Fundamental Misunderstandings of Linux

First thing that I need to do is say that this post is in response to an article posted on another blog called “Desktop Linux, Why It Will Never Happen”. The original article is located here. I read this posting, and had a hard time understanding how someone with so little understanding of what it is that they’re talking about would have the nerve to write. With that said, let’s begin the dissection.

You see, Linux needs to take a long look at Apple and say “you know, we need to try and be like that.” Until that happens, don’t look for a big Linux-at-home trend.

Uh, what??? How does that work? Linux needs to take advice from Apple on how to get a larger market share? Apple, which has a whopping 3% of the desktop market? Yea, take a long look at Apple and say, “That’s what you need to do to be relegated to a inconsequential niche market.” Linux doesn’t need to be like that. I thought that the goal here was to GAIN market share, not steadily lose it over the next decade or so until it doesn’t really matter what you do.

On to the “Issues”.

Big Freaking Issue #1
Ignorance

OK, ignorance is a problem. That being said, it’s not a problem for Linux, it’s a problem with the computer industry in general. I’ve lost track of the number of people that I’ve talked to that don’t know what OS it is that they’re running. There’s probably an equal number of people that think that they’re running Windows XP on their Macintosh computer (not VirtualPC by the way, just as their regular OS). People don’t know what an OS even is. If you think that Linux is at a larger disadvantage than Apple or Microsoft, that’s probably true. Being more like Apple isn’t going to solve that problem. Just for fun, I’ll answer the questions asked in the article. Rules of the questions are:

Can your average Linux Geek explain (in 3 sentences or less to each query) to your average consumer the following questions:”

I’d say that I’m an average Linux geek, so I’ll give it a shot. Here goes.

1. What is Linux?

Linux is a kernel. That’s the brain of the Operating system.

2. Whats a “distro”?

A “distro”, short for distrubution, is a particular manufacturers version of Linux. It’s like what Ford and Chevy are to the term “car”.

3. What’s a RedHat and why is it better than a Gentoo?

Who says it is? We’ll assume, for the sake of argument, that your statement is accurate (and no, this isn’t part of my answer).

It’s easier to setup and use.

4. Whats the difference between Gnome and KDE? Are they both types of Linux? If so which is better?

Pretty much the same thing as the difference between the MacOS and Windows. They look a little different, but they do basically the same thing. Only, you don’t have to worry about compatibility with Gnome and KDE as much. Which is better depends on your personal preferrence. You can use either one. (I realize this was more than 3 sentences, but there were two questions, so I think I’ve got 2 sentences unused.)

5. I keep hearing some people tell me that Linux is free, but others tell me its not free – which is it?

Linux is free. Support for Linux is not free. When you buy Linux in the box, you’re getting a book and support. That’s what you’re paying for.

6. Will it work with all of my MS files, music, pics, apps, etc.?

Most, not all.

7. Where do I go if I need help?

Depends. If you bought, go to the company you bought from. If you downloaded, go to the company you downloaded from. If you built your own distribution, you don’t need help.

Big Freaking Issue #2
The Linux Paradigm

Welcome to part 2 of the article. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve got to much time on your hands. I’ll try to keep this part brief, since I’ve already rambled much more than I initially planned to.

The interface for every Linux distro without exception sucks. Yes, quite simply it sucks. Hard. Way hard.

This is just silly. The rating of suckage of any interface to any OS anywhere is purely subjective. I happen to really, REALLY like the interface to the Linux system I use. I use the Ubuntu distro (given, warty warthog just isn’t as cool sounding as OS X), and even though I have some complaints about how the interface works, I don’t think that it sucks. The interface is clean, easy, and pretty much universal to the OS.

Any kind of absolute statement (yes, I realize the inherant irony in that statement) is doomed to be proven wrong. Saying that every interface for every distro sucks is just stupid.

Let’s summerize the authors bulletpoints for part 2 of his article. Keep in mind, these points are what the author claims is required to give Linux a chance on the Desktop.

Pay For It
Interface
Weeding of the Pack

First, “Pay For It”. Depends on what you want. If you want support, fine, pay for it. If you don’t want, or need support, don’t pay for what you don’t need. There are Linux companies that have been in business for years, and are producing and selling a good product, and making a profit. Fine, but paying for something you don’t need isn’t going to improve their offering.

Second, “Interface”. This is just a rehash of what was previously said anyway. The interface doesn’t need to look or act like OS X. If it did, why not just buy a copy of OS X? The interface doesn’t need to be designed by a graphics artist. Artists are big on art, not so much on functionality. Apple isn’t a company made up of artists. Neither is Microsoft. Both have made decent interfaces. OS X is not the end all be all of OS interfaces. In fact, next time Apple makes a major change to their OS interface, Mac users will be amazed at how much better it is. They always are.

Third, “Weeding of the Pack”. This is a very “Mac User” way of looking at things. Choice is bad. Don’t confuse us. Make all our decisions for us. My personal opinion is that this way of thinking is bad. People think and work in different ways, and having more than one way of doing things is not a bad thing. More than one workable application is great. Giving users more options isn’t a bad thing. Microsoft is a great example of what happens when there’s only a couple choices. Having more choices keeps innovation moving, not paying for the product like the author postulates. Competition between Gnome and KDE improves the interface. Competition between Thunderbird and Evolution improves email and spam handling. Competition between Opera and Firefox improves the web browsing experience. Take away the competition, and you end up with a Linux version of Microsoft, and if that happens, Linux fails.

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing what the author of the previous article said wrong, I think that I should give a little bit of positive reinforcement as well. The author says that one of the things that Linux needs is advertising. Very true. If Dell would put out a PC that was exactly like the low end PC they’re offering now, but cut out the Windows cost, put Linux on it, and advertised it on TV like they advertise their other PCs, those computers would sell. The lower cost, plus comparable functionality for Ma and Pa would be enough to improve the market share of Linux.

The real place to make inroads is corporate desktops. Corporate desktops are the way to the world. Businesses get computers, and businesses have people. People go home, want to work from home, and having at home what they have at work makes that process easy. Having Linux at work pushes Linux at home. Once Linux is in the home, games come. When the games arrive, the kids follow. Kids like and use Linux, and it gets taken with them into life. Get em while they’re young. It’s that simple, and Linux is already on it’s way in that direction.

The other place that I’ll admit that Linux falls down is an easy installer. Installing applications can be a pain. Most distros have come up with some form of installer or another. That helps, but that’s also a problem. Most of the issues with distros differing comes from the software installation. This is the other place that Linux needs to improve to make inroads to the desktop. If it’s hard to install programs, people will get frustrated. I’m not saying that we need to make it as easy to install things as it is in Windows (where you don’t even have to know that somethings being installed to have it install), but easier, and universal across distros would be best.

I really think that these two things are all that stand in the way of significant acceptance of Linux on the desktop. We don’t need to improve the interface because it doesn’t suck as much as the author would have us believe, and we don’t need to cut back on the choices the end users get. We don’t need to charge $100 a box either. All we really need is an easy application installer, and advertising. Let’s be honest, if Microsoft can do it, Linux can do it.

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