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Old 04-16-2005, 11:08 PM   #1
vincebs
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12-month Progress in Linux World for Regular Users?


Hi everyone,

What progress has been made by Linux developers in the past year to benefit non-technical users of Linux?

I.e. What improvements have there been to Linux and Linux software that has made it a better alternative to Windows for the average Joe?

I'm talking about:

- new free software alternatives for software that previously only existed in Windows (e.g. OpenOffice.org Base an alternative to MS Access)
- new graphical frontends for software that previously needed terminal commands to run (e.g. qtparted complemented parted a few years ago)
- new or improved graphical system tools (may be specific to a distribution or graphical desktop)
- new user interface features (e.g. transparencies for X Windows)

- support for hardware that previously only worked in Windows, including reverse-engineering by free software developers, or the manufacturer actually releasing a Linux driver

- improvements to how software is installed/uninstalled/managed (may be specific to a distribution)
 
Old 04-17-2005, 02:20 AM   #2
Simon Bridge
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Re: 12-month Progress in Linux World for Regular Users?

LINUX is not for the average user (define "average") - the average user uses windows. Windows comes with the machine and does more than the average user can comprehend. The average user is still trying to find the "any" key after the first week. That said - you rais some curious points:

Quote:
Originally posted by vincebs
Hi everyone,
... er - gudduy...
Quote:
What progress has been made by Linux developers in the past year to benefit non-technical users of Linux?

I.e. What improvements have there been to Linux and Linux software that has made it a better alternative to Windows for the average Joe?

I'm talking about:

- new free software alternatives for software that previously only existed in Windows (e.g. OpenOffice.org Base an alternative to MS Access)
For regular win lusers, it would be the implimentation of ms office into linux (via WINE) and the ability to write to ntfs partitions. This gives them all the little tools they're used to.

Quote:
- new graphical frontends for software that previously needed terminal commands to run (e.g. qtparted complemented parted a few years ago)
- new or improved graphical system tools (may be specific to a distribution or graphical desktop)
- new user interface features (e.g. transparencies for X Windows)
these days, major distributions have a graphical frontend for every app likely to get frequent use. You can normally choose from a range of frontends, or just skins, for really popular and high use apps. Howver, linux users tend to mix their use of graphical interfaces and terminal commands for maximum flexability. New users are always encouraged to get used to the terminal.

Quote:
- support for hardware that previously only worked in Windows, including reverse-engineering by free software developers, or the manufacturer actually releasing a Linux driver
For free??? I like that. Probably the major improvement in this area is in the form of commercial software. The big breakthrough would be the ability to write ntfs partitions - worked on for a long time. The best for this is a commercial product - though an open source one exists.

However - linux newbies need to be aware that the word "free" in "free software" can be misleading. It is free as in free speach not as in free lunch. Most free-of-charge software is developed in someones spare time because they happen to be interested in getting a particular result. Others wanting to use their labour, usually have to pay the price of installing and configuring to suit them.

Quote:
- improvements to how software is installed/uninstalled/managed (may be specific to a distribution)
Commercial linux software will often have a custom installer with it. In general, people are getting better at writing rpms and there is the huge improvement of yum. Unlike windows, there will never be a single standard install wizard for linux - the open source system simply will not allow it. Have you any idea how big such a program would have to be?

Your examples have some unwritten assumptions. I figure the biggest is that average users considering linux want to have "windows without the cost" - hence the emphasis on "free" and "replacement for windows". Such people do exist and are better advised to stay with windows: they've already paid the licence fee after all. This is not the reason to change OS - least of all to linux. You pay in other ways.

The average user who is curious about linux, is normally someone who has become fed up with windows to the extent that they no longer want to use it on a day-to-day basis. People plagued with security breaches (US-NSA), faced with extortionate network licences (NZ-UA), or the price of an upgrade to the next generation version of windows (home user on a budget). For these peole it is the fact that linux is not windows which is the drawcard.

These people keep a dual boot because they want to keep some windows around while they learn linux, or they want to play the latest games as well. Gradually, these people reduce their windows use as they discover other ways of doing things - not because they "replace" the windows apps they are used to with linux apps that are very similar (they use different apps to acheive a similar end in a different way). In other words, the ability to keep some win around (like with wine) acts as a pacifier while the linux newbie grows up. Of course, we started with a non average user to begin with - someone who has actually run into the limitations (from their point of view) of whatever OS they were using before.
 
