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Why all the flame wars?

I'm not sure that "flame war" is the correct term here, but everyone must have noticed that many developers and administrators are far too into their preferred tools, and way way too against other people's favorite tools.  You see it in this forum occasionally.  Linux users claim windows always crashes.  Windows fanatics attack any Linux bugs which hit the web.  I had one guy trying to convince me that Java breaks the object oriented paradigm because it allows inheritence of data (in contrast to Perl, his favorite language which therefore had to be the most object oriented.  I even found an hilarious, if somewhat sad, site called "linuxisforbitches".
My question is, why is this?  My initial thought is that once a developer takes the time to learn a language and/or an OS, he is somewhat terrified that his system will go away because of lack of popular support.  Another possibility is that humans are just naturally like this as exemplified by our views on sports and politics.
Personally I think we are better off having two or three prominent "worlds" (If I understand Joel's use of the term.  Competition is just good, on balance. 
I do concede, though, that for an individual company, it is important to pick a world and stick to it.
I don't know- maybe we've been over this before.


Erik Lickerman
Tuesday, December 24, 2002

I think the reason for all the "flame wars" in computer technology has to do with the proportionally high level of intelligence in this community.

I used to work with a professor for 2 1/2 years doing research.  I had to deal with a lot of Ph.Ds, professors and university administrators in my job. And I can tell you that I've never seen such pettiness, stubborness, back-stabbing and the like as when I was employed in the academic community.

You see, these people devote their lives to a topic of study. They become so proficient in their subjects (experts, in fact) that they can become like horses with blinders on. And when someone dares to refute their life's work so help them!

My two cents.....

Chi Lambda
Tuesday, December 24, 2002

"exemplified by our views on sports"

I think this accounts for the most part of it. Us vs. Them. Human instinct.

X. J. Scott
Tuesday, December 24, 2002

I'm not sure why, but I think there are some important things to note:

1) It's not just techies. People are very often fanatical fans of XYZ company, team, product, etc. One of my friends is a fan of foreign cars over U.S.-made ones, for example. Another poster pointed out academic pettiness.

2) There isn't as much, it's just the more religious arguments tend to boil over more often and you SEE more of these flame wars.

3) There's usually a kernel of truth behind the arguments. I say I hate Windows and like Unix, because Unix doesn't automate the same thing, provides some better scripting facilities, etc. Windows has its own advantages, but you can't deny that Unix does too: It's just a *different* set of advantages. The issue here is that I tend to use one environment more, so I am more aware of the advantages of my environment.

This isn't to say that all of these positions are true, but only that there is a reason people fight so much about XYZ being better. It's something to consider when you see such an argument.

Mike Swieton
Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Age, maturity, anonymity, and distance.  Most people wouldn't flame someone face-to-face, but some use the internet as an excuse to eschew civility. It's Lord of the Flies in cyberspace.

I don't mind the OS and language wars. It's a matter of people's livelihoods, and things are likely to get personal.  I just avoid those discussions.

The flames that bother me are the ones where someone is earnestly seeking help, and someone interjects a roast. The worst I've seen were on the forum, where I've seen people flamed for being, well uh ... newbies.

Nick Hebb
Tuesday, December 24, 2002

The flames that bother me are the ones where someone is earnestly seeking help, and someone interjects a roast. The worst I've seen were on the forum, where I've seen people flamed for being, well uh ... newbies.

These are the ones that are the most troubling to me as well. It's one thing to turn the burners on someone that is generally being a tosser, but the new guys don't deserver it. On another message board, which is unusually civil by internet standards, there is none of that RTFM garbage. We do 'suggest' that people become accustomed to using the manual and Google (which is almost as good!), but try to do so in a non-confrontational manner.

When I worked for the Dept. of Corrections, there was a term for the con (convict)  that sat in his locked cell and talked on and on about what he was going to do to so and so at such and such time with what. It was "cell soldier".  In this arena, perhaps the term should be "Keyboard Soldier"?  It's allways easy to open that mouth when there is no threat of being "tuned up"!


Tuesday, December 24, 2002

About the flames where people are seeking help, I think it's worth pointing out that there are times (I'll say nothing about the percentage that these make up) when the RTFM and google answers (callous and arrogant as they may be) are indisputably correct.

The canonical example of this is when people ask a question on /.'s "Ask Slashdot" section, and the exact answer they are looking for is the first thing that shows up on google. There seem's to be a lot of these, too.

Check out Eric S. Raymond's "How To Ask Questions The Smart Way":

I don't mean to defend some of these people, because many are assholes. But at the same time, I hate looking at the FAQ for a product, and seeing the exact question the person's asked answered there in great detail. I know these types of questions aren't the types you're thinking about, but these are the types that *will* get you flayed alive any time you post a message, and I can at least to a point agree with the policy.

It's one thing to be an asshole to a newbie because he's confused, but it's another thing for a newbie to be such an asshole as to ask questions without ever even attempting to get them answered themselves.

I realize I am defending some of the real pricks a lot here, and I hate to take that perspective, but as an example: I spent several hours writing documentation for an OSS project of mine (note that I've got few users and no usage questions). I expect people to read the manual before asking me questions, and I would feel extremely annoyed if I did write it and people repeatedly refuse to use it.

