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Old 08-23-2005, 06:53 PM   #1
Charred
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The Fundamental Differences Between Linux and Windows


For all the arguments, whining, explaining, debating and yelling about what Linux is or isn’t, what it needs (or doesn’t need) to compete with Windows, and excluding the "toolkit vs. redundant code" and "monolithic kernel vs. modular kernel" aspects as beyond the scope of this, for lack of a better term, manuscript; the ideological differences between Linux and Windows can be attributed to disparate approaches towards Perfection and Power.

Perfection

Despite their differences, Linux and Windows both share the same purpose: to facilitate the interaction of hardware and software in such a manner that the user’s needs are met; in short, to make a computer go. To this end, a lot of effort is expended on both Linux and Windows to make them perfect. This is where the similarities end, as each Operating System has a different definition of “perfect,” and utilizes a different ideology in its pursuit of that perfection.

MicroSoft sees perfection as a matter of percentages; marketing ploys, strong-arm tactics, and security holes aside; as long as the majority of their users find it usable, Windows is, in their view, perfect. This is a solid approach to business; worthy of a major corporation.

The Linux philosophy is that perfection is a journey specific to each individual user. If the individual user is pleased with the usability of their system, Linux is perfect. This is not an approach that appears to lend itself well to business (although some have used it with great success), but it IS a solid approach to Open Source Software: use it if it works for you, fix it if it doesn’t, and share the results with those whose needs are similar to yours.

Power

This is not power as in:
"evil-mad-scientist-bent-on-world-domination-Bwa-ha-ha-ha!"
but power as in:
"the ability to control the pursuit of perfection."

MicroSoft, for many reasons, caters to the "lowest common consumer.” Because of this, they have set Windows up with a number of scripts that automate as many of the processes involved in running a computer as possible, such as initial hardware configuration, mounting and unmounting peripheral file systems, and so forth; cleaning things up and making them more presentable.

“But wait,” comes the cry, “don’t many Linux distributions also have scripts that serve the same purpose? What makes them any different than Windows?”

It is true that many Linux distributions are similarly equipped; this, in itself, is not “bad” or “wrong,” indeed, many find it a great convenience, hence their presence. The difference is in what lies behind the scenes.

Because the user is assumed to be inept, Windows hides the day-to-day goings-on in an effort to keep the user from diddling with the wrong settings, deleting the wrong files, and generally mucking things up. After all, Operating Systems are very complex things, and “a little nibble here, and a little nibble there, the next thing you know, we’re flying BACKWARDS!” (With apologies to Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, creators of Red Dwarf.)

Very few computers come with Linux pre-configured on them, so those who want to use Linux are usually required to search it out and install it on their own, and this implies a certain level of intelligence. Because of this, the Linux user is free to interact with their Operating System on many levels. If you want it done for you, you can fire up a tool such as LinuxConfig, and it's done for you. In an adventurous mood? Configure it yourself. If you want your system to automount peripheral filesystems, then you can set it up to automount. The success or failure of your system is in your hands.

Additionally, because MicroSoft makes money off Windows, they don’t want their competitors to benefit from their hard work, so they keep their source closed, further centralizing their power, protecting the perfection of Windows.

Linux, on the other hand, is not generally sold for profit, and the source code is open to all; anyone can change it if they so desire, adding things they feel they need, or removing things they feel they don't. In this way, Linux spreads its power out among its users, and thus can easily become anything and everything anyone might need it to become.

Why do so many Linux newbies complain about Linux being hard to use?

To effectively explore this question, it's necessary to examine the phenomenon of the "Lowest Common Consumer," those unnamed masses of idiots making up the general populace who apparently exist only to increase their own numbers and spread the "Gospel of the Stupor of Thought" throughout the world.

I have a friend who loves to say, "I'm going to buy stock in stupidity, because it's always on the rise." In reality, my friend would neither lose nor gain money on that venture, because people are neither less intelligent, nor more intelligent, today than they were 100-150 years ago; what's changed is what society spends most of its time thinking about, and what it expects to have to think about.

In the 1800's and early 1900's, people spent 90-95% of their time thinking about things that sustained life: planting crops, harvesting, hunting, hauling water, making/repairing clothes, cooking meals, making and storing preserves, etc. These activities took vast quantities of time, and if one failed to add new survival behaviors, one's family died that winter. "Can you say, 'motivation?’ I knew you could!" (With apologies to Mr. Rogers.)

