Guest Column: When the Penguin poop hits the fan

It just doesn't get any better than this.

I swear, week in and week out I write this column, and more often than not I'm just trying to stir things up a little bit to get some thinking and some dialogue going. But almost invariably, regardless of how outrageous or preposterous I get, I can't seem to elicit so much as a one-line e-mail in response.

Then I decide to write a fun little piece about the Linux phenomenon, and the penguin poop hits the fan. I've never seen anything like it in my life.

In that column, carried in this space two weeks ago (NWWT March 10) under the title "When did silliness win a battle against MS?" I argued that the Linux enthusiasts - be they loopy developers with their goofy penguin mascot and their aloof cult hero Linus Torvalds, or obsequious vendors mindlessly running out onto the Linux playing field without a discernible game plan - need to approach the whole thing with a lot less silliness and a lot more intelligence if they're going to compete successfully against Microsoft.

Well, that column, which was posted on our Web site and various other IDG sites around the world, caught the eye of a couple of Webmasters at Linux lovers Web sites, who in turn posted links to the column on our site. Consequently, it drew the attention -- the animosity -- of Linux enthusiasts worldwide. At this writing, I've received around 100 e-mail letters in response to the column. Only about 20 per cent of the responses provided the requisite contact information to enable me to print them as letters to the editor.

As colourful as those letters are, they don't hold a candle to a lot of the responses that I couldn't print as letters to the editor due to insufficient contact information. Let me share some of those responses with you to show you what I mean. And bear in mind, I'm not making any of this up. These are all actual responses from real people.

OK, here's one from someone who identifies himself by the e-mail address "":


Someone named Husain echoes that underworldly sentiment with "ur article is stupid . . . GTH" (which I assume means Go To Hell, although I can't be certain).

Marco Shaw, from somewhere in Canada, writes, "I would have plenty of nasty things to say about your comments on Linux. The only silly thing is your attitude. And that's holding back on what I really think of you!"

Matt Agrell, who uses the title "Geese Leashes", adds, "the author is a rather poor writer; humour aside, the facts were not checked. The editor should take more pride in his work than to let this hack work pass his desk. Shame." (Wonder what he'd think if he realised I am the editor.)Richard Eng expresses a similar view: "Mr Tennant's editorial was embarrassingly ill-mannered, arrogant, and quite pointless. We do not need more journalists of his ilk."

Echoed one Christopher Rowan: "This excuse for an article is inflammatory trash -- no matter the subject of your 'writer's' drivel, it is tasteless. I beg you to raise your editorial standards. There's trolling -- and then there's repulsive. This article crosses the line. It makes your mag look like it has no integrity."

Dan Smith feels the same way: "I felt that the article displayed an uninformed meanness on the part of the author that could have been prevented if he had done a little homework. In my mind, the credibility of Computerworld dropped several notches by publishing an un-researched, mean-spirited article such as this."

Paul Rotering puts it this way: "I think that Computerworld Hong Kong is headed for (well deserved) obscurity if they think it's worth paying some hack to write silly ad hominem attacks like this. Articles like this serve only to show the profound paucity of your editors' knowledge of the computing world."

From someone named Seton Wingfield comes this nugget: "ohhh DON, getting personal, ay? Have to hassle the penguin? Think of something better, you f__k."

Someone from New Zealand who identifies himself as "Thing" says it all with a simple "the guy's a jerk".

And "gnomeboy" proclaims, "you don't get it, because you don't have it. Cybertux (the penguin) is the mockery for burn-outs like yourself. So act your age and quit playing the name calling game. It's a free world".

Scott Stevens provides an example of the recurrent Microsoft lackey theme with, "I guess it's all a matter of your point of view, though; i.e., who pays your salary, etc. I certainly wouldn't expect more from Bill's love slaves in the media".

"The author is an idiot," says someone who filled in the Name field on the feedback form with "Bill Gates" and the e-mail address field with ""

"SlackGal" offers this take on the same theme: "I think you need to get less emotional writers that actually KNOW something about the product that they write about. Writing an article about the dislike of a mascot of an OS is totally ridiculous. If someone is going to write about Linux, then they need to run it or have at least tried. I thought the press was supposed to be non-biased. Why do you publish writers that are obviously on Microsoft's payroll?"

Actually, this same "SlackGal" posted an even more entertaining comment on the Linux Today Web site, one of the sites that carried the link to my column: "Jeez, that dude needs to get laid or something. What an ogre. . . crotchety old geezers should be muzzled."

But back to the letters at hand. Someone who identifies himself with the e-mail address "" asks, "Is this kind of irrelevant one-eyed flame-baiting really what you want Computerworld to stand for?"

Doug Linder was similarly distressed: "I don't care if he likes the Linux mascot or not, it's just a stupid topic for an article in an industry journal. I thought Computerworld was supposed to publish articles about computers, not ridiculous trivial stuff like this. I find myself wondering what Important Computer Issue Mr Tennant will write about next -- maybe that he doesn't like the shade of green that the Apple Imacs come in? In addition, Mr Tennant is a *terrible* writer. I know 12-year-olds who can write with more ability."

Ben Wong agrees: "I took the time to look around the rest of your site and the other articles are not amateurish flames written by giggling 12-year-olds, so I assume Mr Tennant is an anomaly. How did he slip through?"

John P. Looney (I swear, that's the name he gave) offers this scary warning: "I've been bitten by a penguin, in a zoo, when I was young. It hurt. Cute, silly or not, if it can bite, it can hurt."

And finally, perhaps my personal favourite, from someone who identifies himself as "bubba gump": "Where'd you dig this idiot up from? What a buffoon! You really expect to be taken seriously with writers like this? What, let me guess -- he married the owner's daughter. Hahahaha. LOSERS."

Anyway, while I was kind of tickled by the flaming, it did serve to reinforce my view that the general wackiness of the Linux community isn't going to do much in the way of making Linux what it needs to be if it's to compete effectively against Microsoft. Mind you, this was a comment piece in which I expressed the view that "obviously, the open source operating system is a fine piece of work that really does appear to be a viable alternative to Microsoft's Windows NT in the enterprise."

Of course, encouragingly, there do seem to be a few islands of rationality out there, as a couple postings on that Linux World Web site will attest.

"I enjoyed the article and thought it was great Linux publicity," wrote Alan W. Irwin. "Linux is now mature enough so you can poke fun at it. I am disappointed that most of you haven't realised this yet."

Added Barbara Irwin: "It's time for Linux fans to quit taking themselves so seriously. Sure, Linux is a superior product to MS and world domination is just around the corner. But . . . lighten up and let yourself laugh. That's what the author wanted us to do."

At least somebody got it.

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