Truly Honest Linux Opinions

Without a doubt, this is one of the most honest Linux articles I have read in a very long time. Up until now, we had either Linux fans such as myself giving our perspectives or the Windows reliant blogger giving his latest top ten why Linux is just too difficult to be switched over to.

Speaking for myself, as someone who uses Linux on most of his desktops/notebooks each and everyday, I see the Linux situation as follows.

Is Linux too difficult for the average user?

It’s basically, like teaching someone to go from an automatic to a manual transmission based car. There is more to it, but the advantages are readily available. This said, it is NOT for everyone. But with a pre-configured system…I have seen it work for people from all walks of life time after time.

It’s too difficult for most people to install and setup.

Actually, if the user is able to install the distro as the dedicated OS rather than foolishly trying to trust it to dual-boot cleanly, it is brainlessly simple to install. The trick, is that most people do not install their own operating systems. Yes, I said it. Most people are not installing Windows. It is either pre-installed for them, with drivers for most of their stuff ready to go…or they hired a tech to do this for them. In my experience, I found the same to be true with Linux. My mom’s bookstore used Linux boxes for years at the bookstore. If maintained just like one would maintain any business’s computers, the setup runs just fine.

Software is not plentiful, presents a learning curve and codecs are missing.

No, yes and sort of. That about covers it, right? Well the truth is the software is out there, but is not really presented in the best light possible in my opinion. Yes, Yum, apt-get and other methods of installation are really not all that bad, especially with fancy GUI front-end methods of installation. But when you live in a world of MS Word, Quickbooks and Outlook – knowing where to find solid alternatives is something that comes with time when switching to Linux. Sadly, no set of repositories is really so complete that you will not end up on Google looking for yet more alternatives to those legacy apps. They often exist, but finding them is a learned art in some instances.

Then there is the perceived learning curve. Clearly there is no real learning curve with switching from Outlook to Evolution or Outlook Express to Thunderbird. But what about going from a Windows based publishing program to Scribus or Windows Movie Maker to KINO? You bet there is a learning curve there! And taking up for the Windows user, it can be amazingly frustrating. I say this as I think back to my early Linux days…

Finally, we have the perceived “missing codecs” for MP3s, etc. Well, assuming something like Ubuntu is coming into play, the perceived level of difficulty comes down to how the user is first trying to play the music or movie. In a Windows world, the licenses have all been paid and the user is ready to play just about everything out of the box with the exception of DVDs. Yet with Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, the user may not be alerted to why the MP3 or other restricted licensed format is not playing when it is tapped to do so.

If I am trying to play an MP3 in browser for instance, Ubuntu may not play the media without really explaining why. Yet if I download an MP3 from Amazon, then try to play it by double clicking it, I will be alerted to needing to install “restricted codecs”, which sounds really scary and would certainly turn me off if I did not understand what was going on.

Personally, Fedora has the best approach to this as that distro actually will provide you a means of staying legal here in the States by being able to purchase the license to play those restricted formats. Yeah, it must seem like a raw deal to have to pay for something that Windows and Mac seemingly provide for free, but the truth is those OS’ already paid the license fees. So it makes sense that the Linux user also have the opportunity to do the same should they choose to. And both restricted codecs and DVD playback is indeed available for purchase at the Ubuntu store. Time to put the money where are mouths are.

Unmanaged, Linux is for geeks – managed, Linux is for anyone who wants what it offers.

Unpopular amongst Linux purists for years now, I have been steadfast in my belief that Linux is about personal choice – not making your operating system a political statement. This means the freedom to choose to install open source and proprietary software so long as all licenses (closed and open source) are adhered to.

Over the years, I have switched a number of people over to Linux while leaving others to their existing operating system. Different strokes for different folks. There is no single answer for everyone. This being said, I have found with total honesty that managed by someone with an understanding to an operating system’s inner workings, any OS can be made very usable for most people. This means Windows, Linux or OS X. I have found that the OS is only as valuable as the person managing it. Sometimes this means the end user, more often than not, this means the local repair tech.

For me, this largely means Linux as it has proven to be a massive time saver for me to manage. See, I retired from the PC repair industry sometime ago. And for many folks, this meant breaking the Windows XP habit for alternatives as my days of babysitting needed to come to an end.

But there are more than one alternative to Windows XP. It just depends on what the user was needing from their computer. Vista, OS X and yes…Linux each had their place. Once remotely managed and locked down, I have found that all three alternatives worked great and I was able to do remote access when needed for minor issues. Yes, despite my dislike for Vista, it can be made to be secure enough for most people.

My break down for who ended up with what came down to this, mostly.

  • Photographers/Artist types – I just kept them with OS X for reasons stemming to color handling and Photoshop where GIMP was not really working for their needs.
  • Legacy program users – While virtualization is great for me, I try to keep things native whenever possible for others. So this means in some cases, switching from Windows was not something that made sense. And in these cases, despite my own feelings, Vista fit the bill as it ran the client’s legacy programs in compatibility mode.
  • New or casual users – Despite being a big fan of Linux, switching people to another OS is a pain in the you know what. So I found that it is just easier to avoid any learning curves by only switching casual PC users. Not because Linux does not offer enough software, rather because I choose not to dwell on the differences that are involved with going from one program to another. Call me lazy. Casual users are super easy as they are generally using a web browser, email client and maybe the word processor. Games and new software discoveries are just gravy bonuses that happen on their own. :)

The key is whether they are wanting to learn to use it or if instead, desire a managed solution that is is a better fit. In my opinion, this is no different that Windows or OS X in that respect, as tech support is always being sought after to some degree.

The only thing I wish to see happen, is more efforts to bring in software…but to do so more from the approach rather than merely presenting it as the “here it is – go for it” approach. But that is just my take as an existing Linux user. Perhaps others prefer to handle things using alternative methods. Regardless, being open to all of the OS choices has provided me with the strongest level of success I could have ever hoped for. Too bad most people will never realize how powerful adding Linux skills to their IT tool bag can truly be…

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