Five Crucial things Adrian Kingsley-Hughes does not understand about Linux

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes recently wrote about five crucial things we apparently do not understand about average computer users. I decided to respond in kind by pointing out the things that Mr. Hughes and his average computer user Linux and it’s users.

1 – On the whole, users aren’t all that dissatisfied with Windows

Adrian, you are right about one thing – most people who encounter a problem with their computer don’t just go blaming Windws and searching for a new OS. You know why? Because they don’t know any better. Most people are not aware that there are other alternatives. I deal with clueless users every day at my job, and believe me – most of them don’t know about Linux, and think that OSX (and I quote) “won’t not be compatible with all the stuff”. No one really knows that that “stuff” is but they all know they need to be compatible with it.

This is what happens when you have a practical monopoly in place. People don’t switch from windows, because no one is educating them about alternatives. Apple is now making a valiant effort with their ad campaigns, but it’s not enough. We need to start in schools and get them young – show them alternatives in introductory computer classes. We need more big companies and governmental agencies taking the plunge showing an example.

I’m not saying that there are no people who are happy with Windows. It’s just that your assumption (which would be absolutely correct under normal marked contitions) does not apply to a market saturated and overrun by a convicted monopolist.

2 – Too many distros

Oh noes! I have to much choice! Let me cry about it! Seriously Adrian, do you really think that the average Joe User knows the difference between the different Vista editions? Hell no! Users ask me every day which Vista to buy, or is it a good idea to upgrade. Why is it ok for them to ask a tech-competent friend or coworker about choices relating to Windows but not ok to ask which Linux distro is good for them?

Let’s face it – average users don’t know what the fuck they are doing or what they want. They will need help installing it and setting it up anyway so they might as well go with a recommendation of someone who has a clue. Users who do know what they want will appreciate the choice.

Besides, all the distros are similar. All you have to do is to show the users KDE and Gnome and have them pick one. Everything else is pretty much non-essential. Most users won’t even care about package system as they will likely be using some sort of GUI front end over apt or yum to get them.

Oh, and Adrian – what the hell do you want us to do about this problem? There is absolutely nothing anyone can do at this point to change this. This point is moot, because there is just no way to consolidate linux and somehow provide users with less choice.

3 – People want certainty that hardware and software will work

Hardware is a problem. However, I think you once again overestimate the average user. In my experience most users consult any soft of hardware installation with a technical person. I have people come to me with things as simple as setting up printers and scanners – not even mentioning replacing any kind of internal hardware.

Most average users will have no clue what kind of graphics or video card they need. Most people also don’t know what kind of wireless card to buy. So I think it’s safe to assume that a linux specialist would be able to advise people as to what kind of hardware is appropriate for their distro. It’s all just a matter of support.

As for software – it is a non issue. Finding alternatives is just a google search away. Average user does not have very sophisticated software needs. They need something that will let them use Myspace, read their Email, chat with their friends and type documents. Most distros will have appropriate applications conveniently labeled as “Web Browser”, “Email Client”, “Instant Messenger”, and “Word Processor” available on the desktop or from some menu.

Also, more and more things are done online. Fewer and fewer people actually utilize clients for their personal email. Most people I know either use the webmail interface provided by their ISP, or Gmail/Yahoo/Hotmail. Online clients require no setup, and are available from anywhere making them very attractive to clueless users.

That leaves us with just a browser, IM client, and a word processor and miscellaneous stuff such as PDF reader, media player, music player and etc. All of these will ship with the OS, and work out of the box – all the user needs to do is to double click appropriate files, and correct applications will start opening up.

Once again, this is a non issue for an “average user”. For a power user who utilizes many specialized software packages this is a real problem, but then again such a user would be able to do appropriate research to decide on switching systems.

Besides, switching OS is a very significant change, and no one really expects it to be easy or straightforward. It’s kinda like switching from driving a tiny sports car to a big truck with a trailer. Both are cars and do the same things, but will handle very differently so an adjustment period is to be expected.

4 – As far as most people are concerned, the command line has gone the way of the dinosaur

I don’t get what you are saying here? So the ability to use powerful shell applications is a bad thing? No one is forcing anyone to use command line anymore. Last time I checked all the big distros had nice, user friendly GUI tools all the configuration options. Most of them have nice graphical installers too. So I have no clue what are you whining about here.

