Oh man, I have quite forgotten how much time I spend around really intelligent people. My decision to solicit feedback from the masses about the Executable Shell idea reminded me just how how lucky I am.

In almost every place I brought it up the response was something like (actual quote):

One good thing about it is that it would make it easier for me to become famous as a 1337 HaX0r. I could write the first really successful virus to infect Linux. Seriously, BAAAAAAD idea.

I expected this sort of response. What I didn’t expect is a huge number of such comments. Sadly there are people who won’t listen to reason in every corner of the world – open source included. I will leave my explanation of why esh will not help anyone become any more a 1337 HaX0r than they could already today; and will instead ponder the role of these excessively protective fanboys in the open source communities.

First – a description for those who managed to avoid them. In most places they are called trolls. They argue for the sake of arguing. They love to shout, insult, and generally do anything to get attention – and since doing something useful isn’t an easy way to get attention, they don’t do much of that. Nonsense, you say? Consider this scenario – on one side of the street a young man helps an old lady cross; on the other side of the street another young man beats the crap out of another old lady. Which side of the street are you paying attention to? :)

I have to admit back in my youth I could have been considered to be a troll. Actually without a doubt I sometimes was. I’m not any longer – probably because I now have better things to do. If I am persistently arguing about something it’s because I truly believe it and not because it makes me feel better. But I’ve never been a fanboy troll, meaning I was never trolling with the pretense of protecting someone else’s interests. Which is what fanboy trolls in open source communities do.

I became aware of them when I posted about the Freedom Toaster to a newsgroup (the group’s name suggested it was a good place to promote the project). One of the replies was:

This is real advocacy! And you managed it without slagging off imagined faults in Windows even once. Well done. COLA needs more like you.

In fact I’ve never even considered mentioning faults in Windows, I assumed everyone already knows about them. So I skimmed some of the other threads in the newsgroup, and my oh my – trolls starting threads and trolls replying; posters with legitimate, stupid, and pointless questions alike were bashed into the dirt without discrimination – total chaos. The group was called comp.os.linux.advocacy.

These people aren’t evil, they’re not consciously trying to get into anybody’s way. They’re just socializing. It so happens that they’re ignorant of the issues brought up by outsiders coming in for help, and when that fact is pointed out they rationalize their behaviour with reasons like “i’m just doing what I can to help”. And they may be. One of the nastiest trolling fanboys on a forum I visit a lot ended up contributing to one of my open source projects – turns out he knew how to make packages for a certain distribution, and was happy to help out.

Do their motives justify the means? It’s a hard question that I don’t have an answer to. Clearly they turn newbies off, but at the same time: a community of trolls is still a community, and if the community’s raison d’ĂȘtre is using open source software – I have to admit it’s a successful way to promote open source.

Well that’s enough for now. Just one more interesting thing I’d like to share: you know those obnoxious politicians who, when confronted, answer every question with an irrelevant sound byte prepared by their campaign manager? I’m learning that isn’t just because they’re too stupid to come up with a good answer. In my encounters with fanboy trolls during the last few days I exercised a lot of self-control. When a troll would try to take the discussion in a different direction (more colourful, less productive) by asking a pointy question that any self-respecting human being would have to defend against – I would simply state their question is irrelevant and restate what’s good about my proposal. It worked :) In all but a couple of places everyone seemed to accept that at least what I propose isn’t the devil’s snare, and some of the worst complainers even cheered me on for trying to improve usability, hopeless though my attempt may be. Maybe those lame-ass politicians are actually pretty bright and simply dealing with trolls in politics?

Who would have thought you can learn about such things just by using open source :)