Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Linux Part II

I've received a lengthy comment on my earlier post. Given that it goes into a great deal of depth on the topic (longer than my post, by the looks of it!), I've decided to reply with a separate post.

Firstly, thank you anonymous individual for taking the time out to make a well reasoned and insightful comment. Having read over my post again, I realize that my tone was occasionally a bit harsh. I was (understandably, I reckon) more than a little annoyed at the state of affairs. Still, I think I made it clear even then that I wasn't anti Linux; if anything, I expressed my eagerness to embrace Linux.

Perhaps I went too far in making such an all encompassing statement - that Linux wasn't 'read for the desktop'. While looking into my particular problem, I did overlook the fact that I was in the minority - most people have no problems installing Ubuntu, and the installation process is reputed to be much better than that of Windows, probably in part due to the fact that it can be installed from a Live CD. And yes, I am aware that Windows has problems with driver support as well. The thing that irked me about my experience with Ubuntu was that it didn't fail gracefully, it just left me in the lurch. And the problem is apparently a glitch with the installer. I've had issues with Windows where drivers weren't available, but it was able to run with basic VGA drivers; I'm not sure why this didn't happen with the Ubuntu installer.

I am well aware that Linux is getting better all the time with regard to these sorts of problems, and with regard to general usability. And yes, driver issues are the biggest stumbling blocks, but even here things are improving. This is one of the reasons I felt it was time to start using it. This is also why, if I don't find a way to resolve my current problem, I'll get the next release of Ubuntu and give that a try - the driver issues will hopefully be resolved by then.

Once again, I agree my comment was unjustified with regard to the actual usage of a Linux desktop, seeing as how I have very little experience with a modern distro! I am aware that most basic things can be done with a Linux distro straight out of the box, with minimal effort. And the new package managers are meant to be a piece of cake to use. A person with some technical skill shouldn't have many problems. I have no doubt that once I get Linux installed I'll still have issues that need to be resolved, but I should be able to find solutions online, as you mention. I suspect you're right when you say that someone, somewhere has already experienced whatever problems that might crop up...

I think the major contentious point is in terms of advanced usability. You mention that to do things besides basic web-browsing and email will require some effort. The reason being that it takes time to get used to the Linux way of doing things. Quite often, though, from what I've read I get the impression that sometimes getting things done can be complicated - as in more complicated than the Windows way. If Linux is to be ready for the desktop, these things need to be made easier. Now I acknowledge that I could be wrong, seeing as how my practical knowledge on this matter is limited, but that's the general impression I get. Perhaps once I get used to Linux, things won't seem quite as complicated. And quite often the reason things are harder is because Linux always faces an uphill battle when it comes to getting support from developers and manufacturers, which results in complicated workarounds to get things done.

But I do believe that for the average user, these problems are an issue when compared to Windows. Most software used by the average Joe is designed to work with Windows and is not likely to cause problems. With Linux, however, it may be a bit more complicated for the average person - being used to Windows, and having to deal with problems that they might not have to deal with normally (the reasons for these problems are irrelevant to most people; I understand that it might not really be the 'fault' of Linux that things don't always work - i.e. lack of driver support from manufacturers). Basically, Windows' ubiquity is a hindrance to Linux being 'ready for the desktop'. It can involve jumping through hoops to get proprietary file formats and software to work with Linux, if it's possible at all. Most people expect these things to 'just work'.

It's an interesting point you make about advanced Windows users being wary of going in to Linux - like jumping into the deep end! I think there's some truth to that statement. It's hard to get used to a new way of doing things, following instructions and stumbling around, but I guess it's a good way to learn. And yeah, it is easy to just give up without trying, especially for relatively advanced users, and I agree that it is a feeble excuse. And while I did come close to using that kind of excuse, you'll note that I haven't given up.

Anyway, in short I agree with most of what was said in your comment... Linux is getting better and will continue to do so, and the type of problem that I encountered is an exception. Most Linux problems can be resolved with a little effort. Much of what can be done on Windows can be done on Linux. But it does take time to get used to the Linux way of things. The only thing I'm not sure of is that it's as usable for the average Joe as it is for those who are more technically inclined. For my part, I will (as I originally stated) be trying again, and look forward to having a dual boot system set up in the near future.

10 comments:

sanity index said...

The only thing I'm not sure of is that it's as usable for the average Joe as it is for those who are more technically inclined.

Bingo. Sort of in response to your anon commenter...I don't know if everyone is on the same page regarding who is an average or normal Joe/Jane, but speaking as an average Jane who is just a tad more tech inclined than your truly average Joe/Jane, surely you jest if you think most computer users are ready to take on Linux. Most are no where near ready, if we want to count desktops.

