 'clanger' section.

    The ease of porting Office to OS X has nothing to do with the ease of porting Office to X Windows. Microsoft has had a version of Office on Mac for years. The OS X environment has two sets of APIs for programmers: Carbon and Cocoa. Cocoa is the native OS X set of APIs. Carbon is a translation layer that maps the APIs from Mac OS 9 and below to the correct function calls on OS X.

    The ease of porting Office to OS X is due to the engineers at Apple who created OS X.

    Fight FUD with FUD!

  • Re:tech support (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DavidJA ( 323792 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:03PM (#2724002)

    So then there should be efforts somewhere on writing really good documentation

    More importantly then this, there needs to be a ceneral resource with all of this good linux documentation in it.

    Google is nice, but can lead to having to wade through out-of-date information.

    Microsoft have msdn, technet and the knowlage base, and these are all great resources. Linux needs something similar, so when you have a question you have one place to go, and you know you will get a resonable answer.

  • Re:wrong headed. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tony ( 765 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:11PM (#2724019) Journal
    It's hard to believe that students going to extra effort would all fail if the teachers had useful projects that taught real computer science concepts rather than procuct familiarization.

    One of the common complaints about higher education is the lack of true education. Especially in computer science, "education" amounts to brand training. They don't teach programming-- they teach Visual Basic. They don't teach networking-- they teach setting up MS-NT servers, and configuring Cisco routers.

    90% of computing is crap. Then again, 90% of *everything* is crap. (Apologies to Robert Silverberg.)

    Colleges cater to those who will pay the bills. It ain't the students. It's the corporations who can afford to give professors $100 just for a favorable mention during a lecture of their products. (Helloooo, Microsoft.)

    We live in a fucked up world. Fortunately, it's less fucked-up than ever before.
  • Re:Not surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Uller-RM ( 65231 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:11PM (#2724020) Homepage
    I would disagree. Computer science is about application of principles, but programming tends to not be. CS tells us what P and NP and P-space and the rest of the goddamned classes in the pyramid are, it lets us quantify how long a quicksort runs on average, why trees are handy and why they work at all, what we can and can't compute (Turing's Halting Problem) and what qualifies intelligence (the Chinese Room problem in AI research). CS takes the theories and concepts that underlie implementation, and can be broken down into its fundamental laws.

    Programming, on the other hand, at least as I see it, has a lot to do with technical anecdotes. For example, in C, typedef'ing a struct with the tag underscored, so that you can type just "link" instead of "struct _link" every time you touch a node in a linked list. Or, writing a fuzzy routine that decides whether to inline or outline the clause of an if function in a compiler, or knowing that NVidia cards have funky OpenGL fog processing under certain driver versions, and that under Windows you have to manually notify child windows of font changes. Computer Science is a pure science - Programming is more akin to engineering and applications of pure science in the real world. x86 is an application of a Von Neumann architecture, the Haskell language is an application of higher-order functions.

    Good computer scientists can be good programmers, but aren't necessarily. I number many CS degree holders among my colleagues and friends who can't hack their way out of a paper bag. At the same time, I know many who can.
  • Re:Not surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

    by psxndc ( 105904 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:15PM (#2724042) Journal
    *bzzzz* Thanks for playing. As someone that graduated in '98 with a CS degree, I can tell you I didn't touch VB while in school. We had only one MS machine in my department, and that was my senior year.

    You are right and wrong on one account though: I couldn't program my way out of a paper bag because I WAS learning how to solve real problems. Most of the stuff I did was all theory and enough programming to illustrate it. Did I master C? Not really, but enough to solve problems in my OS class. Did I talk about Lisp in my sleep? No, but I knew enough to create a variation on battleship for my AI class. Is ORCA useful for anything nonacademic or does anyone actually use the Amoeba distriubted OS? No, but it taught me to think that way. My Computer Science degree was just that: Computer SCIENCE. I've had enough of a problem solving background to figure out a way to do almost anything I put my mind to, including installing, running and progrmming for Linux. I'd rather hire someone who thinks about a problem first and then applies what they know to it, including where to look if they don't know the answer.

    Lastly, it's been my experience that at most computer labs the staff has been the more clueless than those asking the questions.


