Saturday, June 11, 2011

Anyone Can use the Linux Operating System

Today’s topic of conversation is something I feel fairly strongly about. It is something I have seen happen countless times, both in person and posted various places around the internet. Some semi-tech head (or Windows system admin) downloads this “Linux” thing and decides they are going to boot it up. They don’t look up their hardware online for compatibility, they just pop the disc in and expect everything to work. Now most modern Linux distributions work with a fairly wide range of hardware - so most of these users will install the operating system successfully and move on to setting everything else up.

What about those that have hardware that doesn’t work or works poorly without closed source/restricted drivers? They get upset, curse the penguin in their disc drive, call it a crappy operating system, swear to never try it again and then proceed to tell all their friends about the negative experience that will obviously happen with any hardware and Linux. Linux lost a potential user.

Next, those users that got the system installed successfully are enjoying themselves and go to play an MP3 file or a flash video. If they selected one of the distributions that comes with restricted/closed source components pre-installed, they will be fine. If they selected a distribution that makes installing such things easy their media is only a few clicks away. Even if they are unlucky and selected a distribution with strong free software values, playing those restricted media files is only a Google search and a few commands away (at most).

What about those that didn’t do any of the above and expected all of their media to “just work”? They get upset, curse the penguin on their hard drive, call it a crappy operating system, swear to never try it again and then proceed to tell all their friends about the negative experience that will obviously happen with any media file and Linux. Linux lost a potential user.

Finally those users that made it through all the hurdles listed above have been using their Linux box for a week - things are going well. Then they find an application online they would like to use that is fully cross platform. They find the download link with the penguin above it and download the file provided. If they are lucky the package they downloaded is the same type as what works with their package manager. If it is, they will install the software and go along their happy way.

What about those that got a “.tar.gz”, “.bin” or “.sh” file download? They get upset, curse the penguin on their hard drive, call it a crappy operating system, swear to never try it again and then proceed to tell all their friends about the negative experience that will obviously happen with installing any program in Linux. Linux lost a potential user.

Yes, all of the above could be avoided if users would simply RTFM. You know what, though? I’ve found most of those manuals users are being directed to are not written for users.

Yes, all of the above could be avoided if users would simply ask for help in a chat room/forum. You know what, though? I’ve been in more than a few chat rooms and seen more than a couple message board posts where new users were treated poorly for a simple question they had. “Can’t you use Google?” is never an acceptable answer folks (and its one I think most all of us are guilty of giving at one point or another).

Ultimately the best solution for getting Linux into the hands of someone new and having it provide a positive experience is the proper setup and configuration of the operating system by someone that knows what they are doing. Ninety percent of Linux distributions that exist can be easily used by just about anyone when properly configured and presented with a couple minutes of explanation to the new user. Just like Windows or OSX anyone can use Linux in 2011, but not everyone can install Linux.

What is your take on this subject? Am I fairly on target here or completely missing my point?

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Keen observation sir. People like things quick and easy, with the least amount of input. Example, the popularity of Macs and Television

  2. I agree with this post. The issue of message boards/forums reminds me of what I think is the biggest problem with Linux: there aren't very many Linux resources that are targeted to end users who aren't tech-heads. For example,there are Windows magazines for people who don't know how to edit the registry (oddly, that includes me; I know more Linux terminal commands than I do Windows registry items). However, Linux magazines tend to be targeted to developers and programmers, with regular features on the eye-glazing progress of kernel development and articles about innovative things to do with Python.

    I think the Linux community really needs to make up its mind whether it wants to spread Linux or keep it confined to a small circle of dedicated, tech-savvy users.

  3. Well, Jeff I have to say you probably hit the nail on the head. I consider myself an unofficial tester of Linux OS with a fairly decent collection of live Linux cds.
    Most people expect the quick and convenient to be the solution to everything in life, unfortunately like life that comes with a price even if it's not a monetary price. Some people get frustrated with having to actually look into the problems they have with Linux software. People don't seem to have the patience, or willingness to be patient.
    Take for instance your work on Bodhi, I have tested it and really like the lightweight of this distribution, the speed is awesome. My problem wasn't with the OS it was hardware related and at the time I was unable to spend the time searching for a solution. The laptop I was using it on didn't have a battery to keep the time and date correct for the boot process so I was constantly having to use the live disc after the install. Now that I do have the time I will be doing more tests and trying to solve this problem.
    I'm not a big fan of Enlightenment, but I can see where other users would find it of interest and be useful to them.
    I have to admit that my Linux OS of choice is Mint 9 XFCE. But I always look at the and try all distributions for the purpose of expanding my limited knowledge of Linux. Each one that I have tried has taught me something new.
    Education is an important aspect of my life, I try to learn something new everyday.

