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July 11, 2005

linux not ready for the desktop

update: Please post your comments here (this page is getting too long and slow.)

After reading Massimo Sandal's recent article, The Firefox Target And The TuxMini, I knew I was going to be in trouble because I just had to blog my contrary position. This post isn't a point by point reply to Sandal's article, but rather a more general disagreement based on my experiences with Linux, Mozilla and Firefox.

It's probably worth pointing out that I'm not a "Linux person." I've only been using Linux for about 6 years. I've been using Windows for about twice that long, and I've been using Macintosh for about 20 years. I'm not really loyal to any one OS; I've used what my employer or school offered or required and when that wasn't a consideration I've used what I thought was most convenient.

OK. So what's wrong with Linux that makes it not ready for the desktop. I've tried KDE and Gnome desktops but my latest is FC4 so my criticism is focused on that (and Gnome) but I think KDE distros suffer just as bad if not worse. The issues fall into four basic categories, migration, stability, simplicity, and comfort. These issues each cover both technical capability shortcomings as well as usability failings.

The first issue, migration, is pretty serious. For "Regular People" to adopt Linux (which usually means leaving Windows) Linux is going to need a serious migration plan. It will need to install on machines next to Window, leaving that completely intact and easy to return to, and carry over all or nearly all of the user's data and settings. Regular People may be willing to take a look at Linux, but as long as all of their data and settings still lives in Windows, they're not going to stay very long -- no matter how appealing it might be. We learned this lesson in the Mozilla world. It wasn't until we implemented a very capable migration system in Firefox, which carried over the user's IE favorites, cookies, history, passwords, etc. that Regular People started moving over in serious numbers -- and staying (and bringing others over.) Linux needs to do the same. It's clearly a much bigger task for an entire OS and all of its major applications to accomplish, but it simply has to be done. When Regular People fire up the Linux desktop for the first time, the browser, office suite, email client, IM client, file manager, etc, each need to carry over as much as possible of the Windows application settings and all or very nearly all of the user data. Without this, the hill is just too steep to climb and Regular People will not make the climb.

The second problem that blocks massive Linux Desktop growth is stability. I don't mean the not crashing kind of stability, I'm talking about a stable API that doesn't require the user jump through hoops when they want to download a new application from A user should be able to install Fedora Core 4 and go grab the latest Firefox release from and have it work without the need for finding and installing compat-libstdc++ or whatever. Developers may think it's cool to reuse as much code as possible but the user doesn't care whether it was Linux that failed to include the necessary compatibility components or Mozilla that failed to make the build work for that particular dot release of libstdc++. Regular People expect to be able to download software, install it, and have it just work. Asking them to figure out complex system library and kernel compatibility issues is a one way ticket off of their desktop.

The third issue is a lack of simplicity. Just because you can include a feature doesn't mean that you should. Just because you can provide a user preference doesn't mean you should. I don't want to start a desktop war but I really gotta say to the distros, pick a desktop and be happy. Regular People shouldn't have to (guess or learn enough to) choose between Gnome and KDE when they're installing your product. Regular People don't need 15-20 mediocre games in a highly visible Games menu at the top of the Applications list. And what is a Regular Person to think when confronted with a choice between Helix Player, CD Player, and Music Player? Does the Music Player not understand CDs? What's "Helix" mean? Gedit has about 30 user preferences spread across 5 tabs in a preferences window -- Notepad has about three. You and I know that the difference between Settings and Preferences is that one is system wide and one is per-user but Regular People don't know that and shouldn't need to know that. If the Regular Person doesn't have access to it because it's a system wide setting, then why put that entire menu of options in front of him. If the Regular Person has equal access to both, then why are they split? It's just a confusing mess.

The final major issue is comfort. Linux must feel comfortable to Windows users. Most people using computers today have been at it for a while now and they've been at it on Windows. Don't mess with their basic understanding of how things work. Regular people do not know what it means to "mount a drive" and they shouldn't have to. Regular People don't want their OK and Cancel buttons reversed -- tossing out years of finely tuned muscle memory. Regular People shouldn't have to learn what /home means or how it differs from My Documents. Regular People don't want two clipboards that seem to constantly overwrite each other. Linux UI fundamentals need a reworking to match the habits that Windows users have been building over the last decade. Get the users first, then try to teach them a better way (if you've got one.) Putting things in the "right" place for Windows users will go a long way. You can never do too much to ease the transition.

I think of Linux today the way I think of Mozilla 1.0 from just a few years ago: a very capable product with a very limited audience. If Linux makes major inroads on the desktop, it will probably be as a result of the same kind of focus that put Firefox on tens of millions of desktops, a focus on migration, stability, simplicity, and comfort.

update: I just ran acros Kim Bauters' article which hits on some other great points.

update: Please put your comments here (this page is getting too long and slow.)

Posted by asa at July 11, 2005 07:45 PM | TrackBack

Well said. Who agrees with you in the Linux world? Someone needs to take care of the capable Windows people who nevertheless are too dumb and lazy to learn all of the idiosyncrasies of Linux. Or maybe I'm just not smart enough.

Posted by: Tsee on July 11, 2005 08:58 PM

Very good, Asa. Very good.

- Migration - (importing all system and application settings/preferences)
- Stability - (of APIs, etc., to support basic tasks that Just Work)
- Simplicity - (configurability bloat, UI, etc.)
- Comfort - (UI familiarity with the currently popular "legacy" OS :)

Concerning especially Simplicity and Comfort, I think is on to something.
I highly encourage everyone to study their slideshow and graypaper,
and download their Alpha 4 release when (soon) available.

Thank you,
Eddie Maddox

Posted by: Eddie Maddox on July 11, 2005 09:08 PM

Totally in agreement here. I recently installed Fedora and was really impressed with how far Linux had come from the last time I used it, but it still has lots of work ahead to become usable by the mythical "regular user".

Linux developers need to recognize that if they want to target the most broadest of audiences, they need to stop developing software for themselves and people like them. There are countless "rules" and such out there (80/20, the defaults rule, etc.) but the core of it all comes down to clarity of purpose and complexity only when demanded.

This is one thing that Apple is generally doing a pretty excellent job of with OS X - it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. I think Firefox is getting close to this ideal, also. This level of design is not easy - it requires lots and lots of listening to people who would use your product and implementing their suggestions... something I've found many (but not all) open source projects to often lack (the "if you want it fixed, you can contribute a patch" mentality).

The key word here is empathy. All things technological need more of it.

Posted by: neil on July 11, 2005 09:21 PM

One of the most annoying things in GNOME/KDE is that input method is associated with the locale, meaning that I can't enter Chinese characters if the locale is, say, English. Why can't it be something like Windows, where the input method is independent of the locale? That shouldn't be hard since the OS should be using UTF-8, right?

P.S. Other annoying things is that many applications is not as good as their Windows competitors, e.g. GIMP is not really a replacement of Photoshop, the graphical desktop environment is too slow, etc.

Posted by: minghong on July 11, 2005 09:23 PM

Well said Asa. I agree with everything you said. I still say that there needs to be a distro of linux run by the FF folks. Maybe then we'd see the UI get friggin remotely cleaned up. By the way you didn't even mention, "Why does every other damn application in KDE have to start with a K?" That's pretty darned irritating.

Posted by: jreyst on July 11, 2005 09:37 PM

asa, ive been reading your blog for a while now and I really respect and for the most part agree with everything you say...and this is not different.

I consider myself very savy computer user and a while ago I gave linux a try. I was hesitant because i'm a graphic designer and my primary programs are photoshop and flash. I hate Mac because they sacrifice so much for the sake of simplicty, not to mention their price. And like minghong states GIMP is hardly usable, so my move over to linux was long delayed. But finnally I got some spare time and I gave suse 9.2 a try. After about a week I thought I was going to kill myself. Even with YaST, installing programs was still a task that would take up to an hour. I just dont understand how they can expect people to go through so much to achieve so little! Linux definitely is not ready for prime time.

Posted by: Matt on July 11, 2005 10:00 PM

/me sighs

Linux shouldn't sacrafice what it is for uptake. Right now with certain distros it has incredibly simple solutions to very difficult questions. Take the Debain/gentoo based distributions when installing software. All it requires is knowing what you want to install. Is it firefox? apt-get mozilla firefox or emerge -av mozilla firefox solves your problem, or even ubuntu's visual representation of this.

Or lets look at comfort. Windows is an uncomfortable situation for me. It's settings are constantly hidden in backwards places, and can be changed in different locations at different times in different applications. Not only that, but it's actualy HARD to administer safely and correctly. When people talk about comfort as a negative to linux I constantly have to question a) how long it's been since they were a completely new computer user b) if they have ever watched a new computer user use windows c) if they have ever watched a non-techie try to administer windows. The fact of the matter is, is that while users might feel comfortable with the quirks weirdnesses and backwards methods of the windows OS that doesn't mean that the linux desktops should throw up their hands in dispair and say... "FINE, we'll add a control panel! and we'll make it just as hard to understand as windows'!"... I'm okay with the linux desktop sacrificing "comfort" for "usability".

Or lets look at migration. One of the constant criticisms leveled against the linux desktop is of course... installation and yet a majority of Windows users have never dreamed of installing their own OS, nor would the be able to if required to. I as a long time computer user still cannot figure out what a good portion of the options during the windows install do, and there doesn't apear to be any good documentation (without paying money) to read to find out. I'm not even sure it's fair to bring up migration as a method of attracting the average user. The average user isn't going to look at linux until it comes bundled on a PC that's 200 bucks cheaper becuase of software savings than it's Windows counterpart.

Now, you've leveled the bloat arguement against desktops like gnome and KDE, but this is secondarily in conflict with the comfort complaint... doesn't Windows come with 10 useless crappy games to keep buissness men and small children entertained for hours (Minesweeper, Freecell... come on you know you play those). Now personaly I wish they would do away with them, but lets not bring sill bloat agruements up in a comparrison of windows. If we have to strive for "better than windows" and be compared as such I recommend people look at XFCE wich is a much smaller package than either gnome or KDE, is snappier, makes more intuitive sense, and is more easily configurable than either of the two desktop super powers.

If you want to talk about what's hurting linux uptake, lets talk about realities. Lets talk about PC vendors like Dell, and Compaq not supplying them. Lets talk about FUD, and lets talk about school locked into a windows strong hold. Lets talk about WHY linux is "uncomfortable" for you guys that have spent 15 years using windows and why maybe if those last 15 years had been spent in linux you would have figured all the "quirks" out by now. It's cool to level complaints against these desktop platforms, but level them for the faults they have on their own, not compared to windows, that just weakens your arguement, for as far as I can tell they have long since passed windows in usability it's now a matter of economics, market share, and control of education.


Posted by: Anders on July 11, 2005 10:34 PM

I've been trying some distros so far, but none of theme were perfect and none of theme convinced me to start using Linux instead of Windows. I've tried Debian, SuSE, Mandrake, FC3 and recently Slacware (witch I kinda liked). After reading some HOWTOs I was able to compile kernel or install apps from sources, but thats not the way it should work! I should be able to take an app and install it, like I do every day in Windows. Many people say that Windows (especialy XP) works slow and needs a lot of megs on HDD, but Linux does the same! Also I don't realy like the fact that I need to know which packages I really need to start my programs. It should already come with them. And finaly the GUI. I do really like GNOME, but the organization of the desktop is horible. Many sub-menus, few preferential tools, and like you (Asa) pointed few glitches like reversed OK/Cancel buttons. In my opnion Linux, can be a good OS for a regular people, but maybe after a few years.

Posted by: Bart on July 12, 2005 12:33 AM

at least users can choose alternative browsers. As long as they don't use IE(which they won't) it's ok !

Posted by: truth on July 12, 2005 12:39 AM

the linux "strategy" to take over the desktop is clear for a while: take over the corporate desktop. then it's what you use at work, you're familiar with it, you take it home.
linux CAN take over the corporate desktop because of obvious costs reasons. no matter how many rebates, MS can't compete. and outside of the US, the argument of paying local firms instead of US-based MS is compelling.
also, in my experience "regular people" don't care much about their settings. their DATA (word documents, digital pictures, emails, ..) YES. though many times they delete their emails as they answer them, I noticed. but their settings? regular people DO NOT CHANGE THEIR SETTINGS.

so the idea is:
- Migration - not so needed I think
- Stability - use distro installers (synaptic/whatever is on fedora), it's much easier than downloading. but that stability for proprietary software could be good.
- Simplicity - YES
- Comfort - not an issue if corporate desktop moves to linux, which is the only way realistically that linux could take over.

Posted by: emmanuel on July 12, 2005 01:19 AM

Amen, Asa. You hit it on the nail.

I've been one of those "I'm gonna try Linux.. one time" users for years now. I always found myself to install it in a dual boot environment, but it was just too much pain to configure it the way i was used to by windows, so after some time i only booted into windows ..

last month i had to find out that i cannot install linux (fc4) from a sata-dvd drive. it's a shame - so no linux for me until this is fixed.

Posted by: sensemann on July 12, 2005 01:31 AM

Some points, to make this a fair discussion:

Regarding the "just download it and make it work" problem, I have to say that there's not much more that can be done. Modern Linux distros ship with intelligent package managers (e.g., apt, yum, portage) which resolve dependencies for the user, and most have GUI frontends which list all the available software packaged for the distribution. I know for a fact that Fedora does, because I used to use Synaptic on it. So you have a GUI application which says "here's all the available software, click on what you want and I'll install it for you"; what else, exactly, are you looking for? As for third-party packages downloaded from the web, those are just as dicey under Windows (DLL hell, driver hell, get the latest ActiveX, etc. etc.) so I don't see how either side has an advantage there.

And I have a sneaking suspicion that, since you mentioned Mozilla specifically, you're having problems with nightlies or other development releases. Those are a "try this at your own risk" proposition on any platform, so don't take it out on Linux.

Simplicity is something that GNOME has been working on for a while now; I don't know if you had experience with some of the older GNOME versions, but the difference between them and, say, the GNOME 2.10 which ships with Ubuntu is roughly the same as the difference between the 1.0 Mozilla Suite and the latest Firefox. There's still work to be done, but this is a high priority (and invariably causes a lot of geeks to scream their heads off, because they don't understand why it's a bad thing to have so many preferences you need scientific notation to list them).

You think it's confusing to have CD Player, Music Player and Helix Player? OK; I want to play music on XP. Do I use Windows Media Player, Winamp, RealOne Player, iTunes? And FWIW the Linux desktops do their best to keep you from having to know which application you need; insert a CD and it starts playing in the appropriate application. Double-click an mp3 and it opens in the appropriate application. And so on. The applications also reference each other; for example, GNOME's music player, Rhythmbox, has a menu item for 'import audio CD' which calls the appropriate application for CD ripping (and most users likely never notice that a separate application has launched).

Regular people don't have to 'mount a drive'; Linux has done the automount trick for years now. The OK/Cancel thing raises the question of how far other platforms must emulate a Windows interface in the name of familiarity; no-one demands that Apple move the main menu to the bottom left and label it 'Start', do they?

As for something having both a 'Settings' and a 'Preferences' menu, well, if you see that it's wrong and you should file a bug against the application. I have a suspect that's something Red Hat do on their own, because it violates about half the GNOME interface guidelines (application preferences should be labeled 'Preferences' and go in the 'Edit' menu) and wouldn't get through their QA.

I'd love to see an instance of the clipboards overwriting each other; the clipboard functions most people are used to (and which use exactly the same keybard shortcuts as on Windows, you should note) can't be overwritten by the standard X clipboard.

As to the rest, well, I could sit here all night but it's probably pointless. I will add, though, that if Regular People can't understand that the little thing which looks like a house and which says "${NAME}'s Home" is their home area, then I would wonder at how those Regular People manage to survive in this world.

Posted by: James on July 12, 2005 02:09 AM

Migrating the users data is a good thing, but changing the Linux desktop to work exactly as Windows would be a clear mistake I think. Linux will then always be a cheap copy of the real thing and why should you start using that? No, Anders makes some very good arguments in his post above.

I have personally changed to Linux from Windows not too long ago. I'm still a newbie and there's lot of stuff that I haven't figured out yet or think could be better, but I have no intention of changing back to Windows. To me, Linux is already providing me with a superior desktop - I find it hard to explain why but it just feels a lot nicer, it's got all kinds of nice details that makes it more enjoyable to use.

Installation of applications? Sure, there are the odd proprietary application, but most of the apps are open source and Synaptic handles that quite well and most certainly as easy as on Windows (I would say it's easier).

The same thing counts for keeping your PC updated - Windowsupdate? hah! Linux has had better functionality for years. Besides, Windowsupdate has until at least recently only worked for Windows itself. Office had it's own update site and what about all the other applications you have? In Linux, everything uses the same update mechanism.

Bottomline is that I agree a lot with Anders. Clearly Linux can get better, a lot better, but it is already pretty darn good. Still, since Linux is open source, there's no one that says you can't do what you say should be done and without having tried either Lindows or Xandros, I believe they are working hard on those issues, so you might wan't to try those distros which are very focused on the desktop and base your conclusions on that instead.

Posted by: Joergen Ramskov on July 12, 2005 02:16 AM

Asa, Linux needs users that don't know what the hell is going on like a car needs a nondriving operator.

To use a product you must learn the basics, no matter how scary they may be. You can't cater to the laziest of society and expect to keep your geek userbase happy. I don't see widespread desktop Linux usage with the simpletons of the world.

Posted by: Nilson on July 12, 2005 02:17 AM

One major issue I see with almost all Linux distribution is their stance against patented technologies. So I can't get AAC and MP3 because they're patented? Fine, give me an option to pay the price and allow me to play my files. I _can_ compile and install the gstreamer plugins myself, but why on earth should I have to do so!?

Also, I've yet to see the Linux distribution that properly recognises all my partitions and automounts them. All it sees is the external Firewire drive and my DVD drive, but not the partitions I've installed Mac OS X on, and where all my data resides.