Old 04-17-2005, 03:26 AM   #3
vincebs
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Re: Re: 12-month Progress in Linux World for Regular Users?

Quote:
Originally posted by Simon Bridge
LINUX is not for the average user (define "average") - the average user uses windows. Windows comes with the machine and does more than the average user can comprehend. The average user is still trying to find the "any" key after the first week.
Right now it isn't. But I'm hoping that eventually it will be usable for an average user. So much that if a computer came installed with Linux, they wouldn't be complaining about it being too hard to use.

Quote:

For regular win lusers, it would be the implimentation of ms office into linux (via WINE) and the ability to write to ntfs partitions. This gives them all the little tools they're used to.
Linux can write to NTFS now? That's news to me. I know that Linux can edit files but keeping them the same size and more constraints using the captive NTFS driver, but as for full NTFS-writing? That would be amazing so that I can switch my Windows partition from FAT32 to NTFS and enjoy the improved speed.

And WINE can run Office 2003? That's news to me as well. I know that the guys at CrossOver are working on it, but you are saying that the vanilla default "WINE" can open MS Office?

Quote:
these days, major distributions have a graphical frontend for every app likely to get frequent use. You can normally choose from a range of frontends, or just skins, for really popular and high use apps. Howver, linux users tend to mix their use of graphical interfaces and terminal commands for maximum flexability. New users are always encouraged to get used to the terminal.
If Linux becomes a usable operating system for everyone, then users should never have to use the terminal for anything. Unless of course they want to learn more about the nitty-gritty side of computing, but not everyone wants to get into that.


Quote:

Commercial linux software will often have a custom installer with it. In general, people are getting better at writing rpms and there is the huge improvement of yum. Unlike windows, there will never be a single standard install wizard for linux - the open source system simply will not allow it. Have you any idea how big such a program would have to be?
If every distribution stuck to the same packaging management system, and installed their packages & libraries in the same places, then a standard installation wizard wouldn't have to be so big.

Quote:

The average user who is curious about linux, is normally someone who has become fed up with windows to the extent that they no longer want to use it on a day-to-day basis. People plagued with security breaches (US-NSA), faced with extortionate network licences (NZ-UA), or the price of an upgrade to the next generation version of windows (home user on a budget). For these peole it is the fact that linux is not windows which is the drawcard.
I hope that one day Linux will become an alternative to Windows in that it will come with computers pre-installed. Before that happens though, the above limitations have to be addressed, most importantly, that all hardware works, and that terminal use becomes optional. Then, even the average Jane or Joe will be happy using Linux even if they had never heard of Linux when they first got the computer.
 
Old 04-17-2005, 07:03 AM   #4
Simon Bridge
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Quote:
Originally posted by vincebs
Right now it isn't. But I'm hoping that eventually it will be usable for an average user. So much that if a computer came installed with Linux, they wouldn't be complaining about it being too hard to use.
I doubt that it will ever be for the average windows luser. I understand the Lindows has had a go at doing what you suggest, tho. However - as it stands, major linux distros can be used out of the box by, say, secretaries, students and so on in a work capacity without them even noticing the OS is different. From my personal experience, the University of Auckland Physics department changed to Red Hat Linux 7 by stealth, after much wrangling, and even the critics didn't notice that there own machines no longer ran windows NT. (This should also date my involvement!)

Nobody noticed for a few weeks then someone tried to install a game on the sly and found that they couldn't get the install wizard to run.

I also understand that Wallmart (USA) has sold computers with linux pre-installed. But I don't know the details. I've been trying to talk the computer folk of The Warehouse (NZ) into doing the same - but they think it'll be too hard and their customers will be put off. Also, their resident linux-fan prefers Mandrake or Slack... while mandrake would be OK, slack is way too configerable... preinstalled OS needs to be generic.

There is a definite perception amongst retailers that linux is "too hard". But, really, it depends on what you want to do. I know some businesses and schools converting to linux because they can then rely on the computers being used for work rather than games

Quote:
Linux can write to NTFS now? That's news to me. I know that Linux can edit files but keeping them the same size and more constraints using the captive NTFS driver, but as for full NTFS-writing? That would be amazing so that I can switch my Windows partition from FAT32 to NTFS and enjoy the improved speed.
There is a commercial interface called NTFS for Linux and an open source one called CAPTIVE . They use different ways of circumventing the MS-proprietary win-ntfs driver.

Linux Magazine runs a review of them both in Issue 49 .

