Tales From the Linux Dark Side

Halloween may have come and gone for another year, but that doesn’t mean the exchange of horror stories has come to an end.

No indeed — prompted by a recent post on TechSource, Linux bloggers have continued to terrify and amaze each other with tales of Linuxy horror such as many of us have never imagined.

“After a real bad crash and having been an admin (on an RS/6000) for less than a month, we got to test our backup,” began the post, quoting a classic story from one Bill Pociengel. Let’s just say the “rm” command gets involved, bringing Pociengel to the end of his story: “Ya know it’s kinda funny (in a perverse way) to watch the system just slowly go away.”

The horrors went on from there, many of them drawn from an older collection compiled originally by Anatoly Ivasyuk.

As a big fan of spookiness herself, Linux Girl was inspired to take her own little poll. “What Linuxy horrors have *you* experienced?” she asked her fellow patrons over a fresh round of drinks down at the Punchy Penguin.

‘I Had Logged in as Root…’

“Today, with students in the lab, I had logged in as root via SSH to my terminal server and thence to a client machine which I was dist-upgrading from Debian Lenny to Squeeze,” blogger and educator Robert Pogson began.

Linux Girl immediately felt a shiver down her spine.

“I was part way through the process when a student pushed the power button on the target machine, causing my session to end with the client,” Pogson continued, beginning to tremble. “I did not notice and was paying attention to students, etc., and resumed typing.

“To my horror, I realized I was doing brain surgery on a working terminal server running Lenny and in production,” he croaked.

‘It Was a Horrible Day’

Rather than undo the mess, “I continued the process during lunch and it worked smoothly,” Pogson continued, regaining his composure. Then, “later in the day, I managed to botch the surgery on the client and re-installed over the LAN.”

In short, “it was a horrible day,” Pogson shuddered. “I added hours to my day for little benefit.”

Of course, there’s always a bright side, he pointed out: “It could have been worse. My RAID could have been fried without a backup.”

‘He Started to Move the Files Around…’

Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack had a tale of equally horrifying proportions.

“I had taken over some servers from a guy who really loved partitions, and his install was textbook ‘4 gb /var 9 gb /usr/ 4 gb / 100 gb /home’ etc.,” Mack began.

“The only problem was that he didn’t take into account that the textbooks are 15 years old and the space requirements have long since changed,” Mack explained. “As he ran out of space he started to move the files around to partitions with more space and symlink them.”

‘I Had Just Taken Out the Server’

One day, “after he was long gone, the server was running low on space and I found a copy of /var where it shouldn’t be, so I confirmed that /var pointed somewhere else and cleared what I thought was a backup,” Mack added, the sweat visible on his brow.

“Turns out that the place he had moved var had also run out of space, so he symlinked again rather than moving the original symlink,” Mack said.

Bottom line: “I had just taken out the server,” he groaned.

‘I Had Finally Gotten ALL the Hardware to Work’

Not to be outdone, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet had a tale of his own.

“Out of the four machines I was testing Linux on, NONE worked right OOTB, but I found laptops were by far the worse, and this one was a bear,” hairyfeet began.

“It had taken me days of wandering the endless darkened maze that is the forums, but I had finally, FINALLY gotten ALL the hardware to work,” he explained. “Cue mad scientist laugh! Well, wouldn’t you know it, it wasn’t two weeks before the dreaded six-month update rolled around.”

‘I Find That My Wireless Is Trashed’

At that point, “I did what I was told like a good little user and didn’t touch it for the first month, which meant I’d be a month behind, but I did what I was told,” hairyfeet went on. “What happened when I finally ran the update? I was thrown into a lousy single-user mode with black screen of death, and when I finally got that fixed — which, frankly, if this had been my only machine would have been impossible — I come to find that not only is my Ethernet hosed, but my wireless is trashed! ARRRGH!”

Hairyfeet then went back to the forums, where he was told, “‘Oh, you shouldn’t use that!'” he recounted. Instead, “‘You should use Atheros!'” he recalled.