  4. I agree that the key is to target semi-experienced users first, so that they can get accustomed to Linux and deal with problems when they occur. Then, they can install Linux on their friends' computers and provide a helping hand in the process; the sad truth is that while that goal is getting closer and closer to being reached, I don't think there is any distribution that a novice (not just inexperienced, but also unwilling to look for help in the forums, chat rooms, manuals) user can fully install and configure from start to finish without help.
    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

  5. With windows and OSX, if it doesn't just "work" customers get upset, and corporations could possibly lose business and revenue. If linux doesn't work, the customer throws the disc away and developers get little or no feedback. It is these users the developers should keep in mind, because those types of users make up 90% of the market for computers. If you can make something that just "works" and offers choice and cost savings, you will grow your users.

    For instance, I've been using linux on and off for almost 10 years and have a lot of issues that I can't or don't have time to solve with bodhi. It isn't really bodhi's fault, it's asus' odd hardware, but the end result is a hassle. For people like me, it's a fun challenge or a bit of a nuissance, for the 90% i discussed, it's a dealbreaker.

  6. Linux can offer a secure and hassle free user experience if it is set up properly. However as Jeff points out it is a bit much to expect the typical Windows based computer user to configure everything.
    Even after doing dozens of installations I still need some sort of checklist. The Windows refugee will still want updates to Flash, MP3 ripping and playing capability, Open Office to save and load in MS Office format, etc. This takes some skill and attention to detail.
    The obvious answer is to have Linux pre-installed on a new machine, but judging from the way Dell installed Ubuntu 8.04 on my daughter's Mini 12 notebook I am not optimistic that it'll be done any better than your average Linux advocate could do.
    I think we need more Linux advocates out there - maybe we don't know as much as the geeks but we can install well enough to satisfy most users.

  7. I guess it depends on what you mean by "install and configure from start to finish." I haven't had any problem ever setting up Ubuntu. Ubuntu even supports the Realtek wireless chip in my laptop that doesn't work with any other (non-Ubuntu-based) distro. If by "configure" you mean things like setting up the word processor to save documents in MS Word format, then you may have a point. There are little things like that which can trip up a novice.

  8. You nailed it there with that post. There is a huge attitude issue in the world of open source.

  9. What a slap in the face of someone, who thinks Linux in the desktop is killling Linux on the desktop. I agree with you Mr. Hooghland, one can't misuse Linux, and then, blame the bad experience on Linux.

  10. Hi Jeff,

    As you've been around for long enough and no doubt have seen plenty of discussion, I'd tend to say there is no such thing as "the user". It all depends on the kind of person installing and their expectations. I understood from a posting on the Bodhi forum that you as well own an n900. A lovely machine, but as I use to say: Not meant for humans but rather targeted at geeks. Now, if users can't figure things out for themselves, one might ask if that device was the right choice for them in the first place.

    I set up an old machine with Bodhi for my GF as I am slowly getting tired of all the changes in Ubuntu. It's simple, easy and it more or less works out of the box.

    I could have installed Gentoo on her machine as well, provided I would have had the time to do so. Luckily for me she chose Dobhi.

    Had she chosen Gentoo, and started asking for technical help she would/should've been able to find on her own, on the Gentoo forum, I guess it's no more than fair that she would hear RTFM.

    Likewise, on talk.maemo, we had this guy walking in complaining he could't boot his n900 anymore. It turned out he had completely removed his /usr/ directory. Obviously he made a big mistake buying the n900 and made bigger mistakes after having bought it. I can understand annoyed reactions by people if the person who's asking questions has done zero to achive his or her own goals.

    OTOH: The Ubuntu beginners forum is a nice and friendly place for people to learn and I am happy it's there for me to point to.

  11. I have been using Linux for 10 years I started with Slackware and my Linux box is still on Slackware. I tried to get people to use Linux for years. (Distro's other than Slackware, although it's really not the difficult to install if you do a little research).

    I realized they just don't have the interest or the patience to do a little research to find out which program to use to edit their Word doc etc...

    As far as hardware support give a user a Windows disc to install on a PC from bare metal and the success rate is probably poorer than installing Ubuntu or one of the many spawns.

    Eventually something like the Chromebook will succeed but I don't see it happening until HTML5 is more mature. I'm sure eventually web technologies will be good enough to accomplish most of our needs including 3D gaming.

    Now I recommend a Mac to regular users. As much as we all like to hate on Apple they've done it right. Users just want to sit down and "use" their computer. Before you chime in that they're to expensive; really? $300 bucks for a Mini that's a couple of years old?

    For CS students and geeks that "want" to learn I still recommend Linux and Slackware at that. I owe my career to Linux and will continue to use it, but it's just a lost cause pushing it on people that don't care as much as we do in our world.