5 – Linux is still too geeky

Have you actually ever used Ubuntu? The automatic updates system they have really isn’t that different from the windows one. Most users have no clue what are all these windows security updates about anyway. Las time I checked you can also configure Synaptic to install updates automatically very much like windows.

Besides, if you give me 100 random people who aren’t windows geeks and sit them at a windows box for the first time in their life and tell them to do stuff I will bet you that more than half of them will become confused at some point. You don’t think people ever get confused by Windows? Of course they do!

This is a fucking double standard. I get calls from freaked out windows users every day because their computer did something unexpected. Eventually they learn via repetition how to react to certain behaviors, and how to do certain things. But sitting a random person in front of an OS they have never seen before and expecting them to use it without any confusion is just plain silly.

My Response

With all due respect Mr. Hughes, you seem to have no fucking clue about linux or the needs of an average user. I think that all your points are either completely inaccurate, irrelevant to the topic (like the CLI argument) or based on false assumptions, double standards or re-hashed FUD arguments that have been debunked many times in the media.


Sometimes I wonder why do I even bother to respond to obvious flamebaits like this one. Yes I know Mr. Adrian is whoring for hits by posting rubbish about linux. But you know what? Sometimes I enjoy a good rant. :mrgreen:

[tags]linux, unix, desktop, users, adrian kingsley-hughes[/tags]

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10 Responses to Five Crucial things Adrian Kingsley-Hughes does not understand about Linux

  1. Teri Pittman UNITED STATES Opera Windows says:

    I do tech support and I can tell you that so far, the folks I talk to do not like Vista. (Neither do I but that’s another story.) Most folks just want to surf and check email. They do not want to have to learn new software. That’s part of the attraction to Windows. As long as the changes aren’t too radical, they’ll follow along.

    As for me, I’m becoming really disenchanted with Ubuntu. Every other upgrade causes problems on my laptop. Edgy worked fine but now Feisty is almost unusable. If it’s problematic for me (and I started playing around with linux in the slackware 1.1 days), then how is the average user going to cope?

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  2. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’m currently using Dapper, and I never had any problems with the updates. I’m always skeptical of using the latest and greatest release because they usually tend to be less stable. But that’s just me.

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  3. Jake UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I’m trying Ubuntu right now. I honestly don’t like it too much though… it seems too simple. I can see why people like it though.

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  4. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    A lot of people don’t like that whole “no root” deal. It was kinda weird at first, but I got used to it by now. :P

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  5. onan FRANCE Opera Linux says:

    1. I’m not dissatisfied with windows, to the point that I stopped switching to newer version of windows (as in still using win2k).

    2. to me there are too many linux distros, cause I have no use for most of them, am clueless about why most of those exists, and I wasted too much time installing and trying some just to find that it was not for me for a reason or another, and I had to go through distrowatch again. But I wouldn’t say that this diversity is bad.

    3. I *do* wan’t my hardware to go along with my software. As in not having to convince someone to try ubuntu and they find it good even better than windows but then their scanner doesn’t work and they are working with it so it’s back to windows, or finding a month later that there’s no tool to clean the nozzle of their printer shipped with ubuntu and had to reinstall windows, and that goes on with bluetooth phones, digital cameras, and so on.
    booting from install cd to install menu, choosing install and watching the installer fail complaining about not being able to find the drive cause it’s a sata drive is not even giving me the choice to install that distro.

    same goes with software, I don’t get why there’s is great software under windows that has no equivalent yet under linux, and i’m not talking about photoshop here, I’m talking utorrent, foobar2000, media player classic, startuprun, myuninst, this kind of software

    4. when I first switched to pc it was DOS 5.0 times so I’m used to cli and know its efficiency, but most users don’t wan’t that, and I’ve found myself stuck while trying to do something obvious that had no GUI version under GNU/linux; so sorry no not all configuration options available in GUI under linux distros. *cough* gnome *cough*