Quote:
And WINE can run Office 2003? That's news to me as well. I know that the guys at CrossOver are working on it, but you are saying that the vanilla default "WINE" can open MS Office?
Now you're being disengenious ... I am referring, of course, to crossover office. I havn't been keeping up with the project, but last look I saw no reason wine couldn't run office 2000... correct me somebody?

Quote:
If Linux becomes a usable operating system for everyone, then users should never have to use the terminal for anything. Unless of course they want to learn more about the nitty-gritty side of computing, but not everyone wants to get into that.
I don't think I'd call the terminal instructions "nitty gritty". Can you think of an example tho...? Anything that a user must do which also must be accessed from the terminal. AFAIK: the terminal is just more convenient sometimes than trying to second guess a GUI. An example must be the frontend for rpm ... won't tell you about failed dependancies (out of the box) but otherwise is easy to use.

Another example is cdrecord - which I prefer to use from terminal since frontends like gtoaster caould be configured to do anything... I got tired of waiding through the config options.

However, I wouldn't say that I had to use the terminal... the gui is there.

Quote:
If every distribution stuck to the same packaging management system, and installed their packages & libraries in the same places, then a standard installation wizard wouldn't have to be so big.
yes it would - distros differ more than just their directory structure. You would also lose the flexability and the freedom in useage which open source is all about. You also have the trouble of working out which system to use. I think most major installations now will support rpm and yum ... with yum easing into the lead. however, if everyone was to pick a system just a few years ago we may be stuck with just rpm or maybe apt.

I think the competition here has been of benifit and each system has its strengths.

Also - major distros have "approved applications" which will install with the distros standard installations routines - seamlessly on default installations. (Most troubles - see these forums for eg - come from people trying to customise/optomise without quite knowing what they are doing.) So long as users stick to the standard forms, things should cruise along. Try to use things not in the canon and things can go pear shaped very easily.

Note: the same for windows - you don't have to use the install sheild wizard. You can ust copy an executable to a directory and then run it from start. You can also compile software from source - and run the resulting executable. In these cases, under windows, you can expect trouble. You are stepping out of the windows standard stuff-ness.

There is a perception issue - strictly speaking, each distro is it's own little set of laws... should be thought of as a different OS entirely. You wouldn't demand that MacOS and OS2000 use the same installer would you? So why expect SuSE and Ubuntu to do the same?

Quote:
I hope that one day Linux will become an alternative to Windows in that it will come with computers pre-installed. Before that happens though, the above limitations have to be addressed, most importantly, that all hardware works, and that terminal use becomes optional. Then, even the average Jane or Joe will be happy using Linux even if they had never heard of Linux when they first got the computer.
Terminal use is optional.
Not all the hardware works on every windows setup either, so don't get cocky. (I've been reading the windows question pages too...) And how long will winXPpro stay running before a crash (and I'm counting hangs here too) in a continuous working environment. I know winNT and win2000 couldn't handle running large simulations in matlab for longer than an hour at a time. I'm told things have improved since then. Next to this linux box is a win98 box - well it's old - and it crashes every few hours. Sometimes it crashes within seconds of booting. I have to defrag the thing every day. I use it to run a scanner and some video games. (The scanner was a gift and the only one in the shop not supported by SANE.)

So - the day Windows is reliable, stable, and virus resistant - then I'll consider that maybe Windows will be more than a toy OS and a suitable replacement for linux (cue flame war)
 
Old 04-17-2005, 07:17 AM   #5
pembo13
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Quote:
Right now it isn't. But I'm hoping that eventually it will be usable for an average user. So much that if a computer came installed with Linux, they wouldn't be complaining about it being too hard to use.
Call me selfish, but I hope this never becomes so. I feel that too low a standard has been set for 'computer users' That is another story by itself. I would like Linux to get just enough users to be more sel-sufficient.

If a user just wants to go on the 'internet' (which most consider msn.com and msn messenger to be) and check email (hotmail) and play simple games (freecell, solitare) by all means use Windows I feel. I came to Linux, not becuase I knew it was better, but because i was fedup with Windows, I came to be free.

Linux (Fedora in my case) has at times doubled, maybe even trippled my productivity. Overall, I find Linux easier to use than Windows, but that's just me.