In fact, an average computer user may not have even heard of Linux, much less wanted to play with an OS. The average folks expect things to turn on, work, and move on with their lives, and end up asking people like me (who isn't even all that techy) for help when something goes awry. Jesus, and I hadn't even heard of half of the stuff mentioned in the 2 entries!

But, I am a big fan of Firefox. :)

Antimatter said...

This is one of the biggest problems Linux has - appealing to the average computer user who isn't a techie. I myself don't have a practical need to use it, but down the line, I want to switch for all the reasons I've already mentioned. I doubt the average person will want to switch for idealogical grounds, or will believe it's worth the additional security and functionality, even if it is free. That's because of all the problems that've been discussed in these posts & comments, and because they're familiar with Windows. Windows may be a bit crap, but it's still good enough for most purposes.

It's a bit of a catch-22. Linux has a lot of these problems because it isn't popular and therefore doesn't get much support. And because it has these accessibility problems, it won't become popular. I do believe that if Linux was more established, many of these problems would go away (as long as there was at least one common 'standard' variant/distro of Linux).

Things would be standardized, software and hardware would be sure to work, and there would be plenty of people who could help when things go wrong because they'd be familiar with it as well, as many people are now with Windows. And at a broader level, open standards and open software benefits everybody except the mega corporations for whom proprietery systems are their bread and butter.

I guess that's one aspect - whether people are ready for Linux. The other aspect is whether Linux itself is ready for the average Joe/Jane. I think, for the most part, yes. Most basic things can be done. People are used to Windows. If they started using Linux at some level on a regular basis (school, work, etc...), would Linux be good enough to get things done? I think so. It's always getting better, and the more people that use it, the become still it will become. It just needs to get that critical mass, which can only be achieved if people support it.

Most people don't know how to install Windows - it just comes with their computer. If Dell started providing Linux computers and supported them, I reckon people could use it even now. And the more it gets adopted, the more people will be used to it, the better things will work, and the more people who'll be able to help when things go pear shaped.

And as the anon poster said, it is being adopted in several countries at government level. For many of these people, Linux will be like Windows is for us. Linux is without doubt 'better' on techincal merits than Windows, so its adoption would be a good thing.

(And I've managed to make an incredibly long comment...)

Textureglitch said...

I should probably have introduced myself in the comment on the previous post ;)

I'd like to know what graphics card you have and what this big glitch was that you encountered, in some more detail if you could. It sounds mysterious.


I don't agree with your view on advanced usability, it smacks very much of what a Windows geek who has no experience with Linux would tell you rather than the actual situation.
The idea that 'linux should be made easier' is just another way of saying it should be exactly like Windows does it, or it won't be worth learning. Look at MS Office and OpenOffice as an example: if you need to add a footnote or header, in MS Office you go to the 'View' menu and in OpenOffice you go to the 'Insert' menu.

How would you know this if not for looking around and searching for the option you need? One method is exactly as intuitive and userfriendly as the other, yet they're different and you had to teach yourself each one.
This example holds up pretty well to most of Linux vs Windows UI differences too. It's not less userfriendly, it's just different. You tend to forget the years you had to spend familiarizing yourself with one method.

Due to marketshare of desktops there are a lot more Windows superusers around who can help you install drivers, remove programs, update antivirus and so on, so you have to learn to go to the online forums for Linux help because there statistically just aren't likely to be many Linux gurus near you. LUGs are a good place to start if you want some personal help, though.

The slightly more advanced Windows users also seem to have this chronic tendency to not instantly grasp how things work in Linux and then immediately declare that "No average user could possibly figure this out if I didn't understand it instantly!"
The fact of the matter is that an average computer user is likely to do just as well as they are.

They're very busy being concerned for other people less skilled than them without realizing that they themselves are effectively newbies in the Linux world. Just because they've "worked with computers for years" they think that they should intuitively understand the quirks of Linux (and there are many). It's like a painter getting all indignant because he can't write a novel, after all he's an artist, right?
It's a somewhat elitist attitude and I see it a lot more from Windows users 'trying out' (read: bashing) Linux, whereas I'm always met with helpful advice on the Ubuntuforums.

Incidentally, the best way to get your question answered on some types of Linux forums is simply to post something along the lines of, "Linux totally SUCKS because I can't do this (...)!"
That's guaranteed to get you a swift answer from indignant Linuxgeeks ;)

The Ubuntu community especially seems very aware that everyone who approaches them is most likely to be a beginner, and they are treated with care and a lot of detail on what they have to do. Which, let's face it is a lot easier when you can say "type this into your command prompt" instead of the Windows version of "Go to the start menu, then click the third option from the bottom, click the first option on the menu that pops out. In the windows that opens, highlight the fifth element in the list, then click properties, then select the third tab and make sure that the first two options are checked, but uncheck the third one..." (ad nauseum...)

