Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Biggest Linux problem: it makes users think

This is a important problem posted by Jordi Sánchez regarding the factors that play against the expansion of Linux between the less expert users: Linux makes us think. As paradoxical as it seems, that is a factor against Linux and we can find a similar idea in another area, web usability. Steve Krug has a good book on this ("Don't make me think"). In the beginning of his book you can find that that if a user must ask itself how your site works your site has a problem, not the user and that's because his intent is not to know how your website works but to find information.

The mission of a normal computer user is neither to install an operating system nor to know how it works, but to use the computer for his specific necessities: to publish texts, to browse the Internet, etc. Normally he will choose the way that makes this less difficult and, still in many occasions, that means to install Windows. To use Windows implies “to think little”: normally the last version available is chosen and installed, it includes the software needed to browse the Web (Internet Explorer) and in addition the user knows that almost any hardware is going to be compatible with Windows. He may know that Windows is not the optimal solution for him, but is the one that solves his necessities with less effort.

What about Linux? It is well known that it can have technical, economic or ethical advantages on Windows. But it makes us think and make too many decisions:

  • What hardware we need?
  • What distribution should we choose? (and there are many)
  • How will we maintain and update our system?
  • What desktop environment should we choose?
  • Why I need to compile applications?
  • and so on...
Some major Linux distributions made great progresses to provide answers to these questions but I'm sure you still cannot use Linux without opening a single terminal window. But the solution is neither simple nor near because to make users think less developers should think allot!


kuriharu said...

This is really a good point.

When I watch TV, I want to push a few buttons and catch Survivor. I don't want to know how the Cathode Ray Tube works, or have to tweak the frequency in my remote. I want to push "On", switch to my channel, and enjoy the show.

Most users are like this with their computers. They want to do their work, not work on the computer. Most Linux enthusiasts seem to miss this point.

Anonymous said...

Watching A TV show can't be "pwned" and expose your personal information like a PC with a broadband connection can.

The simple lack of thought about security can land that one wrong click or opening an email attachment can render you lots of unwanted goodies like identity theft, part of a botnet or a cleaned out bank account.

The plug-and-pray mentality in the information age can be dangerous and hailed by malware authors everywere - since there is a very large audiance with a single, dominant force sitting on everyones desk that relies on the default out-of-the-box configuration.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything except 1 thing.

After trying multiple versions of many distros over the past 2 years I tried Sabayon linux a few weeks ago and it worked _flawlessly_ without any trips to the terminal. I haven't even looked to see how to open the terminal yet.

Oktyabr said...

This article was an interesting read at least although the statement about opening a command line is conceptually wrong...

As proof you can take a look at any of the dozens (if not hundreds) of "live" linux cds (google for those three words together.) These are distros that you just burn to a disc, pop in your drive, reboot the computer and presto! you are in a full linux enviroment *without* writing anything to the harddrive.

Because all the system files are stored in a "read only" format on the cd you burned you cannot change any of it so in principal you shouldn't even need a command line terminal and yet these distros are still incredibly popular and useful.

But more to the point! I use both linux and windows and on occasion I've used a command line in both. It is a useful tool in windows (tracert www.google.com without it) but even more so in linux due to the fact that linux is written as an operating system independant of any graphical user interface... linux runs on millions of computers around the world (primarily servers but also things as simple as many common routers) quite happily without any sort of "desktop" or "windows"...

The barriers seperating a windows user desktop enviroment from the operating system that actually does all the work, underneath, are infamously resistant and difficult to work through, as Microsoft intended. The classic analogy about buying a car with the hood welded shut is a good one to use here, I think... What you see is what you get, for the most part.

By comparison there really are no barriers in linux between the desktop user and the underlying OS, the way the distro developer intended. You are welcome to "pop the hood" and poke around if you like. Want to maintain it yourself? Tune it up? Modify it to go faster or get better mileage? You are welcome to mess around with every single nut and bolt in a linux operating system too. Nothing welded shut here! Again the analogy is a good one.

It's important to understand that concept because many very useful tools in linux are intended to be ran from the command line, which in this instance is simply a "real time" interface to a program that can also be ran from a customized script (generally everything you would type in at a command line) or perhaps remotely from another computer or chained together to operate with other programs or even bound to perform it's functions by clicking on a button on a desktop. Also sometimes the command line is just *quicker* than mousing through a series of menus, finding the app, waiting for the graphical user interface to be generated on the screen, accessing the desiered function and so on. Try starting several apps at the same time using only a mouse!

