Latest LQ Deal: Latest LQ Deals
Go Back > Articles > Advocacy
User Name


By rickh at 2006-11-14 21:03
By the time people discover these forums, they've probably already made some kind of move with Linux. This article is directed at people who never really thought about it, but it may be useful somehow.

There is an alternative to MS Windows as an operating System for your computer, and it's not a Macintosh. In the last few years, Linux has blossomed into a full fledged Desktop system and is comparable to Windows in every respect except the installed user base. In the spheres of the computer literati, Linux is a fixture, a recognized player. In the real world, however, likely responses to a Linux reference will be, "Isn't that something to do with computers?" or, "Will it run on my Windows XP machine?" The answer to both those questions, interestingly enough is, "Yes," but probably not in any sense you'd imagine. The right question that the masses of computer users should be asking is, "Why should I care?" ... and they should be expecting a serious answer.

One of the most difficult concepts for an average computer user to grasp about Linux is that it is free. Free. Free. Free. Free as in beer (it doesn't cost anything), and free as in liberty (once you've got it, you can do whatever you want with it.) You could even take the installation disk you acquired for free and sell it to somebody. Don't laugh ... check out all the people doing just that on Ebay. A surprising number of people aren't willing to take it unless they pay somebody. Actually, there are some legitimate reasons to buy a copy, but we'll get to that later. Scott Ballmer, Microsoft executive, famously referred to Linux as a communist plot. Why should someone allow free access and use of a product to replace an extremely successful capitalistic venture?

There are people, who simply believe that a tool as pervasive and necessary in today's world as a computer should be freely available to anyone who wants it, and that, furthermore, the internal workings of that computer should be visible to whomever uses it. Think about that for a moment ... if that argument makes sense to you on any level, you are a potential Linux user. People willing to accept a black box filtering more and more critical facets of their lives are natural customers for Microsoft. People who have reservations about that kind of exposure, or the lack of it, should consider their options.

On the other hand, one of the worst mistakes many people can make is to say, "Well, that's easy. Let me install it today." Most computer users have been exposed to Windows for an extended period of time. They have come to know it's vagaries, and are comfortable with the procedures required to make it work in a way that is comfortable to them. Linux is not Windows, and there is a learning curve involved. Depending on you, and exactly how you use your computer, that learning curve may be quite steep, indeed. No steeper than the original learning path you traversed to learn Windows, but by now you've forgotten just how difficult that was.

For most people, the correct solution is to install Linux as a dual-boot setup on the same PC they currently use for Windows. Linux is acclimated to a world in which MS Windows is ubiquitous, and includes tools to co-exist with it in a friendly manner. Once such a system is working, at each boot you will be presented with the option to proceed to Windows or to your Linux distribution. Linux generally comes with a complete Office Suite that is largely compatible with Microsoft Office, and data generated by either Windows or Linux applications can be accessed from either operating system. It also includes Internet browsers and Email programs that will be intuitive in their usage to people accustomed to Internet Explorer or MS Outlook.

Doesn't that sound wonderful. It is! ... but getting to there from where you are now can be quite a headache for people who are less than computer whiz kids. The best solution is to find a Linux user willing to help you with the initial setup. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of folks out there who don't know a single Linux user. In that case, it may be an advantage to you to actually purchase your first Linux OS from a company that specializes in assisting Windows users in making the transition to Linux. Two such companies are Xandros and Linspire. You can find them easily on Google. (You should understand that such solutions may be frowned at by Linux purists, but, Hey! ... do what you gotta do.) There are free distibutions which purport to be "easy for beginners," (ha ha) and if you are patient, and capable of reading and following instructions, one of them may well be all you need. A good place to look for ideas is DistroWatch. Finally, there are numerous "distibution choosers," which can help you get an idea of which one might suit your needs. One of my favorites is here.

There are two real advantages to choosing Linux today. First, and most obvious, is the virtually complete lack of the computer viruses and spyware so prevalent on MS Windows systems. I usually recommend that people with dual-boot systems commit first to using Linux for anything that involves the internet, including web browsing, email, and instant messaging. Those programs are easy to use for people familiar with Windows, and utterly safe. (The disadvantage of that is that you will occasionally encounter websites that are purposely made to work only with Internet Explorer. We'll refrain from any commentary on that here.)

