Monday, December 14, 2009

Why GNU/Linux is ready for the Average User

I spend a fair amount of time on and while poking around there this afternoon I came across this thread. It is no where near the first thread I've seen like it (and sadly I doubt it will be the last). To quickly sum up the thread the original poster is detailing why he believes Ubuntu is not ready for the "average user" because of a recent poor experience he had attempting to get Karmic (latest Ubuntu release) installed on a friend's laptop. Ubuntu's motto is "Linux for human-beings" - no where does this imply it is going to be bug free or that Joe Moron is going to be able to get it all setup just fine on their own. Personally I think it is foolish to think that you could ever create a operating system that the average user is going to be able to setup/maintain one hundred percent on their own. Its just not feasible to think as such.

I find it amusing that people like to jump on the Ubuntu bashing bandwagon just because an installation (or some piece of setup) goes astray. Ever tell the average user they need to reinstall Windows? Nine times out of ten they will look at you side ways (or if your a tech such as myself they will ask you to do it for them). Does this make Windows less popular or a "not ready" operating system just because you need a professional (or someone with at least some know-how) to get it all installed and running properly? No, it does not. Why should the standard be any different for GNU/Linux?

In short I'd like to say this: Linux is more than ready for the average user to be using, but just like any operating system it may be a bit much for the average user to get it setup and thats just fine if you ask me. To most people the computer is simply a means to an end, meaning so long as it turns on when they push the power button, lets them do what they need to do, and then get on with their day - most of them could care less if it is running Windows, Linux, OSX, Free BSD, or anything else for that matter. Personally I find Linux works best for my needs - if something else works for you, wonderus.

Just my feelings on the subject, if you have a different or similar idea to add feel free in the comments below.

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. I think your observation is SPOT ON! Most "average users" cannot set up a Windows PC, complete with Office, Mail, etc. either.

    Well said.

  2. The biggest problem with linux, is that installing USER applications, is very difficult, if it is not on the repos.

    This is to install OpenOffice 3.x on Fedora 10

    su -c 'yum -y remove openoffice*'
    su -c 'rpm -ivh *.rpm'
    su -c 'rpm -ivh openoffice.org3.1-redhat-menus-3.1-9399.noarch.rpm'

    Why so complicated?

  3. Why are you giving instructions on removing openoffice and then installing manually?

    Heck, why go through the pain of installing OpenOffice 3.1 on Fedora 10? Why not upgrade to Fedora 12 and use OpenOffice included in there?

  4. Agree with you 100%. I have a mix of Ubuntu Jaunty/Karmic on four different makes of laptops without any trouble whatsoever. On the same token have the same on four desktops without a hinch. A few days ago I gave an Ubuntu live CD to a much older 68 years of age friend of mine to try out because he had enough of paying the m$ tax and virusses. He is only a computer user and I told him not to install and just use the lice CD. When I called him a day later he on his own had gone and installed Ubuntu alongside his XP and is now dual booting. I was really impressed and did not expect he would have the courage to just go and do it.

    So long for those that claim it's not ready. It's being ready for quite a while now.

  5. Kwanbis, you're using Fedora, which is not really geared toward the "easy to use" crowd. What did you expect? Anyway, Fedora 10? Are you serious? Fedora 12 was just released. No wonder you can't get OOo 3 from the repos...

    Linux has been ready for the average user for a couple of years now. I know, because I was one of them. It's just like moving to any other're gonna have to suspend what you know and learn what you don't. A friend bought an iMac, only to go back to Windows because he thought OS X was too difficult. It's all about learning something new.

    After a while, you'll find yourself asking why Windows has to be so difficult! Seriously... I'm not expert, and have to ask technical questions all the time after years of using Linux, but I can do some simple tricks that you only wish Windows could do that make fixing a misbehaving system a snap.

  6. @Kwanbis I want to install a native Linux app on Ubuntu thats not in the repos/is a newer version 9 times out of 10 I just go grab the .deb file for it and double click it...

