Linux is a great operating system, but that is just the opinion of one geek. And its an opinion that doesn't particularly matter in the scheme of things. But as I sit here considering just how Linux has progress over the past few years I wonder what is stopping it from totally quashing windows and obliterating it as if it has never existed.
Don't get me wrong, I harbour no ill will toward Microsoft, in fact I regularly use their products for work. Yet the question remains, why would people pay for an operating system that doesn't allow them freedom and flexibility (that I have come to expect), when there is an alternative available.
I break my resulting views down into five parts, not in any particular order, but because each separate part contributes to the overall effect that Linux has on the community. Whether we like it or not the Linux community will have to up its game even further if it hopes to conquer the desktop market.
Is Linux useable? The answer would be yes. Computer illiterate people can use Linux to the same standard that they can use windows. And it is no harder to use that windows, in some aspects it is actually easier. When I power on 'RedHat Fedora' I am presented with an interface that is; if not intuitive, then certainly no worse that windows.
What would be called 'control panels' under windows exists in a form that is usable. The problem is that while these tools exist, they are still extremely limited, and do not present a consistent interface to the user. They do not offer the user the same amount of control over the computer as what windows offers.
No conclusions at this point, I'll move along and discuss the other components that I feel bear mention.
Windows doesn't have a very good security record, but then most users are not security conscious. Security in an operating system has its benefits, but it also has its drawbacks, with increased security comes a decrease in flexibility and this is something that most users find annoying.
At the same time the most strict security measures can be voided by the carelessness of users, whether it is writing a password on a desk or using the password across multiple sites. It all comes down to the fact that security while an important component of any operating system will not be the deciding factor in regards to the success of an operating system.
I can still point and laugh at least 10 people that use Windows ME. Everyone who knows computers knows that Windows ME was perhaps that worst thing that Microsoft ever produced. It is just my opinion, and yet there are people that still use it and refuse to change, there are people that still use 98 (perhaps slightly more understandable).
Neither operating system was known for its reliability, particularly when run for long periods of time. Windows has greatly improved in this area, just as they have improved in their effort be security conscious. The two go hand in hand, but my point remains people do not necessarily care about the reliability of an operating system.
Linux has this race won hands down, but is it the race that matters, people that run servers obviously need the reliability that comes with an operating system that won't crash after only a few days. I am proud of the fact that my Debian Linux server has an uptime of approx 3 months. But for someone that just checks their emails and writes some letters does this really matter, I think not.
All of the heading above while not the determining factor have an input on whether or not Linux will succeed in taking over the desktop market. They help make Linux the superior product. And it is.
The problem however is that the majority of the desktop market is already controlled by Microsoft, be it 98 or XP, and the first question I get when asked about changing over to Linux is quite simple:
- Is it compatible with Windows?
The answer is quite simply No!, at which point they hang their heads and walk away.
I can already hear the contradictions. What about Wine/Crossover/Open Office? And so on. Believe me when I say that I am well aware of all the efforts that have gone into programs like Wine, Crossover Office and even Open Office . But the fact remains that this effort is just a small drop in the pond compared to the effort that needs to happen before the majority of end users can migrate to Linux.
Until there is native support for all "Win32" programs, regardless of what they are or what they do then their can be no true compatibility. A vaguely computer literate user has to be able to pop their application CD in the drive and install the application, without errors, regardless of what the application is or does.
I'm not saying that this is possible, or even wanted, but we can't expect users to stop using programs that they have always used simply because they decide to change operating systems. And more than that we can't expect application developers to support an operating system that is only used by a small percentage of the desktop market. That may change if Linux becomes a more popular choice amoungst the masses, but the masses must come first.
It is therefore undeniably the job of those interested in advancing the operating system to develop the OS to level where it is compatible with those old programs that the user still uses from the dark old DOS days, and the stupid Accounting package that the company had developed by an in-house programmer back on Win95.
More, it has to be done without the need to do a triple back flip to accomplish it in the first place.
Before I break from my treatise on the state of linux as it relates to the desktop market I want to share a quote with you from the Unix Koans of Master Foo
Master Foo and the End User
On another occasion when Master Foo gave public instruction, an end user, having heard tales of the Master's wisdom, came to him for guidance. He bowed three times to Master Foo. “I wish to learn the Great Way of Unix,” he said “but the command line confuses me.”
Some of the onlooking neophytes began to mock the end user, calling him “clueless” and saying that the Way of Unix is only for those of discipline and intelligence. The Master held up a hand for silence, and called the most obstreperous of the neophytes who had mocked forward, to where he and the end user sat.
“Tell me,” he asked the neophyte, “of the code you have written and the works of design you have uttered.” The neophyte began to stammer out a reply, but fell silent.
Master Foo turned to the end-user. “Tell me,” he inquired, “why do you seek the Way?”
“I am discontent with the software I see around me,” the end user replied. “It neither performs reliably nor pleases the eye and hand. Having heard that the Unix way, though difficult, is superior, I seek to cast aside all snares and delusions.”
“And what do you do in the world,” asked Master Foo, “that you must strive with software?”
“I am a builder,” the end user replied, “Many of the houses of this town were made under my chop.”
Master Foo turned back to the neophyte. “The housecat may mock the tiger,” said the master, “but doing so will not make his purr into a roar.”
Upon hearing this, the neophyte was enlightened.
The quote is perhaps as cryptic as it is useful, and yet it points out several important issues. The End-User while he didn't understand Unix, made his mark in houses, indeed he was able to tell the Unix Guru that many of the houses in the area were his creations, the 'neophyte' on the other hand could boast no such achievements.
The end user is all important, for while computer 'geeks' may hold themselves above those that don't know computers as well, where would we be without the builder, or the accountant, or the garbage collector.
We live as a part of a society, and as people that understand computers we have a responsibility to those that don't. In the same way that builders have a responsibility to those that don't know how to build their own homes. Or barbers to those that can't cut hair. Linux is a superior product, and its only getting better, but for the majority of people it remains virtually nonexistant. So can we claim achievements, can we claim to be tigers? Time will tell.