Posted by: Dan Christiansen on July 12, 2005 02:27 AM

one word.... drivers

Posted by: Dominic Liversidge on July 12, 2005 02:30 AM

For one.. I would like to applaud you for pointing out some negitives with linux. I always get the impression that cross platform programmers are sort of limited as to what they can say without getting an ear full.. I am happy to also see that you have gotten some positive feedback for your entry.

I tried several times to use some linux distros.. However I am not geeky enough, or have enough patience to deal with most of the common every day tasks on linux..

Installing programs often times combining several files at a command line.. installing programs that in themselves are a lot more likely to crash X than on windows, which then at least has a GUI with safe mode.

I can see how people that know what they are doing like linux.... But I don't see how it can become a default desktop for grandma and grandpa.

Posted by: larfnarf on July 12, 2005 02:47 AM

To Anders: using the commandline to install software? I really don't think so! If I download a 'deb' package, why can't I simply doubleclick it [1]? Editing a 'sources' file (first find it somewhere) before I can add something else?

I wouldn't mind editing text files for complex settings, if only there weren't so many, cryptically named, spread all over the place in deeply nested obscurely named directories, and different for each distro (which means getting help from other users is harder).

[1] Didn't work in the Debian I tried recently, YMMV

Posted by: Rijk on July 12, 2005 03:20 AM

Well said
An example of simplicity:
Mandrake MOVE lets my soundcard work but not very loud
Mandrake 10.0 lets my soundcard work but the graphical display (screen does not work
UBUNTU Live CD lets my soundcard work but the Fat 32 win partition cannot be accessed
Mandrive 2005 (Mandrake 10.2) gives no sound but the rest works fine
Not one distribution lets my wireless card work

Happili, there is still winxp (dual boot)


Posted by: guido dom on July 12, 2005 03:30 AM

A big step would be to give sensible names to stuff instead of calling apps K-whatever (KDE), Xf-whatever (Xfce), E-whatever (Enlightenment), and G-whatever. I like the approach they seem to be taking in Topaz (Gnome 3), where they're deliberately making the applications more transparent and focused on the task. Someone made a mockup here:

And I think you should try Ubuntu, Asa, if you haven't already. :-)

Posted by: Foxtrot on July 12, 2005 03:40 AM

Dan Christiansen: I do believe you can find distros that gives you that option, however it is not always that simple. the company that owns a given patent, doesn't neccesarily want to license the patent to you. Also, there is the question of the license - open source licenses and patents just don't play well together. The reason you have to do it yourself is the license problem and the fact that it will most likely be illegal. Furthermore, software patents are evil (read or any of the other websites about the subject), so I fully understand why the distros don't provide patented software. I can only recommend you to stop using proprietary, patentented (and DRM enabled too) technologies like AAC - it will give you nothing but trouble.

I don't know about the Mac OS X filesystem support in linux, but if it is a closed and proprietary filesystem like NTFS, then I understand the reason it doesn't happen or at least that you don't get full access to it.

Last, let me turn that around - does Windows or OS X provide me with access to my Linux partitions or my OpenOffice documents or my Ogg Vorbis music files or Ogg Theora video files? All those are free, open source and some even "certified" open standards so Apple and Microsoft are completely free to add support to their expensive operating systems and software products, but do they? No they are way too busy producing "lock-in" software products which only gives you, their customer, huge problems if you some day would like to switch to a competing product.

I'm continue to be amazed about the amount of bitching and complaining about *free* software - do you complain about free ice cream too?

Posted by: Joergen Ramskov on July 12, 2005 03:50 AM

Well said, Asa. I'm afraid many of your (linux) readers completely missed the point. They went on to blithely describe how they didn't need regular users, or how it couldn't be that hard to find Home, or some other nonsense. Here's the problem: it doesn't matter if it's not "that hard". Most people have far more important concerns in their life than switching operating systems. Even people who hate MS, and would love to switch to Linux (like myself, and some of my technical friends) don't see it as feasible right now. See, while we're capable of learning this stuff, we don't have the time to. At least not right away, or all at once.

I am now an extremely devoted Firefox user, and have converted several others to using Firefox also. The 4 things you mentioned were crucial for me to do this, and even for me to become a fan myself. Because even though you already had a great product, for me it wasn't really viable until at least 1.0. I have a job to do, which doesn't require surfing the web. So until Firefox was easier, safer, yet still as familiar as IE, it wasn't worth it for me to switch. Now that I'm a user, I can begin learning the better ways of Firefox, rather than just using it as an IE replacement. But note that didn't happen until after I'd become a Firefox user.

Posted by: stephen on July 12, 2005 03:54 AM

Migration would be very very helpful especially with livecds. If I could pop a livecd in someones computer and have it work almost as their own windows-system it would be very easy to let them really see if linux is for them.
Migration where: email, IM-programs, Mount all partitions, make the network work(filesharing), browser etc. Hhmmm nice

Posted by: Ferdinand on July 12, 2005 03:59 AM

I agree with most things that you say. However, I agree with something that Linux orinted guys said here, and it is that Linux shouldn't be plain copy of Windows.

Personally, I have install Suse a bit less than two years ago, and as I had some rare modem, I couldn't connect to the Internet, which was one of the main reasons to try Linux (and at that time I didn't have cable modem). I was playing a bit with it, and my impression was that it has some interesting features, though it looked bad with built-in fonts, and the biggest problem was in too much complexity (well, I could set most of things I wanted, but it took me too long to find them, and in many cases I wasn't able to find the same thing again).

Posted by: Ivan Icin on July 12, 2005 05:33 AM

I'm a computer user since 1993 (in high school then). I finally gave FC4 (now FC5?) a try over the last few weeks, and have mixed feelings about it.

Sure, I can use yumex for graphical rpm install, but I have no idea how to install software that's not an rpm. I d/l a trunk build of ff and when faced with a lib that was actually too new, linux balked. I didn't have the patience to mess with it, though I did try the sym link thing. It didn't work - maybe I did it wrong. :-s Point is, we shouldn't have to mess with stuff like that. A newer lib should work just fine and the OS should tell the app to just behave.

Now, it may be something I've done, but I also think the ff installed, 1.0.4, looks horrible in linux. The fonts look like they're from about 1990, and icons look horrible.

It's definitely not ready to just work. I can't imagine what my parents would do in linux.

Posted by: cosmoxl on July 12, 2005 06:13 AM

Asa, what you're talking about is Fedora Linux, not "Linux". You say Linux is not ready for desktop use but mean Fedora. I'm not an Ubuntu fanboy so don't understand this as "hey look my distro is better than yours", but (in reply to your complaints about simplicity) in Ubuntu I don't have to choose between a desktop environment, I get Gnome, which is a very simplistic and clean desktop (with a few exceptions like GEdit, which will hopefully be replaced with something lighter, for example Leafpad). The Games menu is in the 5th position, Office, Graphics, Internet is placed above it. In the multimedia menu, there is "Totem video player", "Music player" (Rhythmbox) and a simple CD player. No Helix, no choice between twenty different media players, and all titled very clearly.

Ubuntu is not shipped on 3-5 CD's, it's a single 586MB ISO. There's one application for each area. A text editor, Firefox as browser, Evolution as Outlook replacement, Rhythmbox as music library (though Muine would've been a better choice, in my opinion, but relies on Mono), Gaim, a Gnomeified OpenOffice. The software archive can be accessed through the "System" menu, new software can be installed with a few clicks, updates with about 3-4 clicks.

I could agree with you on the migration part, but that would be an enormous task. Even if only concentrating on MS products, and not all those other very popular Windows applications.

Ubuntu is not perfect, it still lacks graphical tools for some system administration stuff (new tools can be expected in Breezy Badger, version 5.10), but (in my opinion) to date it is a far better choice for a newcomer than other distros with a similar target group - due to its non-confusing simplicity. Just like Firefox.

The biggest problem still appears to be hardware support, WLAN for example. Though I personally don't have any problems with my hardware, which includes a GeForce, a Canon Powershot, a Soundblaster, a HP PSC, a USB stick, MP3 Player, ... Even a suitable application opens when I plug in an external device or insert a CD. (Photo import, file manager, burner, etc.)

Posted by: tveidt on July 12, 2005 06:16 AM

I think linux will be placed in a crucial point here in the next year. Microsoft will be releasing the next version of Windows (STILL named Longhorn- why haven't they released the name by now?). At this point, people will be making a decision: Should I pay money to upgrade? For most people this won't be so much of a choice as a timeframe (should I upgrade now or wait a while), but others might start thinking about it, especially depending on how much Microsoft charges for the upgrade/OS. Considering that linux is free to use and there's no financial cost to upgrade, the existing distros out there should be fighting for all they have. This will be their chance to sway the market, before Joe User goes out and sinks another $100-300 bucks on a Microsoft OS and then feels obligated to get their money's worth, spend any time needed converting to it, tweaking it, etc. It will also be interesting to see how good of a job Microsoft does providing actually useful features worth upgrading to.

All of this is to say- linux, get your game face on.

Posted by: Todd on July 12, 2005 06:29 AM

Personally, I don't believe that many "Regular" users switch to Linux. Granted I have encouraged others to try Linux and I currently dual boot Linux/Windows. In my opinion the average Linux user is a somewhat accomplished computer user looking for something different.

I was sick of the constant virus threat, viruses that keep getting stronger and better. I was sick of spyware, which also keeps getting harder to remove and combat as large companys poor money into its development. Personally I don’t believe that my operating system should care about what I am doing. If this does not bother you do a Google search for “TCPA” and view what Microsoft has in store for its future operating systems and how this will effect you. Windows also made DRM easy for the big companys to lock you out of what is rightfully yours, if I purchase a cd or a song from a store or napster and want to listen to it on my computer, stereo or in my car I should have full rights to do so. Also Windows in my opinion is bloated, slow, unresponsive, and unstable. Yes even XP, which replaced the blue screen of death with random reboots, and total system lock ups, to mask the root issue of poorly constructed software. I could go on and on, but what I really want to get across is that Linux gives you a sense of freedom and empowerment. The user can pick and choose from hundreds of various programs, most of which are VERY good and VERY free.

Do I sound like a Linux fanatic? Probably, I have used windows for 15 years and Linux for six months, in that six months I have learned to love Linux. Sure there is a learning curve, and the users choice of distro will greatly affect their opinion of Linux. The beginner should start with a distro like or, or these three distros are designed for ease of use and have free support forums/mailing lists to help you if you get stuck.

Do I think Linux is going to walk across the desktop enviroment destroying Windows in its wake? No, it will be a slow progression that will eventually even out the playing field. However, in my opionion, if Windows stays on its current course of bad business ethics, and bowing down to large companies with fat pockets, slowly sapping the fun and freedom of using a computer, then the Linuxes of the world may progress faster.

Posted by: KezzerDrix on July 12, 2005 06:48 AM

If people prefer Windows, let them use Windows. Those of us who prefer Linux will use Linux. After all, Linux isn't out to dominate the desktop, it's out to give the world a choice. I choose Linux.

Posted by: tyme on July 12, 2005 06:49 AM

I agree with Tyme. If you want a desktop similar to Windows, why not use windows itself? Why do you want to use Linux? If a regular user can spend time to learn Windows, then he/she should be able to do the same with Linux. Linux is much more user friendly now that few months or years before. There are still some issues that are not user friendly (I didn't mean Windows user friendly), but I think they'll be sorted out soon.

Posted by: Arunsub on July 12, 2005 07:22 AM

guido dom:

Ubuntu solution

or try

Posted by: Petr Tomeš on July 12, 2005 07:38 AM

Highlighting behavior discrepancies with Windows is a good idea. Specifically picking out OK/Cancel button order as something to be concerned about, however, is a little absurd. The difference in pixel space between the two buttons is minimal. Both positions are overshootable, so you're facing the same time problems with either position. The Windows position isn't in a geometrically obvious position (a "fuzzy distance" over from a corner); the GNOME position isn't the Windows position. Both positions have their own problems, and I don't see this being a make-or-break deal for anyone who needs a computer and doesn't care what runs on it. A geek tweaker can care -- he can afford to make a choice based on something as meaningless as button order. In the real world, however, people aren't going to care that deeply about button order. The adjustment may take time, but it's hardly an issue when document compatibility, vastly different UIs between Windows and Linux apps, and other migration problems mean it's impossible to do something in Linux but easily possible in Windows.

Asa says Linux apps downloadable from the Internet very often have library problems. You say the situation's no different on Windows with DLL hell. I call bull on that. Have you even used Windows freeware or shareware before to experience this so-called problem? I have used and still use Windows shareware and freeware every day. I have never, ever had a problem related to DLLs, and I've downloaded far more applications than most computer users. (I've got an entire partition of my hard drive set aside for downloaded install programs, and not one of the programs in those 697MB of files have given me any DLL problems.)

Posted by: Jeff Walden on July 12, 2005 08:14 AM

I disagree with you about migration - Mac OS X seems to get lots of switchers without a decent migration path. Perhaps the difference is that you get a whole new computer with a mac, so you still have your old computer to easily migrate things (or at least copy over your data) from. It's less easy to do this with dual booting (let alone installing a dual boot machine). Linux won't see real penetration (ug, what a word) until you can buy it in stores (and no, Linspire doesn't count).

As for your other points, I don't think they're that valid, at least for Ubuntu. stability, simplicity, comfort. Ubuntu can be adminned completely from guis, but there's still the power of debian underneath. And certain versions are supported for 3 years on the desktop, or you can choose 6 monthly upgrades - they'll even mail you the cd for free. It's certainly simple - GNOME software only, and only one version of each software. Again, if you want more software, you can easily run synaptic and install it.

Comfort is the point where most argument can be had. Again, Mac switchers don't complain about the buttons being reversed. The second clipboard is completely hidden from you if you don't know about middle click to paste (which switchers don't). And why conform to crapness anyway? Surely the point is that Linux offeres a better solution all around. And even if you do want a windows-alike, there's already Linspire and Lycoris available for purchase.

Which is not to say there aren't barriers to Linux on the desktop, but by far the biggest one is the lack of Linux being sold pre-installed on new computers - the WinXP installation is just as hard (installing drivers as well etc.) as any modern Linux installation, except that WinXP comes preinstalled.

Posted by: James on July 12, 2005 08:54 AM

I've got to point out that many of Linux's problems are also appear in Windows. It's just that most of us are just so USED to Windows that any deviance from Windows can be seen as a problem. I never saw most of these until I started using Linux. For me, Linux really opened my eyes.

Migration - Quite simply, Windows has no capability to import preferences from Linux either. If Linux were the dominant OS, then you would say that Windows isn't ready because it lacks the ability to migrate. In fact, Linux's migration capabilities are pretty good already. A huge number of Windows formats can be used in Linux (.doc Word files in, Windows shortcuts actually work, etc.) while Windows has no ability to follow symbolic links, let alone the ability to read ext3 drives.

Stability - I've got to contest this. Windows had(and still has, to a lesser extent) the wonderful phenomenon known as Windows rot. When Regular People install software on their Windows computer, their computer slows down considerably over a relatively short time period. Do you know why this happened? The DLLs they used got replaced/mangled/moved over time. This is where Window's stability falters, and where Linux's organized system shines. Linux never slows down, and dependancies are resolved if you use an installation manager like yum or apt. They have frontends, and these software let you install/remove and even update every bit of software on your operating system. Nice. Lastly, installing Roxio's Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum could actually break Windows 2000, forcing a reinstall - something a regular user could never do.

Simplicity - You bring up a good point (how "Music Player" doesn't play CDs). However, the Windows OS has its own set of problems: Quicktime, Divx PLayer, Sonique, Winamp, Quintessential Player, iTunes, RealPlayer, Windows Media Player, etc. Which program plays sound and which ones play video? How about both? If I want to play a DVD on my computer, WMP10 tells me that I need to something called a "DVD Decoder", and promptly opens Firefox and wonderfully tells me that I have to pay for the ability to play a DVD in WMP10. Great. Oh, and the Sound Recorder is limited to 60 seconds. In addition, we actually HAVE to explain the concepts of spyware/adware/virus/trojans to Regular People. Teaching someone how to use the command line is easier than teaching a Regular Person which software is good/bad, which programs to download, what to delete and what not to delete, etc.

Comfort - Regular people don't know how to edit the registry either. When faced with things like HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and the premise that touching anything could potentially screw up your computer is not very comforting at all! Windows 98 and 95 always threw up messages saying "This program has performed an illegal operation..." (we've all seen these), prompting some people to actually call the police. What about Windows Activation? Many people are uncomfortable, given the fact that they must get their computer to phone home.

That said, here's my major gripe
Lack of 3rd Party Support, and Legal Issues - ATI doesn't have their own drivers for Linux - they recommend you use proprietary drivers instead, which aren't any good for anything dealing with openGL. (Fortunately nVidia's drivers are excellent). Also, patents and license restrictions worsen Linux software. For example, XMMS ("Audio Player" in Fedora Core) won't play MP3s (unless you install the relevant plugin) because of license restrictions. If Linux was given the same kind of care that is given to Windows, I'm sure Linux would be installed on many more computers.

Posted by: hyperion on July 12, 2005 09:37 AM

Well said. The problem is that each project in the linux world does things in its own way and that these ways overlap with multiple other projects. Each of these projects is managed (if at all) in an anarchistic style by people with widely differing motivations. Getting these people to agree on the contents of the file menu is damn near to impossible. Getting them to agree about more complicated things is impossible.

IMHO this is not going to be fixed this decade. The reason is that the companies involved in linux are either server software & hardware vendors, embedded software vendors or linux distribution vendors. The whole need of the latter is characteristic to how the problem of integration of the software components remains an unsolved problem. The whole point is that the people who actually understand end users are not involved in linux at all. All the big desktop software producers target windows, sometimes mac os X and rarely anything else.

There is no such thing as a standard linux desktop that software vendors can target. That's why there is no market for commercial linux desktop software. It's just too hard to support the ever changing landscape of linux distributions and versions of these distributions and it is not economically feasible to focus on just one or two. I can install stuff from 1998 (or even older stuff) on my windows xp box. Try doing that with a rpm package from that time on any modern redhat derivative. If the rpm package manager even accepts the rpm (unlikely) it will likely complain you have the wrong version of just about everything the package needs. Compiling it from source may help but even then you will have a hard time getting everything you need without breaking other packages.