    So get over it. Leave the Linux desktop to the domain of developers and the geeks. The desktop is dying a slow death, and Linux on it hasn't taken off despite the years of predictions that this is "The year of the Linux Desktop" Let Linux do what it does best. Run servers and everything in your house, from your refrigerator to your TV to your phones...

  12. I have never once told someone to Google for their answer (something to be proud of ?), but for sure I have googled for them.

    IMHO a user needs to be 'ready' for linux. People need to have the desire. If that's not present, it just won't happen for them.

  13. There are number of things that you can't do with linux. And that users would realize that in the long/short run especially if that users used a window based os. And linux experts/developers knew it. But of course, it defends on the user needs and wants...or the companies greed(iness). It is like you bought your daughter a typewriter rather than a laptop despite of having a money for it. Or you bought your daughter an alienware laptop and use ubuntu/mint. My heart is laughing inside whenever I see beautiful/smart looking people using expensive laptop and see linux on it..they look stupid to me. I get it they only need basic task for their time is gold goals. (Yah that application/function is great but i don't need it because mine can't do that. I'm too old for that - I take my precious time seriously - I don't care about that - I'm busy). Realize that provision is important even you do not need it today, especially if you can have it. Like I visualized that my daughter would be great if she used laptop instead of typewriter. Linux users (especially experts) PRETENDS that linux is great.

  14. @Anonymous Pro Tip - if you are going to troll at least proof read your post first. Way too many typos there.

  15. Well damn you are absolutely right but you know what they are most likely to find easy solution on google most of times although I wouldn't say that to anyone it's simply Rude.

  16. Linux on computers to me is like Race. Where I live there's very little if any race discrimination. My kids don't even understand the concept that one person could be better/worse than another based on color/origins. With Linux I also don't spend too much time thinking about the OS because in most cases it's just not relevant anymore. Linux is possibly the easiest OS out there to install and the Desktop does a great job. You don't realize how much of a pain Windows is to install until you do it. You're feeding it CDs and downloading drivers manually for hours. There are some sticky points still with Linux but they're getting far and few between. My kids have Linux on their computers and they use Windows at school. They never even mention the OS. They use Word at school and OpenOffice at home and don't bat an eyelash.

    The ONLY time there's an issue is with games. My son wants to play Windows games although Minecraft works great.

    The only other instance I think you need Windows is if you have some proprietary corporate software where only Windows clients will do. Even that is changing as we push everything to the cloud.

    I'm a college professor and I use Linux on all of my machines. The Acedemic Computing Services asks me each quarter what I want installed and I tell them I don't care as long as it has NXclient so we can log into a VirtualServer running Linux.

  17. I have noticed recently that alot less talk of Open source in general is going round online.
    When will Linux start creating it's own Hardware? So many of the annoying issues that 'only' gurus or gifted/geeks can fix, unless you have all the time in the world to first read a ton of documentation only to realize you the current version or distro you'r running is no longer supported or not compatible .
    I'm still fairly new to Linux even after a yr of 'tinkering' with half a dozen Linux distros.And yes i agree with K.R.Smith ,that Linux should make it's mind up as to Who it caters to. Not telling everyone to dual boot and then come join the community and sit in the 'Newbie/nobby; for ABSOLUTE beginners&children section; how depressing is that to tell a 40+ plus man/woman that ,day in day out?
    ..sLug feasts would be more appropriate.
    You're taking the mickey and it's only costing the Foss community, because there is an OS for the common man/woman that do other things in life than write code all day or have unlimited time to study.
    When i first started using it a yr ago, it was Not fashionable to have your desktop full with icons like they do in WINDOZE , but now Unity &Gnome3 ?? ; by the way that is the worst thing i have difficulty with on the forums ; the constant dissing of another OS , not just any other but the ONE that gave the PC to the people. Why Not take it up with Apple ,they are the ones who Use Unix based os's , Windows has done nothing to Foss..not that i know of..
    I have come to accept that for learning purposes ;Linux is a Must but till you become a Ninja ,Windows is the practical choice, any day even for die hard Linuxes ; I'm betting you have wine on your desktop , right?.. It is doing More damage than any good to attract people ,telling them it's OK don't worry we'll take good care of you ; come now ; dual boot , come on.. Have you tried putting your machine in suspend mode ,recently ?.. did it Doze off like you wanted it to?.. cause Windows , Dozes off quite easily and i manage to bring him back to life even a day;two later and it continues where i left it. Simple right ; doze off see you later buddy ...
    I have found Newrespect for Windows thanks to Linux i can now really appreciate all that Mr,Gates &co have done & continue to do. Should check out the sums of money he disses Out : \
    Linus thank you too man..
    I'm sure that neither Linus Nor Richard had that in mind ,... create an antagonizing community that thrives on belittling others .
    I will always have a lace for you Linux ,in the back of my head .
    No hard feeling .. in the end we're all on the same boat! i meant bowl ... ;)