Guess What? Linux May Not Be for Everyone

I feel like I may have covered bits of this here and there, but I couldn’t find it after a cursory check through my blog.  Fanaticism is fanaticism, whether it’s religious or technological it follows the same path.  Witness anyone who has just become an evangelical Christian (and it probably extends to other religions) as they return to life after their conversion.  For the first chunk of time after doing so they will likely do some or all of the following:  get a new wardrobe, get rid of all CDs/MP3s that aren’t by Christian bands, preach the Gospel to anyone within earshot, read the Bible daily, pray in public spaces (sometimes boisterously as possible), go to church every day, and other things.  With time they may soften in some of these aspects.  They may realize that, for example, it’s probably OK to listen to most of U2 and many other bands that don’t have profanity or sexually explicit lyrics.  But the biggest change anyone outside of their family/best friends will notice is that they realize it’s probably not a good idea to go around telling everyone that their worldview is wrong.  It turns out to be better for everyone if the member of the proselytizing religion waits for others to ask their opinion.  At that time, the person asking is receptive to hearing about this new religion.  (Unlike when they’re ambushed and on the defensive)

Techno-fanboyism is the same way.  People who have just discovered Mac or Linux suddenly have the scales fall from their eyes and can’t wait to tell everyone.  After all, surely everyone else is just using Windows because they don’t know about these great alternative operating systems.  They’re so awesome that there’s no way anyone would want to keep using Windows after learning about them!  Like those discovering religion, they will purge their lives of everything from Redmond.  They will subscribe to magazines about their new operating systems.  They will preach the Gospel of Jobs or the Gospel of Torvalds.  And, just like with religion, most people will just be pissed off.

What recent converts to the new OS don’t realize is that the new operating system is not for everyone.  In fact, I have come to the conclusion that Linux (I don’t have as much experience with Macs) is best for users at the two poles of computing experience.  I know I’ve mentioned somewhere around here (if not on some forums) that I installed Linux for Danielle’s nearly-60-year-old aunt, Co Tam.  Every time I went to visit my in-laws, I’d be dragged into fixing her computer because it had yet another virus.  (She lives in the same house as my in-laws)  This was starting to piss me off because the people in her family of that generation were deaf to my instructions not to open ever stupid attachment their friends sent them.  So one day I just installed Ubuntu onto her computer; since then no problems.  And, it works perfectly.  All she does is use the browser to watch videos and send email.  And I’ve had no complaints.  Everything is perfect.  Yay!

And, with myself and other people like me who know about computers, Linux is easy.  I’ve been using Linux for the past 6-7 years and it has evolved so much in that time that it’s unbelieavable!  I can just drop pretty much any distro onto a computer and it will just work without any problems.  And I only ever have problems when upgrading.  Usually those involve regressions that are quickly found and solved.  Or maybe I have to find a new setting and tweak it.  Every once in a while, I’m out for a couple days while solving it.  But 99.9% of the time everything is fine.  I use my Linux computer as my main computer.  I browse the web, listen to music, check my email, create my webcomic, and more on there.  All the programs I have for all those tasks lack nothing compared to the equivalent programs on Windows.  If you’re into programming (as I am from time to time) you can’t beat Linux!  It has free compilers/interpreters for all the major languages.  (And some obscure ones)  There are two product categories where Linux programs don’t meet my needs – photography and video games.  For those I have my Windows computer.  If I only played console games and didn’t do serious photography, I’d only have my Linux computer.

Then there are the people in the middle like my parents or my wife.  When it comes to my parents, there are many reasons why I stopped recommending Linux after coming out of my evangelist phase.  First of all, they are business owners.  They have certain programs they have to run to process payroll, process childcare-things (they run a childcare franchise), and to keep track of the books.  Most of those things are so niche they’re only used by one company so there’s no Linux equivalent.  Also, they get to deduct costs, so who cares if they have to pay a Microsoft license?  And, because some of the software they use is mandated by the franchise, there’s no need to be free to hack or any of the other free software freedoms.  It just doesn’t make sense.  Second, I live in another state from my parents.  It’s hard enough to play tech support with them using Windows, which they’ve been using all their life and know where the things are.  I can’t begin to imagine doing tech support for them with Linux.

