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An Honest look at Linux on the desktop


© September 2003 Tony Lawrence

I know some folks aren't going to like this article from The Manila Times> which opens with "LINUX is a crappy program."

It should make you feel a little better to know that the person who said that was probably actually referring to some particular application they were using, but complaining about user ignorance isn't really going to help: in some respects, Linux and its associated programs really are somewhat "crappy".

Of course, crap comes in all sorts of flavors, doesn't it? I think Windows is pretty much a crappy OS, but my objections are to its basic design and deep unfriendliness, not to the brightly colored frosting that most users see. I care about what's underneath, but very few users do. Users care about the "user experience", something that Microsoft pays an awful lot of attention to.

Unhappy users are not a good thing. Any savings from Windows licensing and overpowered hardware can be quickly eaten up if users are hampered by clumsy and slow applications. This simply is the biggest obstacle to desktop Linux.

On the bright side, public awareness of Linux as an alternative is spreading, and it's not just tech savvy companies such as todays report at Slashdot of Australia's largest technology company moving to Open Source. It's ordinary people too. Yesterday two of my wife's friends stopped by and while we were chatting over coffee the conversation turned to viruses and computer problems. One of the women said she'd heard that "Leenux" didn't have all these problems and asked me if she should use it. Unfortunately I had to answer honestly that I didn't think Linux was quite up to her expectations yet. I wish I could have been more enthusiastic, but at least she had heard of it (albeit mispronounced as usual). I steered her toward Mac OS X if she really wanted to leave the PC world, but even that isn't a recommendation I can make without following it with a string of caveats.

I really wish that we were at the point that I could recommend Linux to ordinary people without the feeling that they will end up frustrated and angry. I do recommend it to tech folks I stumble across who haven't yet ventured out from Microsoft Land, but they'll run a separate box or dual boot and won't care about frustrations because they know they need to be aware of Linux due to its increasing presence on the server side. They'll be looking at it for far different reasons.

So basically I guess I'm agreeing that Linux is a little crappy for an individual user at this point. I think that with proper management of expectations, and constant availability of assistance, companies wanting to move away from Microsoft can do so, although very careful attention will have to be given to satisfying users.

I wish it were easier.


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