After WWII, a market niche for time-saving devices was created, ready-made for those companies looking for something to do now they no longer had to make bullets for the war effort. Instant cake mix, sliced bread, tinned soup, automatic clothes washers, all products designed to make money off reducing the burden of daily life, and thus conditions were created for a fundamental shift in thinking patterns. Over time, people found that they could just hire someone who was already proficient in a given area, instead of thinking about it themselves. To illustrate:

Mr. Jones is a plumber. Pipes and flowing water is what he knows, so whenever someone's plumbing is broken, they call Mr. Jones. Because Mr. Jones specializes in plumbing, he doesn't expect to have to think about what to do when his car needs a tune-up or an oil change; he takes it to Ms. Smith's Auto Shop, because Ms. Smith specializes in thinking about cars. Neither Mr. Jones nor Ms. Smith wants to think about setting up their computer, and they both resent it when they have to.

So, why do some Linux newbies appear to have a compulsion to gripe about Linux being hard to use? It's because they've literally spent years learning Windows, assimilating themselves into the MicroSoft approach to computing, and when they try their hand at using Linux, they either conveniently forget about the times they pulled their hair out and cussed at Bill Gates, et. al., while trying to get used to changes in MicroSoft's routine (the fuss over the differences between Windows 3.x and Windows 95/98 springs immediately to mind), or else they believe that their experience with Windows should somehow stand them in good stead with Linux, and they are upset that they should have to learn a new way of doing or thinking about something they thought they had already mastered. “I don't remember having to think this hard about how to do this under Windows, there must be something wrong with Linux.”

Rest assured, Linux Newbie, there’s nothing wrong with your new OS; the problem is that we, as a society, have let our brains get fat, flabby and out of shape, and a little mental exercise will soon see us all to rights.

Last edited by Charred; 09-30-2005 at 12:23 PM.
 
Old 10-05-2005, 02:11 PM   #2
sundialsvcs
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I think that it is often overlooked that Windows comes pre-installed on most x86 computers, and Linux does not. The automatic Windows update process runs, and people neither know nor care what it is doing, and so it is that the Word processing documents get written and the Internet gets Explored and the Viruses get Installed and ...

But the moment that you step outside that comfortable little sandbox, either on Linx or on Windows, the rules change and things get a whole lot harder. Just ask the sysadmins of the world, anywhere, who have to keep a major server running and to prevent the Joe and Jane Sixpacks who work at their respective companies from mucking up their PC workstations "yet again."

It can actually be much easier to keep a Linux server running, because that is what Linux is especially good at (timesharing, you know...) and because you can get to all the knobs and, by looking at the source-code if you choose, see exactly how those knobs work. These "knobs," so vital to the sysadmin's work, are precisely the same source of objection for users whose actual experience somewhat outweighs their perceptions.
 
Old 10-05-2005, 02:49 PM   #3
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Does this article exist somewhere outside of these forums? Memorizing thread links is less than ideal.

I would like to say that while I have no problems taking my car to a mechanic or calling a plumber to fix piping, I think people should be able to take care of their own computers. There are a few reasons for this:

1. The absolute worst that could accidentally happen to your computer is that your data gets erased. As long as you have backups, you can't screw up that badly by pressing a key. You can damage it by not shutting down properly or not ejecting/unmounting devices before removing it, but you don't call people to fix that for you--that's just bad use, not bad repair--it's the equivalent of driving with no oil... very different from paying someone to change the oil for you.

2. Fixing automobiles and plumbing requires not only knowledge but also physical dexterity, skill, and strength. Sometimes people simply cannot do things, even if they know how to do it. However, as long as you have hands and aren't arthritic, you can type commands into a computer. In fact, there's even voice-to-computer software for those who are arthritic or handless.

3a. It's dead simple to take care of your computer. If I had to list all of the things you have to do to take care of your car, I'd have to write an entire book. If I had to write all of the things you have to do to take care of your computer, it might take a page.

3b. You can take care of your computer and understand very little about how the computer works or the programs that run it. You cannot repair cars and fix plumbing unless you understand the inner workings of a car or plumbing. For example, I don't know how to program. I don't understand .dlls or libs or the registry or what all the /etc /var and crap is in filesystems. I don't know how memory is stored or accessed or anything like that. But I can take care of my computer--make sure it's up and running and updated and free of spyware and viruses.

I cannot, however, if I have a car problem, just look up the error I get on the internet and have someone say, "Oh, just type this into the terminal." And no car mechanic can say, "I understand nothing about how cars work, but I can fix them."

