[sf-lug] [LINUX USER QUESTIONAIRE] How did you become a Linux user?

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Tue Jul 28 19:53:40 PDT 2009

Quoting Edward Janne (tigakub at mac.com):

> On Jul 28, 2009, at 5:32 PM, Rick Moen wrote:
>> 1. Edward, how long _is_ your questionnaire?
> I have six further questions. Some one suggested I post them one at a  
> time, but perhaps in the interests of brevity I should simply post them 
> all at once.
> But I should like to wait to see if others feel this research is too  
> disruptive.
>> 2.  As long as you're plowing onward:
>> Quoting Edward Janne (tigakub at mac.com):
>>> Question 2: How did you become a Linux user?
>> As stated, this question lacks context, i.e., we can't tell whether  
>> you
>> are asking _by what method_ each respondent became a Linux user, or  
>> why.
>> The literal-minded interpretation of your question is the former one, 
>> i.e.,
>> that you're asking after the mechanics of initially installing and
>> running Linux -- but that doesn't make a great deal of sense.  Why on
>> earth would you want to know?  What possible use would you (or your
>> professor) have for that information?  Don't you also need to know
>> _when_?  If you do, why don't you say so?
> The aim is to obtain qualitative data which describes cultural  
> characteristics, rather than quantitative data which often become  
> meaningless statistics that tempt the researcher into drawing  
> conclusions where none can really be made.

Again, this assumes there _are_ cultural characteristics that are
unambiguously characteristic of Linux use.  You seem mostly interested
in attitudinal characteristics, which strike me as particularly unlikely
to be findable.

> Asking "how" someone first became a Linux user will reveal to me 
> many things. Was it out of necessity? Was it out of curiosity? It goes a 
> long way to revealing different types of Linux users, although of course 
> not an exhaustive taxonomy.

Now, your intent is at least a little clearer.  Of course, you run the
risk of omitting data from members of the target audience who think it's
tacky and self-indulgent to run on at the mouth about themselves without
being able to think of a compelling reason.  ;->

> You have identified three broad categories. I presume you consider all  
> these to be Linux users in a narrow sense. Are there sub-groups within  
> the Linux community? 

Sure.  Self-assigned, other-assigned, delusional, real.  It's endless.
Why don't you have a look around?  That's a matter I'll return to, in a

> Do those who can rebuild the kernel regularly  
> gather to guffaw at the antics of less proficient users?

I assume this is a rhetorical question.  You can answer it yourself, by 
just looking.  

In fact, I figure you might be able to answer quite a lot of questions
you're likely to ask, just by looking.  You might consider saying what
you've done to try to find answers, before turning to tap limited
volunteer resources to answer them for you:  It helps reassure 
those volunteers that you're not just a sponge for answers, that you
respect our time.  We've learned over time that seeing at least a modest
effort to find things out correlates strongly with ability to learn.
Much as it would be nice to have time and energy to help everyone on
earth, life and time are limited, so one must concentrate one's efforts
where they're likely to do the most good.

You'll find more reasoning of that sort in the essay "How to Ask
Questions the Smart Way", written a decade ago by Eric S. Raymond and
some Scandinavian-American guy on the S.F. Peninsula whom I shave in the


Of course, the really awkward part is that volunteers' willingness to
help is, in general, targeted at people who've shown an interest in 
learning Linux in order to become proficient, with at least reasonable
likelihood that they'll stick around to help others in the same way,
further perpetuating the body of knowledge and understanding from which
the answerer also benefited in his/her day.  In other words, one common
participant answer to the "What's in it for me?  What justifies that 
expenditure of my time?" question is "To repay the debt of gratitude I
owe to the people who taught me".  

And the problem is:  You're not asking in that spirit.  You've basically
merely, instead, asked people to help you with your homework.

> That will be  fascinating to discuss in my paper. I'm especially
> interested to know  how incidental or unwitting users are perceived by
> "true" (and I use  this word tentatively) Linux users.

Variously, I'm sure.  E.g., it's wryly amusing to hear someone say
he/she could never possibly bother to learn how to use Linux while
frobbing a TiVo remote.  Rumours of the death of irony are at least
slightly exaggerated.

> Questions that come to mind: Do you like or dislike the idea that some  
> users are not even aware that they are using Linux? Is recognition of  
> the platform important? Why?

Personally, I've trained myself almost entirely out of the habit of
deciding whether I like or dislike particular parts of reality -- let
alone deciding that everyone else need to hear about it.  (A large
fraction of those of us who predate the Human Potential Movement still
cling stubbornly to the perspective that the world probably isn't about
us personally.)

I'm afraid that I'd need to approach those sorts of questions from a
process angle.  To explain, some people are process people; others are
not.  It's difficult to become proficient in technology if one does not
(or cannot, anyway) think in terms of process.

At a typical firm, you might hear a member of the sales department say
"The Web server is down.  Fix it."  This would fetch over, in due
course, a tired member of the IT staff, who might patiently ask "And
what exactly have you tested, that supports you assertion that the Web
server is down?"

That is a process question.  The salesman is not thinking process:
He/she has no means of distinguishing the Web server being down from the
DNS being unreachable, a routing problem, a hung Web browser, a loose
ethernet cable on his/her workstation, etc.

So:  When you ask "Is recognition of the platform important?", I
immediately think of the obvious process qualifier:  "Important to
_what_?"  If one is attempting to accomplish something in particular,
and somehow a particular individual's ignorance of the existence of
Linux in various places is an obstacle, then by definition the lack of
that recognition is important.  However, I'm not easily imaginng where
this concern could be relevant.

[Constructing an early Linux system:]

> That is very cool! How did it feel to do that? 

Seeing that it was sixteen years ago, I'm not sure I'd even be able to
accurately report how it felt.  

> What do you think of how easy it is to install Linux now?

That question's not just open-ended.  It's sort of gaping skywards.  ;->

Rick Moen              "The Internet sees your competence and wisdom as damage, 
rick at linuxmafia.com    and will route around it."  -- Anil Dash

More information about the sf-lug mailing list