  7. Well, I too have found that Linux is Ready for a avaerage user. But When you need to install a application, without some geek knowledge it is impossible to get through. I had Linux Running in My home PC for about 6 Months, Used by my dad and my sister, Later there was a Problem because I was away from home and dad needed to use Yahoo Chat and was not able to understand how you install configure the same. He insisted on Windows and My home PC runs Windows Again for my DAD.. :(

  8. For the average user, Linux might be over kill. Hell, for the average user, Windows is over kill too.

    I was following a thread the other day on an amateur radio forum that I participate in, a user posted a msg indicating that 64-bit Vista users should not perform the SP2 update because it messed his system up. Come to find out, his system had some serious issues not related to Vista or SP2, but to a virus running on his system.

    Users are quick to blame others for problems they have, but refuse to accept that they might be partly to blame themselves, for issues surrounding them. Of course this is human nature, as all of us are perfect, aren't we?

    As for me, I will continue to use Linux on my server, and Windows on my desktop, because Windows is in my comfort zone. No amount of chest beating that Linux is better than Windows is going to get me to run Linux fulltime on my desktop, because in my opinion, for the things I do, Linux just isn't there yet as a desktop.

  9. @Lozil Pidgin runs Yahoo messenger?...

  10. Good article.

    I would say that Linux, especially versions like the latest from Ubuntu, is ready for the basic, bottom-of-the-line user; the user the surfs the Net, checks email, word processes, downloads music and unloads his or her digital camera.

    There's a big gap, however, between that type of user and the expert user that Linux hasn't bridged yet, because going beyond the basics often results in extra work that those middle of the road users don't have the computer knowledge to handle. Or if they do, it's not worth their time to tackle. That's not Linux's fault, but it's not the user's either.

    But Linux is getting better and better. It's getting closer and closer to bridging that gap.


  11. These are few of my reasons why it is not yet:
    1) Show me # of jobs that require Gnome/OpenOffice vs MS Windows/MS Office jobs (non IT jobs please)
    2) When I walk into "Best Buy" and ready drop $1000 on a PC and $500 on some gadget I want all the drivers in the box (not trying to get lucky on the net)
    3) I use Windoze at work as the tool/appliance and stay productive. Just don't click on every "pennis enlargement" e-mail
    4) PC VENDOR RE-INSTALL CD/DVD. I can reinstall Windoze 10 times a day with that. And it will work every time (unless hardware fails). Every average user can handle it.

    5) Ubuntu does not work for every one like Windoze does. I tried 9.10: On one of my PCs it could not deal with the video card (in live CD mode), so I did not bother to install. On other PC it did install, but the very first upgrade (prompted by upgrade manager) resulted into Kernel Panic. I found different distro to use. But do you really believe that an average user would evaluate more than 1 (or 3) distributions before giving up?

  12. I said the average computer user... for easily 75% (or more) of computer users OpenOffice does everything they need in the means of paper/spreadsheets/power points.

    I have two laptops I run Ubuntu - the only "driver" I had to install between the two of them was for the nVidia graphics card. This again reinforces my idea that if you have someone who knows what they are doing pick out the hardware you will get a system that works 100% on Linux with out "getting luck on the net"

    There are many more ways than just that to get spyware/viruses on Windows - I spend a good deal of my IT time cleaning up after them.

    I can reinstall Ubuntu on my hardware four or 5 times for each one time I get Windows installed on the same machine due to having to add software/wait for it reboot for the 5th time.

    Ever have to reinstall Windows on a older system that someone lost their driver discs for - or maybe the driver discs they have where only for a past version of Windows? Its a nightmare most times to say the least.

    idk - like I said, use what suits you but if properly configured (like Windows is when you get it on a new computer from the store) Linux is more than enough for most users to do all their daily tasks on.

    Also I somehow doubt I'm the only one who has had my system broken by a Windows update - just like updates some times mess up a Linux install.