The second advantage is somewhat more political in nature. A monopoly is necessarily an unfortunate and inefficient model for ventures of any kind. Currently, a practical monopoly in the computer desktop arena exists, and you are in a position to do something about it. Is that important to you? If it's not, you might want to leave your PC just like it is, because I can pretty much guarantee you that the bumps in the road ahead will be more frustrating than you care to deal with.

Successful transitioners, though, will be rewarded with a system whose stability, technical superiority, and "fun" quotient will turn them into unapologetic apostles of Free and Open Source Systems. You, too, can be a FOSS afficianado ... and you should.

by zhjim on Wed, 2006-11-15 14:57
The first paragraph.

In my opinion most people believe linux beein something for computer freaks!

if they even heard about it. And after that they don't even know what an OS is. So for these only Winowds (PC) or Machintosh exists.

Second paragraph.

Windows for most users is also free. Might it because it came with the PC they bought or getting a pirate copy from a friend. (I don't know anybody who got fraught for havin a pirated version of windows so why should they care if linux is realy for free).

Thrid paragraph.

Point. Most people I know just want to use it. They don't even want to change the IP!

Fourth paragraph

I think the learning curve is the same for all OS. It's just that if you have a problem with Windows more people might be able to help one. So it's just naturall selection.

Specialy when it comes to dual boot things these are things that i never understood. What for. If I want to play a game i mostly need Windows. (Beside wine) And so i would'nt boot my computer again just to serve the net with my linux browser. Ok if you want to try out things, but hey what about "Never change a running system". So why a second one. (And if people are able to partition there disks.)

What ever reason people have to choose an OS I believe it's mostly what they know of and what there friends use. And mostly how easily it can be gotten.

Just to make myself clear. Linux is greates if you want to know how computers work and when you like fiddeling, but for the mere user the OS doesn't matter a bit.

Regards Zhjim

by scheidel21 on Wed, 2006-11-15 17:31
Ok... let's see...why would anyone really care about that article, as far as a general computer user is concerned? They wouldn't. Their computer comes with Windows, and it runs out of the box. Sure there may be a spyware problem here or there a viral threat to watch out for every other day but that's part and parcel of the PC. I can go to the store and buy a game to run on my windows machine, Haven't seen a ny linux games at Walmart, not even a version of Quake that will run on it. There are some key things that the linux community need to do, or have a ccomplished to bring the world into a better computing universe. Unfortunately the Debian's and slackwares of the world are not going to be able to do it, unless the community markets it, and there are good suports for them. But I digree, let's look at what needs to be done.

1)Get computer manufacturers to place preconfigured linux distros on their low end or workstation computers. There has been a somewhat successful push by linux companies to get things like Red Hat preinstalled on servers, but to bring the general public in you need to get low end and workstation machines with this config. The benefit a comapany can charge less for the machine the user is safer and you know the machine isn't being purchased for gaming so that support isn't an issue.

2)Better graphics support -- Nvidia products are prety good having an x86 driver for their products, but you need to get more to sign on. As the community grows based on sales of the value machines with linux from item 1 then there will be more interest, but it's a vicious circle, we need better driver support for linux to get more users, but we can't get better support without more users.

3)More unified structure within linux. Ok we have .rpm .tgz .deb, and god knows of anymore with tweaking most of these can end up being run on or installed onto a diferent distro than the one which the package is natively for. i.e. alien to instll an RPM on debian. But what general user wants to screw with that? Hell it was a pain in the balls for me when I tried to install an RPM on my deban machine, and then had all sorts of version dependancy issues. Admittedly we have great repositories for debian, and yum repositories for rpms now, but it's different for each one. That's confusing to the average user. A central place that is a repository for packages for all the versions, that has a detection to tell what you are running and selects the appropriate package format would go a long way.