{I had more typed, but I accidentally closed the tab}
 
Old 04-17-2005, 11:40 PM   #6
Simon Bridge
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Quote:
Originally posted by pembo13
Call me selfish, but I hope this never becomes so. I feel that too low a standard has been set for 'computer users' That is another story by itself. I would like Linux to get just enough users to be more sel-sufficient.
I agree here - to make a distro for the average requires a degree of idiot-proofing. Unfortunately, idiot proofing tends to discourage intellegence.

Mind you, it may be possible to prduce a specific distribution for people who want minimal (by linux hacker standards) use (wordpro/email/surf/games) which will have the features many have come to expect. I suspect it can be done from existing ackages. The main trouble is that such a system would be a pain to maintain - and probably shouldn't be done as free-of-charge.

Quote:
[snip] I came to Linux, not becuase I knew it was better, but because i was fedup with Windows, I came to be free.
This is the kind of free that Open Source is trying for. It's also the kind of free that $-driven mentalities often overlook.

Quote:
Linux (Fedora in my case) has at times doubled, maybe even trippled my productivity. Overall, I find Linux easier to use than Windows, but that's just me.
I believe the standard observation is that Windows is counter-intuitive: if you want to stop it, you press start! But have you noticed how much of the productivity increase is just thefficiency in the OS, how much is the lack of distracting games, and how much is because you have learned so much about your computer that you are better at using it than before??

I think that for the initial question even to be posed, there must be a concept that Linux has something to offer the "average user", whoever that may be, which is not offered elsewhere. This has not been explicit in the question of subsequent posts - but should not be overlooked. If Linux developers keep trying to do what windows does, it will always be a poor copy. Instead we should be playing to strengths.
 
Old 04-18-2005, 10:15 PM   #7
pembo13
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Quote:
Mind you, it may be possible to prduce a specific distribution for people who want minimal (by linux hacker standards) use (wordpro/email/surf/games) which will have the features many have come to expect. I suspect it can be done from existing ackages. The main trouble is that such a system would be a pain to maintain - and probably shouldn't be done as free-of-charge.
I'm guessing this is what Linspire is tring to pullof, I dream of doing something of the sort myself, but resources are far from available.

Quote:
If Linux developers keep trying to do what windows does, it will always be a poor copy. Instead we should be playing to strengths.
I totally aggree. Ever since i 'wined' Photoshop 7 enough to get it into my KMenu, I only boot Windows to play Age of Empires, and for a few misc. rare tasks, none of which I can really recall right now. I would love to Linux brave new ground, irregardless of what finacial gains, or lack thereof migth be.
 
Old 06-06-2005, 08:32 PM   #8
fortezza
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Windows Easy To Use?

Maybe I have been unlucky in my last 14 years of doing tech support for Windows, but if how the average BUSINESS user reacts to using Windows is the definition of 'easy', then Linux must be f*in impossible! In the times where I was doing Desktop support ( help desk or right at the client's desk ), I was always frustrated to see how much trouble people ( I had 9000+ customers at one military site, that my shop supported ) had with the most basic operations in Windows. What is worse, you would think literacy with such a common OS would be get better over time, but it hasn't. These people may have grown up with computers, but they still just don't get it.

All of that said, I am thinking of distributing Knoppix CD's along with some time of "Linux for Dummies" guide that explain how to do the basics ( surf the net, email, work with documents ). I don't think the problem is difficulty, its Vendor's who do not want to distribute Free Software as it's hard to tack on a percentage to $0.00 in order to sell at a profit. Think about it.

One thing I am glad of was I broke out of the support role last year and am now a software developer, its challenging, and I don't have to keep answering the same questions all of the time ( how do I change screen resolution, change the fonts, change the icons, back up my email, etc. ).
 
Old 07-11-2005, 01:49 PM   #9
Kahless
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"Linux can write to NTFS now? That's news to me. I know that Linux can edit files but keeping them the same size and more constraints using the captive NTFS driver, but as for full NTFS-writing? That would be amazing so that I can switch my Windows partition from FAT32 to NTFS and enjoy the improved speed."



Actually, fat32 is faster than ntfs, especially for large file transfers.

The advantages of ntfs over fat32 are better control of security, the ability to use EFS, and better crash recovery. If all you want is speed, it would be a downgrade.
 
Old 07-11-2005, 02:40 PM   #10
aysiu
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Re: Windows Easy To Use?