  13. Jeff, for a math student I wish you paid more attention to little details.

    Even though OpenOffice can do some things, it does not do well with complex MS documents. With 90+% using MS Office in work environment your "75%" do not matter. HR personel will not be impressed with your Gnome/Open Office skills. I/you do not have justification to waste time learning new software (even if is free) because it has nothing to do with the job.

    "Drivers in the box" is not limited to PC only. If I am to buy an expensive video camera to connect to my PC - I want to see that "Penguin" logo on the box. Otherwise, I don't have much confidence as a consumer (we're not talking about cheap web cams).

    "Properly Configured Linux" Can I buy one in "Best Buy" ???

    Sometimes, it is not about pure technical ability Win vs Linux. There are many things driven by non-technical issues. That's why I listed job market as #1 (and not the ability to pop a CD in)

  14. It's pretty much there. There can still be hurdles for people with printing and digital camera drivers and whatnot.

  15. Regarding your office argument - I can see where this may be for large businesses be a must - but for instance I work for a small company and we actually use OpenOffice on all our systems here as a way to cut costs and not lose productivity...

    Also if you really need M$ Office (because I know OOO still lacks a number of features for some power users) you can run it fairly well on Linux under Crossover Office and thats still cheaper than Windows :)

  16. Straight on argument. That post was driving me crazy, but you see the same kind of stuff regardless of the operating system. These tirades are a result of paradigm change.

    "It worked before" or "It worked on the last release" or "It worked on XP" are the same thing we hear over and over again. They're just taking out their frustrations and blaming the only thing they perceive has changed. Key point being perceived.

    Either way Ubuntu is at the head of the game when it comes to Linux for the general user. My brother is obsessed with Fedora, but has had to install it 9 times, and I am not exaggerating. We are getting there, slowly but surely, and a lot of these little nuances will go away as the general public becomes more exposed to the fact the operating system exists.

    It's just a factor of time at this point.

  17. Re: Jeff's latest post--

    I think the other poster is overstating the ease and usefulness of working with Windows, but I do see his point. If you can't bring a document home from work, if you have to use Microsoft software anyway, if you need to install an additional program to act as intermediary so you can run that software, if you need to delve into command-line prompts to install a font or to install some software you bought at the store or to get Linux to recognize your laptop's battery life or to find and adopt the Windows driver for your get my point.

    From a high level, you're bang on - yeah Linux does everyone the average computer user needs. Each box gets checked, until you delve into the idiosyncrasies of every-day computer use. Maybe those aren't problems for the most basic of users, or the most expert, but there is a whole middle class of computer users for whom Linux just doesn't work on a daily level without significant effort, because they're using mroe than the simplest functions, but aren't expert enough to use Linux to it's full capacity, which, when done, is impressive beyond a doubt.

    Don't get me wrong, it's totally unfair that Linux is held to a higher standard than Windows, but that's just the case.

  18. Jeff,
    We do have something in common. I used to be math/comp sci student. Currently, I work for a small company as well. But the company does not exist in isolated bubble. We have to exchange 100s of documents daily with clients/vendors. Some of those are worth of multi million $$$ in profits. Do you really think we'd risk those profits by saving a hew hundred $$$ on MS Ofice license??? I think not. it is like chicken and the egg because out clients/vendors are in the same position.

    When yu're talking about "average user", think BIG. Think of general purpose OS. MS has huge advantage: the eco-system around the OS: all the retail channels, PC accesories, electronic gadets (iPhone), and the work place. Given all that, I don't think the average user would benefit much from the complete switch. That's why I pointed out to the importance of Linux in the worplace. It gives avrage user reason to learn it to be compatitive at work (and the rest would follow)

    "it's totally unfair that Linux is held to a higher standard than Windows"
    It is totally fair if you're suggesting to use Linux instead of Windows AND asking 90-95% of the World to switch.

  19. Ah, I guess I should have been more clear on what I meant by "average computer user". By this I was referring to the countless people I know who use the computer to primarily web-surf, type the occasional paper/powerpoint for school, and use music/media on it. There are a lot of people other there that this is all they use it for and personally I think with it's heavy resistance to viruses/malware along with good stability (For the most part) Linux is a solid alternative to Windows.

