The “Use qmail instead!” Syndrome


I originally wrote this essay on my LiveJournal, but decided to also put it here for posterity.

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Written By:
Shlomi Fish
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The Essay Itself

A few years ago, I’ve noticed a pattern in the Linux-IL mailing list. Often, when someone asked for help with a Sendmail problem, some people said something similar to: “Sendmail sucks! Use qmail instead.”.

I originally documented this pattern in a “Threads suck! You’d better use processes” discussion there. However, it seems that post was too obscure to be noticed by the entire Internet community.

A few days ago I joined #mandriva on Freenode trying to get to the bottom of a problem I have with KMail at work, where I cannot start KAddressBook from inside it. I asked my question, and soon afterwards received:

The problem is that I wasn’t interested to learn about alternative E-mail clients, and just wanted to get my problem solved. And in the case of GMail it was completely out of the question due to my work’s constraints.

Moreover, the same symptom was not present on my home Mandriva 2007 installation, nor is it present now that I’ve upgraded it to Mandriva Cooker (which will become 2007.1).

When someone asks for help with a problem with technology “A”, and you happen to be a fan of its alternative “B”, then recommending him to use “B” is not very helpful. If someone says: “I hate A’s guts! What can you recommend instead?” then you can recommend “B”. But if you don’t know the answer to the problem with “A”, then just don’t say anything.

I hope it makes sense.

April 2011 Update: after discussing this article with some people, I was made to understand that sometimes recommending the user to use an alternative technology is a good idea, in case the technology he is currently using is unmaintained or of extremely bad quality. So one needs to use one’s reason (as always) and the recommendation to avoid the “use qmail instead” syndrome is just a general guideline.


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