4. As a follow-up to number one, if you don't know what you're doing with car repair, you could die--the car could explode or your brakes give and send you smashing into a tree. If you don't know what you're doing with plumbing, you could flood the entire block or apartment building or be swimming in septic tank gunk. Most of car and plumbing repair is physical (hardware-related). Most computer problems and prevention are software-related (unless your computer overheats or your hard drive burns out--but these occurences are far rarer than someone downloading spyware or a virus).

Once, one of my wife's relatives actually was going to pay someone $90 to install software off a CD-ROM before my wife stopped her. That's ridiculous. People can't learn to stick in a CD, double-click a .exe file and walk through some steps? The CD-ROM is already created for idiots. I think computer illiteracy has gone way beyond car-illiteracy or plumbing-illiteracy. It's a damn shame.

Last edited by aysiu; 10-05-2005 at 03:05 PM.
 
Old 10-05-2005, 05:59 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by aysiu
Does this article exist somewhere outside of these forums? Memorizing thread links is less than ideal.
http://pwac.blogspot.com/2005/08/phi...s-between.html
 
Old 10-07-2005, 11:48 AM   #5
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While it's true that car maintenance and plumbing repair are more oriented to the physical side of existence, having done both, I can assure you that the amount of intelligence required to do them correctly is commensurate with that required to properly operate a Linux system.

As late as the 1960's-70's, it was not uncommon for people to effect repairs on many things that many of us wouldn't dream of touching today:

Car care:
Beyond the simple tasks like changing the car's fluids, replacing break pads, rotating tires, etc, but do things like replacing rusted-out panels by cutting out an appropriately-sized piece of sheet metal, welding it in place, grinding out the seam, priming, and repainting the affected area without the assistance of Earl Scheib (or any of his like). Nowadays, we have fiberglass fillers, polymer-composite body panels, and special clear-coat finishes, so if you want your car to look good, your best bet is to get "MAACO" when you've had an "uh-oh".

Home maintenance:
While the smart homeowner ALWAYS left making lead joints to the professional plumber, the homeowner of yesteryear was MUCH more likely to snake his own drains, sweat his own copper pipe, sometimes even renovating his own bathroom, enlisting a family member or neighbor to help with the heavy stuff as needed, rather than calling in a contractor to do it for him. Today, we sit around watching "This Old House" whilst the guys from "Bathroomz-B-We" tear out the linoleum.

Up until the late 1980's, if you wanted to do this task, or run that program, on your computer, you knew that it would require a certain amount of effort on your part to get it done. Today, we have people who are intimidated by clicking on the radio button to agree to a program's EULA.

I feel there are several reasons for this shift from self-reliance, including the continuing consumption of "free-time" by so-called "time-saving devices", as well as a decrease in the quality of education offered by our learning institutions. A High School Diploma used to carry the same weight as a Bachelor's Degree does now, because a high school graduate used to receive an education on par with today's 4-year college grad!

People emerged from high school prepared for life in ways today's college graduates aren't and never will be.

I have sought after 4 degrees in my lifetime: a Bachelor's in Fine Arts (English Lit major, Art minor), and, much later, I pursued dual Associates in Fire Science (Firefighter-Paramedic and Fire Company Officer) while studying for a Bachelor's in Fire Science (Fire Sci major, Emergency Medicine minor). When I was reading (literally!) for the English Lit degree, the General Ed courses were more advanced than high school had been, and the Upper Level classes were even more difficult. When I returned to college, the General Ed-type classes were full of things that I had learned in high school, and the Upper Level courses felt like remedial learning classes.

Similarly, Operating Systems such as MacOS and Windows have reduced the effort required to use a computer so much that people have gotten lazy; so lazy, in fact, that many people feel it's easier to buy a new computer every year or two than to put in the effort to properly secure and maintain their system.
 
Old 10-09-2005, 04:31 PM   #6
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While these sentiments are somewhat admirable, I would like to offer a counter-point to the above.

Both in the "good old days" and today, the purpose of a car was to provide reliable transportation; the purpose of a plumbing system was to flush the toilet reliably; and the purpose of a computer was likewise to do its assigned work. Those purposes have not changed. But the methods of doing so have changed tremendously... so that it is now possible to have someone else fix your car, repair your plumbing, and maintain your computer. To put it another way, the systems (of a car, of plumbing, of a computer) have evolved and matured in such a way as to support these techniques ... and to allow the labor of a few specialists to accomplish better results than were possible before. The amount of product-specific knowledge that is required by the end-user of the system has been pushed down even as (and because) the reliability of the system as a whole has gone up.