    Like I said though, to each their own.

  20. Oh that "average". I'll give you a funny one. My wife was trying to use my Linux PC to access her work e-mail web site. Which (of course) was designed to work on IE/Win only; when it failed she yelled at me "Give me the normal Internet!!!"

    On the other side. I think PC vendors that sell Linux PCs missed a window of opportunity. When MS was giving away XP for almost nothing they could have cash in by selling PC with dual boot cofigurations. Or even better: Linux PC with XP installed in a virtual machine. (For example, Toshiba does sell a netbook with WinXP/OpenSolaris dual boot configuration). As the time would go by, your average user would realize that they use that XP virtual less and less (till they don't need it at all).

  21. The dual boot offering is a good idea. I know personally when I setup Mint/Ubuntu for the first time for people I always dual boot it. Most times I find they only end up using Windows for gaming, which is still a headache at times under Nix.

  22. Imagine the marketing "Two for the price of One", "Buy one, get one FREE". Who wouldn't love that ?!

  23. << "it's totally unfair that Linux is held to a higher standard than Windows"
    It is totally fair if you're suggesting to use Linux instead of Windows AND asking 90-95% of the World to switch. >>

    Well, no, it's not fair for three reasons:

    1) Because we are condtioned to accept the deficiencies of Windows as inevitable and unavoidable. In actuality, Windows is a significant pain in the ass, is often not intuitive, and if you take a step back, many of these deficiencies are completely unacceptable for thw world's most dominant operating system.

    2) Most of the problems that people run into aren't Linux's fault. Linux gets very little credit for handling the amount of stuff that it can.

    3) No one, not even Jeff here, is suggesting 90-95 percent of users switch to Linux. Even the most hardcore Linux guys don't suggest that.

    But otherwise, I agree with you, Linux isn't ready for the vast majority of users.

    And I agree, I don't know why any major computer makers/retailers haven't done a dual boot Windows/Linux PC...seems like a perfect marketing option for high-end computer users.

  24. I have to agree with the main thrust of the article... Linux does 100% of everything that a computer user needs to do... I have used it on my own personal systems, exclusively, for 8 years. At work I am forced to work on Windoze,... But that is the company's expense and frustration...

    For those who are using the "Everybody else uses M$" argument for a reason not to adopt Linux,... The "eco-system" is designed to provide over-paid jobs for under-skilled IT people. I recently had a tech install 3 GB of RAM in my workstation at the office, and subsequently broke the connectors for the PS/2 mouse and keyboard in the process,... This is a thing I could have done myself, ... blindfolded, at home, without doing damage. I also had to call IT support to bring me a new USB mouse and keyboard to replace the non-working ones... Again, something I can do for myself... But I work in a corporate environment,... and some over-paid [expletive desired but not used], "IT" person decided that we would all use M$ workstations, to the tune of some obscene amount of $$$. So I had to sit for an entre day waiting for the IT guy to show up. It is these very same IT execs who decided to add device locks in the systems so that you cannot insert a USB key drive, printer, scanner, input device or camera...

    Windoze exists as the main corporate OS because of the economics of self-preservation of the quasi-technical, not because of efficiency or suitability,... And not because it is cost effective. It is there because when it breaks,... (and it will) there is an excuse to be had that it was M$'s fault,... but that we have to live with it (but we really don't). It is there because M$ is all the guy making decisions understands, and he is more worried about being able to afford his country club dues than saving the company Million$ in IT expenses...

    And then there are the paid M$ schills that will attack anything a Linux advocate (or in M$-FUD-speak, Linux "Zealot," because it make us Linux advocates seem like freaks) has to say... Often they do it with misleading statements or statistics (1% of users on Linux?!?!? Maybe when measured in term of sales of computers with Linux pre-installed...) or outright lies (searching the web for drivers?!?!? Maybe in 1996...). Often they do it with fake "I couldn't get my this-or-that running" stories...

