Linked by David Adams on Mon 24th Aug 2009 09:21 UTC
Linux A reader asks: Why is Linux still not as user friendly as the two other main OSes with all the people developing for Linux? Is it because it is mainly developed by geeks? My initial feeling when reading this question was that it was kind of a throwaway, kind of a slam in disguise as a genuine question. But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I felt. There truly are a large amount of resources being dedicated to the development of Linux and its operating system halo (DEs, drivers, apps, etc). Some of these resources are from large companies (IBM, Red Hat, Novell). Why isn't Linux more user-friendly? Is this an inherent limitation with open source software?
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I do think that a large part of the problem with Linux is the lack of constancy.
One commenter mentioned that there are many open source projects (most of which are available for linux) which are feature equivalent to commercial software available for other OSes. However, the problem is that they often end up imitating the other software, which means that a lot of the software for Linux has different ways of doing things, different UIs etc. which leads to inconsistency.
You also have the problem that if a non-technical user sits down and learns how to user "linux" for simple everyday things, they would be quite confused if they were to use a different person's "linux" computer and found that it was quite different: While the great variety of distros are a blessing, at the same time they are a curse.

Lack of consistency is a red herring. On Windows you have little consistency and people seem to get by okay. On OS X, the poster child for UI perfection, you have a few tons of inconsistencies. Consistency is nice but it is not required to be *sufficiently* friendly and it is not what's holding Linux back.

What hampers Linux:
* Hardware vendors who don't support it themselves, forcing extra effort by the community.
* No one/few people selling it to people who just want a computer.
* Limited acceptance from joe-average IT guy. Grandma can't take her Linux box to Best Buy to troubleshoot a problem.

These things are all medium grade issues. The biggest problem is one word: polish.

Linux software is most fine. It's good enough as, as good as or better than the crap you get on other platforms, with a few notable exceptions. Polish and integration, however, is total crap compared even to Windows, much less OS X.

Ubuntu looked at first like it was trying to tackle this issue, but they succumbed to the same downfall as everyone else before them: Just package everything and it will be fine!

What we need is for a distributor to finally say "You know what? Screw Linux. I am not making a Linux Distribution! I am going to make Foobar OS!" And then they package just exactly what they need and they make *everything* they package work with *everything* they package. Make it all smooth and seamless and, if you can't, don't include it!

I don't want to see a dialog window with the same ALT shortcut key for two different buttons (thanks intrepid!) I don't want to have six different tools for anything. No, wait, to be fair I do want those things, but I want to see a distributor not want those things. Do not give way under pressure from users to add this or that application. You know what? If they need 'em that badly they'll compile them themselves, or find someone who did. Your job is to make sure *your stuff* works beautifully the first time and every time, and upgrades cleanly, and stays secure. Once you've done that perfectly for a year you can start adding more perfect, beautiful software. Or, better yet! Publish a SDK describing how to make an application integrate beautifully with your system and let the upstream developers do it for you, or let some wannabe middleman package it for you.

POLISH! It's all very well and good to create ~/Pictures/ for me, though please don't do that, but it would be nice if picture apps saved there by default. And, wouldn't it be nice if I could *change that location* in my preferences and then picture and image apps switched to saving to the new location by default? I dare you to try this right now, today. Go to your awesome GNOME desktop apps and find out which ones, when first installed, use these fancy folders by default. Hint: On most distributions they wont.

Suppose they did, though. AWESOME! As the system administrator, where do I control whether these default locations are used and or what they are? Can I set a system wide policy that says "Pictures go in ~/IMAGES/ instead of ~/Pictures/"? If I set it, does all image manipulation software that is subsequently installed, or already installed, use that location by default? If I apply the change after the system is up and running for a while will ~/IMAGES/ get autocreated or did someone stupidly rely on skel for that? POLISH!

This is one pithy example here, please do not post replies telling me how my example is flawed and pictures work just fine on this or that distribution. I don't care! I'm just trying to get you to see the sort of thing which actually hurts Linux user-friendliness and adoption. It's not ever-more-limited GUIs with fewer and fewer options! It's not making all the OK buttons have the same icon. It's not having or not having toolbars. It's (say it with me now) POLISH!

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