Madison, Wisconsin. A young woman who had never heard of Linux experienced one of the worst case scenarios when she accidentally ordered a brand new Ubuntu Dell that she couldn’t connect to the Internet to access her distance learning material. After posting two articles that got them flamed, the 27 News Troubleshooter got Abbie Schubert’s ISP to help and found people willing to teach her how to use open source software to finish her semester.
The Madison Area Technical College offers 1 to 2-years certificates, and although there is a predominance of courses on Microsoft technology, the college has an IT-LAMP Open Source Development progam and a Linux Server class. Considering that, one would assume that some of the staff might be aware of open source applications like OpenOffice and Abiword, but strangely, it seems that Microsoft Word is a requirement for their online classes.
Abbie Schubert presumably used an Internet-connected computer to enroll at MATC and order a new 1,100$ one from Dell.com to carry out her distance learning. She realized that the computer would be shipped with Ubuntu and called Dell the next day. The operator told her she still had time to change back to Windows, but reassured her that Ubuntu was compatible with everything she needed.
I have gone to the Dell.com website and browsed throught the product pages. Even though they endorse Linux, the first pages only offer Ubuntu computers for less than 399$ and it takes a lot of mouse clicks to access their Ubuntu section.
Ms. Schubert took delivery of her computer, but couldn’t load her Verizon High-Speed Internet CD and couldn’t install the copy of Microsoft Office she had at hand (because both are Windows-only executable files). She tried to get in touch with Dell again, only to be told that it was now too late to switch to Windows and that any change she made herself would void the warranty. Nowhere on the Dell warranty page does it state such a thing. Either the operator was misinformed or Dell’s warranty policy isn’t clear enough.
The young lady felt she had just bought a useless 1,100$ piece of hardware, and dropped out of Fall and spring semesters. This move seems a bit extreme, considering that Ms. Schubert still might have had access to the computer she initially placed the order with, but she shouldn’t be blamed for feeling overwhelmed by the situation. She decided to seek help from the 27 News Troubleshooter, a free service set up by WKOW to help consumers solve problems with businesses and government agencies. Journalist Dan Cassuto explains that his team has “recovered tens of thousands of dollars for consumers, given families the right of working furnaces on the coldest of Wisconsin days, and much more”.
Cassuto published a Jan 13 article relating Ms. Schubert’s ordeal. Linux blogs and message boards linked to the story and brought more than 120,000 visitors that day (the front page typically gets 15,000 hits). Ubuntu users massively responded with “angry, rude and hateful” comments and messages, many accusing the journalist of writing an “atrocious article” of “unscrupulous reporting”. Cassuto explains in a Jan 15 article that Abbie Schubert received her fair share of insults as well, being called a “dumb” and “lazy” girl “not worthy of a college degree”; and has been harassed on her Facebook account.
Technology consultant at UW-Madison Adam Wiesenfarth contacted 27 News to explain that many Linux users were “mad because it puts Ubuntu in a bad light”. Dell did let them know that the young woman would be contacted by representatives to try and solve her computer situation. The MATC allowed Ms. Schubert to resume her classes and to submit her material in the format of her choice.
By over-reacting and being rude, Ubuntu and Linux fans have possibly done more damage to their cause than any article could ever have done. The suitability of Linux to Ms. Schubert’s needs seems to be higher than their tolerance to criticism. It turns out that journalist Dan Cassuto is very familiar with Linux: he runs it on his computer, and he wrote both articles and the response to criticism on OpenOffice, a Microsoft Word compatible application that Abbie Schubert is now learning to use on Ubuntu. All in spite of the lack of goodwill and manners of some Linux users.