    5. I’m writing this comment under edgy, and I can assure that with ubuntu mileage varies *a lot*. automatic updates have broken 2 out 4 ubuntu machine I’ve installed for other people, and messed with my own installation enough to force me to reinstall from backup.
    These 4 ubuntu boxes I have set up for other people means I’m receiving calls for help about 10-15 times a month, which can be roughly divided in 5 stupid questions that keep coming even though I already answered them, 5 that I can fix right away or have to spend little time on the web / man pages to find how to fix them and 0-5 that I have to think hard, spend quite some time looking for info and trying to fix sometimes with no result and no clues why this happens, or finding that this is a known problem with no known working solution for that specific case.
    and the list of unresolved ubuntu problems is growing with time. (eSATA external drive not detected, removing firefox without removing the whole system, vmware not hanging up the whole computer with usb controller enabled in virtual machine, listening to a cd whether it is inserted in cd rom drive or cdrw burner,…)

    don’t get me wrong, we’re on the same side (I guess) but reading you I’m not sure your reaction shows that much accuracy, so many clues about linux or end user needs.
    I don’t care about media debunk and arguments about linux, what I care is an *actually* working linux distro that empower the user making him/her able to do what he/she wants without being afraid of ruining his OS while trying to use it or fix it.

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  6. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    [quote comment=”4656″]2. to me there are too many linux distros, cause I have no use for most of them, am clueless about why most of those exists, and I wasted too much time installing and trying some just to find that it was not for me for a reason or another, and I had to go through distrowatch again. But I wouldn’t say that this diversity is bad.[/quote]

    Again, complaining about the number of distro’s in existence is like complaining about the number of car makers:

    There are so many different car types out there, and most of them are useless to me. Like, how am I supposed to I know what is the difference between a Honda and a Mitsubishi? Do they expect me to be a car expert? I have to do research now when I buy it? And someone even told me that different cars get different millage on the same amount of gas. How am I supposed to keep it all straight?

    I’m sorry but this is how free market looks when there is no monopoly involved. Nearly every product you can imagine is sold this way – you have many vendors who offer different features, and aesthetics. It’s up to the consumer to find one he likes. And we usually like that – we love the choice. But not when OS is involved? I have no clue why people think that monopoly in the OS market is somehow desirable.

    Re: hardware – that’s just how it goes. Making hardware work requires two parties to work together. When hardware vendors provide no open documentation, and only a binary windows drivers there is not much linux people can do but go through log process of reverse-engineering by trial and error. This can take months, and will work only for that specific model of hardware. Many people do this on a daily basis, but you can’t expect every Linux developer in the world to drop everything and start buying random hardware in order to make it work under linux.

    In effect, some hardware will work, and some wont. Hardware vendors won’t start publishing documentation or providing linux drivers until they think it would be profitable for them. So we need to see a big up-surge in the numbers of linux users before the hardware situation improves.

    I do understand that some people are frustrated, but that happens. It’s a free OS. And if you need all your hardware to work, perhaps you should look into one of the paid distros with support plans. That’s what companies do. When you paid for that support, and you have a piece of hardware that just doesn’t work, chances are there might be someone out there who might be able to provide you with easy to follow instructions or a patch that will make it work.

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  7. onan FRANCE Opera Windows says:

    You seem to have missed my point about too many distros. You can’t compare the always changing, fast paced software universe where new or little known actors can do great with a slow almost never changing overcrowded car business.
    When I wan’t to buy a car, I have absolutely no problem chossing, because things doesn’t change fast, I can buy a car that has shown its qualities overtime. All cars share a large common base they go on roads and are used to drive people around. it’s easy and simple, a lot of infos are available, when you know how to drive, you can use a large majority of cars without having to read the user manual.

    In the linux distros world everything can be different from one release to the other, a 6 month old piece of software might well be obsolete, some distros will be useful for this but not that, ot the other way around, and when you want one that do this AND that, you’re screwed, because you didn’t read a few thousands pages documentation (which usually do not provide the useful information you needed anyway). You can be proficient with a distro but a complete newbie with another.

    BTW, OS is certainly not limited to a market view. Wishing Occam’s razor :”entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity” would be applied to linux distro doesn’t mean wishing for a monopoly. Actually the OS market is in a monopoly state.

    Not that I am an economy master, but at least I know basics of free market: over time free market eventually build a monopoly or a market dominated by a handful of actors. This is 19th century knowledge. (The System of Economic Contradictions or The Philosophy of Poverty written by Proudhon). And a century later, time showed him right.
    how many different actors in OS market ? –rhetorical question– mostly microsoft, apple, GNU/linux (beOS, plan9, solaris, sunOS,… hardly qualify as actors in this market).