Ironically the two most succesful linux desktop applications (openoffice & firefox) have more windows users than linux users.

Posted by: Jilles on July 12, 2005 10:14 AM

I'm not a Linux person, but I've experimented with Linux just enough to agree with everything you said. I think Linux has great potential but it would take far too much time and effort for me to transfer all my data and settings over. Just getting my DSL to work caused me considerable distress.

One question about stability. Any chance that FireFox would become sufficiently stable so that my favorite extensions wouldn't break everytime there is a major upgrade. Some extension authors do a good job of keeping up to date. With others I have to wait and hope that someday they'll get bored and decide to make their extension work with the latest version of FireFox

Posted by: beancounterz on July 12, 2005 10:43 AM

Asa, I agree on almost everything. Except for most of your argument about comfort. Linux is not Windows, and this should be obvious when a new user looks at their desktop. Yes, most people who face a Windows desktop have been at it for a while, but I hesitate to call them "computer users". Sure, they may know how to use the applications that are installed (likely using a small fraction of the features available), but few know how to effectively use the operating system. for example, when's the last time you heard of a regular user writing a batch file instead of tediously clicking on each filename in Explorer to rename them?

Microsoft has spent the past decade trying to keep the average user from learing to use the *computer*, and has succeeded quite well. Hidden DOS, Cryptic error messages, disingenious product support structure (it's Windows, why should we call Dell for help?), ubiquitous product names (Windows, Office, Word, AntiSpyware), and a host of other MS-isms all contribute to the illusion that Windows is easier to use than other OSes becasue of the user-friendly facade that covers the power within.

The order of OK/Cancel buttons is an issue, and if anything should be determined by the language of the user (ltr vs rtl), but that's a whole issue by itself. Macs sell in part because OSX is more comfortable than Windows. Linux UI needs to stop trying to copy Windows; it needs to build on the UI improvements made by OSX and BeOS (among others).

I have a saying that most people first laugh at, then when they stop to think about it, they solemnly agree:

*nix has users, Mac has fans, Windows has victims.

Linux has improved dramatically in the past few years. Making OS migration tools for users is at least an order of magnitude more difficult than just importing bookmarks and cookies. My guess is that a distro will come about with such a toolset just about the time Microsoft imposes a price structure for Windows and its applications that basically amounts to a monthly fee. Users will not go for paying to have a computer, and then paying more to be able to use it.

Posted by: Dracos on July 12, 2005 10:46 AM

This is, without doubt the most sensible thing that has been said about linux usability in years. Linux advocates would do well to take heed, salute, and get cracking on giving linux to the largest population of computer users - the regular people.

Posted by: Kroc Camen on July 12, 2005 11:28 AM


I disagree with you and I agree with Anders. Windows is broken from a usability standpoint. A new user entering into Windows for the first time suffers the same amount or more compared to FC4 for the first time, etc.

Linux distributions should evolve on their own. They should be good and easy to use, but not "easy like Windows", if you will. Distros should be judged on their own merit without the emotional baggage of Windows.

There was a slashdot article recently pointing to some research saying that on average, a new Windows machine, when connected to Internet, is compromised within 12 minutes. To make Windows secure is harder than to make Linux secure, in my opinion. Linux exposes everything it does and is made of components that you can install and uninstall manually. On the other hand, Windows is a monolithic blob of ... black box that even many Admins have no insight into. Because even for many Admins it's impossible to gain insight into Windows black box, it is not possible to take responsibility for securing it. Security ends up being a kind of dictatorship, where you install Norton AV and pray that they got it all figured out, but you really have neither oversight nor insight over what it does. Sure, it's easy to use, but it's install-and-pray use and frankly, it doesn't work well. The gaming forums are filled with usability concerns arising from the use of AV software, etc. So, for large sections of Windows users it really is a nightmare. If you go into the support forums of popular PC games and read the woes there, you will see just how annoying and complicated Windows is for regular users.

So Linux distros should in no way bow to Windows. Linux distros should try to be like Apple -- be usable but not by virtue of emulation of broken behavior. No one considers Apple GUI to be broken because it has no START button. An Apple GUI is judged on its own merit without the emotional baggage of Windows. We should accord the same respect to Linux distros.


Posted by: Leo on July 12, 2005 12:13 PM

Dracos: "Linux UI needs to stop trying to copy Windows; it needs to build on the UI improvements made by OSX and BeOS (among others)."

KDE plans something new for 4.0, called "Plasma".

It's so true that Desktop Linux is not Windows, but Desktop Linux has to live with these "this doesn't work like in Windows" complaints day for day, but I can't remember I've ever heard anyone compaining when OS X does something differently. And OS X does a lot of stuff differently. Maybe that's because OS X does it so radically different, compared to KDE/Gnome. So maybe a new desktop concept without all this windowish stuff like taskbars and desktop icons is in order. :-)

Posted by: tveidt on July 12, 2005 12:40 PM

I'm ready to do those settings all over again and to get used to its look, but why it's so problematic with USB devices? I can't use my ADSL modem and this's the *only* reason I haven't been able to switch to Linux despite my endless will to do so.

I think emmanuel is right that the first step must be to take over the corporate level, then Linux will move to homes.

Posted by: asteko on July 12, 2005 12:43 PM

Having just recently migrated to Linux in the past few months, I can honestly say I didn't even notice that the cancel/OK buttons were reversed--and that's after twenty years of hardcore Windows/DOS using. I just laugh when I hear people who are using Fedora complain about Linux usability or "desktop readiness." I've tried well over ten distros, and I can honestly say Mepis, Ubuntu, or Linspire will fit the needs of any user. If you want something simple, stable, free, and easily configurable with a few command-lines, use Ubuntu. The documentation and community are amazing. If you want something simple, free, and point-and-click with just a few new things to learn, pick Mepis. If you want to pay money for all those proprietary codecs and such and find something that's so Windows-like it even calls the computer "My Computer," pick Linspire. Debian-based distros will take over. It's just a matter of which one. I'm betting on Ubuntu.

Posted by: aysiu on July 12, 2005 12:56 PM

I agree with you Asa. As for me the availability of Firefox and Thunderbird (sharing the maildirs for win and linux) has been the final step to move from Windows to (Suse) linux.

Mozilla could give linux another great push if FF and TB would import settings from a windows partition!!!

Posted by: Barend on July 12, 2005 01:14 PM

Asa, you're really making some points. I've been using Linux (Mandrake 9.0, 9.2 and now 10.0) for several years now and switched over night, when I stopped using my Windows 98 and bought a new PC without anything installed. The learning curve was steep, I had to give up several things (like playing The sims - yes there's also a linux version but I had the Windows CDs), but I appreciate the things I've gained:

- independence (as opposed to vendor lock-in). Even though I've been quite faithful to Mandrake, I can switch to Ubuntu tomorrow if I want. And I really might.

- No registration and intrusion by Microsoft (See EULA of WinXP)

- Some very neat applications free of charge, which help me in my every day life: KimDaBa for managing my digital photos, GnuCash for keeping control of my finances, two clocks in my taskbar with two different time zones (very useful, not just a gadget). Some of these applications are now also available on Windows XP, but they came later, are not doing what I exactly need and/or are plain too expensive.

- Can have different users with different locales. My wife's mother tongue being not the same as mine, this comes really handy.

Biggest downsides I can think of and where a true improvement needs done:

- Some DVDs just don't work (even though I have a decoder). Might be a hardware problem, new DVD encryption version or whatever, don't care. It just doesn't work. Result: I don't buy DVD's. If I really want to see a movie, I still can see it at a friend's place.

- Some new versions of programs need new libraries, but they are not compatible with the installed ones. Either upgrade the whole system, or just not install the new version. I often choose the second option.

You might consider me a power user. I definitely became one, but when I made the switch a was far from being one. So yes, Linux on the desktop can still improve (which OS cannot?), but depending on where you put your priorities, many of the "sick of windows"-people could switch instead of blaming everything on the OS they are using...

Posted by: ricky @ mycroft on July 12, 2005 01:43 PM

The reverse OK/Cancel is interesting, because in english interfaces people will read from left to right, and the first thing you should find isn't really the destructive button that will abort your changes. I'm really not sure about the philosophy about that one...

Posted by: Jug on July 12, 2005 03:10 PM

"If you want to talk about what's hurting linux uptake, lets talk about realities. Lets talk about PC vendors like Dell, and Compaq not supplying them. Lets talk about FUD, and lets talk about school locked into a windows strong hold."

I'm sorry, but I wouldn't easily switch to Linux if all this was remedied. I'm among the users who've installed Linux by free will and tend to agree with many of Asa's arguments. Yes, these are real problems too, but far from the only ones.

Posted by: Jug on July 12, 2005 03:12 PM

Just wanted to point out that ATI 3D Support drivers have been out for several months now for Linux. I use them on my Gentoo box at home and I'm able to play UT2004 without any issues on it.

As for making Linux easy to use, it all depends on the distro, just because they use a Linux Kernel doesn't make them the same. I for one do not want Linux to become another Windows copy. Linux is all about being able to choose what you want and how you want to do things. Something MacOS isn't and Windows to a certain degree isn't about.

Just look at the number of X Windows GUI you can choose from example, KDE, Gnome, XFCE, Fluxbox, etc...Anyway, every distro is different, I like being about to decide how I want things so I use Gentoo, I still have a Windows PC but I prefer to use my Linux box.

Linux is like a foreign country, it can do a lot of things to make it easier for the visitors but it is still going to be a foreign country until you learn the language.

Posted by: Ed on July 12, 2005 04:53 PM

always making valid points.

Posted by: G. on July 12, 2005 05:11 PM

This debate will go on for ever and it's just getting better by the time, just as Linux will.

A little background....
I've only used computers for 10 years so in many eyes am I still a newbee.
I grew up in a windows world and didn't try Linux until 4 years ago. (I now consider myself a slacker) :)

One Question about Linux usability contra Windows. Since I've stayed up quite a few nights just to understand computers, my friends now think of me as some kind of guru. This gives me quite a lot of questions concerning our subject.

How do I add my brand new 200 gb harddrive to the system?
I downloaded a new driver for my (graphics card) (motherboard) and the game I was playing before doesn't work anymore, what to do?
Why isn't there any sound when I play that xvid, what sould I do?
What's that firefox iv'e read about? (actually don't get that anymore, everyones using) haha

Does it look familiar??
All these questions come from windows users and the come from regular users, no power users no nobs!
The way I see it there is no simple OS, there is no OS thats the best, that will work for all users.
If windows is so user friendly, why do we get these questions from the users on that platform?
Administrating a system (will always?) is difficult whether your on Linux, OSX or XP!
Yes, Linux need more GUI tools for admin your system. (and windows needs to stop hiding theres)

But the question is Linux ready for the desktop?

Yes if the regular user wants to surf the www, chat with a pal, do a bit of file sharing or write a litle .doc file.
These things are done just as easy on Linux as it's done on windows.
Oh.. The thing about when you log in to KDE/GNOME/XFCE and there is way to many application options, thats called a choice. That choice is the same thing we go through every day in real life....
Lucky we don't have that problem with windows!

Sorry that was my Linux patriotism.....

Anyway there is a lot of work to be done, good luck to all you coders out there!

Posted by: ligu on July 12, 2005 07:10 PM

Tons of good comments here, but I have to agree with all you said as well, asa. I used Linux as my exclusive desktop at home for the last 2-3 years. I really love the amount of control you have over all of the settings, but the lack of support for modern peripheral devices is what finally did me in. I've now switched back to Windows because, lets face it...things just work. If I want to watch a video clip from yesterday's Cubs game, it works 99% of the time. In linux it works about 60% of the time. If I want to move pictures to my PDA, I can do it in a blink. In Linux, I don't even have that option available. I was very reluctant to switch back to windows, and I will continue to evaluate new distro versions as they come out, but for now the headaches just aren't worth my time.

Posted by: Yacoubean on July 12, 2005 11:09 PM

Hi All

I have a great idea for project that can convert linux into much much easy use.

The Idea came to me , I am looking for Developers in KDE,GNOME env. that willing to get into this project.

Email me.

Posted by: mrnice on July 13, 2005 12:39 AM

You can waste time and money on securing a system that doesn't come with it or you can invest time in learning to use a UNIX clone that comes secure.

People seem to forget the learning curve of using Windows. My dad's still having some trouble with it. It's like learning a new language. It's not any harder than the first one to use. Since Windows has the monopoly you had to learn it. Since windows is already there, it's easy to be too lazy to learn a new one.

No offense, I need to learn German still. It's no harder than learning English.

Posted by: Trigggl on July 13, 2005 04:23 AM

I have been using one form of computers for a very long time dating back 20 or so years. I'll be 42 in August. Computers have come a long way as well. Software has evolved along with the hardware.

From DOS, OS/2, M$ (all flavors), MacOS (all flavors, except OSX), Solaris, FreeBSD etc. I was not really content with day-to-day activities until I started to use Linux. Specifically, Slackware. I have recently included MiniSlack and SLAX (Frodo) into the mix of live CDs I carry for maintenance and repair purposes. Usually to repair damage to M$ machines.

One such Linux save was the personal computer of a somewhat computer literate user, using M$, who asked me to save over 700 MB of family photos. Some of the photos were of his recently passed-on mother and the family.

After backing up the data, I used the Linux live CD to repartition his drive and rebuild his M$ box. Applying what I've learned over the years to harden the M$ CPU against viruses, crapware, adware, and malware. I also urged him to use Firefox browser for browsing.

I also assisted him in uderstanding how to secure the system with Administrative and Limited users. Again, while this was a M$ box, applying UNIX/Linux-based 'security' thinking to it has kept his system up-and-running in a clean-and-pristine state.

I have also migrated several people toward Linux and they appear to be using it as a desktop rather comfortably. The desktop use is personal and small business purposes. I've been using Linux exclusively for some time and haven't suffered a software crash. I did suffer a hard drive failure last month and the resore was astonishingly easy from one of the backup CDs.

Posted by: aGNUstic on July 13, 2005 05:11 AM

Now that I'm at work and I realize this article is about the "work" desktop, the user will use whatever the company supplies. The MIS department will work out the bugs and then distribute the Workstations. The user has no bearing on this. My MIS department is very Entrenched in XP, but the new program we need to start using for parts and location works best on 2000. Our Drafting is performed on IBM AIX machines on a CDE desktop with various versions of Catia. In Avionics/Electrical Engineering, we use Acsel. Our new process to build planes faster will require we change software on both the technology (parts) and the drafting. We are all going to have to learn it. The user will learn the tools and the OS given to them and the various MIS departments (we have two)will remove the unnecessary programs and clearly display the options necessary to do their job.

I learned to draft on Acsel-Catia when I got here. It didn't matter to me that it wasn't Windows or Linux or Apple. The things I needed to 'click' were well labeled already. They were on a CDE desktop that I didn't need to know anything about. This whole argument is invalid. At a business, users aren't allowed to set up their own Workstations. I know I would sure love to, though.

MIS could set us all up on Red Hat Enterprise with KDE and all the programs that do the same thing as a Windows counterpart and work would still get done.

Posted by: Trigggl on July 13, 2005 06:40 AM

Well Done Asa!

Concerning SymphonyOS. As far as I read... it is not an OS ;)
It is really nice, but it only hides the "ugly" parts of Linux. That means that you still have the issues about Asa complained. You have the cryptical directory structure /etc/bin /local and so on...

I think these problems come from the fact, that Linux through its complexity wasn't able to attract other group of people than computer scientists.
A designer, a linguist, an architect would create a total different OS for their needs, but they are not able to change Linux.

Posted by: sim on July 13, 2005 07:46 AM

I think Evangelism is very can't be only about technical aspects or it risks to be perceived as distant and "for geeks only". I believe the "spreadfirefox" model could be useful for all open source softwares.
my two cents

Posted by: Vincenzo on July 13, 2005 09:40 AM

I'm using Linspire 5.0 and i found that is the easier linux desktop i ever try
with the CNR client that they have i can install my programs with just one click of the mouse.
it reconize all my hardware, is stable, fast and look very nice
i have 4 year using linux and Linspire is a good distro for regular user and advance user too
why dont you give a try ;)

Intel p4 2.8
512 ddr nvidia gforce ti 4600
Asus p5p800

Posted by: Tech_man on July 13, 2005 10:17 AM

The one comment that rings most true for me is the installer comment. I use Mepis on my desktop and Centos on my servers, I am familiar with both apt and yum. But there are lots of applications that are not covered by the repositories. Just try getting the latest stable version of KDE from apt (3.4.1 at this writing). You can't. I'm not talking about some development version, that's the current version. And the installation process without apt is not even worth thinking about because not only is it non-trivial (in the extreme), it breaks your set up otherwise.

We're not talking about obscure apps either. The version of Open Office installed from Debian unstable is 1.1.3, not the current 1.1.4 and forget about getting 2.0 betas (which run fine by the way).

This is not a debian only problem. Want to install Guarddog for firewalling on your RHEL or Centos system running on an x86_64? Good luck finding an rpm (you can but it ain't easy). You could compile, but on my x86_64 system every time I try to do that it tells me my KDE headers are not installed when I know they are.

Nope, the program installation model for linux is not just broken, its horribly broken and needs a big fix. We need to be able to install any Linux app, any version on any machine with great ease. And don't give me that Windows is just as bad stuff. Its been more than 5 years since I've seen anything approaching DLL hell on any Windows box I manage.

I like Linux, I run it every opportunity I get, but application installation is a real problem.

Posted by: rshol on July 13, 2005 10:29 AM

Some good discussion points on usability. A lot could be done by simply labeling things clearly on the desktop/menu, but I believe Ubuntu and Fedora Core already do this? I know RH has a single, unified desktop.

As for making Linux more like Windows so people will "switch" to it.. or a end user (whom doesn't know what an OS is) dual booting.. I'd say the solution for people that want to use Windows is fairly obvious. Use Windows. They're going to use whatever comes installed on there machine, regardless of if it's Linspire or Windows or MacOS X. They really don't care.