I would argue, then, that this trend will continue ... and that it does not constitute "dumbing-down the user." We technical specialists should constantly strive to render ourselves obsolete ... to enable people who do not possess our level of technical knowledge to accomplish the same results that once did require "our" geek-ness. Of course, as we do this, we will have the result of opening up the market for our services to even more and more people: we will never run out of work to do, although our work may become a little less menial.

Our jobs will always be intricate and difficult ... but our goal must be to make it look easy, and, dammit, to actually be easy, or at least easier.

Personally, I do not equate any of this to "Linux versus...". I would argue that it is just as possible, at this point, for a fairly-uneducated user to deploy Linux as it is to deploy OS/X or to deploy Windows. It is just as easy, and just as hard. Provided that we are talking about the "Grandma's e-mail machine" level of deployment! Once we move beyond that point, both Windows and Linux and even OS/X all become much more difficult.

I don't believe that we should view Linux as "an exclusive domain of proud geek-ness." The goal should be to make the computer easier and easier to use, for a wider and wider range of well-defined user communities.

I believe that, as we continue to do this, we'll see that the demand for computer systems will present itself as operating-system independent. The user really doesn't give a damn what the operating-system is... s/he views the whole thing as "the computer," the machine, and expects "the computer" to perform its assigned tasks well. So, "the Windows monopoly" will prove not to exist. The technologies that we must develop and maintain must be intrinsically cross-platform. The "Unix compatible" platforms will continue to grow in market share, but the "Win32 compatible" platforms will never die away... the machines, after all, are "in service" to the businesses and individuals which own them, daily doing "the paying work" for which they were purchased. All of our activities are simply to facilitate what those machines do for their owners.

Maybe it used to be the case that a car-owner could tell you just how many cylinders their car's engine had, what displacement, how many barrels in the carburetor. Nowadays you'll probably get a blank look, "I have no idea, nor do I care," from most car-owners. That doesn't mean that they care less: it simply means that cars have evolved to the point where you can go ten thousand miles and never have reason to open the hood. Cars are not "something to tinker with," but rather "something to drive." And computers, I submit, are exactly the same way.

--- Those are my thoughts. What's yours?
 
Old 10-09-2005, 06:28 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by sundialsvcs
Maybe it used to be the case that a car-owner could tell you just how many cylinders their car's engine had, what displacement, how many barrels in the carburetor. Nowadays you'll probably get a blank look, "I have no idea, nor do I care," from most car-owners. That doesn't mean that they care less: it simply means that cars have evolved to the point where you can go ten thousand miles and never have reason to open the hood. Cars are not "something to tinker with," but rather "something to drive." And computers, I submit, are exactly the same way.
Drivers may not know all the exact specifications of their cars, but they should have the good sense to have the oil checked from time to time (or pay to have the oil checked), not grind the gears (if they have a stick-shift), not idle too much, etc. Basically, what I'm saying is that even if you don't understand everything that goes on under the hood and don't know how to repair it yourself, you should know how to use it wisely. Same with computers. You don't have to know how much RAM you have or what kind of motherboard, but you shouldn't (especially if you're using Windows) open attachments from emails you weren't expecting or browse certain websites with Internet Explorer or detach USB devices without "safely removing" or "ejecting" them.
 
Old 10-09-2005, 07:47 PM   #8
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I'm not going to advocate a world in which the end-user should be absolved from all responsibility for his/her actions, any more than I might suggest that cars should refuse to drive themselves off the road when the person behind the wheel is drunk ... but, a computer-system ought to refuse to obey the instructions of those attachments to e-mails even when a person unwittingly opens them. When a USB device is removed, the computer should promptly ask the user to reattach it, proceed to dismount the device, and then tell the user that now it's okay to remove it.

Both of these things are "ordinary things" that a user might well assume are okay to do. They are things that we consider to be incomprehensibly-bad (only) because we are experts in the field. Strange as it may seem to "us," we must build devices that can be reliably (or at least, non-destructively...) operated by persons who themselves possess no "expert" knowledge whatsoever.

We can justifiably be proud of how far we have come, but there is yet a long way to go...

If we want Linux to be widely accepted in the end-user community, we must realize that ... not only does the end-user not consider the difference between Linux and Windows, but to their point of view, it is a difference that simply does not exist in the first place. To these people, they are simply using "the machine." And what we have to do is to make "the machine" incredibly-great. Nothing more and nothing less.

The reason why we need to embrace Linux is that this system will be able to take us into the world where a "niggling difference" of hardware, such as "whether the chips are made by Intel or by Motorola," will not matter to us. We badly need to get there, because such a difference already does not matter to them. The difference between Linux and Windows is of paramount importance to us because it is a vital "enabling technology." But the difference is of utterly-no importance to them.