I've only recently realized that the "just works" mantra is all backwards. Nothing works in Windows until I actively do something to install it or set it up. But when I plug my USB mouse, mp3 player, digital camera, printer, whatever peripheral you care to mention, into Linux it just works.
Then again, Ubuntu does ship with an ungodly amount of drivers.

One thing people also seem to forget is that after you've spent hours reformatting your Windows machine and reinstalled the OS, you're pretty much at square zero. You've got the OS and nothing else, now you have to install your antivirus, antispyware, favorite email program, picture editor, text editor, compression program, winamp, sound card, video card, video codecs, firewall, web browser other than IE (unless you want to do the reinstall again soon), pdf reader, Logitech mouse, HP scanner, printer, etc. All depending on your needs, of course.

When you install a modern Linux distro it takes about the same time as installing a new Windows, but when you're done you have a functional computer. Windows is very 'bare' in comparison.


surely you jest if you think most computer users are ready to take on Linux.

To sanity index's comment again I have to say I disagree vehemently. She even contradicts herself right there in the same post. If average users don't want to play with the OS, then what difference does it make which one they use? Sanity index seems to think that this argument is somehow in MS' favor.

She's only 'above average' because she has taken the time to learn how Windows works in detail. She states (very correctly) that no average Joe wants to know these details, they just want stuff to work so they can get their work done.
Again I have to point out how well Microsoft's marketing department works, because they have created the illusion that this is true for Windows and not for Linux when in fact it's the other way around.

You don't have to play with Linux any more than you do with Windows. It all depends how much you want to know the environment you're working in. I can point a totally clueless user to the picture with the email on it just as well on both systems and they'll click it.

The fact is that the average user cannot tell the difference and the only reason the average user isn't just using Linux is because of Microsoft's OEM tactics. If Linux computers were available in every computer store and cheaper than the Windows ones, what reason do you have to believe that every Joe Average in the world wouldn't be using Linux instead?

And with regards to the user not wanting to have anything to do with the OS, I find Windows to be a lot more invasive in my work. Linux does not annoy me with 'helpful' balloons and tips. It does not get in my way, it is a lot more transparent. I can mention one example that I noticed almost instantly when I switched to Linux. If I click something that opens a window and I then keep working in another window, the focus does not change to the new window right after it has opened!
I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I've ended up writing in the headline of a Word document because I was typing an email while waiting for Word to open.

It's a thousand little annoyances like that one which I've just learned to accept on Windows yet suddenly found that I didn't have to put up with in Linux.
I firmly believe that the less you know about computers, the less you'll notice you're using Linux instead of Windows, when you're at the bottom of the learning curve it doesn't really matter what shape it is.
It's only people who have spent time figuring out how Windows works to some degree, who feel completely lost when they feel they have to relearn everything again. Sanity index is a perfect example that even with a little knowledge of Windows, people find it hard to switch to unfamiliar territory, and they assume that people who know less than they are even worse off in this new territory, but it's just not true.


I doubt the average person will want to switch for idealogical grounds, or will believe it's worth the additional security and functionality, even if it is free.

Are you kidding me? People won't switch to something that's free? No, companies won't switch to something that's free, because they're in the business world and instantly call BS when they see what appears to be a free lunch. But I can assure you that the average user is very attracted to free stuff. I think bittorrent is the prime example of this.
And you wouldn't believe the stuff people drag from our driveway when the day comes for Large Trash; they ride around in vans with trailers, gathering broken tubs, old bicycles and non-functional dishwashers.

The only reservations these people have stem from the eternal, incessant nagging by Windows users and Microsoft about how "Linux surely can't do everything just as well since it's free, and sometime in the vague, uncertain future you MIGHT realize that there's something Linux can't do and then you'll be sorry!"

Why people don't just go "Look, it's free. I try it out and if there's something it can't do, I'll go spend a lot of money on another operating system." is beyond me.
Well, actually it isn't, it comes with their computer when they buy it and they have the illusion that they're somehow not paying $100 for it in the total price.

Antimatter said...

Cleraly this is a subject you feel quite passionately about :)

GeForce 7700GS - can't remember the wording of the error, but it popped up during boot up from the live cd and was related to the window manager. After the error, it basically falls back to a command line. I should point out that my CD is Dapper Drake, so it might actually work with Edgy Eft, but since the next release is so close, I'd rather wait. (you could cry foul here, but my much older XP CD does install with its older drivers :D)

Regarding usability, fair enough, I based my comments on years of reading message board comments on sites like Slashdot, so I'm not going to address those points until I've actually used it extensively (the last Linux desktop I used was a couple of years ago, and I had problems). I should point out that I've read arguments about these topics many, many times, with cogent points made by people on both sides of the fence.