There's other considerations for using Linux, such as finding it's GUI easier to navigate. That's a true case with KDE and some relatively new computer users I was working with. After XP crashed pretty hardcore they haven't had any issues with a KDE based distribution (and one that's only mediocre, imho). But then again, they're not looking for a solution to every eventual problem, just something that works 100% right now.

All in all, if these are issues stopping people from paying for a copy of Linux I'm sure someone will remedy them and relieve those people of their OS buying dollar. If they're not.. then there isn't much incentive to create another distribution for the desktop. Xandros, Linspire, Ubuntu, and RH fill that niche pretty well.

Posted by: Chris Bergeron on July 13, 2005 10:46 AM

The arguments against Linux a just goofy. Linux is more then ready for the desktop. I use it at home and at work. Just like Windows you have (or should) work within the limits of the software. I am not going to use Linux to run Adobe Photoshop - Yea, it ain't going to happen until adobe makes it for Linux. I will use Apple or windows first for video/graphic editors. Linux does support some nifty graphic stuff in this area and I will apply it where I can. When it comes to web development, networking, office and many other day to day tasks ( like mail) it is just fine, if not better. I can not speak for WIFI. You may have to buy a distro that has proprietary drivers for WIFI.

So, you cannot update Firefox from onto Fedora? Why would you? It comes with it already and the updates come quick enough. When it comes to programming and productivity, Linux cannot be beat. I use the virtual desktops all the time. All the software and editing tools are there for most of your project needs. I can even go to the Mono project and install C# if I please. The command shell if far nicer then Windows. And don't give me this “It should only be done in a GUI” crap. Even a good windows administrator needs to use the command line. I do not see how digging through layers of drop down boxes and menus is any easier then typing a few line on the CMD. The later is generally far easier.

Go to if you want to play DVD's and Doom3 plays great. As far as configuring Linux at a comfort level, I do not find Apple or Windows to be any easier. They all seem to have their quirks that you need to get use to.

As far as migration... Come on, Talk to Dell and and other PC makers about that problem. Linux for the most part is easy to install and configure. It will take a company that has the marketing power of MS$ and Dell to put Linux up front. I applaud Linspire, Novel, Redhat, and others for their efforts.

I am tired of listing to these paid MS$ Shills and those MS lovers who respond to these article. Take your virus and spyware laden, over priced, broken , I steal my innovation from everyone else cr... and place it where no one can see it :)

Posted by: mike on July 13, 2005 12:01 PM

There is one thing you missed here... the large number of PC users first got their introduction to Windows at work and at school. Thus they "learned" Windows, got used to it, then chose to use it at home. As more and more companies and schools roll out Linux at work and school, more people will "learn" Linux and thus be inclined to buy a system that has it or buy a copy and install it themselves. Transition is good for transitioning users, however no one ever got transitioned over to Windows. They were introduced to it as the only option. Thus, Linux has a two-step hurdle: 1) it must allow for a "transition" from Windows while keeping its uniqueness and not completely looking like Windows and 2), it must be deployed in the workplace and education facilities before it will be fully adopted by the first-time PC buyer or upgrade PC buyer. That's an extra hurdle that Windows never really had. Unfortunately, its the very transition issue that makes Linux a challenge. Firstly, people as trying to make Linux look like Windows. Well, why buy a mimic when you can just buy the real thing? To save some money and get some stability? Secondly, Linux integrators and developers are spending development resources on migration when that time and money could better be spent on the Linux OS/kernel and apps, and thus make Linux that much more secure and stable. Its truly a sad state if you ask me. Then again, as time goes on, more and more of us will be more technical and Linux, in its very essence being more technical than Windows for the end-user, will grow.

Posted by: A. Davis on July 13, 2005 12:13 PM

Funny that every comparison needs to be against an experimental distribution such as fedora. Why is that, I wonder?

Posted by: Oldman on July 13, 2005 01:52 PM

Linux doesn't need any of these things. Linux needs to continue to follow its own development cycle.

You need to stop using "Linux" and try out Linspire. It offers all the Windowsiness that you so desperately seem to want without actually being Windows.

Linux may need to be better in order to succeed. Linux does NOT need to be Windows to succeed.

Posted by: I'm right and you're wrong. on July 13, 2005 02:06 PM

Like some of you, I had always wanted to try Linux, and I had even made a few efforts to try it. Finally one day my WinXP install broke, and so had the recovery disk that came with the laptop. Rather than doing a reinstall, I decided to take the plunge. I ended up trying SuSE 9.2 . I was surprised at how easy the install went.
It includes a large number of choices, but all the defaults are clearly labelled as what they are: Web Browser, IRC, Instant Messenger, Video Player, etc. If you click on an rpm, the window in the file manager shows the description and other details of the package. There's an option on the screen to install the package.

My biggest problem is that there *aren't* enough choices in the default repositories. Some of the programs I used didn't seem to be there or the newest version. I ended up installing Synaptic; nice program except it doesn't let you ignore a dependency (which meant for me that it always thought VLC was broken because libdvdcss wasn't installed, and wouldn't let anything happen unless that was fixed.)

Posted by: Steve on July 13, 2005 05:19 PM

OMG, just stfu!

Posted by: omg on July 13, 2005 06:02 PM

Why anyone cares about other people's computing needs and habits is beyond me.

Posted by: Lefty on July 13, 2005 06:07 PM

аффтар выпей йаду

Posted by: sett on July 13, 2005 06:08 PM

Are any of you whiny slashdotters reading the article through or just presuming that Asa is bashing Linux?

He's simply saying that to get Regular User X to switch from Windows to Linux more will have to be done to make that process as smooth as possible. The article doesn't say make Linux looks like Windows but at least simplify it, I tried to get my parents to use Linux but they wanted to know why certain things didn't work the same way as Windows. Where my Grandparents who weren't conditioned to using Windows quite happily accepted Linux as an OS.

To continue a steady growth in the desktop market they will need to start eating into the Windows market.

Posted by: Scott MacVicar on July 13, 2005 06:13 PM

Well said! I've used Linux for years, and I still suffer from most of the problems you mention. Of course, what is to come first, the users or the improvements? ;)

Posted by: David Oftedal on July 13, 2005 06:13 PM

So, if I create a desktop that looks like windows (no multiple workspaces to confuse people), and perhaps some inane helpfiles that do their best to avoid telling you what you need to know (yes, I've used windows applications), and perhaps add a nice comfortable random BSOD...

But then, these poor users are going to be freaked out by the tabs in the bbrowser - better take those out!

Used to be, people were willing to learn a bit to use a new system, or even to use upgraded applications. If everything has to work "the one true way it worked in windows in (insert random year)" we're all doomed.

What is it about you mozilla developers, that makes you think everything except the browser is done best when using microsoft software ?

Posted by: zarniwhoop on July 13, 2005 06:19 PM

What tests and research has Asa done on this? Did he sit 50 grandmothers down in front of computers with OSX, Windows and Linux to get his findings? No? Ah, then it's all opinion then...which is a worthless masturbation of words.

Sorry Asa, but the fact that the problems most people face with Linux is the installing. If systems came pre-installed and set up with KDE/Gnome, you'd find they would be just as ready for the desktop as any other system out there. I don't know how many times I've had to go over to someone else's house to reinstall Windows for them because they can't do it themselves. Does this mean that Windows "isn't ready for the desktop" too? By your definitions it does.

Linux IS ready for the desktop. It's as ready as anything else out there. Until you do some hardcore research instead of just pontificating...your arguments aren't going anywhere.

Posted by: sgant on July 13, 2005 06:19 PM

Great article / rant!

I can remember (im 24) doing freebsd and redat 5.2 installs w/no X windows, sparse driver support etc...

Linux has come a long way..but in that time, windows continues to attract more users and I have to say..its also improved..

I totaly agree that linux developers and distro coordinators need get their ish together.


ps: i started laughing when you mentioned downloading an app and not having the dependencies..hehe

Posted by: sk on July 13, 2005 06:21 PM

scott, what about the title? "linux not ready for the desktop"... yeah...

Anyway, this acticle is so stupid. The user should not be forced to choice? He already is on Windows. What about the choice between Real Player, Quicktime or Windows Media Player? Poor kid!

Anyway, most of Asa's concerns are already taken care of by Gnome. Less preferences, less choice... Asa would be in a dream land.

Don't want to have choice between KDE and GNOME? Use ubuntu then.

Terrible article. What makes it worse it all the positive comments here. I guess a lot of people just don't know what they are talking about.

You should all take a cup of STFU.

Posted by: omg on July 13, 2005 06:23 PM

Well said - not necessarily an exhaustive list, but who'd want that?

IMHO, fix these two and the floodgates will open wide:

#1: Get the system stuff away from the user. Hide the interface widgets in a Control Panel, and put ALL of system files (applications, libraries, etc) under ONE directory. Put the programs in ONLY ONE other directory (e.g. Program Files). [And I agree whole-heartedly with your statement on libraries - the user should not have to download ANYTHING except the application they want to install.]

#2: Polish the interface. Every icon, every font, every image, every window should be as smooth and clean as Windows. Every one of the user interfaces I've seen needs polish. The closest I've seen is in Linspire, although I'm not aware of its origin.

Posted by: Just Another Coward on July 13, 2005 06:23 PM

I don't buy the migration argument at all.

When Ma's old computer gives up its spirit or simply gets too slow,
you buy her a new one. There's no automatic transfer of settings,
account information, etc. regardless of the OS on the old computer
and regardless of the OS on the new. Quite evidently the lack of
migration is quite accepted.

On the other hand if she cannot read her old documents the show
is over.

Posted by: M Welinder on July 13, 2005 06:25 PM

Ok, we give up. We will just make Linux like Windows. Heck, if we do that, why bother having Linux? Let's just call it "open source Windows" because, hey, its what people expect. In fact, let's just drop Linux because change is hard. But wait, we need Linux, because some of us are too cheap to pay for software. That's why we used stolen copies of Windows and Office already. We shouldn't pay, heck, we don't even pay for the CDR we get the software on.

When Windows came out, DOS users complained that it was confusing, and dumped Windows for their comfortable DOS.

All change is difficult. Screw Windows, Linux, MacOS X, the stupid unwashed masses need iPods and Playstations. Anything else has too many buttons for the idiots to figure out.

Posted by: evil on July 13, 2005 06:26 PM

Even more. Compatibility issues? Asa, you know about distributor's packages, I hope?

All the issues about switching are moot anyway. Some people do switch to Macs, by the way, and it's radically different. IIRC, MacOSX *has* reversed buttons.

Not to mention that, according to gnome's hid at least, OK and Cancel buttons are stupid. Really stupid. Obviously, I don't expect a firefox developper to know that, lol, but more verbose buttons are much better.

Posted by: omg on July 13, 2005 06:27 PM

These same articles have been spewing out for pretty much all of the time that linux has been a major os. Each one adds little to the rest (and this one is no exception); they focus on several things: the difficulty of installing applications, the difficulty of migrating from windows, and the need to resort to the command lines.

For the first, in any modern distro installing applications is much easier than it is in windows. In windows, if I want to install an application, I have to find the download, download it, double click the icon, then click "next" a whole bunch of times. Then I likely will be asked to reboot. On linux it's either apt-get install xxx or yum install xxx. And if you're not comfortable with the commandline, there're several guis available (the best IMO is synaptic.) Which one is more daunting?

For the second, these people generally complain that the KDE or Gnome desktop is not exactly like windows. This is true. However, I would say that this is a good thing; certaintly the windows desktop shell is not perfect, or anywhere near perfection, and steps to make it better are not a bad thing. I have seen poor computer users pick up KDE in a few hours.

For the third, this is also false. Nearly every task which an ordinary user would be doing has a gui; even more outlandish things such as setting up a web server or ftp daemon have guis. For doing the stuff that most computer users do it is never needed to go to the command line.

While it's true that some things are difficult to do on linux for an ordinary computer user, things like setting up a mail server, web server, etc., how many people actually do that on windows? It's not something that the normal desktop user will do.

Linux on the desktop is ready. We have a free version of every major application group (office, graphics, music, etc.), the interfaces are easier than ever to use (look at the KDE command center). We just have to get people using it.

Posted by: Micah Wylde on July 13, 2005 06:27 PM

Well said. I remember when I tried switching from candels to electric lights . . . I ran into the same problems. I don't think electricity will ever catch on. I use (K)Ubuntu at home and at work, and find using Linux vs. using Windows like being able to breathe vs. holding my breathe. I am fine using Windows when I must, it's just another tool to get the job done. I am not anti-Microsoft, I think Bill Gates is awesome, and Microsoft is a great American company. For all those who think that Linux is too confusing to be beneficial, don't use it. Why do you want to use Linux anyway?

Posted by: mstodd on July 13, 2005 06:29 PM

Linux would spread as fast as Firefox, if it ran in Windows.

Posted by: Dave on July 13, 2005 06:32 PM

Windows works well for the "average" user? You must be kidding. I'll tell you what the "average" user experience in Windows is. The "average" user falls into one of two camps. The "Camp 1" user accepts the fact that his or her system operates with seriously degraded functionality, because it works well enough to satisfy the most important of his or her meager computing demands. "Camp 2 "people routinely reinstall windows when enough stuff breaks; mean time between reinstalls is about six months. How do I know this? I used to do ISP support work, and spent lots of time working with "Joe Sixpack" and his buddies. Sorry Asa, but you're not an "average" user. I'm glad that Windows is working well for you, but that by definition puts you in a category that is definitely not "average".

When will the "average" user migrate to Linux? Simple. "Joe Sixpack" understands very well that you can't be cheaper than free. Once a critical mass of "Joe Sixpacks" start to realize they now have a free albeit slightly more cryptic option to replace an OS which costs money and tends to be broken most of the time for them.

Posted by: Mike on July 13, 2005 06:33 PM

Have you looked at FC4 lately? Yum can download dependencies and deal with things straightaway. OTHER than an annoying bug with mice that's an anomaly, the system is very simple and straightforward, from a _new_point_of_view:

When you get Windows, it's assumed you're the user, AND you're the admin. So, you're allowed to download and run things that you shouldn't, and do things from the keyboard that are just plain wrong. Why is this? OH! More service calls. Gotta keep those viruses running.

Linux has an opposing thumb in this respect. There's one-or-more users, and there's only one root. Only root can install, only root can peek at certain things, and only root can create/remove users and things the casual users shouldn't be doing.

There's a reason for this: every computer, no matter what the marketing department churns out, requires intervention from 'the computer guy'. When I set up a computer for a distant friend and don't give him/her the root password, all is well....for YEARS. In an instant I can install/remove/update software by ssh and run programs there, displayed on my screen. Free. And it upgrades flawlessly at night, making an upsurge in viruses a thing of the past.

As a user, it really doesn't matter whether the label says "Settings" or "Preferences". If someone's lost at this sublety they shouldn't have sharp objects. My 75-year-old Mom uses Linux without help. And I never need to worry about my brother's kids are going to crash the machines: they can't.

Tell me this:
How can Linux exist, giving away the source code at every turn, having as many installed machines (or more) than Macs, and have only two viruses found in the wild?

Similarly, the closed-source alternative who's code is protected like the Holy Grail had 64,000 viruses the last time I looked, and 8,000 more this year? That's a lot of manpower for slackers and hackers.

And the 64-dollar question: why does anyone put up with it?

Posted by: Brian Fahrlander on July 13, 2005 06:37 PM

Thanks. Now more people know the emperor has no clothes.

Posted by: Kurt on July 13, 2005 06:40 PM

Your a dipshit. First, you only check out one distrbution, an unstable one at that. Then you compare the growth of Linux with the growth of Firefox. First, FC4 is not a commercial quality distro. If you want commercial quality you should be looking at Suse/Novell, Xandros, Mandriva. Second, Linux will never grow the way Firefox has because it doesn't run ON Microsoft Windows, you don't get it with every computer you buy, and people can't download it from and run it.

Your an idiot Asa. Go back to your desk and play with your Window XP. And remember, don't run to many open windows and/or minimize them because when you do that Windows XP becomes a DOG...swap swap swap...

Posted by: xx on July 13, 2005 06:41 PM

The Linux desktop is here. It looks like:

Posted by: Kai Hendry on July 13, 2005 06:52 PM

To reiterate the main point:

Get the users first, then try and educate them. I'm all for a desktop doing things in a different but better way than windows - but there needs to be at least distribution that works just like windows. Then people will be more likely to use it.

The pro-linux argument that typical users are dumb doesn't hold water with me. These dumb users will probably use a computer every day as part of their work - they know what they want. If Linux could give it to them, they would use it once they see how much cheaper it is.

Also, I would like to take issue that linux is somehow stable out of the box. In my experience, it isn't. I recently installed fedora on my laptop... it was getting there, but the samba stuff still didn't work straight out of the box, installing firefox was a strange experience (I wanted to download it), I couldn't get any of the software to play an mp3 and the autoupdate thing would hang if there was more than about 300 meg worth of updates.

I use openoffice, firefox, gimp and thunderbird. I'm ready to use linux, I want to use linux, but I want to use it the way I use windows, at least to begin with. And I can't at the moment.

Posted by: occvrba on July 13, 2005 06:57 PM

I have been using *nix for over 20 years, PCs since the 256k mobo and Macs since they came out. I used to make X terminals based on TI silicon.

The points raised in the original article are absolutely right on. The user experience for X11 is pretty wretched. Human factors specialists should be calling the shots, not a bunch of software engineers.

Posted by: dan on July 13, 2005 07:00 PM

What i believe is hurting linux is mostly the porting of GNU software to Corporate OS...
I don't doubt the believe thats its wrong but it don't make alot of sense..

GNU Programs ported to win32:
gimp, glib+gtk, gaim, xchat, numerous games,

from Win32 to Alternative OS:
Some emulators, Nero (after a while), powerdvd (that noone really uses), maya (thats a good logical one)

Example.. They say if more games was made for linux then it would attract the gamer market...
Games are created, They would like to see if it can be ported to linux using WineX (which is a program forked for open source code, and won't release the code to the original fork)
open-source Games/emulator are ported to windows, so why move to linux if the games are ported to win32...