When Apple deployed OS/X, they made only passing reference to the fact that their new system was based on BSD Unix instead of the old Finder. Never mind that this was a truly incredible technical difference between "the old" and "the new!" In selling it, Apple stressed the advantages to the user of this new technology, without "preaching to the unconverted" about technical issues that ... important though they may be ... were not a comprehensible selling-point to the persons to whom they were speaking. They stress, not the superiority of "how it works," but the superiority of "what it does."

Likewise, Chrysler doesn't talk about their wonderfully new engine-control systems except when speaking to automobile mechanics.

And we, I think, must do the same. We just can't win points by telling them how many barrels are in the carburetor: we have to tell them how much better a solution it is for getting the kids to school and going on vacation. We all need Linux in order to deliver them that "better car," but the end-user will never care about the "how."
 
Old 10-09-2005, 08:26 PM   #9
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I totally agree with you--no one should have to understand the inner workings of either a car or a computer. She must, however, understand, in both cases, how to properly use the tool and take care of it.

Knowing to either "safely remove" (Windows), "eject" (Mac), or "unmount" (Linux) a USB device is not "expert knowledge" that only "we" know (I actually am not an expert computer user at all, and I know almost nothing about the insides of my computer)--it's common sense, like watching your blindspots when driving, signaling before turning, not running over pedestrians, etc. You can make it graphical (you point and click) instead of command-line (which Linux has already done), but even in Mac OS X, you still have to drag that USB device to the trash to eject it properly. You cannot just unplug the thing.
 
Old 10-13-2005, 12:02 AM   #10
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So true; unfortunately it's human nature to be as lazy as possible, so we will always see people unwilling to put forth the effort to properly care for their cars or their computers.

The only thing i see preventing Linux from sweeping the market is the fact that so few manufacturers preinstall it on their machines, because once your system is properly configured, the only differences noticed by the typical end-user will appear more like personality quirks than anything sinister.

As sundialsvcs said, most people couldn't care less if their computer had a "double-barrel" or a "butterfly" carbourateur (Ooh! A deliberately-mixed metaphor!), but when they notice that one could make their computer faster and more reliable than the other, the quirks will be worth the effort of clicking on a different icon to access their e-mail.
 
Old 10-13-2005, 12:27 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by Charred
when they notice that one could make their computer faster and more reliable than the other, the quirks will be worth the effort of clicking on a different icon to access their e-mail.
With the rise of Firefox use in Windows, those icons may not look so different after all (GIMP, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, and a whole bunch of open source apps are available for Windows).
 
Old 10-13-2005, 01:10 AM   #12
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That's true; the immediately-noticable differences have become even less immediately-noticable.

Last edited by Charred; 10-13-2005 at 01:13 AM.
 
Old 10-13-2005, 10:52 AM   #13
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We will know that Linux has "really made it" when people no longer notice it. And I think that it's going to reach that point more and more quickly.
 
Old 10-13-2005, 02:01 PM   #14
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I agree; it's just a matter of time, really.
 
Old 10-19-2005, 04:12 AM   #15
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I'd like to offer a counter argument.

Computers are exceedingly complex with many many inter-related systems. Most of us, even as hobbyists, semi-professional or professional IT people, only know parts of the system. Therefore the need to obtain expert advice grows constantly.

Now the problem is that the general consumer doesn't bother to find out how easy it is to obtain that advice with a bit of perserverance. So instead they elect to pay for an IT expert to fix it, or they simply replace it. That is actually not a bad thing as it can put some money in the pockets of those that do care to learn and obtain the skills.

However a pubic speaker once had a talk and book called "We have met the enemy and they are PARTLY right." M$ has invested millions in building user interfaces that effectively get the job done. If they do anything right, I would have to say that it is in UI that they excel. It is in this area that most Linux newbie's complain.

Often the features are there but it is hard to discover how to access them. I notice The Gimp has a big discussion going on over this very issue of discoverability of features. It is the likes of Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Word, Excel, etc that outshone in UI and therefore captured large market shares because people could easily skill up and get real work done.

I believe this is the challenge that Linux currently faces ... to go the hard yards of building real useability into applications so they match or exceed their Windows competition. When that is achieved, the growth rate of Linux adoption will really take off. Firefox is a good example of a UI that exceeds its M$ competition. It is simple, configurable and easily extendable without being cluttered. It is no wonder it is gaining market share.

As the like of The Gimp, Open Office, Web development apps, database management apps, business apps make similar break-throughs in UI, then they too will see greater adoption of their products.

Bad UI will always hamper the use of a good app.
 
  


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