Your point about being set in my ways is probably valid, but I find that I'm generally more flexible than most when it comes to these things (in my biased opinion) :D Getting non techie people to do even the most basic things in any system (OS or application) can be difficult at the best of times, which is where I'm coming from when I say that they'd have more trouble using something different when they've only barely got to grips with what they're already using.

I have trouble convincing people to switch to Firefox from IE, where the problems with changeover are so minimal, and where I do everything to set it up for them. There are people who get infected with spyware time and time again, and still won't switch over! And this is just a browser! Is it then so surprising when I claim that people would be disinterested in switching to Linux where there are far more differences, and where they would have problems getting used to it? There are far more things that they're used to that won't work in the same old way on Linux.

Couple these observations with the fact that the Linux support structure is, as you yourself pointed out, nowhere near as ubiquitous as for windows, and the fact that Average Joe will probably want to use whatever his Windows using friends are using / install whatever silly gimmick screensaver his friends are using etc... well, that's my reasoning. Users will expect to be able to do whatever their friends are doing, and when they click on funlittleapp.exe and it doesn't run, they're not going to go to the Ubuntu forums to find out why. (I think this is what sanity index was getting at as well)

I don't actually have to use Linux to tell you that people will find it difficult / will be reluctant to change, given what I've observed of users already.

Btw, you'll find that many of the plus points you mention, I've mentioned as well in my posts! Dude, I hear you! Heck, I cited some of those things as reasons for switching! You're preaching to the choir here! And I've never really cited a different UI as being a drawback! :)

The only point I truly disagree with you on is the idea that people will readily switch over and not have problems. Linux needs to become more well established before it hits that sweet spot where the situation will be comfortable for the average user. When there are people out there making complaints about things being different in Firefox, do you seriously expect me to encourage non techies to switch to Linux? Hell, they'd hold me accountable for every problem they have and expect me to fix it, since I was the one who encouraged them to switch!

If someone asks me about Linux, I will always tell them about the benefits as I see them, but also that things won't be the same as Windows, and that some of their familiar aps might not work - that's just being honest. People love frivolous quirks like the little things you get in MSN Messenger - can I tell them to just use GAIM, because it gets the job done?

Comparing bittorrent downloads to using Linux is comparing apples to oranges. :) Through bittorrent, they're getting free stuff that they're familiar with, and that runs on software that they're familiar with. Will they be able to double click their mp3s and have winamp start playing them on Linux? When it doesn't work, will they be able to download winamp and double click the .exe to install it on Ubuntu? Nope. The lunch may be free, but there are other costs involved for the average user.

Doing things like installing popular applications like winamp are things the average computer user can and does do, I see it all the time.

I think the Linux community would be best served by letting it build popularity slowly, among those who are most likely to be willing to try it out now - Average Joe isn't the person to convince right now, because they will be turned off and that will result in negative word of mouth. Every new user is a small victory, and once they add up, you get a situation where there will be something of a support base for Average Joe, where enough people are using Linux for vendors to get behind it, which in turn reduces the problems Average Joe might have!

Phew, anyway, I've said what I'm gonna say on this topic... :D

sanity index said...

Interesting, I don't think I contradicted myself at all. But I understand you're passionate about Linux, hence you felt the need to disagree with me vehemently, even though I've taken no stand on Linux per se. In a convoluted manner you agreed with me anyway, so, uh...

I merely pointed out that an average computer use wants something that comes in a neat little package. As is, most computers DO come with Windows installed, most have used it for years, and most are the most familiar with it. So yeah, objectively speaking, that's plenty going for it. As such, switching to Linux - changing an entire mindset - requires time, effort, and thought, all of which most people do not want to expend on computers if they don't have to. He dislikes change and would rather pay someone else to deal with it than get his own hands dirty.

And no, I don't have to assume people who are less computer savvy than me would be any "worse off" or abhorrent of unfamiliar territory. I've seen it many times. Most people who have worked in IT and deal with users on a daily basis have seen it. It's real, man, and it's true. You give an average person a lot more intelligence, curiosity, and credit than he deserves.

You can attribute the unwillingness to move away from Windows to MS "OEM tactics," good marketing, or whatever, but the reality remains that Linux doesn't come with computers and most people are no where near ready to switch to Linux. Or have a substantial motivation to. If they've even heard of it.

I think you need to mingle with us average folks a bit more to understand. :)

Textureglitch said...

Ah yes. You might be fortunate enough that this was fixed in Edgy. The Nvidia 7700GS is fairly new and the open-source version of the nvidia drivers are constantly updated to remain compatible with new cards. No distribution (apart from a few multimedia-based ones) will install the proprietary nvidia driver blob by default.


I based my comments on years of reading message board comments on sites like Slashdot

You need to get out more! ;)
Seriously, the commenters on Slashdot is not where you go for an objective view on anything at all.


There are far more things that they're used to that won't work in the same old way on Linux.

