posted by Charles Williams on Mon 7th Apr 2003 03:17 UTC
IconWe have all heard the horror stories of how GNU/Linux is difficult, if not almost impossible, as far as general desktop usability is concerned. In particular, there seems to be a continuous stream of gripes printed across the Internet, from Microsoft Windows users who wish, or have tried, to migrate to GNU/Linux, yet gave up in frustration. But what happens when complete computer newbies are introduced to GNU/Linux? By computer newbies, I am referring to those who have no computer experience whatsoever, in either a Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix or other environment.

I would like to introduce you to my next door neighbors, Mike & Diane, and their daughters, Mary and Carla. Mike has been self-employed for some years in his own highly successful construction business. His wife, Diane, in addition to raising their daughters, also manages all of the accounting for her husband's business. Additionally, she is in the midst of starting her own home-based business as well. Their two absolutely adorable daughters, are 6 and 2 years old, with the oldest being in the first grade. Of the family members, Mary, the 6 year old, is the only family member who has any computer experience, using Microsoft Windows occasionally at school.

Mike and Diane approached me around two months ago, wanting help and information on a computer purchase. The computer they wished to purchase would primarily be the family computer, but would also be used for their two respective businesses. I can't say that they had questions about hardware, as they did not know a cpu from a hard drive. They did have questions about software. Diane told me that she needed business, office, and accounting software for their businesses. They mostly wanted to know where to get a decent price on a computer system.

I worked up some numbers on computer systems from Pricewatch, using the OpenOffice spreadsheet and grabbed the Sunday ads from office and electronic retail locations, as well as computer magazine ads, so that they could compare prices on various systems. I explained how processor speed, RAM, the size and speed of the hard drive, and video card would affect performance. They were able to piece together the following system for around $700:

Athlon XP 2000 CPU @ 1.67 Ghz (Via Chipset)
512 MB of DDR RAM
Nvidia GeForce2 GTS 32MB Graphics Card
17' LCD Flat Screen Monitor

Diane will be using this computer the most. So I explained to her what Windows is and what GNU/Linux is. She already knew that many businesses run on Microsoft programs. She asked me about the state of office and accounting software on Linux. I explained to her, as best I could, what file formats are. I told her that for word processing, OpenOffice could both read and write the Microsoft formats, and what that meant. As far as accounting, I told her about GNUCash, explaining that I knew it could import QuickBooks formats, but did not know if it could save in QuickBooks formats. She did some software reconnaissance on her own, checking prices on Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, and QuickBooks. Amazingly enough, in the midst of her information gathering, she met a lady at one of the office supply houses, who also was a Linux fan, and raved to her about it's stability. Diane decided to go with GNU/Linux, having absolutely not so much as one shred of computer experience to her name.

In the midst of all of this, Mike and Diane told me that they were making arrangements to have a separate phone line installed, in order to have a phone line available to access the Internet over dial up. After all, they had (really slow) Internet access for years through the phone line with WebTV. I explained that for the same money, they could skip the phone line and get blinding fast Internet access through a cable modem. The appropriate arrangements were made.

Table of contents
  1. "The Install, Part I"
  2. "The Install, Part II"
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