The command line terminal is a very useful and important interface in linux and to think that it's use or existance is a flaw or somehow makes linux inferior is an incorrect assumption based on a lack of proper understanding.

Sebastian said...

And thinking is the worse enemy of communism :-/

jordisan said...

I'm the original writer of the Spanish article; thanks for your reference

Dylan said...

Actually, you are completely wrong. Computers "make us think". It is not a problem with Linux, but a problem with Windows.

Windows is mainstream. Everyone has used it. Everyone "knows" how it works.

Linux is not difficult, just different. Many people who immigrated to this country cannot speak much/any English, but their children speak it perfectly. The children did not have the other language embedded. They were able to learn English much easier.

Linux users need to relearn a lot of stuff. Programs are different, installation is different, GUI is different. Not difficult.

Linux has many distinguishing features, however:

1. Easy to Fix. Control over Linux makes issues fixable without a GUI. While people think the terminal makes Linux harder, it makes it easier. In Windows, I would have to find some application that could do what I wanted it to do, in Linux I could just use the command line. Access to the shell is not a requirement in Linux, it is a privlage.

2. Easy Update. How many Windows users can update their whole system-not just Windows, but every program as well, by pressing a button?

3. Easy Location-Tons of Resources, and you can search repos for programs. It has never been eaiser to find a program.

4. Powerful Compatibility. Linux works with MS, MS does not like Linux Very Much. Examples:

OpenOffice can be saved as Word Document. Word Document cannot be saved as OpenOffice.

WINE can emulate Windows programs. Cgwin does not work very well at emulating Linux.

Beryl w/ GNOME or KDE offers many different interfaces, including Windows-like ones. Windows has one interface. One. (WindowsBlinds does not count, it is a seperate program).

And tons more...

5. Linux is designed from the ground up for multitasking. The X-Window system which functions as Linux's GUI is designed to work on top of the Linux functionality, not add to it. Windows redesigned their kernel and removed many aspects of their old Monolithic DOS system, but it is still there. And DOS was designed as a single tasking system.

Simple Terms: Linux is faster then windows ever can be without a total rewrite. A total rewrite would being Windows back to the 95 stage. A total rewrite is out of the question.

@kuriharu Users don't want to work on the computer? I think you mean they don't want to modify the computer-and Linux is not about that. With Linux you work with your computer. You seem to miss the point. The point is that Linux is not preinstalled on computers and people see it as work, and not as a legitimate system which is EAISER then Windows or Mac, FASTER then Windows or Mac, and more POWERFUL then Win or Mac.

Linux boots in 14 seconds for me. I am enlightened. Most people are like you-they live in the dark, not willing to even open the door and take a look at the light.

mediator said...

Your article wud have been a little true some 3 years ago!
But I as a noobie I never found Linux difficult. As for commandlines, I loved it. Sometimes, I just used root (GUI) account to create config files and give permissions to them from the windows that pops after u right click the mouse button.

Adding repositories was also a child's play from root account. Then adding softwares is easy through add/remove programs option in gnome. It gives u a brief description of the programs too!

As for installation, its just next next next, if u dont want windows on ur machine. I dunno whats so easy in windows installtion if a noobie has to call system engineers for it. Plenty of my friends r still confused when they encounter the windows installtion/partitioning screen.

Someone in the reply section uttered the word "communism" ignorantly.....may be he needs a little enlightenment and experience with the Linux OS.
Neways, Read this http://www.linux-watch.com/news/NS6523449045.html

Anonymous said...

I have supported computers for 17 years or more, mainly using Microsoft OS's and numerous applications but trying to move to Linux is painful. As soon as you move outside of the basic installation you become embroiled in a process that is laborious. Ubuntu, the distro I wish to use, has great repositories for applications but when you install some of them you cannot find them to use. You want to change your desktop or menu's, you have to go through too many applications and tweaks to get what you want or not. You read the documentation to find something out but that is incorrect, of course you can go to the forums but again it is full of people chasing their tails and in most cases will end up resolving their own problem by trial and error.

I want the challenge but I also want consistency but you do not even get that with a single distro.