This is true, but again we're talking about a degree of user pre-knowledge about computers here. You (and sanity index for that matter) are very incorrect in saying that users who know even less than you do will have the same problems you do. These people will still not know how to change their screen resolution on Linux any more than they did on Windows.

You have to realize that you, personally, are more autonomous in your computer usage. Roughly speaking, you know just enough to get yourself into trouble ;)

However, you are very correct in the statement that Joe will want to run the same games and screensavers and use silly emoticons that he downloads from malware-infected websites. But this is a problem of herd mentality more than capability.
All this stuff exists for Linux as well, there's art.gnome.org for instance where you can get screensavers, wallpapers, login screens (you need special software to change that on a Windows machine), icons, themes, etc.

There's plenty of cool stuff and cool games, just not exactly the same ones. Also, I'd like to note that people clicking random the funlittleapp.exe in the mail is the main reason I get 10 stock option tips and 50 viagra ads in my inbox every day so, you know, I'm not so sure I'm unhappy about that at all.


When there are people out there making complaints about things being different in Firefox, do you seriously expect me to encourage non techies to switch to Linux?

Yes! I absolutely expect you to encourage them to switch, because I fell for the Windows-hype as well and I was nervous about switching over too, but once I finally pulled myself together and gave it a real chance, I'm just beating myself for not having done it years ago.
Telling especially non-techies that they don't have to be scared about switching is probably the most important thing you could do for the Linux community.
There are many more resources that have popped up in recent years like linuxappfinder.com that has a comprehensive list of alternatives to Windows programs, and it also has an RSS feed to keep you up to date on new stuff. It's a great place for people who are lost in the Linux world and don't know what to install to get the same capabilities out of their computer that they had before.

Don't just tell people to switch, tell them what websites to read that will help them. They'll need to install programs to replace the ones they had, they'll need to know how to set them up, and they'll especially need to know what sudo does. Point them in the right direction.
Ubuntu has a big unofficial guide that you can hand any newbie and they'll be able to install video codecs, firefox plugins, flash players, etc. It even gives an intro to users on where to find the icons and programs they're used to in Windows, what the main menus do and stuff like that.

All they need to know is how to copy-paste something into a command prompt and they can do anything. All the guides are out there, you don't have to understand anything of what you're doing, just copy-paste and stuff works.


If someone asks me about Linux, I will always tell them about the benefits as I see them.

This is a difficult question. When you're already in the Linux community you know perfectly well what you're doing there, but it's difficult to explain to people who have only known Windows all their lives.
What I usually tell them is that Windows doesn't do what I need it to do. If I find a cool program, I am not allowed to give it to you. I cannot give you the operating system either, and if there's something I don't like about how it works, there is no way to change it.
I cannot run the latest version of Windows on my old computer hardware either, because it's too slow. There are many reasons.


Your mp3 argument makes no sense either. I'm sure you haven't tried doing this in Ubuntu, so you automatically assume it's difficult. When I doubleclick an mp3, the default media player in Ubuntu opens and plays it. Be default this is Totem and looks a lot like Windows Media Player.

I have to remind you that Winamp doesn't come with the Win OS, the user has to find that and install it himself. If I want an interface that I'm familiar with, there's the Winamp clone called XMMS. I just install that.

Associating music files with a program is even a menu option in the Administration->Preferences menu, I don't have to go into Windows Explorer->Tools->Folder Options->File Types->Mp3->Change...->Browse and then find Winamp.
I'm sure you can imagine why Winamp includes an option to associate files with it. And unless you know what you're doing, you can have a lot of fun with Windows Media Player and Winamp fighting over who should play music files.

I can't speak for other distros, but I dare claim that associating music files in Ubuntu is easier than in Windows.

And again I have to reiterate that you are being far too protective of this imaginary Average Joe. If he can learn how to send an email attachment in Outlook Express, he's a lot smarter than you give him credit for.


And for sanity index:
If you want a package, I can't find any argument for or against either OS. They both do pretty much the same when you're done installing them. Linux probably more, I don't hear too many normal users complain about the default tools that come with Ubuntu, whereas I constantly have to tell Windows users where to find a good program to show images, a program for emails, etc.
You have to read a lot of reviews, opinions, ask people, check pricing, and so on when you plan to buy a Windows program to be sure it meets your needs and you're not getting screwed, or getting a lot of functionality, or something that is so complex you won't be able to use it.
If I want a Linux program, I install it and kick it out if it doesn't do what I want it to. And I'm not bothered by 15-day trials, reduced functionality, and the program leaving a lot of crap behind in the regDB when I uninstall it.



..come with Windows installed, most have used it for years, and most are the most familiar with it.
(...)
He dislikes change and would rather pay someone else to deal with it than get his own hands dirty.