Quote:
Originally posted by fortezza
I was always frustrated to see how much trouble people ( I had 9000+ customers at one military site, that my shop supported ) had with the most basic operations in Windows. What is worse, you would think literacy with such a common OS would be get better over time, but it hasn't. These people may have grown up with computers, but they still just don't get it.
I have to say, I, too, am disappointed in people's lack of initiative in trying to understand something they spend so much time on. I'd say most of the people in my office spend at least 80% of their work time on the computer, and they also spend at least some time at home checking email. Yet, I'd say the "average" user treats using a computer like doing taxes, standing in line at the DMV, or getting an enema. Most users I know are extremely inefficient. For example, I've seen people:

1. Open an application (say, Word), then go to File > Open, click on a directory, click on open, click on the subdirectory, click on open, etc. until they get to the file they're looking for... and then do this multiple times. Of course, with a little instruction, they learn quickly that you can go to the directory itself and double-click on the files you want to open or change the default "open" directory in Word or double-click directories to open them.

2. Mouse-click everything and complain about how long it takes. Hey, sometimes the mouse is a good thing. Most of the time, it just slows things down, though. You mouse to a an X to close a window, then you mouse to a dialogue box to click an option, then you mouse to a field to enter a field. I've even seen people filling out electronic forms and mouse to each field instead of tabbing.

Recently, my wife was editing an HTML document and switching to Firefox to see the changes. It was painful to see her click to TextEdit, then click to Firefox, then to TextEdit. Finally, I said, "You know, you can just press cmd-tab, and it'll switch back and forth." She was totally wowed by how fast it was to switch apps with a couple of key clicks.

This is why when people talk about Windows, Mac, or Linux being more "efficient" or allowing users or businesses to be more "efficient," I just laugh. If there is a difference in potential efficiency among operating systems, that's rendered moot by how inefficient employees and users are in general. Even if you assume Windows is the least conducive to efficiency, a user will still be far more efficient on Windows with proper training than on Mac or Linux without it. Simple things, like keyboard shortcuts, save people hours and hours of work.

I was just recently taught a feature in Excel called vlookup. This feature has saved my life. We're undergoing a database migration at work now, and we have a lot of mapping and cleaning up to do before it happens. I was about to have a heart attack thinking about how many hundreds of hours it would take me to compare two columns of data. vlookup saved the day with only a half hour's work. I never knew Excel was so powerful.

I don't know everything about how cars function, but since my wife and I drive our car quite often, we try to learn enough to make it run smoothly and last the longest. Same for our TV. Same for our computers. Same for our appliances. If you do something a lot or use a tool a lot, you don't have to be an expert, but you should familiarize yourself with it enough to be able to take care of it and use it efficiently.

Quote:
Originally posted by pembo13
If a user just wants to go on the 'internet' (which most consider msn.com and msn messenger to be) and check email (hotmail) and play simple games (freecell, solitare) by all means use Windows I feel. I came to Linux, not becuase I knew it was better, but because i was fedup with Windows, I came to be free.
I actually am partial to the other way of thinking--that people who just check email and go on the internet should go to Linux; it's a far more secure environment and actually is dummy-proof (as long as you don't give out the root password). Since Windows sets you up as administrator by default, dummies can do all sorts of crap to their computer. I did notice, though, that you mentioned MSN messenger and Hotmail. Yes, if someone has Hotmail, it's hard to use in Linux--as Thunderbird and a lot of the other mail clients have difficulty using Hotmail (it's not impossible, but it is difficult).

Honestly, I've found that the biggest barrier to getting people to use OSS--even Thunderbird on Windows (as opposed to Outlook). So many people I know have these "free" email accounts at Yahoo and Hotmail, and they just don't mix very well with OSS.

If someone is really interested in trying Linux, she may get a different email, but people are very possessive of their emails, sometimes. Few people want to go through the trouble of changing emails, informing family and friends, moving messages over, and cleaning out residual messages... just to go to OSS.

***

Uh, this post is getting super-long, but back to the original topic, I think Linux has come a long way in the past 12 months. My first foray into the Linux world (June 2004) was a discouraging one. I wasn't able to locate too many installers the were only one CD. Easy documentation about dual-boot setup was skimpy or hard to find. Ubuntu and Mepis weren't popular enough for me to find (now, they're in the top five at Distrowatch). This time around (I started in April), I've installed numerous distros, and I feel comfortable enough in Linux that I use it every day, and I'm able to help the occasional newbie on these forums. Yes, I think it's come a long way. I can't wait to see where Linux is in July 2006!

Last edited by aysiu; 07-11-2005 at 02:54 PM.
 
  


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