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Sometimes I come across a question in Ask Ubuntu about how to do something with a third party software application, without any reference to the OS the OP is using. For example:

Way to share Virtual Machine image for independent use for multiple users (on different host machines)?

I have asked for clarification but so far there is no response from the OP.

My question is:

  • In such cases should we assume that the OP is using a supported (not EOL) official flavor of Ubuntu and leave leave it as on-topic? This is the "innocent until proven guilty" approach.

  • Or should we flag these as off-topic, assuming the OP does not clarify which OS they are using?

I have seen a couple of questions in Meta on similar issues:

Asking questions about third-party applications running on Ubuntu

Was 142386 closed because it's about FreeBSD, or because it might not also be about Ubuntu?

But I don't think they address my question directly.

Thanks for the help

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  • Very relevant, possible dupe: Are "not only Ubuntu-specific" questions on-topic?
    – terdon
    May 19 at 9:30
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    It is a dream of mine that Ask Ubuntu would be a question and answer site that searched for reasons to keep a question open rather than search so enthusiastically for reasons to close a question...
    – andrew.46 Mod
    May 20 at 5:46

3 Answers 3

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I agree with the previously posted answers, but I want to say simply that I think we should assume that an OP posted here because they are using Ubuntu, until there's some evidence to the contrary.

I want to separate two issues here:

  1. Is the OP using Ubuntu?
  2. Is this third party software question really about using the software or is it about knowledge in some other domain that we can't be expected to have?

I think that uncertainty about whether the OP is using Ubuntu is unrelated to uncertainty about whether a software use question is really about the software.

In general, we assume the OP is using Ubuntu, until we find out that they are not. This principle should continue to apply, even when there are other concerns about whether the question is on-topic.

I've written about my views on the tricky third party software issue in another meta post.

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  • Thank you for your answer. Your reputation and status as a moderator makes me think I should give your opinion (that's what I am seeking) the highest weights among the answers so far. Do you think this question linked in the question above fails the "pirate test"? I didn't think so, but I don't know much about VirtualBox. Leaving aside issue 2, you are saying "innocent until proven guilty" I respect that.
    – user68186
    May 19 at 19:21
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    You shouldn't weigh Zanna's opinion higher because she has high rep and is a mod. You should weigh it high because she's a very knowledgeable and well-reflected person. And because of this, she has high rep and is a mod. 😉 May 20 at 6:04
  • @user68186 unfortunately I have near zero experience with VirtualBox but it does seem to me that a VirtualBox pro would be able to answer the question (also seems to me like the answer might depend on the environment (the OS) in some way) hence pirate test pass :)
    – Zanna Mod
    May 20 at 10:50
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    @user68186 I agree this may be the case. I guess I personally prefer to judge people beyond just the apparent signals. But in all honesty, I was partly trying to be witty, while at the same time throwing Zanna a compliment, because she's rather cool - that's all. 😁 May 23 at 20:30
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On topic (usually)

I would generally consider a question on-topic if the question is about software that runs natively on Ubuntu, especially if it is in Ubuntu repositories. In these cases, I would assume that they are using Ubuntu unless they state otherwise.

So for example, questions about using Firefox and LibreOffice would be on topic.

However...

If the question is a highly specialized question pertaining to a specific application, it should be judged on a case-by-case basis, even if the software is in Ubuntu repositories. Some questions may pertain to software that runs on Ubuntu, but the question is less about Ubuntu than it is some other specialization.

For example, if someone wants a detailed explanation about how to compose certain types of documents in LaTeX, or if someone has a technical problem with designing a 3D image in blender, we are probably better off directing them to a different SE site or some other forum or Q&A where there is more expertise on those questions.

But similar questions may be considered on topic, like questions about getting certain hardware to work with blender or installing software that can render LaTeX.

Now, if a question is about software that doesn't even run natively on Ubuntu and they don't mention Ubuntu, I would consider the question off-topic. For example, questions asking about Photoshop or Microsoft Office are off-topic.

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Note: Opinions ahead ...

Q. In such cases should we assume that the OP is using a supported (not EOL) official flavor of Ubuntu and leave leave it as on-topic?

This is generally how I approach things unless there are version-specific considerations to be taken into account. For the example you linked to, the question was about exporting a VirtualBox VM that contained an Ubuntu installation. You're right that there's no mention of the host system, but there is still an opportunity to answer the core question about VM distribution and Ubuntu user accounts.

Q. Or should we flag these as off-topic, assuming the OP does not clarify which OS they are using?

Going from the feedback on posts I've marked for closure, unless we know something is off-topic, it's generally better to wait until there is some form of evidence to prove the point. With your example, if the OP returns to say they're using a Windows or MacOS host and their VM is running Pop! OS, then there is nothing to salvage and the vote to close can be justified. If either of those prove to be a supported version of Ubuntu, then a vote for closure may be unwarranted.

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    Agreed. I believe some people are WAY too eager to find out which Ubuntu version the OP is running, even if the question is equally valid across supported versions. The important aspect is that the question is answered in a way so that it covers supported versions of Ubuntu. May 19 at 5:51

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