This is where I pointed out your contradiction. On one hand you say that average Joe is used to Windows, yet he would rather pay someone to fix something when it's broken.
You can't have it both ways. Either your imaginary Joe is hands-on about his computer, or he isn't. When I talk about differences and quirks between Windows and Linux, I'm talking advanced stuff like Apache install directories, conf files, file permissions, directory structures, /dev, /prog, /etc, and all that stuff. I'm not talking about User-Joe's overall experience here.
The differences between the GDI, Windows' windows manager, and Luna trifecta, and that of Linux' window managers like Gnome and KDE are negligible for the average user. All you gotta do is point to the menu where the properties for the network connection is now and the place to change screen resolution and stuff like that. A monkey could learn this in an afternoon.

There is nothing hard about this. It's not like the user interfaces in Linux are from a different galaxy, they're all very similar to Windows, because Microsoft ripped off someone with a good idea when they made theirs. It's a result of many years of user interaction studies.


And no, I don't have to assume people who are less computer savvy than me would be any "worse off" or abhorrent of unfamiliar territory.

You seem to disregard the suggestion that this might be Microsoft's fault. Why do you think most users are fumbling around and can't figure out how to make their computer do anything?
At least some of that blame lies with Microsoft's one-size-fits-all approach to users. the way I see it, if people can get used to a Mac, they can get used to anything. I tried using a Macbook over a summer and it was like switching to a French keyboard. I've never seen anything as confusing as Apple's user interface. Now there is a direct kick in the nuts to any user hoping to change computers without relearning everything.
It's another great example of marketing on the part of Apple, because it's nothing like what they say it is.


the reality remains that Linux doesn't come with computers

This is without a doubt the single-greatest obstacle for Linux adoption. All that driver stuff is secondary even to this. OEMs make their own drivers, if we can get any of the heavy guys like Dell, HP, et al. to start selling Linux computers like System76 and other smaller OEMs are already doing, you'll see a lot more of these 'unintelligent', 'incurious' average Joe's become full-blown Linux users, I can assure you.


I think you need to mingle with us average folks a bit more to understand.

I've been setting up computers for your kind of people for the past 9 years, I've done plenty of mingling.
I probably have a different take on this since I'm a computer-fixer for.. just about every person that's ever heard about me. Friends, family, coworkers, total strangers. I feel like a doctor who is always asked about weird growths and if they're dangerous from every person they mingle with at parties. Everyone asks me how to fix their computer.
And my experience tells me that, hey, these people need help with everything already, so what would it matter what OS they use?
I'm the one who has to install all their programs and fix them when they break. I used to do that in Windows and it took a lot of effort educating people about spyware, viruses and whatever else creeps into their computer.

I could have myself saved a loooooooot of time had I started out as a Linux user ;)

sanity index said...

My "kind of people"? Gee, that's assuming a lot there, and should I be offended? :D No need to be defensive, really. Go and spread the word of Linux. :>

This is where I pointed out your contradiction. On one hand you say that average Joe is used to Windows, yet he would rather pay someone to fix something when it's broken. You can't have it both ways. Either your imaginary Joe is hands-on about his computer, or he isn't.

The average Joe is used to using Windows but prefers to pay or have others to fix his computer problems. (It's not just with computers, either.) And? Last time I checked, "used to" does not equal in-depth knowledge or wanting to get into the nitty-gritty. You seem to think there's a contradiction, which just isn't there.

You seem to disregard the suggestion that this might be Microsoft's fault. Why do you think most users are fumbling around and can't figure out how to make their computer do anything?
At least some of that blame lies with Microsoft's one-size-fits-all approach to users.


Disregard? Fault? I've done and implied nothing of the sort. If you are asking me now, however, most people fumble around with computers because they just aren't that "into" computers, can't be bothered, or are afraid of what they don't know and don't really have to know. Period. Be it MS, Mac, Linux, whatever, 20 years ago or now. They deal with computers at a basic level because they have to, or because computers are tools that are now part of life, that's it. If most are indeed that much more curious, desire to learn that much more about computers, or even have the time to, then a lot fewer IT people would probably be employed. A lot fewer "fixers" like yourself, too. Or me, even.

You may think a menu is a menu, an icon is an icon, and the user interfaces are similar anyway, but I can tell you that even the slightest change in appearance/arrangement freaks a lot of people out. (This is where the intelligence part comes in, though "intelligence" may not be quite right. Courage, perhaps.) Just ask the 1000 or so employees in my last company when we switched from Windows to a UNIX-based OS several years ago. Except for maybe the 20 employees in the IT department. Looked and worked a whole lot like Windows, maybe with even fewer problems! but it just wasn't the same.

I think I've repeated myself many times over already, so I'll stop hijacking poor antimatter's blog and leave it at that. :)

Antimatter said...

