Talking about Linux online: There are, in fact, stupid questions

What to expect when you're expecting help from the Linux community

While there are a number of handy websites that offer assistance with Linux-related problems upon request, it's important for new and inexperienced users to recognize that the Linux community can be a little rough around the edges. People sometimes seem crabby and unwelcoming, particularly toward novices.

Even though there's no real reason to worry as long as you're friendly and respectful when asking for help, here are some things to keep in mind that should help ensure a positive experience.

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1. The people you're dealing with are not necessarily paid support professionals.

That's absolutely not a slam against them in any way -- in fact, many of the people you deal with will be far more accomplished than the average tech support worker, which is frequently to your advantage. However, it also means that they likely have other stuff they find more interesting than your low-level problem, and can get a little irritable if they see you as being particularly insistent on having your hand held every step of the way. As with anything else, be polite and thoughtful, and you'll be fine.

2. Many, in fact, are dedicated enthusiasts.

The Linux community is held together by the efforts of people who commit a huge amount of effort to development and support for various projects. Many work on Linux and other open source or free software projects solely in their spare time, simply because they're enthusiastic about the work.

A side effect of this is that many such people assume others are as enthusiastic as they are about a given project/distribution/what-have-you, which may or may not be true. If you sound like you're complaining about something, be prepared for a defensive response.

3. Read all the documentation, including forum posting guidelines.

Nothing irks serious techies of any stripe as much as having to take time to answer questions over and over again. Making sure that you've gone through all the documentation you can get your hands on before asking questions is a good first step. (Or get ready to hear the response "RTFM" a lot. We're pretty sure that means "Read the fabulous manual.")

The volume of questions and help requests received by many popular Linux forums is such that there are often strict rules about where to post which queries. Follow them, and make sure you search through said forums to see if someone's addressed your question previously before making a new post. Also, including as much relevant information as possible in a post is important.

4. Keep a good thought.

It's more or less inevitable that, at some point, someone will get unreasonably snippy with you when talking about Linux. Whether it's a disagreement about btrfs or you just admitted there was something about Windows that you liked, you'll run up against the polarized, polemic side of the Linux community eventually.

Glossing over the standard disclaimers that "it's the Internet, people are just going to be rude, etc. etc.," I urge you to be understanding -- open source and free software are concepts that still get wrongly treated like irrelevant curiosities by the rest of the tech world at times, and some people have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder because of it. Just take it with a grain of salt.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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