4)Commercial support---int hte form of commercial apps. Let's admit it the majority of commercial apps are written in C or C++ so what does that mean it means portability. But these arn't ported to linux because the toolkit calls to the OS are different than windows. So it means extra coding to get wondows to popup, and access hardware, etc... Perhaps if the community created a tool which companies could use to plug into their code modularly that would be the default calls it would cause them to produce more. i.e. If a toolkit was available the allowed developers to pop out a c file that took care of all windows calls(Physical windows not the OS) for windows and pop in a premade on for linux then their development costs vitually do not change and they have a larger audience.

5)Application distribution. I go to a web site and can DL an app for windows that installs and just works. If it has some sort of odd dependancy it usually installs a dll file locally in the directory or in the windows directory so that it works. Why can't we do the same. Say we have an application and it requires pppd v x.y.z but the default pppd on Debian is pppd x.x.y then why not install the new version too, it involves more work for a developer but makes the end user expeerience easier. I understand the idea that this would cause bloat, but cmon with Vista reportedly taking between 11 and 15GB just for the OS this wouldn't be too much an issue.

6)Work on a trully graphical shell While KDE and GNOME run well despite being on top of the bash or other CLI Why not try to create a graphical interface that loads instead of the CLI first this would make things possiby a little faster and less confusing for the general public. Although this one would not be a necessity. As the other have been so far.

7)Better out of the box WINE bundle preconfigged Transgamers WINE for those into gaming, or Codeweavers WINE for those that want to run MS Access or whatnot.

8)Easy coding application. i.e. what VB is to Windows or HyperCard was to Mac. Something that takes care of all the dull parts of windows cration and what not and provides a more human readable coding mechanism. But it has to be cross distro workable, so that like VB apps in windows it can run on any machine with the Linux OS. Add a framework like .net if you have to any app can run on either a 1.1 .net or 2.0 .net enable windows computer. Hell if the Mono project ever finishes then linux users can trun .net apps in linux. so a framework wouldn't be a bad idea. it woould help unify linux apps

9)Lose the 'tude I'm not saying the majority of people who use these forums are elitest, but many linux, and even mac users are. They think they are better than the wondows user because they use a more friendly, or more powerful, or safer and more secure OS. This might be the case(s) but that attitude won't make you friends or influence people.

10)Just make it more user friendly, not ActiveX friendly, but have preconfigged machines that are easy to install apps on and that are intuitive in their interface. KDE is good and so is GNOME but KDE does have a more polished look.

I sell old machines from time to time with Debian installed on them. (Mostly G3 Macs) I run Debian on these machines. I preinstall them with Debian, run KDE for the GUI preinstall, and Samba leaving it relatively untouched otherwise. I sell it as a good machine for use with students, as an extra computer, an inexpensive option for those with less money. I push the ability to access thousands of apps from synaptic. and I install a script that autoupdates for security so all they have to do is double click it, and I also have an HTML file that shows them the basics of getting started, how to change to root password, how to get into kde control center. etc... and also offer free email support for it. I haven't sold many but I haven't had to field a single email support question yet. and haven't had anyone dissappointed with it. it is an out of the box turn it on unit that is easy to use from the get go. This is what is needed to make the linux community grow. The server arena all ready knows the benefits (THough we need more people that are knowledgable of linux it's still kinda an outcast) Let's show the general user what we can do.

by TuxSurfer on Sat, 2006-11-18 09:46
I think scheidel21 has summed up the problem quite well. Windows is the platform of the masses. It is commonplace in most homes and workplaces. The average joe can go to the mega store of there choosing and buy whatever software or hardware that tickles there fancy and they don't need a degree in computers to use it. They can surf to any website, fill out any online form, watch any streaming media or chat in any chatroom. Compatibility is not an issue. There are some who veer away from the mainstream, tired of system crashes and constant unwanted attacks to there system, be they viral or otherwise and for those people Apple is very happy to fill there needs. In fact Apple has a very successful ad campaign touting the fact that viral infection and spyware are minimal on there systems and you don't have to spend half a day deleting various trial software and garbage from there seystems before you use it. The fact of the matter is that most people do not know or care to know how there system works. They just want to use it. They do not want to spend there time tweaking the OS or polishing there desktop or learning commands. Dual booting is not a realistic option either. You can tout the value of Linux and Open Source software all day long but people are not going to want to reboot there computer everytime they want to print a photo or play the latest version of there favorite game. Please do not think me pessimistic. I do believe that Linux has a very bright future and for me personally, it is my sole OS. However, as scheidel21 has pointed out the Linux community needs to put away there petty differences and work together towards a standard way of doing things. For now, I am happy with Linux being "my little secret."

