What Kind of Person Uses Linux, And Should You Be One Of Them?

Solving the problems

Being as it’s developed originally by software developers for software developers Linux is only now placing importance on winning the average user over. Usability for the masses has never been a huge concern, and things were optimized for the professional before everybody else. A good example of this can be found in the open-source 3D application Blender, which was originally developed alongside 3D artists, in order to make things they did quite often easier. A good idea it would seem, but now that it’s free for everyone a lot of work has had to go into it to make it friendlier to more casual users. The same can be said of Linux in general. While developers and even the most average users don’t care if a KDE application doesn’t look at home in Gnome, it might prove a turn off to more fussy users. Of course this is assuming nothing has gone wrong on their installation path and everything works as it should.

Ubuntu’s recent deal to accompany Dell PCs provides the solution to these possible installation and compatibility woes. Users will receive the same experience as Windows or OS X users upon starting their machine for the first time. Even without this Ubuntu provides a Live-CD that boots into a Gnome desktop. Installation is merely a matter of clicking an ‘Install Ubuntu’ desktop icon. This control takes first time problems completely out of the equation. It is interesting to note that Linux’s open-source ethic, which allows anyone to browse the inner workings of their system, actually benefits everything from usability to personal security. Since everyone can potentially offer improvements it isn’t only hackers, looking for a way in, that are examining the operating system closely. As a result Linux quickly changes, and the technology behind a usable system is constantly being improved upon.

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At the end of the day Linux is all about choice. For developers and power users this is a good thing, as it lets them set up things exactly as they want to have them. Unfortunately average users have to take a back seat because the practicality of the interface doesn’t take a high enough priority. In this way the lowest common denominator isn’t appealed to, users either have to learn to use or completely avoid Linux. This is in contrast to Windows, where things are designed with the average user very much in mind. OS X attempts to make the best of both worlds, making accessing programs easy but providing a bit more under the hood, without the flexibility of choice. By virtue of choice alone Linux may be the best option if neither Windows nor OS X sit right, and as it gets easier and easier to install it should become a more and more viable option.

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  • tstebbens
    This article made me angry. For a start the assertion that Linux supports the most hardware of any OS is unfounded in an article that starts off with the tag line "Why Linux might feel at home on your desktop." That implies PC hardware and Windows rules the roost there no matter how you cut it. If you were talking non-Intel hardware then, yes I'd agree.

    Next the author contradicts himself with the statement "although Linux supports more hardware than any other operating system, compatibility issues can occur. Since Linux isn’t designed specifically for desktop systems more specialized hardware, like 20 button mice or even some graphics cards, may not be fully functional." So what this is basically saying is the hardware is NOT supported.

    All-in-all this article gives the impression of being written by a Linux Fanboy rather than being a balanced piece of objective journalism which is what I was hoping it would be.
  • audiovoodoo
    I also see the contradiction and can perhaps clarify a little. Out of the box a modern distribution such as Ubuntu will support an awful lot of hardware without the need for a user to find and install 3rd party drivers. My experience with XP was that whilst I could get every last thing to run it took the installation of a lot of drivers from a lot of sources to get the last mouse button working etc.

    The point I would make is that a lot of HW out there is supplied only with Windows binary drivers and for whatever reason the HW manufacturers do not seem keen to allow others to see the specifications so they can write drivers for the community. There is no physical reason why Linux can not support this HW other than manufacturers refusing to provide a spec to the community.

    I run a fairly standard PC that is 3 years old. My mouse is fully supported, my MS ergo keyboard is fully supported, my TV tuner card is supported and so is my web cam. I can use any USB mass storage device without issue so cameras etc work fine. I can get Bluetooth support for my phone working, although I admit this took a bit of work it was no more than it took me under XP. The point I make is this.. all that works without installing anything other than the OS. Yes HW tends to be built and drivers designed with Windows in mind but things have improved radically over the last 3 years that I have been using Linux. Perfect.. NO. An option for most home users.. YES. About to destroy MS.. nah.. not for a while yet.
  • gmuppet
    "It’s an operating system that looks like a clear winner by most standards, from technical to functional. Linux supports more hardware than any other operating system"

    Um... don't know what to say, man... RHEL 4/Centos 4 supports neither my SONY camera, nor my Canon flatbed scanner, nor my Logitech webcam. What gives?
  • cbxbiker61
    The Redhat/CentOS twins are server distros. I'm not sure why you'd use either of them for that type of hardware. My instinct says you're a flamer and don't really care for a real answer.

