“Some things the Linux Community still doesn’t get”… really?

Ramkumar Shankar writes on his blog: “The day when Linux will take over the desktop (or at least have a significant footprint in the market) is still not upon us. That’s because there are a number of things the Linux community still doesn’t get, slowing down adoption of the OS in the home and home office.”

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I posted this story because even though it contained some tired-old overgeneralizations and misconceptions, it still raises some good points.

  1. Over-generalizations: Mr. Shankar still echoes the old, tired FUD about “the Linux community”, trying to caracterize Free Software advocates as elitist, snobbish religious fanatics with a zealous hatred of Microsoft. It almost looks like it was talking about Mac fanboys! 😛 (yes, Tim, I know you use a Mac, but you definitely are not a fanboy).

    When I advocate Free Software, I try not to dismiss Microsoft; I try to present the case for software freedom. And believe me, with racketeers like the BSA breathing under your neck and whispering things like “software audit”, you usually tend to appreciate that.

  2. Mis-conceptions: Some of the critiques were made under the assumption that for GNU/Linux to gain some footing in the desktop arena, installation should be done by clueless end users in the most user-friendly way possible. (Please note that I am using clueless in a respectful way here. I am not dismissing newbie or clueless users in any way.)

    This assumption is wrong. The only ones installing operating are nerds, script kiddies, consumers of illegal copies of proprietary operating systems… and computer manufacturers and systems integrators. I said it once, and I will say it again: It is completely unreasonable to expect an end user to install his or her own operating system.

    OS installation-related procedures (such as determining which particular version of the OS is suitable for a particular user) should be performed by a technically savy person—the resident nerd, the ‘whiz-kid’, the tech support representative… you get my drift. If you don’t believe me, try right now to install and configure Windows XP or Vista.

  3. Good points: Despite all the shortcomings, Mr. Shankar still has some good points to make. GNU/Linux has very good hardware support, but it still must be better prepared to deal with all the hardware that is out there. Sadly, this is an issue with no easy solution unless the hardware makers get convinced about the value of having their drives ported to GNU/Linux. On the other hand, this is an issue that is mostly out of the community‘s reach, and he was talking about community.

    Another good point Mr. Shankar makes is that we need to keep improving the user-friendliness of our system and applications. Here he’s got a point. And I am not thinking on the command-line. I am thinking on things like the awfully cluttered KDE Control center, the extremely rigid GNOME settings, the stupid package-management tricks, and the arcane settings of many apps. We surely can do better!

Therefore, reading is recommended with a little bit of salt… or two.


  1. Nice response. I know that I had broadly generalized. Some of the issues I brought up do not always apply in all cases of course. But I guess the readers should have understood that point. With that disclaimer aside, a couple of things.

    1. I think Mac communities are, in general, a whole lot friendlier than Linux communities. While Apple is well capable of coming up with the ‘fanatical’ marketing, Steve Jobs was clever enough to make sure they did not find a place in Apple’s site or sales literature. Or perhaps it is also a case of a small subset of the Linux community that is both aggressive and vocal.

    2. Interesting point. It would therefore be interesting to see how Dell computers with Linux pre-installed are received. However, from my personal experience, I have found that Windows installations are simpler. But that difference is really becoming negligible at this stage. Linux installations are on their way to becoming really simple as well.

    3. However, some parts are still a tad too geeky. I’ve mentioned this before. What could be done is get a hundred people not familiar with Linux and stick them in front of a Linux box. When they get confused, see what’s wrong. Yes, it can definitely be done better.

    Thanks for your response. It’s good to see a healthy discussion around this. ,)

  2. I find a large part of the Linux user base includes people who want no part of mainstreaming Linux. They’d rather the unwashed masses stayed out. Assuming they will not be the dominant force of the Linux future, I would agree with Mr. Shankar’s #3 comment. It’s marketing, and we need the market research of seeing what sorts of things frustrate new users. Some of them can be fixed; some are simply part of computer use in general. Getting past that, we retain one great advantage. Once MS and allies have moved the mass of users into friendlier territory, they tend to cripple the power user stuff, or hide it thoroughly. Linux will likely never see that. I prefer to think the commandline will always be one click away.

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