by rickh on Sat, 2006-11-18 21:02
All these comments boil down to the statement that nontechnical users don't want to tweak the system. They just want it to work.

I think the article is quite clear that a nontechnical user must have another purpose for switching to Linux; namely that he is concerned about privacy, or he has a more political position against monopolies.

Every statement I make about the installation and setup of Linux suggests it will be quite difficult indeed, but that there is help available.

OTOH, I personally believe that making a Linux distibution that is "easier" at the cost of including proprietary modules is a very bad idea (even tho I suggest that a new user may want to use such a distro). Linux has not reached the point where it is easy, but it has advanced to the stage where a determined user, technically inclined or not, can get it working.

by scheidel21 on Sat, 2006-11-18 23:09
I understand what you are saying, but again the general public doesn't have those motivations. However, I don't think including proprietary software should happen. In the case of drivers for instance I think that those should be something a user has to DL or install from CD when they buy something, though In the case of a machine out of the box a company might preinstall the drivers for the things used in it. sadly it is too complicated to write your own drivers, and capitalism and trade secrets being what they are most companies are not going to just send out their source code or release under a gpl or gnu lic. But even though you might be a diehard linux user it is as times a little frustrating at least for me that I can't just buy any old piece of hardware and have it work wonderfully. Same with software I like to play games from time to time and it would be nice to just be able to buy it at walmart and install it. If I were a better coder I might try to make a better distro myself, with widgets I add because I like them, but I am not as is the general public. Linux may be a bit of a rebel to the establishment, but unfortunately Apple all ready has that marketing corner locked up.

by TuxSurfer on Sun, 2006-11-19 10:25
Originally Posted by rickh
I think the article is quite clear that a nontechnical user must have another purpose for switching to Linux; namely that he is concerned about privacy, or he has a more political position against monopolies.
You are absolutely correct and that is precisely why I don't believe you'll see Linux move into mainstream use anytime soon. I think that there are a lot of people concerned about their privacy but not so many concerned about corporate monopoly. A lot of people, in the US particularly, I think are sort of used to corporate monopoly. I do not know about where you live but where I live I have only one power company to choose from, only one phone company to choose from. I can only buy water from the city and only one company is available to remove my garbage. I think that internet access, which is arguably the biggest reason most people buy a computer to begin with, has become more or less a utility and people want there appliance to be the most compatible. People like me, who do have concern about large corporations owning the show and do sort of favor the underdog so to speak, are a minority. Those who feel the same way I do or those who are tired of the BSOD and updating there antivirus every 5 minutes are already looking for alternatives and many come to Linux everyday. I just think it is going to be a very slow process and I think the majority will never change.

by archtoad6 on Mon, 2006-11-20 21:55
Uh, dude, I think it's "Steve Ballmer" -- Google it:

Otherwise, very good.

by rickh on Mon, 2006-11-20 22:00
Originally Posted by archtoad6
Uh, dude, I think it's "Steve Ballmer" -- Google it:
Argh! Not sure where I came up with Scott. Hope folks read down the comments far enough to catch this correction.

by archtoad6 on Mon, 2006-11-20 22:03
Can you edit the original?

by rickh on Mon, 2006-11-20 22:06
Nope. Not once it's posted as an article. Maybe some really helpful mod could ...


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 07:51 PM.

Main Menu
Write for LQ is looking for people interested in writing Editorials, Articles, Reviews, and more. If you'd like to contribute content, let us know.
Main Menu
RSS1  Latest Threads
RSS1  LQ News
Twitter: @linuxquestions
Open Source Consulting | Domain Registration