    For those that want a real answer.

    Just like any OS. Selecting supported hardware is still important. Cameras? Buy cameras that support the open Mass Storage format and you won't be locked into any OS. Webcams? Buy a webcam that has a driver (there's a European going nuts writing drivers that support tons of webcams). Scanners? I'm not into scanners, but if you are then I guess you can do your own homework. Let's say searching "linux scanners" would do the trick.

    One thing I do like is that when you select hardware that is supported, it usually stays supported for the useful life of the device. Which is quite the opposite of the Microsoft franchise where they typically get you coming and going. Hmmmm, you bought that two years ago for XP, sorry no drivers for Vista. Hmmm, you want to buy a new one of those and you have XP, sorry the new device only comes with Vista drivers. It's always a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Interestingly enough all of the hardware I used with Linux in '95 still runs with Linux in '07. 12 years of OS improvements still works on the old hardware.

    In my experience Linux quite often doesn't support the crap devices which often get used with Windows boxes. Ever heard of Mustek scanners? Who in their right mind would waste time writing drivers for crap devices?

    Linux is about having choices. That's not going to change. If you want Linux for Dummies there's a version for you Linspire/Freespire. If you want a Linux with long support cycles that's available too. Roll your own Linux, sure. Personally I use Slackware, if you're comfortable with VI and shell script (or want to learn) it's straight to the bone configuration is an advantage.
  • Cabelo
    I'm very much in agreement with the above post.

    The other thing to remember is that, just because so many users are comfortable with Windows doesn't mean they instinctively understood how to use it.

    I've used Linux from time to time, and while I've never managed to stick with Linux as the default OS on my desktop, I like knowing the option is there.

    In truth, the biggest reason for not sinking some time into learning to use Linux (as I did with Windows) is that I'm a far older man now than I was when I first started using Windows... and I just don't have the kind of time.

    I am however, continually impressed by the steps Linux is taking towards being immediately friendly to people like me, who just can't find the time to learn... it's nice.
  • perzy
    Well apart from being free, Linux is worse in every area than windows for desktop use. Stability, gaming, driver support, ...you name it.
  • marclane773
    hi ive allways used windows ever since 3.1 over the last few years ive been tempted by linux but never bothered because i didnt want to learn my way round a new os and i was concerned about software compatability ive now had a look and it doesnt seem that daunting can anyone recomend a version for me i mainly use my pc for D/L and gaming P.s what is the network support like thanks any advise would be great i would love to leave xp's childish moronic feel behind
  • Anonymous
    The main reason why Linux hasn't taken off: games. If Wine ever became fully compliant with DX9 or even DX10, we might be able to play the latest games right out of the box. But, for now, practically every teen will be using Windows at home and will carry on using it in their adulthood, because, let's face it: games are a big part of the modern culture and cannot be ignored.

    And, no, it is not enough that Linux users can play 2-3 year old games. How many kids go around the schoolyard talking about 2-3 year old (or older) games? They want the latest games and they want them immediately.
  • Anonymous
    This all misses the point. The biggest reason why Linux has never taken off is because Microsoft made it prohibitively expensive for the PC vendors to offer pre-installed OSes besides Windows. They were by the civil courts found to have abused their monopoly position in the U.S. Unfortunately, by the time they were caught at this, Windows was pretty well established.
    Want to know just how good Linux is? Wait and see what really happens this year and next with the UMPC market. If Linux is as good as those of us who use it regularly believe, it will continue to be pre-installed on a big chunk of these little boxes. (It's been on the eee since last fall and selling quite well, btw.)
    Hint: The Asus CEO figures he'll sell 40% of the eees this year as Linux. Assuming Asus meets their sales targets, that's 2,000,000 devices. MSI has stated publicly that he expect to sell about 50% of the MSI Wind as Linux.
    Many, many people are finally getting a good look at Linux for the first time. If they like it, it'll sell. If they don't, you'll see only the WinXP UMPCs around in a year or two.