I’ve only been using GNU/Linux since 2001, so I won’t say that I’m by any means an expert yet, as most of those that are reading this, probably have been using Linux much longer than I have. However, I still have high hopes for the Linux scene. The purpose of this article is to voice my personal opinion on what I feel is keeping GNU/Linux from taking over the mainstream operating system market. My intentions aren’t to “badtalk” the open source kernel+apps, but rather give constructive criticsm on what I personally feel it could be done better.Introduction
Why is it, though, that Linux hasn’t yet taken over the mainstream market? There are quite a few completely free downloadable distro’s, so why aren’t more people giving it a shot? In my view, several things need to be improved before Linux can take over the market. Ease of use, usability and 3rd party software support are among those that I feel should be improved upon.
The Competition, out of date?
To the best of my recollection, Windows XP was released in 2001. Predictably, that’s what the majority of PC users use these days and what I’ve used myself during the brief period when I was taking Linux classes at a local community college out of shear curiosity. Windows XP is now obsolete, it’s old now. The successor? None, yet. At least not until when late 2005 or 2006 rolls around and with it, Windows Longhorn.
But what about those that don’t want to wait that long for up to date software and the newest technologies? The answer to quite a few is Linux. However, when most “casual users” think of Linux, they either think about geeks with bottle glasses and plaid shirts, or something that is completely unknown, and to some, scary. There are those though, that welcome Linux with open arms, some of them being your everyday web surfer or chatter, and others that get their kicks out of recompiling kernels or playing with Midnight Commander.
Ease Of Use
Usability is one of those features in Linux that actually is improving almost every day. When I first learned Linux, my distro of choice didn’t even have a “Computer” icon in Gnome. (That didn’t roll out until Gnome 2.6, unless you made one yourself). However, I had to learn how to navigate to the /mnt folder and throw a few mount commands at the terminal in order to view files on a CD or hard disk. It’s definitely looking up, but there are some things that still should be improved.
If I had to pick one thing to improve above all others, I’d have to say software installation. No, I am not talking about installing the actual OS (we have Anaconda and many others for that) but rather installing and upgrading software applications.
For example, in order to install KDE 3.4 RC1 on my system, I found some APT repositories and downloaded away, and it worked. However, a new user to Linux (fresh from Windows) is accustomed to double-clicking a setup icon, clicking “next” four or five times followed by “Finish”. That won’t work here. The last time I tried to explain Apt to an avid Windows user, I got a blank stare.
But why shouldn’t Linux work the same way? Upgrading KDE made my system download somewhere around 30 packages. Meanwhile, XFCE, another up and coming desktop solution, recently released an installer and shocked the Linux world. I was so happy, that I logged on to KDE’s bug report wizard, and under wishlist, and said that basically it would be nice if KDE does this too. And how wonderful that would be, right? Nope, I was told in so many words that a KDE installer will never happen, and to wait for my vendor to upgrade. I was also hinted toward using Konstruct.
To me, “Wait for your vendor” is a Linux remark that should get thrown in the trash. The way I see it, without installers, I strongly believe that Linux will never amount to anything in the mainstream market. In addition, I don’t want to wait 3-6 months to have the newest software whenever my “vendor” releases a new revision. When Microsoft releases its newest Directx, you don’t have to wait until the next version of Windows to utilize it, you are free to download and install it right away. I do understand that KDE has the konstruct builder, and Gnome has Garnome, but both require the command line, neither have ever worked for me, and both still need dependencies. (An ideal “installer” is without a commandline). When I say “Installer” I mean something that you click on, choose components, and have a progress bar, because that’s what the typical Windows user absolutely needs to feel at home. At the end of the day, requiring a new user to find the command line is right when Linux has failed for that user.
That leads right into the next subject I feel important, which is usability. A good case study is at work, they have just installed a brand new “Internet Cafe” in the lunch room which is based on Knoppix. They basically installed the cd onto the hard drives of the PC’s, but in a way that the hard drives are read only and they start over every time they are rebooted. This is a great way of doing it, actually, but they forgot to include Macromedia’s flash player in the image.
Since I am the only “Linux guy” of my department, it’s my duty to install the flashplayer for everyone, since I am the only one there that knows how. I fire up the command line, download the Gunzip package, throw a few commands in the terminal, and flash is ready to go. (A brand new Linux user couldn’t do that!) I even caught someone downloading the Windows flash installer (somehow) clicking on it repeatedly, and then they ask “Why isn’t this working?” Like I said before, I feel that the very moment Linux requires you to fire up Konsole, is right when Linux has failed. In this case, it’s not Linux’s fault, Macromedia made the installer, but you get my point.
Linspire came up with the idea of “Click n Run” which is a step in the right direction. However, Synaptic is the best you can get with most other distro’s. My point is that this is exactly what we need – more Click n Run’s and Synaptics. I feel this is what developers should focus on this year, but instead, perhaps installers that are alot like Click n Run or Synaptic, with easier features. Another possibly is making downloadable installers with apt-like capabilities built right in, to automatically resolve dependencies. That could work very well.
Third Party Support
I think it’s really good that more and more non-Linux developers are jumping onto the Linux bandwagon, but we could always use more. As it stands now, it’s already known that the majority of new pc game releases are usually made exclusively for Windows. Perhaps some developers are too scared to program for Linux? At any rate, there are more technologies available now then there were in the past. For example, I find Cedega is relatively good for Windows games, but Windows games will always run better in their native environment, no matter how good the program made to convert them. As great as Cedega and Wine are in general, they don’t fix the immediate problem, that being the industry leaders in this market, or any market, don’t program for Linux. If that were changed, I am sure that would give Linux the boost it needs to be pushed forward.
I don’t necessarily apologize for making so many comparisons to Windows. Microsofts’ flagship operating system stands as the most used today, and that is more than likely because it’s easy to use. As the top dog in the industry, making comparisons to it is inevitable. Windows or not, I’m sure we all want our PC’s user friendly no matter what the hardware or OS.
If any of you readers have an idea on how Linux will work better, don’t keep it to yourself! Post it at your local bugzilla or developer’s website, because no one will know your ideas unless you make them known. The strength of Linux will always be the people that use it, and in numbers, so use your power to convince those in power to make things better. If you don’t, it may never happen and I cannot stress enough how important it is.
If any developers are reading this, let’s come up with some installers, user friendly applications, and nullify the dependence most distributions have on the terminal.
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