I admit that volunteers (because most of the support for e.g. OSS products at least, Linux forums, etc) often are very confrontational, but despite this post's meanderings, I think it is important to look at the other side of it.

"There are three sides to every argument: Your side, their side, and the truth"

How true. Dunno who said it.

Mike Swieton
Tuesday, December 24, 2002

I just think a certain kind of person just likes to argue. 

Insecure maybe?

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Tuesday, December 24, 2002

I'm someone that hands out both help and Google/RTFM answers (I never actually say RTFM, but I do hand out Google links). I do it because I think it's rude for someone to expect the effort it requires to answer when it is obvious that they haven't even tried to find an answer themselves. When pasting their question verbatim into Google provides many answers, along with debate and pro/con lists (like several questions that have been asked on JoS lately), why should someone else have to type that when it is so easy to find the answer with the tiniest effort?

I love helping people, and ran a free programmer's newsletter for a few years, and had a site with hundreds of code samples, tutorials, and projects (all written by myself). I quit doing it for a few reasons, not the least of which was people that would write in questions for which I'd already posted answers, and most irritatingly, those that would ask for ready-made solutions to their homework problems.

I even enjoy answering newbie questions, because sometimes it's helping someone understand that one sticking point that reveals the great programmer in them. But -- for someone to ask a question that reveals they're not a newbie, and at the same time reveals their complete lack of effort to find the answer themselves -- that just ticks me off.

Troy King
Tuesday, December 24, 2002

What do you mean by all the flame wars?

Do you mean in general, or in this discussions board?

Looking at the last 20 messages…I don’t even see one flame. (and I am talking about the message root here)

In fact, as more and more people use the net and discussion boards, I actually see less flames. There is always that initial boo ha ha into the first few months of a board. After that, people either learn some net skills, or learn their way around the problem people, or the problem people simply leave. Or the quality people just leave and you are left with a bunch of noise that no one cares about.

I see in fact a marked decrease in flames these days. And the reason for this is simply that more people are learning net skills. It is a very good thing.

Also, I see nothing wrong with some one claiming one system, or OS is better then another. There is no moral evil in that kind of claim. The real problem is making a claim without using the brain…that I do have a problem with!

Gee, should I start a flame over this issue  ;)

(hehe…a flame war on the issue about flame wars.!!).

Best of the season, and Merry Christmas to all.

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada

Albert D. Kallal
Tuesday, December 24, 2002


Actually I consider this forum far more civilized than most, but even here you get a bit of it.  It seems to me that Joel rips into Java on a regular basis (Java is my current preferred language/platform so of course I spend my days and nights plotting most horrible and bloody vengeance).  Maybe it is going down lately.  difficult to say.  I was just getting at the point that some people seem to muster far more passion and specifically hatred, than the topics would warrant (my opinion of course.  Maybe we should issue firearms to the Linux and Windows parisans and let them have at).

Erik Lickerman
Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Erik: on the issuing firearms to zelots, check out the Vi vs. Emacs paintball match:

:) Not quite firearms, but still pretty good!

Mike Swieton
Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Maybe the linuxnewbie forum (never really looked so I can't say what it looks like) should add a disclaimer.

" Please email your question to yourself, then post it here an hour later."

Or something like that. Why? Because elucidating the question sometimes provides answers. Isn't there a story of some CS department where there's a stuffed animal outside of the TA's office, and before you go in the office you must first ask your question to the stuffed animal. Apparently the animal helps answer the question something like half the time.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

But American cars do suck! Well, in some ways.

I've owned lots of cars, from brand new Cadillacs and Corvettes, to brand new Nissans and Mitsubishis. The American cars, while completely bad-ass, always had something or other wrong with them, and always stupid things like broken cupholders or warning lights that came on for no reason.

I haven't had a single problem with any foreign car I've owned, but every American car I've owned has been in the shop plenty of times.

I once bought a brand new DTS, and I had to wait two weeks while they fixed it. It wouldn't run, and it would have taken forever to order one with the options I wanted. Of course, it was an awesome car. That is, until the leather cracked, the rear door locks broke, and the driver seat heater refused to turn off.

Now I just drive Infinitis and am happier than ever.

Dr. No
Thursday, December 26, 2002

What annoys me is that many posters are poor at constructing replies that are relevant to the original post. For example, a novice will ask about something basic in ASP and someone will reply with an obscure Linux technique. People invariably fail to put themselves in the questioner's shoes.

Friday, December 27, 2002

I like to call this the "artichokes vs. roses" style of debating.  Most tech debates are like this.  Someone posts on the glorious merits of artichokes.  Someone else  responds that artichokes suck and roses rule.  After much meaningless debate, somebody will chime in that it depends on whether you're cooking or gardening.  If you're cooking, you want artichokes and if you're gardening, you want roses.  There will then be two sets of replies, one from the folks who raise artichokes in their ornamental gardens and one from the folks who cook with roses.  Nobody ever seems to get the fact that the whole debate is completely spurious.  Plug in Windows/Linux, J2EE/.NET, Strong Typing/Weak Typing, Any computer language/Any other computer language, etc. etc. ad infinitum.

John CJ
Tuesday, December 31, 2002

You speak with great wisdom John CJ.

Grey Wolf
Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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