My wife is a special case of another kind.  Once the initial learning for Linux was over, she would have been happy as a pig in mud.  I spent a day with her getting Gnome configured to look and act as much like Windows XP as possible. And everything was pretty much working OK.  But Danielle is an Excel guru.  She stopped using Google Docs’ spreadsheet function because it was too basic for her needs.  So, for her, using OpenOffice.org’s Calc is like trying to fly a stealth bomber in which all the buttons were moved to random locations in the cockpit.  As far as I can tell, everything she wants to do is possible, but it’s somewhere else or done in a really weird way.  I don’t regularly do 1/4 of what she does with spreadsheets, so I have no idea where these things are.  Unlike problems with Nautilus or Rhythmbox where I use the programs daily and, therefore, know what to do, I have no idea how to do the things she wants to do.  And the inline help has left her….unsatisfied.

So, if you’ve just discovered the magic of a free operating system, that’s great.  Isn’t it awesome how you’re in total control of your computer?  So great that you can see all the code for all the programs and even change it on the fly?  Yeah, the regular non-computer-geek doesn’t give a hoot about that.  Make sure you think carefully before you recommend Linux all willy-nilly to everyone within earshot.  It may fit your use cases or, like RMS, you may be ok buying some off-brand Chinese laptop so you can remain free, but that doesn’t apply to most people.  Make sure Linux has what they need before you just end up pissing them off and making a Linux (or Mac) athiest out of them.  You often only get one chance per person to convince them your religion or operating system is the one true religion or operating system.

Author: Eric Mesa

To find out a little more about me, see About Me

15 thoughts on “Guess What? Linux May Not Be for Everyone”

  1. Yes I agree with your points completely. I have been using Linux for the past 4 years & faced many problems which I could solve. The Do It yourself (DIY) mentatlity is very much needed if anyone wants to try Linix or anything other than windows 🙂 I did fail few times trying to convert my friends. Now I have stopped suggesting to people 🙁

    Regarding Photography I have to disagree. I’m a serious amateur photographer & with GIMP & UfRaw I could able to achieve what I wanted. You can check here http://www.flickr.com/photos/anandham. May be your expectations are more than mine 🙂

    1. I keep looking at the Linux offerings for photography every few months/years. If I were mostly using Photoshop, I’d say GIMP is almost there. But nothing that isn’t also commercial software can match Lightroom.

  2. I’ve installed for a few friends and family, and while they use it happily, they never seem to understand what is possible. Wallpaper and desktop layouts remain the same, updates to whole new desktop releases are never installed, colours don’t change… So while the current level of tech understanding does them fine, rarely are my ‘customers’ really getting the most out of their new systems. Then again, they often don’t go any further on their other OSes either. But one of the hooks that kept me interested at an early stage was, “Wow, I just upgraded and now I have a whole new set of capabilities? On this same ancient machine??” Its like going from XP to Win7, but for free and much more often!

    1. I definitely know what you mean. The stuff that we’ve been able to do with Linux on a sufficiently powered machine (Compiz, etc) has been awesome. And you don’t have to pay extra for it. Also, there’s a lot of stuff in Windows 7 that’s really awesome…unless you bought the cheapest version of Windows. That’s the best thing about Linux being open source – they don’t have to hold back some features to get you to buy a higher version.

  3. Let this be a lesson to you. You have no idea how much you crippled me. Every time I use open office, I curse you under my breath for making me use it.

  4. I have recommend Linux for old people who have never before used any OS or computer. My father (87 years old war veteran) started to learn using computer last November. I got one old computer (0 €) and installed Linux Mint on it. Old man learn it easily and he can do updating system also.

    In schools kids are mostly OK with Linux. Teachers are the problem. They are so painfully locked in Microsoft ecosystem and act like bureaucrats of North Korea. There are indeed similarities between Microsoft ecosystem and communism, etc being voluntarily brainwashed by manipulation.

  5. Right when I was reading the part about religious music “Shine Blockas” by Big Boi came on with the lyric “All the hos say…”

    Made me lol.

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