I find it amusing that so many people “new” to Linux and other open source programs think we’re all a bunch of arrogant, caffeine-strung, egomaniacs. I’ve been lightly reading (and laughing about) a thread on the exim mailing list entitled “Why is this list so abusive?” because some people are getting answers like RTFM. Now, granted, exim can be a fairly daunting MTA.. it’s configurable up the whazoo and the documentation is hefty. But the documentation is, unlike many other programs, stellar. You won’t find more comprehensive and well-written documentation than the exim manual.

Someone pointed out the following “paper” from Eric Raymond: How to ask questions the smart way. I think everyone who posts on any OSS mailing list should read this. Some of it is amusing, and some of it is downright logical. I also think that everyone posting on an OSS mailing list needs to grow some thicker skin because, inevitably, you’re going to catch people who are busy, people who are grumpy and, yes, people who are egomaniacs.

But, first and foremost, remember that you are asking people for help. You’re not paying for support, you’re not entitled to support because you’re using someone’s free software, and you certainly can’t demand it. If someone doesn’t feel like helping you, don’t feel bad… just think about how many times someone has asked for help of you and you never gave it or think of the people asking for help on lists that you’re on and you just couldn’t be bothered to take the time. People on these mailing lists have lives and families too and, believe it or not, there is some rationale in wanting to spend time coding the software in question than just fielding questions regarding it.

Oh, and yes, RTFM before you ask questions because doing otherwise makes you look stupid and lazy. Sorry, but it’s true. Sometimes the old addage can be adapted. Instead of “God helps those who help themselves” we should maybe say that “Geeks help those who help themselves”. If you’ve illustrated that you’ve actually tried to find a fix, someone will be more likely to help you.

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