    No need to give the usual line of defence about hardware vendor being the ones to blame for lack of support of hardware. When I plug an external drive under ubuntu and it is not detected, this is not a problem of vendor, when I’d like to use a few years old printer and after installing all needed drivers it end up being only half-functional.
    Do you really believe it is by chance that hardware vendor don’t provide
    linux drivers ?

    just in case, if you haven’t read world domination 201 yet, you should: ml
    cause it rolling-like-an-egg thinking like the one you just put up here that prevent linux to really emerge.

    Being free/nonfree (as in free beer) isn’t an excuse for being broken, or not working or not providing functionality. It’s merely an overused tool to make good money selling most-of-the-time useless support plan, and an overused (bad) argument.

    What I need is not paying support to tell me where to find a patch to fix a bug, what I need is a working OS upfront.

    what part of “People want certainty that hardware and software will work” didn’t you understand ? ;)
    Paying to take chances that there might be someone out there able to provide instructions or a patch is exactly what users don’t want, even sysadmins would take a working OS over a need to take chances with support. Honestly I don’t see how paying ubuntu support would prevent vmware from freezing the computer randomly when usb controller is enabled, chances are they’ll say vmware is third party software we cant do nothing about it, no matter if the problem doesn’t exist with gentoo.

    Actually broken software and useless support is exactly what lead windows users to build user driven communities to help each other out.

    IMHO what hurts most GNU/linux is embittered users repeating the same irrelevant arguments over and over. What users want is solutions, answers to their problem, not some rejecting the fault on others.

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  8. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I’m currently running Dapper which is 2 release cycles behind the “current” ubuntu release. My OS is far from being obsolete, and actually works fine with all the software I need.

    Technology is a fast moving field, but the notion that “in 6 months everything you know will be obsolete” is a myth.

    For example, most of software out there is still written in C (which was developed in the 70’s) and C++ (80’s) and this trend will continue for many more years.

    There is more C versions and libraries now than it was then, but the language remains mostly the same. We are not reinventing the wheel every 6 months – we build on existing technology.

    Saying that everything will change from one release to another in a distro with a 6 month release cycle is silly. Most things will stay the same. They will simply bundle new versions of software, include bunch of patches, and some new features. But for the most part the core of the system will be the same.

    Btw, Windows crashes all the time. I work with windows machines all the time at work, and there are millions of problems with it. I had countless problems with hardware compatibility, memory leaks in software, constant crashes because faulty drivers, corrupted system files – you name it. The only difference between windows and linux is that that new shiny printer/scanner device ships with a Windows driver CD.

    Next time you get a new printer throw away your driver CD’s and then see if it works well with Windows. Maybe it will work out of the box, maybe it wont. It all depends on what Microsoft developers decided to include in the base installation. Chances are that if this is a year old all-in-one printer-fax-scanner you won’t get full functionality without the vendor’s deivers and software package. So please don’t tell me that vendor support doesn’t matter because it does – on any platform.

    And yes, being free is not an excuse for shipping a broken distribution. If your distro of choice ships broken out of the box, you should definitely switch to another one. Of course now you will tell me that you don’t have time to research other distributions.

    But if you only looked at one or two distros is it fair to say all Linux distributions suck? You can make a generalized claim of course, but it will be just that – a generalization. So if you want, say that Ubuntu sucks because reasons X, Y and Z. However it doesn’t mean that all of Linux sucks for those reasons.

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  9. Teri Pittman UNITED STATES Opera Windows says:

    Yes, I’m having problems with the latest Ubuntu version. And I may have to go in, clean things out and reinstall an older version to get things working again. Interestingly enough, today I talked to someone who did the same thing on his Windows machine. Things like that happen. I still have to support Windows ME which is likely one of the worst updates that ever happened. I can tell you to avoid Mac OS 10.2.x as well. In fact the Mac world is known for a series of bad updates. I don’t hold it against the Ubuntu guys that Feisty doesn’t work for me. I guess I’ve been around more operating systems than a lot of folks.

    As for distros, I am sometimes tempted by something like Zenwalk. Ubuntu seems to work okay for me. Like a Windows user, I don’t see any reason to change.

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  10. Luke UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    [quote comment=”4717″]I still have to support Windows ME which is likely one of the worst updates that ever happened. I can tell you to avoid Mac OS 10.2.x as well. In fact the Mac world is known for a series of bad updates. I don’t hold it against the Ubuntu guys that Feisty doesn’t work for me. I guess I’ve been around more operating systems than a lot of folks.[/quote]

    Precisely. ME is a prime example that even a huge company with gigantic budget can release a horrible OS that is barely usable. :)

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