Applications: are created in open source OS's but ported to win32 (again why move)
If we stop the porting to win32 then that would cut off the open source code going to alt os's which we are trying to move ppl against... Its like asking ppl to move into a house cause it will save them money but lower there rent on there apt just to show them what paying less is like..

Posted by: Trister on July 13, 2005 07:04 PM

When I first moved to linux, I had netscape4 pointing to my email inbox on /mnt/dos, so that I could share email between linux and windows.

(I had to stop that when I moved to mozilla, because at the time it didn't support movemail)

Posted by: Bradley on July 13, 2005 07:07 PM
Regular People shouldn't have to learn what /home means or how it differs from My Documents.
I see this as a dangerous suggestion. Trying to clone the Windows XPerience is bad advice, what with current issues revolving around software patents. Instead, I believe in encouraging alternative interfaces that might turn out to be user-friendlier than the most familiar desktop computer environment.

Instead of trying to convert inveterate Windows users, GNU/Linux distros should go after those who have little or no computing experience: the casual user or even the non-user. Your view appears to suffer from your being part of the geek elite. I also have a warped perspective. I'm actually lost when using Windows XP. Why? Because I use GNU/Linux all the time.

You fail to account for the ability of people to learn new interfaces. A cellphone display is a good example of a bad user interface that is used by even more people than Windows XP. Why? Because people learn to use what they have no choice but to use. You can't load Windows CE on most cellphones. So Microsoft isn't the leader, yet, in the field of cellphone operating systems. For most people, loading GNU/Linux is simply not an option.

There's also a big difference between trying to "sell" a full -blown distribution and trying to market an end-user application application like Firefox. A greater level of user sophistication is actually necessary to use Firefox, if you don't have any computing experience at all. The illustration of a doghouse next to the X sign is as meaningless to a new computer user as the Gnome foot icon.

Posted by: Verse Mongrel on July 13, 2005 07:08 PM

I just have this to say-

Linux is MUCH more "regular user" friendly than windows.

I installed Gentoo with KDE 3.4 for my grandma. Auto-login, no K-menu, no right-click-on-the-desktop capability, and there's a clock and date in big bold soft lettering on the bottom right corner of the taskbar. Other than that, all I gave her was a hand full of nice soft-looking icons sitting centered on her desktop:

"Files" (a link to her home directory)
"Internet" (firefox with flash support and mplayerplug-in)
"E-mail" (thunderbird)
"Office" (kword)
"Calculator" (kcalc)
"Shut Down" (duh)

She's never been happier, and neither have I because I don't have to keep on worrying about cleaning up virii and spyware and crap off her machine like I did with her old Windows XP installation. On top of that, she has never called me with problems with it, and if she ever does, I know the problems will be something very easy to solve, simply because it's a very simple machine, which is honestly exactly what the "regular user" needs.

Linux in this instance is MUCH more user-friendly than Windows, and to be honest is exactly how we can get the rest of the population to use Linux boxes.

Posted by: Ryan Yoosefi on July 13, 2005 07:09 PM

"/me sighs

Linux shouldn't sacrafice what it is for uptake. Right now with certain distros it has incredibly simple solutions to very difficult questions. Take the Debain/gentoo based distributions when installing software. All it requires is knowing what you want to install. Is it firefox? apt-get mozilla firefox or emerge -av mozilla firefox solves your problem, or even ubuntu's visual representation of this."

The moment you typed in apt-get I stopped reading. Why should I struggle to learn to use a linux command line to use my computer. Most people are going to surf the net, listen to music or play video games. They don't need and don't want to know such things. When Linux is as easy to use as windows or os x then you'll see more converts.

Posted by: regoR on July 13, 2005 07:13 PM

I think u r rigth.. even when im a linux person.. I LOVE GENTOO...
but let leave systems like gentoo to geeks like us...and FC4 to regular people...

REGULAR PEOPLE LIKE SIMPLES THINGS!!! LETS KEEP THAT IN MIND...some are also stupid, lets keep that in mind when choosing default settings for them..

Posted by: sptdo on July 13, 2005 07:16 PM

The original post misses the entire point of Linux. What's the point of mirroring Windows to attract users to Linux? If you like Windows, then stay there. There are a number of Linux distros that already mimic Windows quite well.

I do agree with problem #2 - binary installs need to be easier to install, and not distribution managed. I'm not a Linux developer but it does seem that Windows has this problem liked. It seems that binary installs should come packaged with all of the dependencies it needs, and install them if not already present on the system.

I also somewhat agree with problem #3, but again Linux is all about choice so I only halfway agree. Having KDE and Gnome doesn't bother me at all and the diversity is good, but there should be very simple programs for text editing, CD playing, etc. that is just pretty much "default" to common Linux distros so that a new user isn't completely lost.

Also I don't believe migration is quite as big an issue as the original poster made it out to be. It's defintely not problem #1 with Linux on the desktop. Also there are a number of ways to run Linux next to Windows and try it out; almost every distro has a live CD of some kind.

Posted by: cecil_t on July 13, 2005 07:17 PM

I run 3-4 OSen (Win2K, a Linux distro - Slackware, Gentoo, Ubuntu, lately Arch - and a couple of BSDs), and I've got to agree with Asa. If you already have a relatively good understanding, the ability to change virtually anything to your liking in Linux/BSD is valuable, and the lack of it in Windows is frustrating. But how many people really feel comfortable editing text files or using a CLI (and I say this from the perspective of someone who prefers apt-get to Synaptic)?

Ubuntu's been brought up as an example of a nice, easy-to-use distro. Really? With Ubuntu, I couldn't install to my RAID-0 array at all (Grub doesn't like it) and to be compatible with my boot manager (GAG), Grub had to be installed to root rather than the MBR. Root? MBR? RAID array? I didn't need to know any of that to install Win2K. (The RAID driver did have to be loaded from a floppy - not as convenient as it should have been.) Changing desktop resolutions in Ubuntu required Googling for the X config file's name in that distro. In Win2K it's a matter of a couple of mouseclicks. So the first two operations that new users are likely to perform - installation and getting the desktop squared away - are nearly automagic in Windows and involve plenty study to accomplish in Ubuntu. And I *like* Ubuntu, and do think of it as relatively easy to use.

The clincher is that if freely downloadable Linux with free applications was anywhere near as easy to use as $90-$180 Windows (plus more $$$ for apps), then people would be all over it in droves. If you think people aren't willing to put up with minor inconvenience in exchange for saving money, drive past a Walmart.

Posted by: Jud on July 13, 2005 07:17 PM

A disagreement with the a couple of the basic premises of the original article:

1) On the business of having to "mount" filesystems instead of addressing a disk as a "drive letter", this is actually a weakness of Windows which is one of the things that carried over from the old days of DOS. It's a real pain for "transparent networking" and also is a limitation. The fact that UNIX-type systems mount filesystems instead of addressing a drive letter is inherent in the system design and isn't, nor shouldn't, go away. It's just a matter of configuration to make this "mounting" easy for the end user, but it'll never really work "like Windows" and will always be a OS characteristic that the end users will just have to get used to.

2) And /home (or /usr, or /etc, whatever) is an inherent filesystem characteristic of UNIX-type systems, just like C:\WINDOWS, C:\My Documents, etc. is for DOS/WINDOWS systems. Again, users do need to some understanding about the basic system configuration with any OS they want, or are required, to use.

But, I do agree with much of the articles arguements. The problem with Linux systems is that most of the developers are just so cutting edge. They have to use the lattest, greatest version of every library their software links to which creates all the difficulties with dependencies and makes systems obsolete within only a year or so. I have computers running the copy of Windows 98 that I brought over 6 years ago and I can still download the latest version of Firefox for Windows and it runs just great. I can't do that with versions of Linux that are only a few years old, they are already obsolete. The only solution to this is something like the approach that is being taken with the Linux Standard Base (LSB). If you had the majority of Open Source developers adhere to such a standard than most of the dependency problems would go away and you wouldn't need the complicated "package managers" with the massive databases. Yes, it's true that Apt works, but you go to just "try out" what you think is some simple little program and the next thing you know your computer is going out and grabbing hundreds of megabytes of software just to run this silly little program.

I really don't want Linux systems to become too much like Windows, as I don't consider that interface all that great. But, I do wish that Linux systems would come to some standard like the LSB and that there would be more development around a basic set of shared libraries. I just don't see why you have to have a gazillon libraries just to have the graphical user interface useability that you get with Windows or MacOS. Nor do I understand why you should have to have all the different versions of various shared libraries just to use a basic assortment of Open Source Software.

Posted by: rwm on July 13, 2005 07:17 PM

I like linux, but it is no windows or mac os x.

The Mac OS 7,8,9 ; Windows MFC, Mac os X (openstep) ; BeOS ; Java ; All good api's that do things that a modern operating system should do. My problem with linux is that there are just too many and too many ways to do things. I would have gone for QT (kde) programming had there not been Gnome. I know this is the beauty of linux, the decisions, but if it is going to be a unified thing it needs to have an API that is static and working, something that doesn't have external dependencies, and that has it all like PHP does.

I think PHP has the nicest websites with all of their functions. That is why it has become the defacto standard for web programming. Sure Perl is sweet, but most everything I like about perl is rolled into PHP, except compiling a regular binary, which I am sure can be done.


bring libstdfoo to the API, put it in a certain folder and let it be unified.

then the problems will be over.

IMHO gnustep should be let me compile applications in Xcode and let me check the box that says Red Box (windows) or chartreuse box (linux), or solaris, or HP/UX, or Mac os 8, or whatever. heh, HURD etc etc etc

Posted by: anonymous coward on July 13, 2005 07:21 PM

I'm glad to see that people are commenting more on the problems with Linux and getting the discussion rolling. Here is my take on it.

Anyone can learn the Linux desktop, end of story. If people could learn Windows, they can learn Linux, but the only way for the average user to become accustom to it is if corporations and schools start using it more, allowing the average user to get a feel for the operating system.

OK and Cancel button...I'm sorry, but just because users are use to something, doesn't mean companies have to stay with it. Programs change all the time. The key is people MUST READ what is on the screen and not just click a random button because its always there. Software developers must teach users to read, that is a large problem with beginning users. They just click away instead of taking the time to read [Good reason why spyware and viruses get on peoples computers so easily]

Driver and Software installation is just to hard for the average user. The average user doesn't even know how to get into the command line interface and type commands, much less compile drivers or programs. There needs to be a program to make pre-existing install procedures easier through the GUI. Better driver support and making driver and software installation easier is key to Linux's success on the desktop market.

Posted by: octavian on July 13, 2005 07:25 PM

I guess I don't understand what is the objective here? World domination (Market share) or simply improving things from a usability stand point without caring about market share? But since later doesn't make sense without the former, I will assume former is the objective and later is the by-product!

MAC OSX is supposed to be the most usable and pleasant OS on earth - but then it still has some 4% market share. If we are talking dumb users here, they wouldn't know PC hardware from MAC hardware, so OSX's failure to obtain market share is not due to the hardware factor. It's something else. Linux, no matter how much it improves usability, is not going to be dominant player of desktop market just because of usability. Learn from OSX experience here.

To understand how to achieve World domination, we very obviously need the case study of Microsoft. Microsoft became the king of computer market by -

a) Partnering with OEMs, by making sure every piece of hardware which is sold takes a copy of Windows with it
b) Succeeding in creating a product as good as MS Office - which coupled with point a) above, made them indispensible.
c) Creating one single platform for ISVs to build applications upon
d) Least importantly, they succeeded in keeping the OS good enough for every day use.

Where Microsoft fails or is advertised so is 1) Security and 2) Price point - you need to shell out lot of money to buy MS Software.

On the same ground, if we are to make Linux dominate the desktop which is common man's territory, following needs to done in decreasing order of importance but with no exclusivity - (Apart from taking advantage of Microsoft's weak points 1 and 2 )

1) Kernel folks must come out of the "All your sources are belong to us" mentality - it is too childish and religious. Industry is business driven and people have their reasons not to open up their sources. We should adopt an all inclusive approach here - You want the drivers for your device written freely, just give us the specs and some one will do it, Or else if you want to do it yourselves in a closed source model, that's fine too. After all we need drivers. How long are you going to struggle with reverse engineering drivers - is it even feasible any more?

2) Consistent, great looking, homogeneous and easy to use applications which just work - be it Video editing, Chatting, Email, browsing. Office suites or programming. Shout as much OSS you want but we sure as hell don't have the homogenity, usability and pleasure when it comes to applications (Of course barring few exceptions). There should be one single "Linux API" for programmers to create great applications - not 120 toolkits, libraries and so on. World is not full of enthusiastic hackers who will invent their own toolkits - one for each project. Most importantly we need OpenOffice to improve still further - 2.0 looks promising and all other problems I mentioned above are also quite solveable. ISVs need to feel much more comfortable developing for Linux.

3) Vendors should form strong alliances with OEMs, much the same way how Microsoft did. If OEM's see the value in Linux and have the same convenience of doing business with either party, they surely will back Linux if they see the Linux vendors taking a no-nonsense approach. Some of this is already happening with server market - it just needs to extend well to the desktop market.

Overall it looks an uphill task - which may be eased out only if MS makes the most silliest and biggest of all mistakes - I doubt they will though.


Posted by: Parag Warudkar on July 13, 2005 07:26 PM

One thing many have failed to point out here is that installing programs in linux can be just as easy as it is in Windows if you are using an Autopackage. Autopackage works similar to a regular windows installer and can work on almost any distro. It's still very new, so it hasn't quite taken off yet, but it will... Another similar project that I'm less familiar with is "Klik" ;)

Posted by: Derick Eisenhardt on July 13, 2005 07:30 PM

I can't really agree with you on most of the points you made.

Whilst it would be nice to be able to convert all data and settings from Windows over to Linux, I can never see this happen. There's too many obstacles on the way. You can't just overwrite a Windows installation with a Linux installation and keep all the data and settings. While this could work with a parallel installation, you'd end up with wasted space for an unused Windows on your disc. Another issue on the way would be the fact, that there's not necessarily a Linux counterpart for every Windows setting and vice versa. While the existing data can be saved onto a server or a DVD, the settings will undoubtedly be lost. This also happens when you change from W2K to WXP for example. Nobody in his/her right mind, will seriously consider upgrading an existing Windows. The result is one big messy installation, which causes all sorts of problems. So effectively, you have to wipe your discs before you install and lose all your stuff in the process.

Making Linux UIs to act like Windows is a bad idea. Firstly, it would brand Linux as a Windows clone, which nobody really wants (why use a clone if you have the original). Secondly, the Windows UI, just like Gnome, KDE or Aqua isn't perfect. So why would you want to create a UI, which repeats the design flaws of the Windows UI, just to make it "compatible"? Using a new system means that there's a learning process involved. If you buy a new car, you need to get used to it, so what makes changing your GUI different to changing your car? Yes, the basics are the same in all cars but so are they in Gnome or KDE compared to Windows. Besides: If you are used to the W2K GUI and move to XP with Luna, you'll have to do some serious "getting used to". At the end of the day, getting used to a new UI isn't really a big job. I have a Linux box with KDE, a W2K box and a Mac running OS X on my desk and I jumping from one box to the other quite a bit but don't have any issues using either of the UIs.

As for the "ease of use", what's wrong with Gnome or KDE? Yes, they offer a lot of settings and/or preferences, but that's not really an issue is it? Windows offers a lot as well but admittedly, most of them are hidden and can only be brought to life, by clicking onto an "Advanced" button or something. If you want to do things right, Windows isn't half as easy to use, as most people think it is. Running Windows safe and sound, requires a knowledge, which is beyond the scope of the "everyday user".

My experience with a modern Linux is, that the installation is a piece of cake and once installed, everybody with only a slightly open mind can handle it within a very short period of time. While some things can be rather tricky under Linux, most users would never be confronted with them anyway. What the average user wants is to turn the machine on, log on and start writing letters or surf the net. This can be done with Linux just as easily as it can be done under Windows.

Posted by: DaMista on July 13, 2005 07:31 PM

Please.. When linux becomes like windows it will be a sad day. The power of linux will be lost and it will become just another lame version of windows. Just because the most popular people are doing it doesn't mean its cool. Coolness comes from uniqueness which is linux. You can compile the kernel! Windows should learn from linux not the other way around. One has the ability to make a version of thier desktop/OS etc. that is unique to them. For windows the most you can do is change the style of the desktop from ugly to uglier. Its obvious by Longhorn.. oooooo they have transparencies.. great i was using those on linux a long time ago, until i got sick of them and realized they suk and are massively annoying.. the point in the end is grow up AND STOP BEING A LAZY ASS like the rest of the "regular poeple" who are to lazy and scared to try somthing new.

Posted by: papaver on July 13, 2005 07:36 PM

A common package management system should be implemented by now! It's amazing that KDE/Gnome and Redhat/others can't agree on common package management! It has to be possible to develop a cross Window Manager/Distribution package management system! That would be a good start and a huge leap. People should be able to download a certain piece of software and install/remove it by clicking a mouse.

Posted by: Oldschool IT guy on July 13, 2005 07:43 PM

I was thinking about this last night while I was falling asleepp what type of system should I get my mother. A linux syste, mac os x or keep fixing her virus and spyware loaded windows. My mom is a simple user she uses email from the web. She has a dial up connection, she uses AIM to bug me some times. She maybe listens to CD on the computer. And prints stuff from pdf files. Other than that my mom is a simple user.
And she also shuts her computer off when she's done doing what she has to do. So trying to be the good son and think what the next best distro for her should be. I think Linux is ready for the simple minimalistic desktop not for the average computer user. Not a big deal but I am gonna try to set up a stable simple no login box with gnome or kde with some icons.

Posted by: anonymous coward's brother-in-law on July 13, 2005 07:52 PM

Let me be more clear what I'm trying to say..


1) A common package management system. People should be able to install/remove applications by clicking a mouse. Window Manager/Distribution should not matter - it should be common solution that would have the same look/feel no matter what distribution/window manager was used.

2) Distribution that has preinstalled AND PRECONFIGURED:

-Nice looking GUI (KDE/Gnome, user decides)
-Calculator application
-Notepad application
-Word processing application
-Spreadsheet application
-Image viewer
-Image manipulation application
-Email reader
-Web browser that has all signifigant plugins preinstalled (Java, Shockwave, Flash, Mediaplayer plugins)
-Audio player
-Movie player, preinstalled in a way that user can watch movies by finding files using explorer and clicking the file without needing to configure file extensions manually first.
-Messenger application
-IRC client

IF THESE are preinstalled and preconfigured properly, then we can say we have a desktop OS that can rival any other out of the box desktop OS. All these applications should pretty much work out of the box.

Nowadays when you want your browser to support Java for example, you will need to download a plugin and make a symbolic link. That is way too hard for regular users. These are the applications I listed and if we can get these work out of the box, then the problem is solved. There isn't that many of them really.

Posted by: Oldschool IT guy on July 13, 2005 08:01 PM

To Asa and Ander camps:

I've been using PC's since they were invented and I'm comfortable writing all sorts of code, hacking the registry (hacking in general), etc. I've built my own Linux systems (Tivo boxes no less using MythTv) on RedHat, Mandrake, Knoppix and have used Debian and Unix flavors as well.

WARNING: Potentially inflammatory content below. If you are a religious Linux user (like my old cubemate) that will be personally offended about a technology conversation or don't like different views expressed somewhat bluntly, please skip the rest of the message.

That said: I gotta say that Asa's basically right on and the Ander camp is exactly why Linux isn't even close to having market share on the desktop. Linux takes WAY longer to use for the average user then Windows. It's not even close. I don't care if you've spent your entire life on Linux (and I work with plenty of those guys), it STILL takes longer in Linux. Granted, you're faster at debugging those libary conflicts then everyone else, but they happen.

Jeff Wahlden nailed it when he said bull about DLL issues... come on, this isn't Windows ME anymore. Windows 2000 and XP are not perfect operating systems but for the most part, stuff works. And when it doesn't (which is rare) it's not hard to solve for the technically minded.

Now I do agree with some of the posts regarding interface... people will handle some changes just fine. (Like figuring out what the home icon is for!) But if a Linux distrbution nailed down the libraries issues, and had a "migrate" feature that helped mount/read an NTFS or FAT32 partition and copy over all the identified files to the appropriate places it would go a long way towards helping people try it out for real. Set up Internet, mail programs by reading the Windows configuration.

I can't stand M$ like everyone else, but fundamentally... do they care if I use their stuff at home or not? My $30 copy of Win2k I got off Ebay really doesn't affect them a whole lot... it's the Regular User world that matters. It's the business desktop world that matters. And I still use Windows because of two reasons:
1) my time is too valuable to waste using Linux just to spite MS (until it's ready for primetime like Firefox is, my favorite Browser!)
2) Terrible game support. And if I gotta dual boot, it's easier to just use Windows since that's what my wife will use anyway.

Bottom line:
Linux still lacks:
> Games
> Migration abilities
> Standardization with libraries (I'm a hacker and like to add programs, change things, etc. It shouldn't take hours to install a stupid program!)
> Hardware support (802.11 anyone?) (Please don't respond about all the cards that DO work with varying libraries... I know some are supported. But the HW guys are definitely hindering Linux by withholding direct support or even supporting the open source guys and a lot of stuff doesn't get supported (or is seriously delayed) as a result)

Solve those and I'll switch today and my wife will just have to deal with it. :-) And others will follow... the question is, does the hard core geek community who doesn't mind spending the extra time to accomplish the same tasks _want_ everyone else to convert? Being a "Linux guy" might not be so cool if everyone else is doing it...? (ducks, preparing for the uproar)

- Jason

Posted by: Orignal_name_removed_to_protect_the_guilty on July 13, 2005 08:06 PM

The first time you sat down in front of a Windose or Mac computer did you automatically know how to use it? Right, you had to 'learn' how to use it, didn't you? Guess what, same with GNU/Linux. Learning the system is all that is required to use it.

Now, does the Windose file system make sense to you? It never has to me and neither does any mac file system for that matter. Unix/Unix-like file systems have always just seemed 'right' to me. I could go on about various aspects of these OSs but I don't want to belabor the point. I like everything about GNU/Linux and I have no desire to use any other OS, and haven't for the last ten years.

The GNU/Linux OS is like any other OS you can name; it is a work in progress and it gets better every day. Don't like it? OK, don't use it. Problem solved.

Posted by: rob on July 13, 2005 08:08 PM

Another thing- the main idea behind usability,

Regardless if youre a car-freak or a sunday driver, the steering wheel remains the same as it always was, and is always the most used component of a car. The steering wheel, although not always round, is always used for the same thing on EVERY car. Linux developers need to remember this. Sure, butt loads of features are nice, but they are much more appreciated (by both savvy and regular users) when hidden under the dash. Too many knobs and widgets can confuse ANYONE (if you're not a pilot, I suggest you take a look inside of a cockpit. This is what regular users see when they try to think about how their computer works.)
It's the duty of the world Linux effort to bring peace and harmony to the end-user environment, regardless if you're savvy or illiterate. Let's not think about it in terms of "for some users, all of the features and options are nice", but instead think of it as treating first-impressions' intuitive usability the exact same as long-term intuitive usability. "This icon is here. It will never go away. This icon does this, and will never complain."
Shortly before I posted this, I posted a reply that talked about how I got my grandma set up with Linux and how easy it is for her to use.
I use the same configuration of icons on my desktop, because to be honest, even though I know exactly what I'm doing on my Gentoo box, I don't want to think about how it's working unless I have to. Giving ourselves permission to be dumb when it's ok is a very important thing.

We need to decide upon and globally standardize the "steering wheel" of Linux. Hide the knobs and dials under the dash and leave them there only for those who want to use them.

Posted by: Ryan Yoosefi on July 13, 2005 08:11 PM

I switched to linux in 1998. I had a high school friend who started a couple years before that. My parents (complete non-techy people) are extremely happy with linux on their POS Compaq since last fall (set it and forget it, update software monthly via cron). Some are downloading their first iso as I write this, and some are picking up Linux PCs at Walmart.

Linux is more than a kernel, or a POSIX-compliant userland, or a corporate buzzword. It is a hobby project that has become a proof of concept for a "new" model of software development. There is a whole theology and morality to it, but the bottom lines is that while Longhorn is slowly being developed under NDA and confidentiality agreements, the free software system is constantly improving, and the results are here and now. As the system improves, it attracts more and more of the technical elite, who become assets to the system, and also hordes of normal computer users, who blog about the pros and cons of "Linux."

This stuff the author and various posters are talking about, like "Linux will never succeed unless it does x" are like a big giant suggestion box spanning the net. Some suggestions are good, others are bad. Most are vague and others are plain impossible (like the migrate settings from windows apps thing, as if all/most windows apps store their settings in a uniform manner and as if they make any sense in the context of the corresponding linux app). And you see some posts here (probably whiny slashdotters) saying, "yes, good point, we're already working on that, check out this link..."

Point is, all four of the these key recommendations are many times closer to reality than there were when I started using Linux, and the rate of improvement keeps getting faster and faster without fail. You can see improvements every day, here and now. It's not going to slow down, and we're not going to stop until every computer-like gadget runs Linux, which will never ever happen. Linux is "ready for the desktop" whenever you are ready for Linux. For me it was several years ago, for you it might take several more years.

We reads these things, you know, and we're working on it. We take the complaints, filter out the noise, and develop innovative solutions with remarkable efficiency. We have gone extreme lengths to facilitate interoperability with other operating systems, unprecedented in the history of OS development. We spend long nights packaging software to keep up with the rapid pace of development. We support massive repositories of software that other operating systems would call "third party."

We are succeeding. Ten years ago free software was a joke. Now corporations around the world are hiring us up to work on Linux software, and we can stop living in our parents' basements! Linux software that works for your lifestyle and experience level is just around the corner, keep checking back and blogging about your experiences.

Posted by: butters on July 13, 2005 08:12 PM

Ok, I digress. I'm not the "Regular User" but being a nerd I have to support them (Friends, family, anyone that learns I know computers.) I am a system admin / programmer / web designer. My demands include accessing files on several windows / linux servers as well as designing some simple graphics.

Windows sucks at this. I forsook Windows last fall for Fedora Core. It is so much easier to do the things I need. Probably the single biggest thing is being able to access remote files via SFTP like they were local files (thanks Gnome VFS). Windows has not equivalent to this.

Now to users that I support. How many times am I running Spybot/Adaware on their machines, or having to reinstall the OS because some virus got on it and made hosed the machine. How many times does something just stop working and there is no logging or anything in Windows to help you troubleshoot it.

Now to address your points.

1. Migration. Pipe dream maybe. Thanks to closed ended Windows this becomes really hard to start to move over such things, heck moving a profile from one computer to the next on Windows is hassel enough.

2. Stability, yum auto updates every package I have installed at night and I can pick the program I need and yum figures out the dependancies and installs them as well, simple. Case closed.

3. Simplicity. Here is were I offer disent. Linux should not try to immitate the broken bad UI of Windows. Things should be accomplished in less clicks, the main things used to should as accessible as possible. Ever try changing the DNS or interface settings of windows? Click that button, then that tab, scroll down, click that line, etc. Baaaaad. We don't want to just be like Windos. OS X is good, but one downfall I see with OSX is that sometimes it really limits the amount of control you can have.

4. Comfort. Shoot Windows XP looks like Fischer Price. Most people are adverse to change so comfort is defined as what I am doing now. Change is uncomfortable, but I am glad I changed to Linux last year, it means much more productivity at much less the price. Also some powerful apps that blow away anything on windows.

The man who says it can't be done is interrupted by the man doing it.

Posted by: Shane on July 13, 2005 08:19 PM

Give me one good reason why the "regular user" would want to switch. They have everything they need on Windows.

Posted by: Adam on July 13, 2005 08:20 PM

Right on, brother. You make some very good points but I think some of your issues have been dealt with in other distro's. Eventually, (in my sick little mind) the best parts of all the distro's will find each other in a cosmic convergence of power and usability. Software Evolution. It was never possible before the widespread use of free software. But Linux is still young and the evolution has just begun... may the source be with you!

Migration - there are a bunch of bistro's that are much better at this than FC. Try Knoppix or for an instant cluster, try it's mosix infused offspring ClusterKnoppix.

Stability - Gentoo. Ok, there is admittedly a bit of a learning curve on this one but once you've figured it out, it's the best. No worrying about library dependencies or even where to go to get the files. Always up to date and built from the source with one word - emerge.

Posted by: Jeremy on July 13, 2005 08:26 PM

Well said and to the point. Every concern you mentioned is also a gripe of mine. One more additional note:

Drivers are also a pain in the ass. You ever try to set up a winmodem? How about a laptop 802.11 wireless connection. Some of these are totally frustrating. Linux can beat windows....but they need to try a little harder.

Good article Asa

Posted by: Rick on July 13, 2005 08:28 PM

In general, I agree with your points. I don't think the migrating is as important, except for easily transferring documents. After all, when you get a new Windows computer, it doesn't automatically transfer settings and preferences for you, either. The Macintosh has started doing this, however.

Other than interoperability with Windows, particularly with Windows printer sharing over networks, and having a clipboard that is common to all applications, there is one big category that I think you should add
to your list of four, and that is:


This is not my idea, I'm not that smart, but something I picked up from an outstanding article online about the inadequacies of the CUPS web-based interface.

Discoverability means that menus and choices are so clear that, with a little fiddling, a naive user can figure out how it all works without a manual. Anyone who has used the CUPS web interface can see that it teaches absolutely nothing. It might be more convenient than editing a configuration file manually, but it is no more helpful for understanding the choices than the configuration file itself would be. Actually, some of those configuration files are well-enough documented that they are probably better than the CUPS web interface.

A lot of Linux is the same way. Sure, people can figure out the start menu, since it's just like Windows, but what about the control panel? There's no way that it can teach you anything, whereas Windows is almost annoyingly helpful with little messages and wizards that ask opinions and outline choices. Some Linux applications are similarly lacking in discoverability.

Posted by: pmacfar on July 13, 2005 08:30 PM

So what you're saying is both kde and gnome should both look and feel like windows so windows users dont get confused. some of the points you made a true but your going the wrong way about it. What would make linux a better desktop would be a gui tool for every command thinkable in the tty's. So that using kde or gnome what mean you would'nt need the command line. That would help "Regular People".

Posted by: Tyrone on July 13, 2005 08:37 PM

I would add this. I like Linux. I use Suse 9.3 for my server at home, but. The writer is absolutely correct when it comes to installing software. RPM’s do NOT always work and if you have to go into dependency hell, most users including myself will just quit. Or if you do get it installed, where is the icon on the desktop or in the programs list so that you can run the program? What Linux really needs is “Install” or “Setup” Period.

My other problem is that I do like to install server type apps. I wanted to have my own email server to use myself, as a learning exercise. I wanted to install postfix. Well you can RPM that and Suse already has it installed. But what if you want a web interface, spam assassin and a few other option to be working on it (LDAP, MYSQL, etc.) GOOD LUCK I have tried that project several times and after a day or two I gave up. Oh and if you do happen to get it installed there is NO GUI to configure it completely. I know I can go to the command line or edit endless config files if I really want to, but WHY should I have to? Why when developers create this type of software don’t they also create a GUI to configure it? Ok I am done FLAME ON

Posted by: Arch_out on July 13, 2005 08:37 PM

I totally agree with most of the comments. I've been using various Linux distros for a few years now (currently I've got Mandriva 2005 LE). It is a brilliant OS but it falls down in just one area - it is just a big hassle to install new software especially when you have to re-compile them. What would be nice is an option where you can click on a new application and the installer would do all the hard work for you including putting new icons on your desktop and adding the application to your program menu

Posted by: sam_seventyseven on July 13, 2005 09:03 PM

>>"Give me one good reason why the "regular user" would want to switch. They have everything they need on Windows."

This is the one that the Linux zealots really, really don't want to hear and don't want to admit to.

For the average person, a computer is a TOOL not a PASSION. The average person has no interest in the fight against the-great-satan Microsoft. They don't think Linux is cool. They couldn't care less about Open Source. This means that their perceptions of Linux's shortcomings are also different than the "True Believers" who insist that Linux is better than Windows. When the average person looks at Linux all they see is an OS that is different, confusing and won't run their favorite programs.

I've tried several different Linux distributions over the past 5 years. From Redhat (pre-Fedora) to Mandrake to Suse to Knoppix. And every time, the end result is exactly the same: even if I'm willing to spend the time to learn my way around and figure out how to get things done (Linux is very different from Windows in many ways), what do I get in return for all that effort? Absolutely nothing.

After all that time spent learning my way around, the main thing I learned was that switching to Linux means being able to do less. A lot less.

Photoshop? Office Suite? Audio editing? DVD authoring? Out of luck. The powerful applications I've been using for years do not exist in the Linux world. The only things available are programs that look (and work) like cheap shareware knock-offs. Sure, the Linux apps are free. But this is a perfect example of the old saying "you get what you pay for".

The same with hardware. Scanner? CD printer? Transferring pictures from my digital camera? Tranferring music to my Mini-Disc player? Nope. No drivers. I know because I've spent hours searching the Internet for them.

Why would I want to abandon something that does everything I need for something that doesn't? I'm not pro-Windows -- I'm pro-whatever-works best. I would switch to a different OS in a minute -- if it allowed me to do *MORE* than what I can do now. Right now, Linux is not that OS.

Posted by: Heywood J on July 13, 2005 09:06 PM

I love Linux. I hate Linux. No, seriously, when will I be able to right-click on the menus in Gnome/KDE or whatever and just rename a link? I mean, really - I'm sick of having to go to /usr/share/applications/... and blah blah blah. Linux sucks, but then it rocks. Whatever.

Posted by: Burn-baby-burn on July 13, 2005 09:12 PM

heh, i wish kde included more settings... and i'm only using kde because it is so configurable. and having an environment that is different from windows can be a nice change of scenery sometimes

Posted by: kif on July 13, 2005 09:19 PM

you're an idiot.

Posted by: jesus christ on July 13, 2005 09:23 PM

Nice going!!!, I'm a big Gnome supporter and I agree partially that linux is not ready for the whole of my family. Fine on the server-side however.

Posted by: robsta on July 13, 2005 09:27 PM

One of the things I get a kick out of is that Linux fanatics don’t quite understand the complexity of Linux. Congratulations guys, you have figured out a way to use an awkward OS, and have tamed the beast.
I hated Windows when it came out. Dos was my friend, and I could do far more in DOS than that pretty environment called Windows 95. But on a few occasions, I started to watch my Dad do things in Windows that would take hours of command line tweaking to do. Hell, when I can’t get Windows to work quite right now, or the GUI is getting in the way, freezing or crashing, I still revert to the emulated command line. I still didn’t embrace Windows for a year or so, but the games stopped being compatible with DOS, and eventually I found myself swapping to Windows so frequently; I decided I was going to embrace this new relatively new OS concept.
I was a little frustrated at first. Although I no longer had to select which soundcard I had, what resolution I had, what … (insert hardware here) every time I installed a new game or application, there was this new complexity. The infamous BSOD. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed. But then I did a little more digging, and found that the only real fault of the BSOD was that Windows didn’t fail gracefully. Well, failing gracefully is something almost all OS’s still fail to do. Regardless, I was considered an expert in Windows by many a peer in under a year.
I thought that sending ‘E-Mail’ from a command line Pegasus Mail client to my mother 400km away at another University was the height of technology. Wow, that was amazing. Limited, since I could only really send her email, or any other student at a University, but still amazing, since it was free… It was only a few years later that Windows 95 came out, and I was playing Diablo with a half dozen friends online…
Well, the Doctor path didn’t work out, and this ‘computer’ fad turned out not to be a fad, but a lifestyle. I got a job at the local Telco, and discovered that developing software for Windows was a LOT easier than when my Dad taught me how to program on the ol’ Commodore 64. But then came the Unix boxes. Octel automation, a Sun/Lucent voicemail system followed. (If you have used voicemail, you probably have experience with one). Then a couple of 3270 automations. For all my knowledge programming on multiple OS’s, I come home to Windows (And occasionally a partition dedicated to Linux).
Why do I come home to Windows, even though I have experience programming for several platforms? It does what I tell it to, I can install an app with a double click of the mouse, I can play games that aren’t variations of solitaire or some java game I can also play on my cell phone.
I recently decided I wanted to challenge myself again after a night of beers with the boys, and came home to install a Linspire partition again on my main PC. I can get around BASH, but this Gnome/KDE stuff is still new to me. The install was smooth, but I wanted to install Firefox. I’m not about to pay Linspire for a free program, so I download the program, and try to install it. I was Tipsy. Drunk, I can write a program for any OS (I pretty much have), but I could not for the life of me get Firefox on my ‘Closest to Windows’ Distro. I’ll let all you seasoned Linux users tell me it’s so easy. All I had to do was type “firefox-Install –fs –wd –akdf – qwerty –youRtu$tupidToRoXor$WithLinux$t!ckToM$. (Paraphrasing here). It’s so simple, I was an idiot not to figure it out while drunk (or tipsy for that matter). Here is the deal. Linux WILL NOT be more than a geek OS/Server OS until several things happen. A drunk layman can download a program and have it running in seconds after double clicking. Back in DOS, all I had to do is run the setup to install a program. WHY is Linux more complicated to install an app on than a decade old OS that is considered the poor mans Unix? The second is a unified Graphics/3D gaming API that is at least as good as DirectX. OpenGL is deficient from a gaming point of view, and Games sell systems, and systems sell games. Linux also needs a single OS. Yea, you can have a mobile version, an embedded version, desktop version, and a server version. Beyond that, and I stop caring. Gentoo, FC, RH, Mandrake… Umm… Pick one. RedHat seems promising, but I just can’t afford the cost. Windows is far cheaper from a business point of view…
When it comes right down to it, the best product wins. The user will always pick the best product for the job, and the market has always been the proof. There are thousands of MP3 players out there, but the one with the most intuitive interface, with the least amount of thought is iPod. And they control the market to a fault. Windows has mobile Media centers, that comparable in price, offer video out, and have more storage… However, they are complex and buggy. People would rather have something that is one click away from getting what they want. If Linux is ready for the desktop, why isn’t it? M$? Hardly. Firefox is what Netscape wanted to be, but couldn’t. Firefox has more downloads than Linux users… This is sad, since the concept is great.
Oh (small rant), and now come the security patches. ‘Firefox fixes 12 security flaws’. It’s not that Windows is not secure, it’s that when you have billions of computer running your OS, you have hundreds of hackers trying to do things you never thought of as a developer. We’ll see how secure Linux is when it has been installed on a billion computers… The only thing that has been proven in security is that Microsoft was far too trusting when designing their security model initially. The second is that hackers attack volume.
There was another comment that computer manufactures don’t support Linux. Dell was mentioned. Dell not only supports Linux on several of it’s servers, it also offers ‘naked’ machines with only freedos if you look through all of their options. Michael Dell has also gone on record to announce his support to offer OS X on Dell if Apple is willing to license their OS.
The only reason you don’t pick up the cute girl at the end of the bar isn’t because the ‘juicer’ on steroids, or the ‘cool guy’ with the highlights. It’s because you stood there wishing she would come to you, and they got off their @$$ and asked her. The consumer (her) will decide who has the most to offer of Windows(Juicer), Mac(Pretty Boy), or Linux(geek). If geek doesn’t play the game and talk to the girl (one click install) then the geek will be forced to live the life of a solitary existence. Always complaining about how unfair it is that they never get the girl… Quit whining, and actually walk up to her. Embrace what make Windows great, and show her what you have to offer.

Posted by: Ryan Thompson on July 13, 2005 09:36 PM

I don't agree.
Granted the KDE/Gnome thing has a point, but, a lot of distros now settle on one or the other.
Anyone who can use Windows can use Linux.
Linux isn't about the same OS "just made by someone else". It's about quality, less bugs, and the moral argument, Microsoft are a bunch of deceitful bullies.
Linux isn't like that.
More people would change if they could a) get a Linux box on the high street and b) were told the truth about Microsoft.
Would you got and buy an electric power drill, point it at the wall and expect all your old screws to "jump out and replace themselves perfectly". Would you buy such a tool, point it at the wall and expect your new shelves to put themselves up?
Then by the same standard, why do people think that "until I can install Linux and not notice the difference I won't try it".
This is nonsense.
Mostly they don't try it because Microsoft lie about Linux, pundits lie about Linux on behalf of some petty personal axe grinding or in deference to Microsoft. And white biox manufacturers are too hooked on profit and too scared of, yes, you guessed it, Microsoft.
Out in the real world there are a lot of people who are sick to the core with corruption and lies and back scratching and corner cutting and "friend helping" and vested interests and huge corporations.
Linux stands aganist all that.
I can testify from personal experience that people are prepared to wade in and get on with Linux. As long as there is someone to set it up initially and help them when they get stuck, they "get it" and they like it.

Posted by: dave hands on July 13, 2005 09:40 PM

Your are 100% wrong. The biggest obstacles to GNU/Linux or any other OS gaining desktop market share are the so-called Windows power users. The low level structured task workers are fine working with a dumb VT100 terminal, a locked-down Windows desktop, or a locked-down X11 kiosk. They learn to use the keyboard and/or mouse and fill out the forms required by the line-of-business app. If it's a Windows or X11 GUI, they learn to click on an icon or two to start apps. No installing software, no configuration, etc, that's done by the I.T. staff. They'll use what's put in front of them and they have no say in the decision. For embedded devices, users have no choice of interface either. This is 80% of workstation/terminal/POS device users. The real pains in the ass are the hobbyist Windows users, folks who picked up Windows fairly well along the way and consider themselves very computer literate. Because they were never fully professionally trained in computer science or programming (where they would have been exposed to the power of UNIX and other mainframe OSes) and they have little time or simply suffer from apathy, they oppose any changes that would require them to expose themselves to other platforms. Unfortunately many managers and executives fall into this position, as well as self-trained application developers. Their comfort zone is Outlook, Word, Excel, Access, IE, and the Start Button. Their programming skills are often limited to writing VBA applications to automate MS Office Apps which ties them to the Windows platform. This is the real obstacle to any OS that would unseat Microsoft. The best way to win these folks over is to show them a working GNU/Linux solution that solves a business problem, delivers low TCO and good ROI, and doesn't require them to interact with it except through a web interface or a Windows web service (SOAP) client app.

Posted by: gnulinuxadmin on July 13, 2005 10:13 PM

About 6% of my small business and consumer customers now have Linux-based desktops. I am the professional who assists them with the migration, etc.

Most of the issues are not really as you describe them. Most Windows users don't buy new versions of Windows even and install them, and will leave most settings at their default.

Every single one of my customers who uses it has been happy with Linux on the desktop. Why don't the other 94% use it?

1) Many consumers and small businesses have invested *heavily* in Windows-only software and network infrastructure. Until ready alternatives exist for all this software it will be impractical to ask them to switch.

2) Third parties often won't support Linux clients to things like terminal services.

3) User-friendly is whatever people are used to. This creates inertia in the industry. However, most people who I have introduced to Linux have said "This isn't that hard to use. Really, it is pretty easy!"

Posted by: Chris Travers on July 13, 2005 10:23 PM

I agree with most of your comments, except the one that says Linux should copy both user interface and general system environment concepts (e.g. "My Documents") from Windows to ease a smooth transition. This means that Linux would become nothing more than an open and reliable version of Windows, and I'm sure that isn't what most people would really be looking for, surely?! Sure regular users shouldn't need to know what a developer does just to install an application, but that doesn't mean they won't like a little change for the better in other areas of the OS. Good applications, programming languages, etc. always do the least surprising thing, what makes most sense given the current situation. This doesn't mean giving users what they know (Windows) it means giving them something that makes sense (clicking cancel cancels a process, dragging an icon to the trash deletes the whole application it represents. etc. etc.). There is a difference there that I think that Linux GUI developers seem to forget. Innovate, don't just blindly copy - and if you are going to copy, please copy from something a little better designed than Windows!

Posted by: Robert on July 13, 2005 10:31 PM

You have been using Windows 12 years and then Mac for 20 and yet haven't noticed that *they* have the OK/Cancel buttons different ways around?????

Posted by: David Griffiths on July 13, 2005 10:32 PM

First off Linux is NOT Windows and will never be, and thank god for that!

"The first issue, migration, is pretty serious. For "Regular People" to adopt Linux (which usually means leaving Windows) Linux is going to need a serious migration plan."

Again Linux is NOT Windows, just like Mac OSX is not Windows and you would have just a hard of a time migrating Window setting to it! :)

"I'm talking about a stable API that doesn't require the user jump through hoops when they want to download a new application from"

You mean those little application that are invested the spy ware? :)

“Regular People expect to be able to download software, install it, and have it just work.”

You mean like the nice install utilities like synaptic that come with the major Linux distros.

“The third issue is a lack simplicity. Just because you can include a feature doesn't mean that you should.”

So everyone should just have one simple desktop? :) Hey why not just have everyone in the world drive a Dodge Neon.

“Just because you can provide a user preference doesn't mean you should.”

Really? The user could just leave the “preference” default hey? Really what is more annoying have an option to change something or not having one?

“I don't want to start a desktop war but I really gotta say to the distros, pick a desktop and be happy.”

I guess when you go out for dinner you get mad when there is more than one item on the menu? :)

“Regular People shouldn't have to (guess or learn enough to) choose between Gnome and KDE when they're installing your product. Regular People don't need 15-20 mediocre games in a highly visible Games menu at the top of the Applications list. And what is a Regular Person to think when confronted with a choice between Helix Player, CD Player, and Music Player?”

So what defines “regular people”?

“Gedit has about 30 user preferences spread across 5 tabs in a preferences window -- Notepad has about three.”

First everyone bitches about Linux not having enough and now it has too much! :)

“I think of Linux today the way I think of Mozilla 1.0 from just a few years ago: a very capable product with a very limited audience. If Linux makes major inroads on the desktop, it will probably be as a result of the same kind of focus that put Firefox on tens of millions of desktops, a focus on migration, stability, simplicity, and comfort.”

Comparing a complete operating system to web browser a is a really bad comparison!

What you sound like is a person that try Linux for a really short period of time got frustrated and gave up. It take time to learn a new user interface and a operating system if you take someone that say has only used Linux and never Windows and stuck them in front of a Windows box there would be the same frustrations and learning curve.

Posted by: Jeff on July 13, 2005 10:35 PM

After reading through quite a few of the above posts, I gave up, so forgive me if this has already been said, but here's my take on linux adoption. First, Linux at it's core -doesn't- care about adoption. If 0 or 6 billion people use Linux, it doesn't directly matter because nobody makes more money or anything like that. One very big issue here, though, is third party support. There's no reason that ATI, for instance, would want to spend money on programmers salaries on Linux drivers if they didn't think they'd be expanding their market and making more money. After all, ATI doesn't make graphic's cards because they're really nice people. If the Linux market is itty-bitty and not a tempting target, then this isn't much of an incentive.

As far as what flaws Linux has right now, I'd say not being Windows like is not one of them. Also, having options as far as what programs to run is not bad either. For instance, what if you were using a browser you weren't really happy with, say IE, which was bundled with you're distribution, say Windows. Lets say there's a better alternative, say firefox, but to use it you have to go out of your way to find and install it. Most people would just put up with the bad browser (which is horribly standards incomplient, btw), rather than find the better alternative and improve their impression of the system as a whole.

What will get more people to use Linux, and I've heard this from very computer literate friends who still use Windows, is that it has to be easy to do simple things. This, I think will continue to improve on it's own without intervention for several reasons. First, as Linux becomes more widespread, hardware companies like ATI and others will be willing to support it directly. That means that rather than use drivers someone managed to hack together with no outside help or documentation, there will be real drop in solutions from the hardware vendor themselves. This usability improvement in turn will increase Linux's market, and the cycle repeats. The same holds for software vendors as well. Windows and Microsoft didn't develop Photoshop, and Linux shouldn't have to either. If there are enough people using Linux that are willing to pay for Photoshop, then there will be a Linux version that will just work.

Also, there needs to be consolidation amoung the different package distribution systems and services. Maybe a core package type that could be installed through a standard interface? Then the package managers could just install using the interface, but if you don't want to use them, you could just use a stand-alone installation shell like installshield, but that didn't suck. This would also be a great mechanism to provide standardized gui installations without forcing each app to implement it's own system. Maybe that would be a good new project? Maybe that's something to look for in the future... :)

On another front, one sociological problem that exists in the Linux communitty is that alot of projects try to improve a system or process in Linux by recreating it from scratch. While that's a noble idea and is called for in some cases, what happens is that not everybody starts using the new system right away, and you end up with 6 ways to do the same thing which are mostly incompatible with each other and each give users some subset of the features they want and expect. What needs to happen is that newly developed systems be compatible with whatever it's replacing, at least at some level. ALSA did this right when they provided a compatability layer with OSS. While ALSA can be a pain in the butt to get to work for other reasons, at least it didn't break every older program that still relied on OSS.

Finally, I don't think Linux needs to target beginning computer users right now. There are plenty of people out there that are comfortable with computers but that don't use Linux, and they could be converted if the above issues are addressed. Once that happens, then maybe Dell will offer a Linux option on their desktops, and folks that barely know how to turn the machine on will use it and not even know it isn't Windows (believe me, I've seen it happen).

Posted by: ninja penguin on July 13, 2005 10:36 PM

I'm a dumbass. Really. I'm not very good with computers.
I moved from Windows to Linux (ubuntu is the best distro at the moment for migration in my opinion).

My advice to anyone thinking about moving over.
Get a book, a simple no frills book teaching you how to use it, because as many people are mistaken, It's not windows, and yes. Is different.

It's a worthwhile change, and after not having to worry about spyware, virii attacks and a slowing down Operating System install, you'll have forgotten about Windows.

Windows is easier for gaming. It's not to say you can't run windows games on Nix, but it's much harder to do so.

If you don't like linux after a few weeks of using it, then go back to windows. It's your choice. But don't make the decision to stay with windows out of an attachment to laziness. Linux can be an awesome operating system if you just take a little while to learn it. It just takes patience.

Posted by: Sam MUrray on July 13, 2005 10:37 PM

David, this post wasn't about getting Mac users to switch to Linux (I think the flow is in the other direction, actually, and that can't be too good for Linux). This post was about how to make Linux more appealing to Windows users. I have no problems with the OK/Cancel buttons because I switch between various operating systems regularly (but I do lose a little bit of comfort every time I reflexively click without paying attention.) I think I get it right almost all the time.

I'm not like mo. We should be thinking about the needs of the hundreds of millions of Windows users we'd like to see a portion of at least try Linux.

- A

Posted by: Asa Dotzler on July 13, 2005 10:38 PM

Sam, I agree that it takes patience (though six years later, I'm still short on patience with my various Linux desktops.)

That's one of the biggest barriers to entry, though. All of my suggestions are geared toward trying to remove the requirement for patience in areas where I think it's possible to do so. That way, in the places where we can't remove barriers, we can ask for patience and maybe score some users. It's when you ask them to be patient with stuff that could have "just worked" for them that that you miss a lot of opportunities at new Linux users.

- A

Posted by: Asa Dotzler on July 13, 2005 10:41 PM

I personally love all the extra options and flexibility of Fedora. But I am not a "Regular User" I have gotten a bunch of regular users in my office hooked up on linux using Novell Linux Desktop 9. It addresses a LOT of the problems you mention about linux in general other than the whole data migration issue. I am now promoting NLD to all my Windows-centric friends. It is a very user friendly scaled down simplistic distro. I am really looking forward to NLD 10...try it and then get back to us in your blog to let us know if that has changed your mind at all.

BTW, someone above was really right on pointing out the fact that Fedora is really NOT a good distro to base your opinion on. It is intended for bleeding edge dev testing stuff, it is basically the ongoing open beta for Red Hat Enterprise releases. If you don't like NLD try Ubuntu.

Posted by: Kennon Keoseyan on July 13, 2005 10:42 PM

Well, many Linux supporters, seem to have this arrogant opinion that Windows people are lazy and dumb, while the Linux users are inherently smart. I think Asa has illustrated the point well, but he talked of "Regular people".

Even with the not so regular people, Linux is still hard to accept. The reason is that every task is inherently more complicated to the novice user. I am a biologist and do a lot of computational work. I like to fiddle with Linux too..but heck...if someone in my lab has to get a certain analysis done, I will ask them to do it on Windows. I dont want them to spend valuabe time on learning to use the Linux machine. I hardly care if it is Linux or Windows. I want the task to happen the most efficient way. And in my experience, I have never ever found Windows to be less effcient in any way than Linux. So technicalities may be interesting to the hardcore developers and computer junkies, but they are of no interest to people who are using their computers to solve other problems.

Posted by: Nachiket on July 13, 2005 10:42 PM

Tim, you said "I guess when you go out for dinner you get mad when there is more than one item on the menu? :)"

Actually, when I go to a really nice restaurant, the meal is designed by the chef to "just work" and my choices are usually quite limited - usually to accompanying wine and maybe dessert.

Then you concluded by saying "What you sound like is a person that try Linux for a really short period of time got frustrated and gave up."

Well, yes, 6 years isn't terribly long, though I'm not sure I'd call it a really short period either. And yes, I am frustrated but I haven't given up yet. If I had, I wouldn't have posted this article.

- A

Posted by: Asa Dotzler on July 13, 2005 10:49 PM

Kennon, I've tried NLD (I was one of their first beta testers and am in close contact with that team) and continue to use it up until the present release. I've spent quite a bit of time on other distributions, including SUSE (mostly because of my NLD connections, so recent releases there) Ubuntu and Kubuntu, Linspire, and Xandros (plus a half dozen others I haven't used much but have evaluted over the last few years.) I'm not new to Linux :-)

- A

Posted by: Asa Dotzler on July 13, 2005 10:58 PM

To all of you who complains about how hard to install programs under Linux - have you ever heard of Debian and apt-get?

Posted by: Alex on July 13, 2005 10:59 PM

A few comments to the whiney Windows trolls:

1. Drivers: Don't bitch to the Linux community, bitch to the companies that refuse to provide these drivers. Do you honestly think Microsoft writes all the drivers for Windows? Are you retarded? Most hardware vendors write their own and supply them to MS for certification. Why do you expect the Linux community to support all the obscure hardware out there but not the same from MS?

2. Windows ease of use: If you think that Windows is easy to use for the average user, you've never worked in tech support. I'm currently at an ISP and I spend most of my day walking people through Outlook Express' account setup process. I used to do tech support for Microsoft before that, and 99% of my calls were spyware or virus issues. Do you know what the official Microsoft fix is for a virus? Format and re-install, and the re-install process is TERRIFYING to the average user. I don't know that they'd be much more comfortable with the install process for most Linux distros, but it would be impossible for them to be less. Most day to day tasks are easier to do on Windows, but as others have said, this has less to do with how intuitive Windows is and more to do with the fact that it's all they're exposed to.

3. Software installation: I'll grant you this one. Package managers have done a great deal to resolve this (the only times I've had any dependency problems with larger repositories has been with fairly bleeding edge stuff), but there is the problem of downloading apps from or wherever. A good solution for this might be allowing multiple versions of the same library to co-exist on the system. Or there might be an even better solution. I don't know. I don't have all the answers. It's a problem though, and there are people working on solutions.

4. The UI: If you want an OS that looks and acts like Windows, stick with Windows. How many people expect OS X to look and act like Windows? None, that's how many. There are still many areas where Linux can improve in this regard, but if you want Windows, stick with Windows. Contrary to what you might think, a bunch of Linux geekstapo aren't going to come to your house and kill you in your sleep for it.

In conclusion, Linux is making the improvements it needs. If you want to help, make intelligent suggestions like Asa did and STFU with the FUD and repetitive garbage. Constructive criticism is worth 1000x more than "OMG MY WEBCAM DOESN'T WORK I HATE YOU LINUX TORVALDS"

Posted by: Ravnos on July 13, 2005 11:09 PM

i agree on most of this article however on the settings part i have to disagree
its true most ppl dont touch there settings they dont even look at it they just download there emails or download some music or surf the net.
what linux need is some vendors who deliver there pc's pre installed with linux.
and what they want is an easy installable solution so that they dont have to install every pc by hand. just like xp some sort of cd that u can slipstream put in the pc boot the pc and come back 20min later and see that it is installed and configured with all nice soft and settings 95% of the users want.
a user just boot up the pc and start working with the soft on it if u give them firefox they will use firefox keep IE on the desktop and they will use IE.
once settled with the program u will have a hard time keeping them away from it unless u migrate there data into the new program.

Posted by: Trikke on July 13, 2005 11:15 PM

Thank you for the comments, but I believe both you and Kim need to do some more research before posting.

Kim's article can be summarized as this: Kim is a Macintosh user, and OSX is great (it is); Mac and Windows have large install bases of desktop users, which means that they will always be better than Linux because vendors and developers can devote more resources to things like localization and ease of installing apps, and there are more people to help support you; the Linux camp wastes a lot of resources developing competing products like KDE/Gnome and Abiword/KOffice/OpenOffice while the Mac/Windows camp is much smarter because they only have one product with everything you need in it (MS Office). Kim's piece is an opinion, and it presents two good barriers to Linux's worldwide success on the desktop - application installation and localization. Those two are important, but do not deal with the next major hurdles Linux faces. And neither does your post.

Migration: Your entire perspective is based on the success Firefox had after you figured out how to import users' data from one specific program (IE). You then extrapolated Linux's future success to be dependent on concurrent installations and importing virtually every setting from every Windows application. What is true for Firefox is not true for Linux. You are neglecting the fact that most Windows users ALREADY HAVE TO DO THIS every time they migrate to a new version of Windows or to a brand-new computer. The most likely way for a user to convert to Linux is when that user is already faced with some large data/preference migration. For instance, the user buys a new computer and Linux is pre-installed with everything necessary (drivers, SMB, etc.) to transfer their data from their old machine to the new one. If a user buys a new Windows machine, they would still be doing the same type of migration - including all their preferences and passwords, so it's a wash in my book. My sister, my father, and my aunt are all facing re-installs and data migration, due to PC virii. Switching them to Linux is sounding better to me (whom they call for tech support anyway) every day.

Stability: The problems we saw in the Linux world going from libc->glibc or from gcc 2.9x to gcc 3 and the resulting libstdc++ issues were painful, no doubt about it. Especially annoying were the hoops we had to jump through to get Java working. If the Linux world has another transition like that in it's future (and it probably does), I won't enjoy that either. However, this same problem has occurred on the Mac (6->7->8->9->10, now with *2* processor architecture changes) and on MS' OSes (DOS->3.1->9x->NT->2k/XP). Welcome to the world of large-scale software development - I hope you enjoy your stay. Metrowerks saved Apple during the 68k->PPC transition, and MS has a long history of abusing it's users - most notably with office products that, during the good times, only munge the formatting of previous versions. Based on this example, it is disingenuous to suggest that Linux treats it's users worse than Apple or MS do. The reality is that 3rd-party vendors must step up to help make transitions happen by providing updates to their applications that work on the new platform. Since Linux has a lower market-share on the desktop than MS or Apple, it gets lower priority - right, Mr. Software Vendor? BTW, as per your suggestion, I just went to and searched for Firefox on "All CNET", then clicked on "browsers matching Firefox" and found links to Safari, A9 Toolbar, and (strangely) MSIE 6, but not the latest version of Firefox. If the vendor (you) won't do their best job to make their applications available to potential users, you should flame the vendor, not the OS. ( had the latest version, of course, but not

Simplicity: Once again, you are complaining about Linux doing what the other OSes do (or should do). If I want to play a movie in Windows, which should I use: Windows Media Player, QuickTime, RealPlayer, WinAmp, or the DVD software that came with my DVD drive? Does the Windows Media Player not understand OGG? Should I use Notepad, Wordpad, or Word to open this text file? Why does every program I install put an icon on my desktop? JESUS - why can't Windows just pick one program and stick with it? Sorry, my bad - THEY DO. It's just that the one they stick with is the one published by MS, which is why the good people at Firefox (like you) are trying so hard to migrate users from MSIE. Windows is not "simpler" than other OSes - you are just more used to it. You download all these other specialty apps for some type of media in the Windows world, but are confused when they are installed by default in Linux (assuming you deliberately checked "install everything" during the install process). (BTW - Gedit is more powerful than Notepad or Wordpad, and therefore has more settings. If you want a confusing mess, try pulling up the preferences for Word for the first time.)

Comfort: The Linux desktop is being pulled from a crappy "traditional" Unix desktop (like you see on Solaris) to a crappy Windows desktop, mostly because people believe "the market" wants it to move in that direction. The truth is that Windows itself is a glitzed-up revision of a thoughtlessly-designed cheap knock-off of a great UI that actually was designed for simplicity and consistency. It is riddled with UI inconsistencies, and forces poorly thought-out defaults upon users, seemingly with glee. And people use it anyway. They used it when it was a complete abortion (aka 3.x) and they have adapted every time MS forced a new interface upon them. Windows programs look and behave differently, depending on the vendor (check the interfaces on your media and driver apps as examples, including MS' own Media Player). Why should Linux aspire to that? Would you support it if it actually did, or would you deride it for those new shortcomings? Linux should be aspiring to have a better interface than Windows, but short-sighted people keep publishing articles about how Linux needs to be "more like Windows" to succeed. Windows hides more things from me than I want hidden. Linux exposes more things to Joe-user than he wants to see. Right now, my feeling is "Sorry Joe, Daddy needs to use his computer to do *real* work too, so you'll just have to ignore the parts you don't understand yet. Just don't log in as root and you'll be fine." I'm not inclined to believe that the Windows way of hiding everything - even from Administrators - is better. Maybe there should be a "master preference" that sets the amount of detail you actually see. It is set to "Joe-user" by default for normal accounts, and "omniscient" for root users, with degrees in-between, and is modifiable by the user.

Summation: Linux is not Firefox. The issues that made your particular application successful do not 100% correlate with what Linux faces. Yes, there is a lot of work to be done to make it successful on the desktop, but I don't think you're on the right track. Instead, think of hardware vendor support (drivers and knowledgeable staff), software vendor support (office productivity apps, games, etc.), 100% interoperability both with other OSes (SMB and other file-sharing standards) portals (like websites and Java apps that only work through IE on Windows, or mail and calendaring systems that require Exchange) and file standards (document formats), and the latest laptops/desktops coming pre-installed with Linux instead of pre-installed with Windows. If I had these, then I could be a 100% MS-free Linux user. But I don't, so I am still forced to use Windows at times. And if *I* cannot switch, Joe-user sure as Hell can't switch. If the Linux community can get over this hump, then I'll start worrying about things like an easier-to-use way to install programs than up2date or yum. If it can't, then it won't ever be "ready for the desktop", regardless of how easy it is to install your application from or how well localized it is.

But that's just my opinion. And what do I know? I've only been *using* Linux as my desktop since 1997, instead of *thinking of using* Linux as my desktop like so many of the people that write articles for columns.


Posted by: Pete on July 13, 2005 11:18 PM

or, try installing software in Mandriva using RPMDrake and URPMI. It's so easy. You open a graphical installer (kinda like add/remove programs in windows), find the program by browsing or searching, check a box to choose your program, then click install. Next prompt may ask if you wish to install other packages needed (a complaint made by the author), ckick ok, then click finish. Hmmm, 4 clicks to install a package AND all of the software it requires. I tell ya what, I am hurting over here on Linux ;-)

Posted by: jade on July 13, 2005 11:20 PM

Saying "oh, but it *is* easier/better/faster/ready" doesn't make it so.

Presenting straw man arguments which bear no relationship to the average user experience doesn't invalidate Asa'a arguments.

Asa is right. So is Jon Udell when he says, "...on Windows, an open source component is likely to come with an installer that just works. That’s a huge advantage."

apt and yum are good tools, but they have a big drawback: if the package you want isn't listed in your apt or yum repository, you're screwed. If you are behind an authenticating firewall at work, ease of use goes out the window.

As far as the casual user goes, Linux is not robust. If you don't do what Linux expects you to do, it's easy to get into trouble.

People want to be able to click a link on a website and get a program installed. They *don't* want to add new repository URLs, or find libraries, or scroll through a list of 1200 packages to find "curltiplxq-0.43.2", which happens to be an image viewer or cake baking recipe database.

One-click install is an important thing that Linspire got right. However, you are still limited to the set of packages which Linspire "knows about". The critical step is that apps need to be similarly easy to install *without* the distro knowing about the specific package in question.

Thinking off the top of my head, maybe there needs to be a new wrapper format for cross-platform system installers. I'm thinking an XML file with targets for different versions of Linux which then transparently delivers the most appropriate file for that distro. Alternatively, we could do all the heavy lifting on the website and dynamically alter the file returned from the hyperlink.

Posted by: GuruJ on July 13, 2005 11:24 PM

This is probably the most idiotic review I've ever read on Linux vs. Windows usability. OK-Cancel buttons reversed? I know there are idiots out there but even a moron could teach himself that left is left and right is right... This COULD be the reason people are afraid of Linux: the reversed buttons... Try harder.

Posted by: Me on July 13, 2005 11:24 PM

I totally agree.

Posted by: Dick on July 13, 2005 11:30 PM

Pete, you say we need to think about things like hardware and software support. Well, for five years, we've been working hard on on a similar kind of issue with the browser, website and plug-in support for Firefox. For us, that was mostly fixing Firefox and somewhat getting getting websites and plugin vendors to fix themselves through outreach and education (and begging.) But it wasn't until we started to get our numbers up that the websites and plug-in vendors started to make their stuff work with us.

You say we should be thinking of how to get pre-installed by OEMs. We tried that and failed when we were small players. Now that we've managed to get over the humps of plug-in and website support and end-user interest, we're getting the kind of penetration that makes shipping on new systems a possibility.

Linux can't sit and wait for the magic bullet from some outside force (OEMs, Hardware makers, Software vendors, etc.) It must do everything that it can to progress with any users it can gain so that there is an incentive for those outside forces to participate. Free isn't enough. We learned that with Firefox.

I don't think the comparison is a bad one or I wouldn't have made it. For just about every issue that you suggest Linux needs, I've got a corrolary for Firefox that we've been working on for years. Sure they're somewhat different, but not so different. Firefox and Linux are tools that are new to the majority of the tool users out there and we have to find ways put these tools in their hands. Getting them to use a new type of drillbit might be somewhat easier than moving them over to a new drill, but both will require much of the same kind of work.

- A

Posted by: Asa Dotzler on July 13, 2005 11:34 PM

This article assumes the wrong idea that "people can use a computer and manage a computer" without knowing how to do that. To a certain extend one can do this with windows or Macos, but count the number of people which "just reinstalled" everything, ONLY beccause they did not understand the problem the computer had ? (Here also the Problem is there that neither MacosX nore Windows are giving correct and usefull error messages. Even less for experienced people. Here Linux has the advantage that IF you want to find out the source of the Problem there are much more ways and available information (meaning logs and how to track the error source in the system, not meaning browsing the web) than in the "user freindly" osses)

My point is, one has to learn to drive a car, unless the car can do it by itself.
The same is true in using a computer, one HAS to learn it. (The result of not doing it, wee see also in the hughe amount of successfull phishings, trojan installations, viruces infections, etc, etc, the OS is never capable of blocking all this (nor the stupid invention of a Virus killer, etc etc), here the user need to know how the computer works, then he also understands the problem of the computer attacs.)
Its a nice idea of Microsoft to shut away every complexity of the computer, but to be honest Microsoft is still far away from the "easyness" of use which we had before the PC area on the home computers.

In short this Blog is bullshit, since its based on the wrong assumption.

Posted by: Archimedes on July 14, 2005 12:15 AM

This is partially bullshit: migration from Windows to Linux is much more simple and easy that e.g. the other way round. And probably not much more complicated than going from Windows to the Mac.
Installation of most apps is as easy or easier than with Windows (no reboot required after you select the app in yast and click "Install"). And unlike with Windows, you usually do not have to bother about spyware with that shareware that you have to buy for 49.90 after 30 days.
Software under Linux is often easier to use and less cluttered than under Windows, often it is the other way round. This is not a property of the OS. Somebody who is involved in the development of software for both OS should know that (though some of the decisions made in FF for Linux just suck).
With most distros you do not have to mount drives or even use the shell. And there is no reason why ever OS has to mimic Windows idiotic "My Documents" convention. There is nothing that makes a folder in "home" for each user more complicated than the idiot way of having "my documents" and application settings and other stuff distributed all over the file system as it is in Windows.

This whole "not ready for primetime"/"not ready for the desktop" rambling is just idiotic and totally unnecessary. There are problems with how Linux can grow on the desktop but what is mentioned in this article is, if anything, the effect, not the cause.

The two main problems with Linux are lack of good driver support from hardware vendors and lack of good applications in certain fields (where Windows usually offers commercial programs) - Games, special interest software, small company software etc.
This in turn is the result of the fact that Linux does not already have a large user base on the desktop -- therefore companies hesitate to invest here.

Changing the GNOME/KDE interface will not make significantly more users use Linux. Making it easier to import your Outlook files in KMail will not make significantly more users use Linux.

Posted by: jp on July 14, 2005 12:21 AM

My wife is computer illiterate... Windows is frustrating for her.

Put the ubuntu live cd in and had her try it.

She found it intuitive, easy, logical.

I think alot of what people are having a hard time with is just the pavlovian effect of having windows imprinted. The interface logic is really really poor.

For media, email, webtrash I like OS X, for coding I like a skimmed-down manager like fluxbox on a debian stable as everything works well together.

I'm not sure the time will come that X makes it to the desktop, but really, for the sake of human logic, I hope it does... there is just something anti-intellectual about the windows interface, kinda like those old web TV computers.

I go crazy when I have to use it... I mean, I picked up OS X in an instant... but windows... just frustrates the hell outa me.

anyway, you have some interesting points...

I think you are right on that most users are pavlovs frothing dogs... and maybee there needs to be some coddling... I think the lindows people do that...

But really I think the key point you make is that loading things should be OS X easy... and doing something such as changing your video card shouls also be just as easy.... you should swap the card out and X should just reprobe... which I have heard it does in some installations. But ditto with things like a sound card swap. I use an old debian, so it can be a little bit of a headache...

I dunnknow... I am saddened by the whole windows thing, It is an ugly GUI and a really inefficient OS and they are mean people.

Ah well.

Posted by: John on July 14, 2005 12:24 AM

Commercially, we migrate end user desktop platforms to linux, and watching "real world" users using a KDE environment, doesn't add up with your article.

I've got an office of 30 secretarial staff, using KDE / OpenOffice. We installed a nice "standard" desktop, and within 15 minutes, they'd customised the desktops, changing the background, font, and colour scheme. They save their stuff in their "document" folder, or in a folder called /network .

When my mum visited, she checked her hotmail, read her spam, and found frozen bubble.

Even my girlfriend, having looked at a Linux machine opt'ed to "upgrade" her laptop from Windows XP to a KDE installation. She uses kopete to clean up the mess of running 3 different messengers, and the k mail suite and Open Office every single day. (Uses firefox too ;) ) .

Now the one thing about all these users (and I've got 100's) is that they are non technical, and just expect the computer to work. And it does.
They don't install software, they don't fiddle, they don't even LIKE computers, they simply use them.

Now... for a different migration story
I have a highly technical friend who uses Windows. He's a "power" user.
He has tried to install linux 3 times, and each time gets "lost" or cannot do things which he wants to do (such as installing the latest firefox and upgrading flash and it not breaking on his x64 platform).
He gets frustrated, and tells me he'll look at Linux when it's ready!

Posted by: JE_Hoover on July 14, 2005 12:28 AM

Please post your comments here (this page is getting too long.) Thanks.

- A

Posted by: Asa Dotzler on July 14, 2005 05:15 PM

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