Looking back, “it’s funny now, as the chipset they recommended is now borked in the 10.x branch from what I’ve been told,” hairyfeet concluded. “That was enough Linux horror for me, thanks.”

It’s All Relative

Of course, the horrors of Linux are few and far between compared with those of certain other operating systems, Linux Girl feels compelled to point out — not to mention alongside all the many rewards associated with using the open source OS.

What horror stories have you experienced — on any platform? Share them in the comments.


  • I try to avoid that other OS as much as possible but some horrors are indelibly etched in my brain:

    – failure to boot after routine use

    – re-re-reboots after updates

    – failure to be updated (randomly)

    – refusal to install anti-malware

    – long boots, good-byes, file-deletions

    – frequent BSODs (now infrequent, apparently)

    – losing drivers (how can that happen???!)

    – losing settings (?)

    – installing an update after auto-update was turned off

    – update prevents critical app from running

    – installation (1 hour for the OS, 6 hours for apps)

    A huge nightmare is that the world is paying M$ $Billions for this kind of performance.

    • That you sound like a crazy person, yes? Say it with me now…Microsoft. See? No bleeding from the eyes or anything. When you refuse to speak normally and instead use "they shall not be named" you make all of FLOSS look like crazy basement dwellers. Redmond is NOT Mordor, and their CEO isn’t named Sauron, kay?

      As for your point? I call FUD, massive FUD, and ZOMG what FUD. it is obvious you are basing your "judgment" which I already pointed out is suspect with the "they shall not be named" crap on Win9x or early XP, both of which are deader than Dixie. Windows 7 installs ALL drivers for you, time to install? Less than 45 minutes on a lappie, less than 30 on a desktop. Can Linux do that? Nope if it don’t work OOTB you’re hosed buddy!

      Refusal to install anti-malware? Win 7 tells you on first boot "Would you like to install an AV now?" and takes you to a page where you can choose from one of a dozen, so that’s FUD.

      And finally losing drivers? I think you’ve confused Linux and Windows pal. You see, Windows is the one where the DRIVERS STILL WORK after running updates, Linux not so much. Try going from Ubuntu 6 to Ubuntu 10 and see how much hardware still works at the end. my guess? Maybe 40%. And before anybody goes "But but but…that is like XP to Windows 7!" NO, it is not. I can get on average a DECADE of support from a Windows OS the ONLY way to get that level in Linux is to jump on the upgrade treadmill.

      Even the LTS end up with just security backported and most of the apps end up old. Which BTW WTH? Why should I need to UPDATE THE OS just to make the apps work? That is just lame.

      So sorry Pogson, but you are just spewing FUD. If you would have brought up server CAL licensing or using ancient dumpster dived hardware you’d have a point, but digging out junk that hasn’t applied to Windows in 10 years is about as fair as comparing Ubuntu 6 to the latest from MSFT and Apple. Oh and Pogson? MICROSOFT! BOO! Geez "he that will not be named", what is this a tabletop games site?

      • Strange. I thought the world still used XP. 60% last time I checked.

        Strange. Last week I was asked to fix printing on a machine that could print on two networked printers recently. Both printers were no longer available. No one else in the building has the Admin password so gremlins must have deleted them.

        I can install a good usable desktop system from Debian GNU/Linux Squeeze in 22 minutes and a minimal system to use as a thin client in 10 minutes on 8 year old hardware. That’s at 100 megabits/s. Newer hardware that runs at 1gbit/s is faster than that. Of course, imaging only takes about 5 minutes. I can use a single image for our several types of desktop whereas we needed one for each with XP.

        Further HPCP1215 and Sharp MX-M350U could not be found on the net by XP. I had to download and install manually. GNU/Linux Debian has pxlmono and foo2zjs which work fine out out of the box.

        We have industrial-strength anti-virus here that would not install on XP after many attempts. I had to install an alternative anti-virus to clean the machine first. Several malwares get past even the best anti-malware software and prevent installation.

