ZDNet: Linux and the "average computer user".


Adrian Kingsley-Hughes of ZDNet has a nice article on what the Linux community doesn’t understand about the average computer user. You should read the entire article to understand the five points he raises. Below are my comments on each:

1) On the whole, users aren’t all that dissatisfied with Windows. Forget the fact that this point is damning with faint praise (“on the whole”, “all that”?), it’s generally true to the extent that users never try anything else. Still, if the true thrust of this point is that Windows has not yet been so bad that even average users are screaming for something better, it’s true enough.

2) Too many distros. I agree with this, and like the simplicity of Apple’s one version of OS X. Microsoft’s six or so versions of Vista is ridiculous, in my opinion, and the number of Linux distros is quite large, though one could pretty easily filter them down to a few really popular ones.

3) Certainty that hardware and software will work. This is a biggie. And it doesn’t even have to refer to any new hardware one might buy. Who’s to say the hottest Linux distro will even work with what you already have? Some distros let you boot from CD so you could at least ensure basic functionality, but who wants to mess with this?

4) The Command Line is a dinosaur. This is the one point I’m not sure needs to be here. Apple’s OS X has done a great job of hiding the Command Line and, indeed, it need not be used at all. Most of the popular Linux distros attempt to get you up and running on a GUI with all the apps you need and avoid the CLI as well. Certainly, if tweaking needs to be done most users are not going to take kindly to it, but I believe that’s true whether they need to use a CLI or some GUI tool.

5) Linux is still to geeky. Personally, I think this should have been #1 on the list. Perception is reality, and the perception here is that Linux is free for total geeks who don’t need or want to use mainstream software, and want to babysit their PC all the time, etc. It’s not nearly as bad as all that, but I’m not sure how or when Linux can shake this perception.

I don’t think Microsoft needs to worry about Linux on the desktop too much anytime soon (despite Dell offering it installed on some models). However, Microsoft should be very wary of Linux on servers, and I think they have only recently begun to take this seriously. For servers, none of the above items really applies like it does to the “average” computer user. Servers is big, big money for Microsoft, and they probably should have taken Linux more serious as a threat 2-3 years ago. Better late than never, I guess.

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