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The Stomach-Churning Prospect of Installing Linux

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Jun 23, 2011 5:00 AM PT

It was just the other day the suggestion was made that Linux is best-suited for bachelors. That assertion set off quite a little storm of controversy, as alert readers may recall, both here on these virtual pages and elsewhere throughout the blogosphere.

The Stomach-Churning Prospect of Installing Linux

The latest match to be tossed onto this tinderbox of a topic? A post over on LXer provocatively titled, "Anyone can use the Linux operating system."

Ninety percent of today's Linux distributions "can be easily used by just about anyone when properly configured and presented with a couple minutes of explanation to the new user," wrote Thoughts on Technology blogger and Bodhi Linux lead developer Jeff Hoogland in his post on the site.

'Not Everyone Can Install Linux'

It's those first steps, though, that are critical -- and where potential users can be lost as a result of the obstacles they encounter during installation, he suggested.

"Ultimately the best solution for getting Linux into the hands of someone new and having it provide a positive experience is the proper setup and configuration of the operating system by someone that knows what they are doing," Hoogland concluded. "Just like Windows or OSX, anyone can use Linux in 2011, but not everyone can install Linux."

The words had barely appeared on the LXer page before the comments began to appear -- followed by more, and still more.

'We Are All Missing the Crucial Issue'

"Linux is a kickass OS, but it doesn't install, act, work or maintain like Windows," noted oldgeek, for example. "Dontcha think if everybody knew that; and none of the smart asses who lurk the forums taking out noobs were allowed to respond, that Linux would spread and flourish faster?!

"I do," oldgeek asserted. "I'd take on the challenge of being a rational voice in all these fora just to keep the noobs out of the jaws of the l33t."

Then again: "We [are] all missing the crucial issue, which is support," countered Fettoosh. "A good level of quality free support for Linux doesn't exist.

"Forums, although there are so many of them, are not good enough," Fettoosh added. "Having so many of them is a big problem. The way they are organized is a big problem."

'It's a GUI, for Pity's Sake'

It soon became clear that the topic had struck home with numerous readers. Linux Girl couldn't resist taking a small sampling of opinions herself down at the Linux blogosphere's supremely well-air-conditioned Punchy Penguin Saloon.

"It's true that anyone can use GNU/Linux," educator and blogger Robert Pogson opined. "It's a GUI, for pity's sake."

Indeed, Pogson has taught first-graders "to point and click a mouse, and they had no problems with it at all," he recounted. "If OEMs install it properly and retailers put it on store shelves, GNU/Linux will sell just as it did for netbooks before M$ paid OEMs off and just as Android/Linux is selling like hotcakes now."

'The Machine Is Running Quieter and Cooler'

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza had a similar tale to tell.

"I recently put Natty on a Dell Vostro 1500 -- one of the old big heavy ones with a really early Core 2 Duo," he began.

"This is my lady's machine and it came with Windows XP, which it's run until it committed digital suicide recently and began blue-screening on every boot," Espinoza explained. "Amusingly, the machine is actually running quieter and cooler on Linux (with the GNOME 2 'classic' desktop) than with XP and noticeably snappier as well.

"Since she spends almost all her time in Firefox anyway, using Linux has only improved her life," Espinoza asserted. "Since I fix the majority of computer problems in any case, support is no more arduous for at least one user. Indeed, far less; who wants to fix XP?"

'The Operating System Is Becoming Irrelevant'

Most people, in fact, "can barely use Windows," asserted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site. "They know how to use their usual applications, but ask them to create a new directory and save a file to it, and they'll never find it again."

The majority, in other words, use their computers to perform only a limited set of tasks. Moreover, "if they had learned to do those tasks under linux first, switching to Windows would have been just as hard as switching to linux," Hudson asserted.

Fortunately, "this problem is solving itself," she added. "For most casual users, the operating system is becoming irrelevant -- they just want to be able to consume content, not produce it, beyond a few emails and uploading a video."

A few years from now, "any old tablet or smartphone will be their device of choice -- even one that runs linux," she concluded.

'I Don't Understand His Complaint'

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack took exception to several of Hoogland's points.

"The last time I tried to download software off the web, it went straight into the package manager from the browser," Mack explained.

"I don't understand his complaint about .sh files in Linux, since that is no harder than an .exe file in windows," he added. "Tar files can be annoying, but it's rare for me to find one without a package available for most distros somewhere, and I have to be doing something really technical when I don't find a proper package."

The only point Mack agreed with was "obnoxious forum / help channel users," he told Linux Girl. "But that is by no means restricted to Linux, and there are better forums available."

'Welcome to the Pain'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn't so sure.

Linux is usable by anyone only "if you throw security out the window and never update the thing, or learn the make/model/firmware rev of every single piece of hardware, along with Bash conventions and how to navigate the forums," he asserted. "Refuse to do all that? Welcome to the pain."

Now that it's 2011, "why is there no 'find driver' button?" hairyfeet asked. "Why is it when every other major OS for the past decade has had a stable hardware ABI for drivers, Linux users get to do the driver death march, or have to look at the six-month treadmill as a 'break Linux NOW' cycle?"

'It's a Lifestyle'

Chris Travers, however, focused on the bigger picture.

"Linux isn't just an operating system," began Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. "It's a lifestyle -- one which I think is fundamentally empowering."

Adopting Linux, then, does mean a shift in lifestyle.

"To a Windows user, Linux is disorienting not so much because of what is missing but because of the different way one goes about solving problems," he explained. "Windows relies very heavily on commercial, off the shelf software for solving problems."

'This Isn't the Cheap Choice'

Linux, on the other hand, "tends to rely on more flexible solutions; the software is often harder to learn, but once learned offers increased productivity," he opined. "Yes, everyone can use Linux. But at present not everyone will."

Those who do "move away from consumerism, towards greater independence and freedom," Travers asserted. "It takes some effort, and people won't put forth the effort unless they have something to gain from it."

So, "in selling the community, I think we should be selling the lifestyle rather than the software," Travers suggested. "Linux has a lot to offer. Let's make sure we are making people aware that this isn't the cheap choice."

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