Guys, I'm now forced to use my special 'tweezer mouse' to drag the scrollbar, that's how long this page is! :)

This little debate is now running in circles, so this is my last comment!

I have to disagree about Slashdot. It's true there's a LOT of rubbish in the comments, but if you view only well moderated comments, there's a lot of good stuff to be found. The quality of the arguments and writing usually speak for themselves...

Last time I checked, "used to" does not equal in-depth knowledge or wanting to get into the nitty-gritty. You seem to think there's a contradiction, which just isn't there. I think Sanity's comment is pretty much what I was getting at. Your argument is that there are equivalent ways of doing things on Linux. Mine is that people don't care if there's an equivalent, they like doing things the way they're already familiar with. This may not even be at the level of changing screen resolutions, it could be as simple as the look of the thing, the use of a 'My Documents' folder, etc...

My Firefox example was to illustrate that point. There's not that much fundamentally different between the two, but people like to use IE, becaues they're used to it and because most people that they know use it. And when they find one of those websites that won't work with Firefox because it requires Microsoft's Active X controls, it immediately creates the impression in their minds that Firefox will cause them headaches. The reasons behind why Active X doesn't work, and why it's a bad thing to use, are irrelevant to most people.

The same logic applies to Linux, no matter how much better or easier things are. Firefox is much better than IE, and that's just ONE application that runs perfectly well on Windows, and it's received a lot of attention. If people are still resistant to making such a small switch, how can you argue that they'll be willing to switch to Linux (Firefox still has only something like 15% of the browser market despite having been around for over 3 years)?

I'm not disputing that you can find equivalents for anything on Windows on Linux as well. Far from it. I'm saying that people aren't going to want to go out there and find them. They want what they are familiar with. They want to install the little widgets their buddies are using. I see it in my place of work all the time. The idea that they'll go and seek out the Linux 'equivalent' when someone has sent them the direct link to something that works on Windows is, well, unlikely!

People clicking no random exe's is indeed a bad thing, but they do it anyway. They don't know / care about the dangers or consequences. What they care about is that some of those exes install some silly little thing on their machines. My point wasn't whether this was a good thing or bad thing, it was that its what people expect to be able to do, and the fact that it won't work that way on Linux will be a failing of Linux in their minds.

And with regard to the mp3 example I gave, my point was that if you're used to Winamp, you know to find and download winamp, double click the exe, click I Agree, Next, Next, Launch Winamp. It's a familar process, and lots of people know what Winamp is, because lots of people use it. Sure, you could get people to look for Winamp clones like 'XMMS', but people like using what other people use, and they associate the name 'Winamp' with mp3. Looking for and installing substitutes takes more effort!.

Don't just tell people to switch, tell them what websites to read that will help them. They'll need to install programs to replace the ones they had, they'll need to know how to set them up, and they'll especially need to know what sudo does. Point them in the right direction.

You've described a bunch of things to tell people to get them used to Linux. The very fact that you expect to have to tell people all of this illustrates that you're telling people thet have to DO SOME WORK to get things done, and things will still be different from how they're used to. And remember, most of these people will still have to be familiar with Windows because of its ubiquity.

Average Joe CAN learn how to attach something to a mail, usually because he HAS to. Ask him to try this other thing, where it's just a little different, just because it's 'better'. But remember, he may still have to do the Outlook thing at office or at school or a myriad other places. Is he going to want to learn it just because?

In my experience, many people's use of computers is pavlovian, they don't think about it in terms of what they're actually doing. They just know the pattern of things they need to do to get things done. You change the equation a wee bit, and they become unhappy.

Anyway, I don't think any of us is going to convince the other. :) We'll just have to agree to disagree, and I'd rather not see this thread end with someone invoking Hitler. Once I get Ubuntu installed and running, perhaps I'll be in a better position to convince others to do the same and help them out. But you can bet I'll be careful to give them a clear picture with ALL POSSIBLE DRAWBACKS. I get the feeling a large part of the reason we disagree is because Average Joe in your neighborhood is a lot smarter, reasonable, and accommodating than Average Joe is in mine. :)

PS - I know people who'll swear by OSX, and it doesn't have anything to do with marketing. At least one was a Mac skeptic at one point! Equally, I know people who detest it. :D

Textureglitch said...

Hi guys, I'll try to make this brief since we're all tired of talking to each other ;)

My "kind of people"? Gee, that's assuming a lot there, and should I be offended?

That was not meant as an offensive statement in any way. I fix computers for people on many different skill levels, ranging from those who think they broke the internet when they click the mouse to the kind who have installed their own Red Hat servers.
Everybody needs help. So do I most of the time.


If most are indeed that much more curious, (snip...) then a lot fewer IT people would probably be employed. A lot fewer "fixers" like yourself, too.

