Warning: Incoherent rant ahead. Triggered after spending so long looking for a simple calculator in KDE that I forgot the numbers I was supposed to do calculations on.
I am writing this on a Linux box. Running RedHat-something. I personally may like Linux, but on the desktop, Linux has failed, and it will continue to fail. Here’s why.
h3. Joe Phobic
Let’s imagine a user, Joe Phobic. Joe suffers from mild to average technophobia. His level of knowledge with computers is something like this:
* He knows how to surf the web.
* He knows how to watch videos with his computer.
* He does his budgets in Excel.
* Write letters to his family using Word.
* Send and receive e-mail, using Outlook Express.
* Watch videos/DVDs and play music/MP3s.
* Play the games included in WinXP.
Joe Phobics computer came preinstalled with Windows XP and MS Office, and the only other software installed is Winamp and Kaaza, because he wanted in on the MP3 revolution he had read so much about in newspapers. Joe had his slightly less technophobic friend Mark Geekson install this software for him.
* Never customized windows. Not even changed the default resolution.
* Never touched the control panel.
* Never used the command line.
Like it or not, this _is_ pretty close to the average computer user.
We, as in “users of alternative operating systems and platforms”, may whine all we want about Joe and his likes, especially when we have to live with their spyware- and virus-infested machines hammering our firewalls and mailservers with crap. Still: Joe is using the operating system that’s best for him.
Ok, I heard you scream all the way from Austin, Texas to Sydney, Australia. Yes – Joe Phobic _is_ using the system that’s right for him
h3. The “Simple” Factor
While Linux-whiners may argue all that we want that Windows is not about freedom, I’ll state the opposite: Windows is _all_ about freedom. Windows is freedom from complicated choices, it’s freedom from having to learn something new, something not really relevant to the task you _want_ to do.
This is where Linux fails. Miserably. Linux is about freedom. A different kind of freedom. It’s freedom to choose to use any one of seven text editors to perform the same task. It’s the freedom to choose any one of several ridiculously complicated Window Managers. It’s the freedom to choose any one of two or three IDEs. It’s the freedom to install lots of perpetually unused servers.
Linux is about freedom for the technocrat with the open-source gene. It’s about freedom for the people that like the complexity Linux offers.
h3. Calculator, calculator, a kingdom for a calculator
A couple of hours prior to writing this article, I needed a simple calculator, so I started searching. And I continued searching. By the time I had found the calculator I was looking for in KDE’s Start Menu-equivalent, I had forgotten what I was going to calculate.
Instead of the calculator, I found some 30 odd games, several different text editors (Kate, VIM, Emacs, KJots, KNotes. Pico, Joe and others are also somewhere on this computer). Joe Phobic doesn’t understand why there are several different programs to perform the same task. He doesn’t want to understand.
I found several tools to assist me with software development. Joe Phobic doesn’t understand what an IDE is, nor does he want to understand. He doesn’t want to know about debuggers, compilers, profilers.
I found a tool to measure mouse pointer speed. I don’t understand what use that tool could possibly be to me, and I don’t expect Joe to understand. Neither do I expect him to enjoy such a tool.
I found four different web browsers, Konqueror, Galeon, Mozilla and Opera. Three of them were preinstalled here. Joe doesn’t understand why he needs four different programs to surf the web.
I found two IRC clients, two ICQ/AIM clients, four mail clients (five if you count Emacs), three newsclients (four if you count Emacs). Joe doesn’t know what IRC is. He might now what ICQ and AIM is, but it’s also likely that he’ll wonder “Where is MSN Messenger?”. He doesn’t want to know that he can use GAIM to connect to MSN. And no. Joe Phobic doesn’t know what Jabber is, neither does he _want_ to know what Jabber is. He just wants to be able to chat with his friends.
I could spend a lot of time talking about system tools in Linux, the various control panels and window managers. Suffice it to say that Joe Phobic doesn’t want to know about this. He doesn’t understand why he should choose between two window managers. Neither does he know why he should have a choice of 34 different looks for his Window Manager.
Joe Phobic doesn’t want to have to consult the manual to use his mail program. He doesn’t want to feel stupid when he opens his mail client. Joe simply wants to be able to turn his computer on, log on to the Internet, write that mail, visit that website, write his letters, play his videos, listen to his music.
Joe doesn’t care if his software is perfect – after all, he has been using Outlook Express, Internet Explorer, Word. He has also been infected by all sorts of spyware, trojans, worms and viruses. Something his geek friend had to fix for him. Joe heard Mark Geekson mumble something along the lines of “Damn Microsoft”, but he just shrugged, and forgot all about it.
So, if you are going to get Joe to switch, what do you need?
First of all, you need an ultra-simple installation. Not to co-exist with Windows, but to migrate his Windows installation. Bootloaders with names such as “lilo: ” and “grub” are just scary. And when I say migrate, that includes mail, bookmarks and documents.
If Joe for whatever reason should want to revert to Windows and uninstall Linux, he should have the opportunity to do so, without any hassle. Just a confirmation dialog or two, a root password, and “Ok!”.
Joes computer should update automatically whenever he is online. Much like Windows Update does these days.
Joe should have just the programs he needs, and he shouldn’t have seven different programs to do the same job.
Joe should have what he is getting today: Simplicity and freedom.