Ubuntu sucks. I hate Linux!
I slumped over my keyboard, frustrated and defeated. After an untold number of attempts, I finally came to the realization that I could not salvage my dying laptop with the tools at my disposal. Windows XP had become corrupted after numerous freezes and could not be booted, and my every attempt to copy the files was met with further freezes. Desperate, I turned to an operating system that to date I had never even contemplated based on what I had heard about it â€“ Linux. I downloaded and burned a Live CD of Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron), and inserted it into the disk drive. I had no idea what was in store for me.
I am a fairly technically-minded person; like many people who grew up playing computer games at a young age, I learned to both tweak my machine to eek out as much performance as possible, and play around with the nuts and bolts of my operating system (DOS, at the beginning) and my hardware. Computer gaming was, and remains to an extent, synonymous with being a computer geek, in that what drives computer game players to succeed in the games themselves tends to drive them to gain an edge through manipulation of their technical environment.
A gamer takes an avid interest in hardware and software because computers are not standard; they are built with different hardware that provides different performance and non-standard features, so software does not always work on all configurations. New games push the performance envelope, and thus the gamer is by necessity encouraged to become an expert on the latest hardware and software, and is financially incented to learn how to, if not build a machine from the ground up, at least be able to upgrade pieces of it by him or herself. As a part of this, gamers tend to take to new applications like fish to water, learning them by playing with them, in a process very similar to enjoying a new game.
So it was with relatively little trepidation that I approached running a new operating system for the first time. I learned DOS, Windows 3.1/95/98/NT/ME/2000/XP, and older versions of Mac O/Ss, so how hard could Ubuntu Linux be? My first experience was a positive one, from the standpoint of someone using a new tool to accomplish a task â€“ save my computer. The live CD of Hardy Heron had my dying Hewlett Packard Pavilion ZE2000 purring like a kitten, even running off of the CD Drive. I had no wireless, but I didn’t care because everything else worked perfectly; even viewing NTFS data without a hitch. I quickly salvaged all of my valuable data, stored it on an external drive, and began playing with the new OS. As a tech geek I loved the power at my fingertips, and as a PC owner I loved that my laptop stayed alive through the process, overnight, and into the next day. I decided then and there to install it and not look back.
As I shifted focus to evaluating Ubuntu from the standpoint of everyday use, my first impressions were very different. Tasks that I found to be very simple in Windows seemed very cryptic in Linux. A lot of things relied on the command line interface, or were actually easier to accomplish with the CLI than with the various graphical user interfaces also available. There was no commercial support available to me â€“ to find help I joined a forum full of eager amateurs, but finding information when I didn’t know what I was looking for was like, if you will forgive the clichÃ©, finding a needle in a haystack. Things often didn’t work straight away, and required tinkering within the terminal once specific instructions could be found to address the problem. Sadly, one of Linux’s greatest strengths, the fact that you can achieve one task in a myriad of ways and with a variety of different applications, left me feeling lost and confused. I had no direction, no idea where to start; I did, at one point, think â€œUbuntu sucks, I hate Linux,â€ out of frustration.
There has been quite a bit of debate recently about whether or not Linux should become more like Windows. Linux is gaining some ground in a market in which it has not traditionally done well; on the desktops and laptops of more casual users. With the realization that it can indeed compete against Windows and Mac operating systems comes debate over how to grow its market acceptance. Observers have suggested that Linux development has to recognize its differences from Windows and bridge that gap. The Linux community has been understandably up in arms at this suggestion; Windows represents the antithesis of the open source movement, and the community wants to celebrate the differences between Linux and Windows rather than marginalize them.
On the other hand a strong argument can be made that the casual user won’t even bother to try Linux, much less adopt it, unless this gap is reduced: The argument is that Linux will never gain the market share it deserves unless developers acknowledge this. Each distrubtion of Linux has a different focus, and another strength of the community is that distributions become diversified, meeting different needs. Companies like Canonical (developers of Ubuntu) have recognized the Windows-Linux gap and are tailoring their distributions so that new users can more easily make the transition. There seem to be very few drawbacks to steering individual distributions toward a very Windows-like look and feel. If a Linux user does not want this Windows-like experience, there are plenty of distributions to meet their needs, including the ability to build their own Linux operating system from scratch.