  • Re:wrong headed. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gergi ( 220700 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:50PM (#2724192)
    um, i think you're school has a name issue... any CS department that teachs VB and setting up MS-NT servers has an identity crisis... That's Computer Information Systems (CIS) or Management Information Systems(MIS) or some other similiar critter and belongs under the Business dept or something. CS is about theories and taught at a fundamental level... something that CAN'T be done with MS products (in general). You learn C/C++ to solve problems on a Unix platform. My CS dept, a respected and perhaps one of the better ones in the US, didn't teach any MS-specific stuff.
  • I agree (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eclectric ( 528520 ) <bounce@junk.abels.us> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @10:03PM (#2724229)
    I've long been against the futility of "Certifications" and "technical colleges." You absolutely come out of those with good, workable skills. The problem is that the computer industry changes so fast that workable skills in a technology become useless pretty fast. The *ability* to learn and integrate new things is what's important, and a more rounded education can accomplish that a lot better.

    Besides, no matter their proficiency at a certain skill set, the employees still have to learn how to be good employees, something they're going to get a better chance at working those low level university IT jobs then they will slaving away over a Cert. And 2 years later, they'll be doing it again, at the employer's cost. On the other hand, a well-rounded employee is going to be constantly advancing his skill set.

    It used to be that a cert was an easy road into a job. But lately in the market it seems that certifications can be more of a dead weight if they don't have any practical experience behind them.
  • by GypC ( 7592 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @10:12PM (#2724254) Homepage Journal

    he could get in serious trouble for giving away sensitive information about the product

    True. In fact a good friend of mine used to work in the Exchange support group, and apparently Microsoft has a private knowledge base, almost as big as the public one, of bugs that are not to be disclosed as bugs under any circumstances. If one of these secret bugs is thought to be the culprit, the tech will just say, "I'm talking out of my ass, but let's try this..." or "maybe something goofy like this will clear it up," or (wait for it...) "it just does that sometimes."

    It made me want to puke when he told me that.

    Of course, who's to say HP doesn't do the same with HP-UX, or IBM with AIX? At least you can look at the source to Solaris, so they can't truly hide bugs.

  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @11:54PM (#2724582) Journal
    (Five hours and 450+ posts later, I finally get to read the article instead of a MySQL error. It's proabbly pointless to post now, but...)

    The article itself is mildly interesting, although it basically comes down to sending uninformed students to read all the FUD they can find on both sides and seeing what sticks. And the author doesn't seem to understand what Linux being free really means, and is wrong when he corrects his students about the cost of Windows. (If a PC costs the same with and without Windows, it is effectively free (beer) for you, even if someone ultimately pays for it.)

    But I thought the most interesting thing was this bit:

    Then the first shock came: someone blurted out, "nearly everyone who used Linux last year went on to fail their project". It came out that a number of individuals were missing from the final year due to failing the project element in year three. When I probed for the root cause of the project-failing problem, I got my second shock: "Linux is too hard to install".

    Uh, hello? Anyone see anything ominous about that anecdote? It seems odd to hear that account and decide that the problem is that users need to be convinced that Linux is easy to use.

  • by Chundra ( 189402 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2001 @12:41AM (#2724736)
    Sigh. My point is that an awful lot of companies, and even more individuals think that tech support will solve all their problems for them. That, my friend, is clueless. This attitude is based solely on accountability. Many people who are In IT For The Money (MCSEs, management, etc.) can't take responsibility if things don't work. What do they do? They use tech support as a scapegoat. And the companies that provide said support typically have very little capability to do so. It's there for the illusion of reliability. Ask some people who have dealt with microsoft support how many times the solution is "reboot, if that doesn't work do a reinstall". These clueless companies can't rely on usenet or irc because the management won't accept "sorry, things aren't working and I did what some anonymous dude on IRC said to do" as much as they will accept "sorry, things aren't working and I did what Jack Schmeckler, senior Microsoft Tech Support Weenie, said." In both cases you're just as fucked because things aren't working. Yet somehow, if you pay for support and don't get a solution it's ok...even though often you get far superior support from the geeks on irc and usenet. That is my point.

    And FYI I couldn't care less about linux becoming mainstream. Yeah you heard me. Fuck mainstream linux, it blows. I've been a user since the days when all you had were a boot and a root floppy, and everything else was do it yerself. I like it like that. When you have mainstream you cater to the intelligence of the average person. That leads to things like microsoft's glorious products. And all this "it's the desktop os of choice...for the masses!" bullshit has been creeping into linux distros too. Have you seen the stuff they have on new "mainstream" linux distros? Yeah they work out of the box with a cutesy x installers and all this other cruft, but god damn if it isn't more trouble in the long run than burning a minimal copy of debian and building the software you need, as you need it.
  • About two months ago, we had a server that was having problems seeing its partitions after moving to 'dynamic' storage from 'basic'. Our Windows expert took his best crack at it, but couldn't get it to play right. (This guy has been using Windows NT since version 3.0 and knows his stuff). He said that the problem is that the conversion is a one way path - no backtracking. So we finally break down, and pay Microsoft for a support incident. The technician we get puts us through all the basic steps, and doesn't know how to fix it. So he says 'convert from dynamic to basic', to which we reply "are you sure? Are you really, really sure?"

