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.