I believe that asking â€œShould Linux become more like Windows?â€ is asking the wrong question. I think it is clear that Linux has never had a better opportunity than now to make huge strides in the market. With the abject failure of Windows Vista, Microsoft seems more vulnerable than ever. Most distributions of Linux are free, and major hardware manufacturers are ramping up support for Linux. Netbooks and mini PCs seem to be a special area of interest for Linux developers; Linux takes advantage of system resources much better than Windows, and takes up much less overhead.
The question that Linux developers should be asking is not how to become more like Windows, but how to address the specific needs of average Windows users in adopting Linux as their everyday operating system. The majority of computer users are familiar with and comfortable working within Windows. However, Linux is not Windows. Linux will never be Windows. Users simply will not have an experience like moving from XP to Vista in moving from any version of Windows to Linux.
Having said this, the casual computer user has needs that can be addressed. John and Susan Jones from Champaign, Illinois are less interested in the wonderful features that their computer has to offer than they are having the computer just work for what they want to do. They don’t want to have to mess around with technical support, detailed configuration or programming, or installing and working with drivers. Ideally, they turn on their computer and it instantly works for them to complete whatever task they wish it to complete. For the casual, average PC user, simplicity and reliability are top priorities.
The computer that just works in all things is a panacea, and unlikely to be realized in the near future. So users who need to take more complex actions or are faced with more in-depth situations can, and should, be addressed through better education. While Linux will never be Windows, the Linux community can provide documentation that is geared toward Windows users. Currently there is a wealth of information gathered to describe how to do things. A casual user wants to know more than just how to do something â€“ he or she needs some direction on what can be done and why to do it.
If I had approached Linux with the mindset of a casual user, I can’t say I would have moved past â€œUbuntu sucks, I hate Linux!â€ I can see why the Joneses would be put off in attempting to use Linux, but I don’t see it as a lost cause. I think a focus on the following areas would greatly enhance its potential for market acceptance:
Continued development of Windows â€œlook & feelâ€ distributions. Ubuntu is a great example of a distribution moving toward being â€œeasyâ€ for the Windows user to accept. The ability to run off of a Windows drive, dual-boot, boot from a Live CD, the packaged software, and the familiar interface are all factors that make Ubuntu a great choice for the casual Windows user.
Creating documentation/guides to address what someone can do with Linux and why to take actions, not just how to take them. There is an incredible (and overwhelming for the new user) amount of information on how to do various things. What could help casual users be more accepting is a focus on explaining what is possible, and why he or she would choose each of the various options available to them to perform any specifc task. Also useful would be readily available, in-depth looks at what someone would do each day in Windows juxtaposed with the what, why, and how of doing the same things in Linux.
Providing a GUI to address each task that can be done in the CLI. Casual Windows users do not want to learn bash, or learn anything about the CLI. In Windows using the CLI is a last resort. Windows users are oblivious that their comfy GUI hides files that perhaps could be manipulated more easily in a CLI, and they like it that way. While many Linux users would find that a GUI just gets in the way and adds unnecessary overhead (and will always have the CLI as an option), for casual Windows users the lack of a GUI for basic tasks is a huge detriment. Additionally, guides that rely on CLI commands are confusing to Windows users.
Support teams dedicated to Windows users. Linux has a very large support community, and specifically places like www.ubuntuforums.org have teams dedicated to helping new users. Recognizing that the majority of new Linux users come from Windows due to Windows’ market share, and creating teams specifically geared toward Windows’ users unique needs, should help their adjustment to Linux.
Keep it simple â€“ focus on having things just work. Apple may not have captured much of the PC market, but their simple, functional devices have become synonymous with digital audio players. A PC will never be as simple as an iPod, but moving toward simplicity and working without issues is a worthy goal. In many cases getting things to work in Linux is already easier than in Windows…but when they don’t, it is much more difficult. If hardware support as a starting point works without any input from the end user, Linux will greatly benefit.
Linux is a wonderful operating system, and Ubuntu has epitomized its move toward acceptance with new users. The time is right to tackle the Windows market, and with a little help, Linux is poised to make great strides.