    The bottom line is that as more and more people are exposed to Linux, M$ will continue to lose market share. Netbooks were an avalanche for M$ (complete with record financial losses),... So much so that some of the really good ones, with neat new tech, you cannot even get in the USA because of M$'s financial clout keeping them out of the country. I had to send out to Hungary to get my Gigabyte M912m... M$'s business model is antiquaited when the major cost of a system is becoming the OS and software... Portable devices are becoming the big new thing... and M$ misses the boat there too, while Linux is scalable from tiny single purpose machines to super-computers, and everything in between.

  25. I didn't know squat about Linux and I installed it.

    Ubuntu had good forum support. All you have to do is go to one of those "Things to do after install" postings.

    It wasn't that hard. Duh.

  26. Spot on in a number of ways. Your description resembles my own experience with Ubuntu Linux. Still - I can't keep from smiling at articles like the one you linked to in forum. I smile because my mum who turned 70 years old last December is running Ubuntu 9.10 on her computer. Sure, I ca see that Ubuntu isn't ready for the user.

    I've worked with computers from the early 1990's and started out on MS DOS, the MS-DOS/Windows onto DR-DOS/NetWare 3.1x (Novell). Have had the troubles all the way from Win95 through XP Pro. I just switched to Ubuntu GNU/Linux in January of 2007 and will not call myself a geek. Still, even I can see that what the poster on forum should have done was to boot the computer in CLI, switch to root and run the command "dexconf", then a reboot and voila, smooth running. But for some people it's hard to admit they come short in skills and rather than admit their ignorance they tend to kill the messenger.

  27. Plah. My mom does more technical stuff with Ubuntu all by herself than with Windows. Installed Ubuntu on her computer, side by side with XP, and one thing came clear very quickly: no need for XP. She's more than happy with Ubuntu, and refuse to use XP.

  28. Excellent article! Users just have to realise that Linux is NOT Windows and you can't expect exactly the same experience. In fact, who'd want exactly the same experience as that's what you were trying to get away from in the first place. (Or to put it another way, expect to have to learn some stuff to get away from the malware and other annoyances you want to escape.)

    On the whole installing apps thing, for the average user they need to choose a distro that has the apps they want available in the repositories and DO NOT install anything outside of that. They will then expose themselves to far less risk and bother than if they tried to install .deb or .rpms they downloaded from some random website. Explore the repos for apps that do what you want but are different to your usual choice. This is why Windows users should migrate to FOSS apps on their Windows OS before migrating to Linux and FOSS apps. They will then be familiar with the apps & will hardly notice the change of OS.

  29. The one time I tried to install Windows XP, it was hell. I had two hard drives in, and it kept wanting to spread it's self out between them by putting ntldr on one and the C: partition on the other - what a travesty. In the end, I had to install Windows WITHOUT the other hard drive in, and then connect it afterwards!

    Ubuntu, on the other hand, makes it perfectly easy to choose where to put the OS, where to out /home, where to put GRUB and what to do with any other partitions it finds.

    If it were not for OEM installs, I doubt any average user would have much success with Windows (not to mention the fact that with most OEM installs, a CD is not supplied, making it not possible to reinstall.)

  30. I went from windows to apple and now linux--I don't do much with the command line except on rare occasions and that's only if the online instructions are fairly easy to follow. I enjoy the flexibility and power I have with linux very much. A few drawbacks, but it's certainly true of the computer world in general.

  31. You have hit the nail on the head! Why is it that so many articles about Linux on the desktop always state something on the order of "Linux is close but not quite yet ready for the mainstream". Those comments are usually due to something about it being hard to install or it's not enough like Windows yet.

    Here is a solution. Have a contest where you take an average computer user and have them do a fresh install of Windows and Linux on the same or identical machines. Then see what their comments are. I would be willing to bet that they could at least get a functioning version of Linux installed. It may need some tweaking but at least they would be able to use it. In Windows, the OS might not even be usable (especially if they have to hunt down and install various drivers) and they still would have to install a bunch of additional software just to do some basic things.