I would be perfectly fine with that, because most "fixers" I see are just as clueless as the users. It's the blind leading the blind when some guy with an MCSE arrives at a company to install a server that crashes, needs rebooting every Friday and runs a lot slower than what they had already.
The computer world would be a better place if a lot of people (who didn't belong there in the first place) stopped working in it.


Mine is that people don't care if there's an equivalent, they like doing things the way they're already familiar with. This may not even be at the level of changing screen resolutions, it could be as simple as the look of the thing, the use of a 'My Documents' folder, etc...

Sanity index mentioned this a lot too. It is an important point to make and I agree absolutely 100% with both of you. We all like things to remain static and secure in our lives, especially the stuff we don't really feel we can control very well.
But contrary to what you might think, this exact argument is tremendously in favor of Linux.

MS inconsistently change their GUIs with every, single, freakin' release of every product they've ever made. Every new version of Windows has the Control Panel somewhere else, the start menu looks different, the network properties is somewhere else, Windows Explorer handles clicks differently, it started getting thumbnail integration from Windows 2K. Just look at Vista, they changed the location of the 'Documents and Settings' folder and renamed 'My Computer' and 'My Documents'.
Likewise every Office version moves buttons, menus and options around arbitrarily (just look at this new Ribbon thing), and the same with IE and every other product. The only thing that looks marginally the same is Paint - only because they haven't developed that in a decade.

I don't see this as a valid point at all; if people are willing to put themselves through the agony of essentially relearning everything they know about computers when they upgrade their Microsoft OS, I don't think there's any excuse for them not to try Linux instead. It's either insecurity about their own skills, or some delusion about how "it's still from the same company, so it must be similar somehow".


The reasons behind why Active X doesn't work, and why it's a bad thing to use, are irrelevant to most people.

ActiveX is one of the worst inventions in the history of the computer. For some unknown person on the Internet to be able to execute arbitrary code on your machine is just madness to a degree that is unfathomable.
It is only because this thing exists in that 'weird computer world' that it is even allowed to live. No one in their right minds would open every window and door in their house and go on vacation for three years, which is effectively the real-world security equivalent of ActiveX.
Just because MS made it doesn't mean it's not malware.


Firefox still has only something like 15% of the browser market despite having been around for over 3 years

I think that's pretty impressive for something that doesn't come with your computer and that each and every person have to actively download and install on their own.


People clicking no random exe's is indeed a bad thing, but they do it anyway. They don't know / care about the dangers or consequences.

Which is exactly why they should be running an OS that doesn't explode even when the user behaves in a totally brain damaged manner.

Ultimately the greatest failing of Microsoft is that they do not sufficiently protect users against their own stupidity. Their idea of security is to restrict access and hide options from the user instead of making something that is actually secure.
Due to their failings users are forced to learn about firewalls and spyware and viruses; that's just even more useless knowledge that no one who is 'just a computer user' wants to know about. Why would you want to learn about all this useless stuff that doesn't help you do your work?

Yet even the most novice user I've met knows that you're supposed to run an antivirus program. If we can educate people who are completely disinterested in computers about that sort of thing, I still have hope in humanity ;)


Sure, you could get people to look for Winamp clones like 'XMMS', but people like using what other people use

I dare claim that every single person in the world who has a Linux machine knows about XMMS, because that's the question eeeeeeeeeverybody asks as the very first thing when they switch to Linux: "Where do I get Winamp?"
All you'd need to do is ask the nearest Linux user.

In the same context, there's also a lot of FUD and panic about having to use the command prompt in Linux and how Joe is simply too stupid to do this. I think it's a wonderful tool, it's immensely powerful and it enables Joe to fix stuff without knowing anything about it, simply by pasting commands from online guides.
That's how I survived my first six months with Linux. Just pasting stuff I found to get things working like I wanted.


But you can bet I'll be careful to give them a clear picture with ALL POSSIBLE DRAWBACKS.

I think you should compile a list of all possible drawbacks for Windows too.
Like you said, Windows is pavlovian for most people, but once you're actually exposed to Linux and start using it daily you'll realize that you have (more or less consciously) been getting used to a lot of Windows idiocy simply because you never thought things could be done differently.
You've probably already experienced this when you upgraded to a new version of Windows or Office and went, "Oh that's neat, they actually fixed that. It's been annoying me for ages."
That's the sort of experience you get with Linux ;)


In conclusion I'd like to thank you both for an interesting discussion, I hope we all got smarter from this :)
It's sadly a rare experience to get to talk to people about something as divisive as this and not be reduced to shouting and name-calling. I treasure these brief moments whenever they flutter by.

-TG

Antimatter said...

Yep, it's been interesting. Good points made all-round. :)

Also, thanks for the pointers on Linux usage, I'll be sure to keep those in mind.