        M$ can pay for their own advertising. I don’t need to advertise their brand or products.

        Sorry if my message hurts your sales of "7". You really should be selling a better product, Debian GNU/Linux.

        • You product is SO much better NOBODY SELLS IT! Not Walmart, Not Best Buy, not Staples, Not the little shops like mine, even though it could save us money. why is that? Oh yeah…your fricking system is broken!

          X11 is garbage, which is why Ubuntu is dropping it. When you have to be sure to save your work before launching a video with other apps open, in case it crashes? total junk, and something I’ve not seen on either OSX or Windows since 9x and System 9.

          And fix your fricking driver model already! Geez, what is this, 1998? Both OSX and Windows has had integrated driver model and hardware ABI for over a decade now. I have a machine from 2001 running XP SP3 with ALL the circa 2002 drivers STILL WORKING! Good luck even getting Ubuntu to go from 9 to 10 without your wireless and graphics breaking HARD.

          And your "industrial AV" is let me guess Norton, or as we like to call it BWA HA HA HA HA HA Boy did you get ripped off! Run Comodo or the commercial version of MSE (forefront?) and watch those troubles disappear.

          In the end the ONLY ones to blame for the lousy state of Linux adoption is Linux developers themselves, because they REFUSE to listen to users and fix their broken mess. You know why Linux "works" on servers Pogson, which BTW I noticed you STILL can’t say MSFT, that is just too funny, despite all the problems with it? Two Words: Server CALs. If MSFT was to drop Server CALs to a buck a piece your marketshare would dry up and blow away. You have NO such advantage in the desktop, which means you actually have to compete on features. And no, "Free as in freedom!" is NOT a feature to anyone but RMS. See the runaway sales of iOS as an example.

          Finally a little food for thought, something that will probably ruin your day. Your "better product"? Has taken 15 YEARS to get LESS marketshare than MSFT got with Windows 7 in the first week. Think about that…15 years, one week. If your product worked for the masses that wouldn’t be a fact, but it is because it don’t. And Pogson? MICROSOFT! BOO! Man that FLOSSie "They that shall not be named" just cracks me up!

          • Last time I checked every major OEM and many smaller ones sell GNU/Linux. Ubuntu seems to dominate in retail sales but Debian, RedHat, Suse and several other distros do well.

            Your "one week" comparison is bogus. M$ has only 86% of share of installations and a lot of OEMs are selling noOS, FreeDOS and GNU/Linux. In the first year that "7" was selling it was not sold on many of the nearly 360 million PCs that were sold. What did they claim, 240 million? Where are the missing PCs? GNU/Linux and XP and MacOS. This year ARM is starting to take a bite and will expand from mobile to stationary soon.

            Sophos has 100 million customers including Harvard, Lockheed and Cisco. It is not an AM ateur system.

            Check out . They do listen to users. Users also have choice. If they don’t like what one developer does they can make a few clicks and use the product of others. My students have several web browsers and several word-processors available.

            Is Hairyfeet an insider or a wood-pecker trying to get in?

          • If you check with Dell, entering "Linux" as a search keyword, you get a list of things, only two of which are Dell computer products. Both are netbooks and one is marked "no longer available". The other, when you select it, only supplies Windows 7. The only way Linux seems to get on their radar today is via a mistake in their link lists.

            With HP, you don’t even get that much. They do sell Linux on enterprise servers, but that is a horse of a different color.

          • Buried deep in the tech specs is the mention of Linux, true, but when you go to try to buy one, there is no selection for Linux, only Windows versions. Maybe you can buy one if you live in Tibet, but who cares?

            Your claim was that some 120 million units were being sold each year without Windows, although your math looks sort of fuzzy since it is based on some assumption. I do know for a fact that big companies in the US, with site licenses for MS products, do buy machines from Dell with no OS at all and they ghost on whatever their IT policy allows and the individual user wants. In my case it was Win7 enterprise. That may account for the missing licenses. But I don’t think that 120 million machines are sold that way in a year.

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