    We do it. Server is trashed.

    Well, we kick ourselves because we should have known better than to trust someone else with a really big problem. One of our managers wants a refund, though. And Microsoft tech support says no. Their position is that they did provide support - just not very good support. Specifically, they cannot guarantee results (which is reasonable). Still, the ill will they have instilled in us is substantial. Goes to show the point made in the article: with a lack of real experience, all people will know is what they heard from the marketing guys.

  • X Windows is Slow (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nemesisj ( 305482 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2001 @05:18AM (#2725067) Homepage

    "The Linux user-interface came in for further unwarranted bashing (no pun intended), "Linux GUIs are slow." Well, this really depends on the hardware you're running on, doesn't it? To put Linux on an old PC (which can no longer run the latest Microsoft OS) and then complain when the Linux GUI runs slowly is just not comparing apples with apples, no matter what way you look at it. "
    This is the only part of the article I disagree with. X Windows is slow. Period. I don't get anywhere near the responsiveness and speed with X-Windows on my PC that I get with Windows. As much as I love developing and playing with Linux, the slow speed of the GUI ticks me off more than anything. I don't see how anyone could not realize how much slower Gnome is then Windows, and then indignantly yell that it's a myth when someone else observes this fact.
  • by Chanc_Gorkon ( 94133 ) <{gorkon} {at} {gmail.com}> on Wednesday December 19, 2001 @09:01AM (#2725376)
    Yep. That's MS support. If MS does what a lot of companies do, then they farm their support out to companies such as Calltech (who also runs the 1800buckeye travel lines here in Ohio) complete with scripts and tests to use to figure out how to qualify people for the support lines. Now, the following wasn't with MS but was with Bellsouth ISP division. My MOTHER-IN-LAW qulaified to work at Bellsouth's tech support line. How in the world did she do it? She took a test proving she knew how to use a browser and a word processor and possible click a few buttons on WINIPCFG or how to create a dial up network connectoid. Anything that was complex was scripted (delete your network config and recreate no matter whether it was THEIR problem or not.....). With Linux, if anyone searches hard enough, you can find the answer. When you pay for support with Linux you don't get someone's mother-in-law who just learned how to setup her own computer. You get someone who has some experience with the OS. Maybe this is a result of the market share Windows has? I don't know.

    One example of supporting Linux I had was just recently when I added a new video card and a TV card (BT878). I noticed when installing Mandrake 8.1 it installed the BTTV stuff and xawtv. I fired up xawtv and the scan failed (could not read from /dev/vbi). I did a search on google groups and BINGO run the MAKEDEVS script in this directory as root. I did this and then fired up xawtv and we scanned for TV channels! 1 minute later I was ready to enter all of the Channel id's and watch some TV! That was cool. If this happened on NT or something I would have had to wait for a patch or a new version of a application. With Linux I had it up and going within MINUTES of rebooting after installing the OS. Ask folks how much of a bitch it is to set one of these up on NT or 2000. Yeah, I thought so!
  • by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2001 @09:32AM (#2725463) Homepage Journal

    Microsoft has all the trappings of technical support. Call this 1-800-number. We have operators standing by. We employ more programmers than any other PC software house. We advertise that we have support.

    But the reality, when you really have a problem, is a less glitzy than the hype. Wait on hold unless you pay extra, be told to reboot, be told to reinstall the OS and apps in a new magic sequence, that it's a hardware maker that has the bad software driver, that the fix will be in the next Service Pack, etc.

    Linux OTOH has very sketchy official sounding support. Sure, 1-800 numbers for some paid-for distros, but if you ask Linux users, the vast majority get help out of the bazaar.

    And the surprising reality is just how successful such a support model can be. Someone in Germany with the same video card posted his XFree86 config file to Usenet. Go figure!

    It's a strange difference. On one hand, being told that you have a designated and well-described support channel that practically turns out to be unsatisfying in many regards, and on the other hand, being told to stake your critical need for help and assistance on a to-be-determined random unidentified stranger in an amorphous mass of users that practically turns out to be more satisfying than you ever expected.

    No wonder many people are confused.

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor