upcoming firefox release to be 1.5 || MAIN || linux not ready for the desktop part 1: helping regular people migrate to linux

July 21, 2005

more linux not ready for the desktop coming soon

It's been ten days since my article, Linux Not Ready for the Desktop and I've finally made it through the 300+ comments here at my blog, the handful of blog posts that trackbacked me, and the nearly 1000 comments at the slashdot posting.

I'm happy to have received so much feedback. Thank you all (well, almost all of you.)

Before I start my mini-series covering each one of the four areas I believe need serious improvement for "Regular People" to move to Linux in any serious numbers, I wanted to take a minute and address a few of the responses I got.

One of the common replies I got was basically "Linux doesn't need more users, so don't change anything to accommodate Windows users." While that view seemed to be held by decent number of people, I couldn't disagree more. We need a competitive desktop marketplace and Linux could be a player in that market. The Windows mono-culture is a threat to security and an impediment to progress. There is currently a window of opportunity for Linux to compete in the mainstream and bring some diversity back into the system. We need it.

Another set of responses said "We don't need your Linux bashing," "Are you working for Microsoft," or something similar. Well, I didn't think I was bashing and I certainly don't work for Microsoft. I was offering what I thought to be constructive criticism for attracting and holding onto new users from the Windows world. I've got a bit of experience with that task working on the popular open source Mozilla and Firefox projects for the last 6 years.

A third common reply was "Linux should not become a Windows clone." I agree. Linux should not (and probably can not) become a Windows clone. The very successful Firefox web browser is not an IE clone. It does, however, make moving from IE to Firefox a much easier task than moving from IE to any other web browser and this has been a major factor in its success. Just to take one example, if Ben Goodger hadn't implemented a kick-ass migrator for IE, I doubt we'd have any more than a small portion of the Firefox users we have today. Regular People do not like to fiddle with or troubleshoot computers. Asking them to do that is taking what could otherwise be a gentle learning curve and turning it into an impenetrable brick wall.

The last of the easily categorized responses to the article was the charge that I'm not informed enough to make these claims, that I've either not spent enough time on Linux or that I've only every used Fedora Core 4. Well, I've been using Linux for six years. I've tried Red Hat versions going back to 5.2. I've used several versions of Debian over the years. I've used SUSE starting with 7.0 and all the way up through the current 9 and NLD. I've spent a good bit of time on all of the Fedora releases. In the last year I've tried two versions of Ubuntu, including the current release. I tried Lindows when it was first released and recently got a copy of Linspire 5 and a subscription to their software catalog. I've tried out just about every major distro for the last six years and while I did complain specifically about Fedora, my arguments stand for all of these distributions. Some are clearly going to be easier for Regular People than others, for example, I think Ubuntu (which shows the most promise) would be considerably easier for my mom to adjust to than unixy distros like Slackware or performance oriented Gentoo. But even Ubuntu does not make it easy enough for Regular People and is missing out on millions of potential customers because it does not give Windows users the transition that most of them need.

I'll be following this post with the first in my mini-series of four posts dealing with each of the major issues I highlighted in the original article: migration, stability, simplicity, and comfort.

Posted by asa at July 21, 2005 06:26 PM | TrackBack
Comments

/me takes out the popcorn.

LEEEEEET'S GET READY TO RUUUUMBLLLLLLLLE!!! :-D

Posted by: Ryan VanderMeulen on July 21, 2005 08:25 PM

I'll take advantage of my timezone to f1rst pO5t:

Linux will not gain mainstream adoption until it is offered (and supported) as the default OS by major OEMs.

"Regular People do not like to fiddle with or troubleshoot computers." - which means that Regular People will not be installing it on their own computers.

So of the problems you list the only real one is migration. If Regular Users cared about stability and simplicity, they would have migrated away from windows years ago - they deal with a huge amount of bullshit from windows and accept it how computers are, they don't even realise how much better things could be. I'll grant you comfort has some validity, but then again half your points could be made for Macs (reverse button order etc.) and I don't see the rate of switches slowing down.

Even migration isn't much of an issue - as you yourself have stated, Regular People don't change seetings, therefore all they care about is their documents. And Linux has pretty good compatibility with most Office and other windows apps document formats these days.

So the question that should be asked is "How do we get major OEMs to offer Linux as the default (and supported) OS?", and from that, work out what problems need to be solved before this will happen, and then work on them.

Posted by: James on July 21, 2005 08:44 PM

Now you're just trying to fan the flames to get post counts.
If anybody does come here from slashdot, I'd urge them not to post as his comments have been beaten to death in 2 recent blog entries.

Asa, you're not helping Firefox or Mozilla any by making inflamatory comments against linux to try to get people to visit your blog.

You've cried wolf twice already, and a third time isn't going to cut it for most people.

There are some problems between distros for compatibility, but that's because they're different operating systems. You wouldn't make 1 binary for both windows and mac. I had to make 4 rpms of gcompmgr recently on my sourceforge page. 1 for FC3 with gtkmm2, one for FC4 with gtkmm24, another for SuSE93 and another for mdk with it's funky libgtkmmxxx package names that for some reason have to start with lib___ instead of following the conventions of other distros.

So what?
I have to package alot of my other software not on sourceforge as well, and I realize that SuSE is not redhat, and redhat is not mandrake. I realize that. So should you.

The show's over people, move on.

Posted by: Beer on July 21, 2005 08:47 PM

I mostly agree with the assessment: Linux is a great system for server software, but it's obvious that the culture that is responsible for the current state of the Linux system limits its usefulness for a wider audience. I cringe every time I turn on the monitor on my Linux server and see the KDE desktop.

Ubuntu will be great at some point in the future, but at the moment it's a work in progress.

Posted by: mardoen on July 21, 2005 08:59 PM

While I am certainly not the 'average user', I think my history with computers will illustrate why migration isn't nearly as bad a barrier for Linux (for the average user) as Asa thinks it is. Before I found ubuntu, my experience with OSs was dictated by buying a new computer; I went from:

DOS -> Windows 3.11 -> Windows 98 -> Windows XP

Each of those transitions required a significant adjustment, though less than the previous one. Moving from XP (or 98) to ubuntu is not any more drastic a change and about the same in terms of moving files from one computer to another. Ubuntu is nice also in that it will open just about anything you care to import.

I totally agree with James when he says that the real problem is getting OEMs to install and support Linux in the first place. I don't think that most users upgrade Windows on their machines; rather, they buy new ones with a new version already installed and have to worry about copying their files over and then opening them with whatever programs are on it.

For this aspect, ubuntu suffers no more in terms of usability than Windows itself does. But installing ubuntu in the first place is not a job for an average user... If they could go to a store and buy one with it though, that would solve a major problem in terms of distributing Linux to the masses :)

Posted by: Limulus on July 21, 2005 09:52 PM

mardoen: As someone new to Linux, I'm not exactly sure why you cringe when you see the KDE desktop, but isn't it a non sequitur to use that as a lead-in to "Ubuntu will be great at some point in the future, but at the moment it's a work in progress." when ubuntu uses Gnome? (kubuntu uses KDE :)

Posted by: Limulus on July 21, 2005 09:58 PM

For those people that think that THE blocking factor for large-scale Linux adoption is the fact that it's not bundled, I say you are correct. However, there comes a point when you have to realize that "fighting the power" isn't going to get you very far, and accepting where you are is unhealthy for the market. It's at that point that you need to consider taking a different course of action, perhaps one that is radically different from the way you normally do business. If Linux can't get OEM acceptance, then you have to approach the mass market from a different angle.

I like this series of posts because Asa knows where he's coming from. Did Regular People even know what a browser was? All they knew about was the big blue 'e' on their desktop, yet for a variety of reasons, Firefox uptake is on the rise. I know Regular People that use it, that have installed it, and that enjoy it. That should be the goal of the Linux community, if truly, gaining Regular People as users is desirable. You aren't going to be able to get OEM acceptance, so it's time to change your approach to the problem.

@Beer: That said, what is it you're doing here? You've come to Asa's blog to tell people that your view is more correct and that Asa's full of it? Does constructive criticism and intellectual pursuit carry no weight on the Internet anymore?

Even if one disagrees with Asa, surely they should still encourage the conversation and present alternate views (aside from the OEM issue). Frankly, Beer, "so what" is not discussion, it is not intelligent, and it is not constructive. It is "put up with it because I have".

While I as a reader am happy to read about how you're a veritable Linux god, I'd much rather read about what your solution to the Linux market appeal problem is. How can the Linux community serve Regular People MORE than it does already? How can it improve?

Posted by: Sohail Mirza on July 22, 2005 07:22 AM

Uh, but Firefox is an IE clone. You aren't going for feature parity with Opera. Your goal is to convert IE users, not Opera users (or lynx users on the other extreme). You are just doing what IE did better.

IE has separate buttons for stop and reload. Opera has a single button. Firefox follows the IE way.

IE only zooms text. Opera zooms everything. Firefox follows the IE way.

IE doesn't have tabs by default. Opera does. Firefox follows the IE way.

IE doesn't let you position toolbars vertically or at the bottom. Opera does. Firefox follows the IE way.

In my opinion, there's no difference between like-IE-but-more approaching and the clone-IE approach.;)

And now Opera is trying to clone Firefox. It's annoying at times, but it has caused me to rethink what I need and want in my interface. I like the result, and I am grateful to Firefox for throwing monkey wrenches around, but my interface looks nothing like the Firefox default or the Opera default.

Posted by: Leons Petrazickis on July 22, 2005 08:32 AM

"Uh, but Firefox is an IE clone."

Netscape was theirs though, and Microsoft cloned that first. So MS IExplorer.exe is actually the clone rip off.

Posted by: Beer on July 22, 2005 09:27 AM

IE has separate buttons for stop and reload. Opera has a single button. Firefox follows the IE way.

I remember a whole long time ago reading a phoenix bug saying that they made it two buttons for usability sake. Imagine a page taking a while to load. You go to hit the stop button, but just before you actually click it, the page finishes and the button becomes a reload button. Not only did you not get what you wanted (stop) you got exactly the opposite if what you wanted (more loading).

You would think that the buttons are mutualy exclusive, but giving them the same hot-spot to click on creates usability problems. IMO, this is just objectively the "right thing" to do.

IE only zooms text. Opera zooms everything. Firefox follows the IE way.

This has roots from Netscape. Netscape only zoomed text. IE cloned that. Opera made something new and clever (page zooming). Firefox didn't change anything. Besides, I have an inkling that in the long-term future, we'll see full-page zooming in Firefox.

IE doesn't have tabs by default. Opera does. Firefox follows the IE way.

This is again, a usability issue. Why should a substantial amount of screen space be taken away for a feature you aren't currently using? When you aren't using tabs, put the tab bar away and show more of the web page. That is, in fact, what I wanted to see in the first place -- the web page, not the chrome.

IE doesn't let you position toolbars vertically or at the bottom. Opera does. Firefox follows the IE way.

This is just a feature that Opera has that nobody else does. This isn't "following IE" as much as it is Opera adding extra features. I don't find those features useful, but maybe you do. I'm sure it's a usability issue for people to find toolbars in different locations all the time, but what do I know?

The point is that Firefox does what it wants, but it isn't emulating IE. The most IE emulation you'll see is in Gecko, where people expect a web page to "look right" without a care in the world as to why it isn't working. One of the things I really like about Firefox is the time they take to make sure the program is usable for people, so I refute your argument that Firefox is emulating IE just to make it easier to migrate. They are making it easier to use, period.

Posted by: Simplex on July 22, 2005 10:00 AM

On the "don't change anything to accommodate Windows users" and "Linux should not become a Windows clone" points...

Calling Firefox an IE clone is going too far, but Firefox is more like IE than Opera, or the Netscape/Mozilla Suite, or (from what little I've seen of it) Safari, and there are a group of users that think one of the others is better for them (or alternatively use Firefox but insist on having 30 extensions and then have problems with performance or crashing). Targeting that group of users isn't going to change the world, but I don't think that means there's anything wrong with doing it.

Moreso with Linux than with Seamonkey/Firefox, I don't see any reason why distros can't and won't be worked on for different targets. If some distros go for improving the desktop stuff, I don't see why it should harm the more techie distros.

Posted by: michaell on July 22, 2005 10:11 AM

Please do not start Opera versus Firefox-flames. Firefox is IMHO not meant to take marketshare from Opera (or at least it should not be). Asa has critized Opera for their user interface, but that is to keep them sharp and competitive in the browser arena. The next version of the Opera browser was already better.

Opera users already have made the switch from (mostly) IE to 'a better browser (TM)'. Personally I do not care whether they use Opera/Firefox/Mozilla/Camino/Galeon/SkipStone/whatever. They do not use IE, so they already made their choice for another browser. A browser that better adheres to the web's standards and that fact will benefit the Internet as a whole. The more people think about which browser they use, the more people will move away from IE. That is a good thing for the software market as a whole. We should get back to a competitive browser market. People should have a strong choice in this...

Posted by: Martijn Weisbeek on July 22, 2005 11:07 AM

Sohail Mirza wrote: "Does constructive criticism and intellectual pursuit carry no weight on the Internet anymore?"

[suppresses laughter]

Obviously you didn't get your start on usenet O:)

But, for a current example, see a website like http://www.freerepublic.com

^_-

Posted by: Limulus on July 22, 2005 04:50 PM

Simplex wrote: "I remember a whole long time ago reading a phoenix bug saying that they made it two buttons for usability sake. Imagine a page taking a while to load. You go to hit the stop button, but just before you actually click it, the page finishes and the button becomes a reload button. Not only did you not get what you wanted (stop) you got exactly the opposite if what you wanted (more loading). You would think that the buttons are mutualy exclusive, but giving them the same hot-spot to click on creates usability problems. IMO, this is just objectively the "right thing" to do."

One day while I was browsing through extensions, I found Stop-or-Reload Button which could emulate Opera's single button (I didn't know they did it differently before that). I decided to try it and I'm very happy I did. The hypothetical scenario Simplex described simply never happens in normal browsing (you can tell when a page is close to being finished by the progress bar). Plus you can free up a little more space if you (as i do) use only a single line for all of the functions, buttons and URL line. I would argue that based on my experience, there is no need whatsoever for two buttons when one works perfectly in its place; I have never needed to push stop at the same time I needed to push reload :)

Posted by: Limulus on July 22, 2005 05:15 PM

Everybody around me said i was a fool as a first adopter of mozilla at its very beginning... and see now where we are with firefox...
I'm fed up with Xp and everybody around me is saying i'm a fool as a first adopter of ubuntu...
but ubuntu is for me the first comprehensive non-geek distro i can deal with...
The spirit around ubuntu project is very appealing to me...
Let's see what cool things are coming with ubuntu 5.10 delivered in a few months...
By the way... the next windows is "Vista"... for me it will be "Hasta La Vista Baby !!!"

Posted by: loran on July 24, 2005 02:55 AM

loran: Maybe "Hasta la Vista, Billy"? ;)

Posted by: Limulus on July 24, 2005 05:33 PM

There is no such thing as "constructively criticizing" something which is already perfect (Michelangelo didn't think so either... go and see the Sistine Chapel... you will see a disgusting act being done to an opinionated cardinal). The Linux kernel is perfect... the only thing that needs to be done now is the integration of more driver modules. As for the GNU/Linux bundles... you haven't much experience in using them. You have tried FC (which is utterly silly), Suse (...), Debian (decent distribution... are you telling me you actually found Debian unstable? You've got to be kidding), and Ubuntu (Debian with bling). Yet you have never used Linux on its own (or used it with a truly decent distribution... Slackware... Gentoo...). C'mon... you actually though Linspire was a valid distribution. :P


GNU/Linux is an operating system... it isn't a fad like firefox. It is made for people who need Linux, not people migrating from some other OS to Linux. It already has a fair amount of useful applications and has more functionality and reliability than any other OS that I've used before. "Regular users" have a choice between OSes... if they choose Linux... they hang among us, and learn a lot about how a computer works and also how to manipulate it to its fullest. Other OSes may have other benefits.

Linux isn't like firefox. It has more users and definitely a large portion of the programming community use Linux. It doesn't "need" to gain any more users by trying to attack its competitors (like firefox, Mac and other programs often do). And Linux unlike firefox is going to be around for a long time... whereas firefox is just a little browser.

Posted by: shashir reddy on July 27, 2005 08:24 AM

By the way, IE cloned Mosaic... not Netscape. Netscape also cloned Mosaic. As I said above firefox is a fad... Linux is an Operating System.

Posted by: shashir on July 27, 2005 08:27 AM

Post a comment