Linked by Eugenia Loli on Wed 23rd Jan 2008 22:07 UTC
Linux With Linux on the desktop going from a slow crawl to verging on an explosion, many have toiled with the question: How do we make this happen faster? A well-known Austin-based Linux Advocate thinks he has the answer.
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His point that most users don't really understand that they have a choice in operating systems is the first thing. I've heard arguments that most users don't care, but if that's true, why, every time someone finds out I'm a computer enthusiast, start asking me why their (Windows) computer is running so slowly, why things on old Windows installations are so crashy, and so on? I'm not saying that other operating systems aren't susceptible to various forms of "OS rot" but really, the reason why "Windows works fine" for so many users is they enlist people to fix their systems and support them for free. I do this all the time.

This is not (for me) a religious crusade and I think it's better to help friends and family out than be some kind of weirdo cult member by refusing to touch a Windows machine, but imagine if all of the people who supported Windows "for free" stopped doing that.

Imagine if all of the crapified registries, spyware, and file system fragmentation just carried on, unaddressed, for years, as it does on so many Windows machines. As machines became less usable, you can bet that people would start asking why, and is there some alternative to this? The price for my help in getting a machine back into a usable state is a short dissertation that indeed there are other operating systems, and, frankly, I list all of the big ones, not just Linux (my personal choice). I don't approach this angrily or take a commanding tone of voice. I simply casually explain that I don't have to deal with any of this crap because I don't use Windows, yet for the most part I do the same things on the computer the Windows user is doing. I also explain that I used to be a Windows user.

Secondly, I don't care one bit about racing, but the idea he had about putting Linux out there as a "brand" was not a bad one. Linux (I won't even go into the BSDs) is something people have heard about from a friend or friend of a friend, and they have no clear conception of what it is, in my experience. They don't get that for all practical purposes, it (can) look like any other consumer OS, with a "Start Menu" of sorts, icons, and file managers where you can drag files around. If you mention UNIX, people who know what that is remember, faintly, plain text amber or green terminals churning out data. It does not generally result in warm fuzzies. Instead, it inspires fear and loathing, bad memories of unkempt beards and lots of number crunching. That's just been my experience; maybe others here have a different one when bringing up UNIX in trying to explain what Linux is.

When I mention Macs to Windows users, they either tell me that Macs are too expensive, or they are, once again, not clear on what the experience will be like if they've never used one. The problem with the Mac commercials, cute as they are, is they don't show the interface. They don't show customers that "this is pretty much what you're used to," in terms of the desktop environment, and since most people seem to feel that Mac's OS is pretty, I don't get why they don't do that. People fear change with computers, and they need to be shown that it's really not as much of a change as they might think.

I'd like to see some kind of consortium get commercials on television. I'd like to see Tux the penguin as a recognizable logo, and it is, if nothing else, a friendly logo for consumers, however unbusinesslike people have accused it of being. I'm sure kids would dig it, and there's no better audience to get started on Linux, or any computer technology, than kids who haven't gotten used to dominant paradigms and don't fear change the way their parents sometimes do.

Lastly, I'd like to see the ten billion distributions whiddled down to maybe five or ten, and then I'd like to see the differences between them that serve no useful purpose in terms of functionality, go away (obviously I'm all for difference if it serves a specific purpose or differentiates the distribution for a good reason). People always say that Linux is all about choice, like it's a religious dictum. Maybe it's valid, but that's not what I'm talking about. I look at Distrowatch and all I see is "Linux is all about dilution." Dilution of resources, developers, and so on. There's a good reason to have choices, but does having 150 distributions or whatever there is serve any practical purpose? This is a contentious point but I have not been impressed with arguments to the contrary.

From what I can tell, 5 or 10 distributions should cover peoples differing needs quite well, maybe a few more for odd architectures or embedded systems, which I know little about. (This is all like, if I was omnipotent or something). Then, I'd like to see each distribution have some kind of payroll, whether through donations, bounties, or selling swag. There are a bunch of irritating, uninteresting, boring issues which need some developer love, and I can completely understand why volunteers might not want to tackle them, but money could close that gap.

Developers, especially ones who tackle especially complicated or tedious issues, deserve some kind of compensation for the time they could have spent with their family or working on something fun and personally satisfying to them. I've ponied up in the past and I'll do it again. It would be nice to have a "Year of Linux Donations" where everyone digs deep and pledges, say, $100 to a project of their choice.

Finally, none of the hardware support websites provide a specific service I need every few years. What I want is a list of hardware known to work out of the box, 100% perfectly, in Linux, equivalent in feature support to Windows. This would help people building new systems or selecting new systems to preemptively seek out hardware which "just works" rather than "works with a bunch of screwing around."

Many of the hardware sites also only mention or test a subset of functionality - "I have no use for the microphone on my webcam so I haven't tested it, but the picture is great" is kind of useless to me. A blacklist of companies or products that refuse to work with Linux, are notoriously difficult to get working, or have crap drivers, would also be helpful to know so they can be avoided. Carrots and sticks for hardware companies, useful information for Linux users, all in one facility.

As for the BSDs, I don't know how to sell them to consumers. From everything I have seen with my limited experience with FreeBSD, it seems equivalent to the experience I have with Gentoo Linux. It adds nothing but lacks nothing, for my own personal use. There are different ways of getting from A to B, but it is roughly the same to me, so I'm not sure how that fits in here, but I'm sure BSD users have some ideas. I'd be happy with it if Gentoo went up in flames tomorrow and I had to select some other OS. It'd probably be my first choice.

I know BSD users sometimes get annoyed with the amount of attention Linux gets. I'd recommend for all Linux users who haven't experimented with the BSDs, to install some virtualization software (I use KVM/QEMU) and install one of the BSDs. Might get some interesting ideas from it, or even decide it meets your needs better than Linux. Gentoo seems to borrow some ideas from FreeBSD and even with the bad press Gentoo's been getting lately, I still love it, and largely for the ways it is similar to FreeBSD.

But yeah, I, for one, think a diversity is a positive thing. In the 8 bit days, companies developed for multiple "operating systems," and there's no reason they couldn't do it again, if it made financial sense to do so. Only consumers - us - can make this happen.

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