Five crucial things the Linux community doesn't understand about the average computer user
Question: Why is it that the average computer user still
chooses to spend hundreds of dollars on Windows or Mac when there are countless
Linux alternatives that they could download, install and make use of completely
free of charge?
The PC market is extremely cut-throat. It has to be because consumers will
go to great lengths to save a few bucks when buying their latest system. But it
seems that this thriftiness hasn't resulted in hordes of users choosing to buy
PCs without Windows installed and instead choosing to install Linux instead. In
fact, there are plenty of users who would rather break the law and install
pirated copies of Windows than go the legal route and install a Linux distro.
On the whole, most people would rather spend the money on Windows (or Mac) than
take the time to experiment with Linux.
It seems that a lot of people are wondering this. Since starting to dabble
in the world of Linux I've seen this question posed on innumerable websites,
forums and blogs. Why is it that when consumer satisfaction with Windows is at
a low (at least according to many in the pro-Linux community it is) is the Linux
market share so low? It's pretty sad, but beyond a certain small segment of
computer users, you can't give Linux away.
Over the past decade I've had the opportunity (through my websites, blogs and
the online classes I've run) of coming into contact with tens of thousands of
computer users from all walks of life and this experience has been extremely
valuable to me in getting a glimpse into how individuals view the relationship
they have with their computer. Based on this, along with my recent experience
with Linux distros and communities, I've come to the conclusion that there are
five crucial things the Linux community doesn't understand about the average
computer user, and that these five things are slowing down the adoption of Linux
onto desktop systems in the home and office.
1 - On the whole, users aren't all that dissatisfied with
Despite what you read on websites and blogs, newspapers and
magazines, people on the whole aren't all that dissatisfied with Windows. There
are millions of users out there who just get on and use their PCs without any
After a decade of watching various trends and listening to people claim that
there's going to be a mass exodus from Windows "any day now," I've just not seen
it happen. Sure, the number of Linux users is now up a few percentage points on
what it was a decade ago, but there's no sign of a huge migration from Windows
to Linux. In fact, add Mac gains into the equation and the argument that people
want open source seems to fall down. Rather than moving from Windows to a free
Linux distro, it seems that people are happier moving from one paid for, closed
source OS to another.
The other flaw with hoping that dissatisfaction would drive users to another
OS is that people just don't think that way. When facing a problem with their
PC, people don't automatically start thinking "oh, a problem, I'd better go look
for another operating system." No, these people just want the problem solved so
that they can carry on with the work or leisure activities they were previously
engaged in. Switching OS is not a simple solution to a problem.
2 - Too many distros
Want to know why more people don't
choose Linux? Here's a clue for you:
Put simply, there are just too many darn distros to choose from. Sure, put in
some time and effort into research and experimentation and you'll find a distro
that works for you, but let's face it Windows users are having a hard enough
time now figuring out whether they should go for Vista Home Basic or Home
Premium. Try and sum up the pros and cons of all the Linux distros and it just
becomes far too complicated for users. Look at the Mac user numbers and ask
what Mac got that Windows and Linux don't - one choice.
You might be wondering why people like choice when it comes to browsers
(Internet Explorer vs. Firefox) but not when it comes to their OS. Simple,
experimenting with a browser is safe, while messing about with Live CDs and
virtual machines is beyond most people. Tell most people that you spent the
weekend running a variety of Linux distros thorough VMware and they wonder if
you rounded off the entertainment by sticking pins in your eyes.
3 - People want certainty that hardware and software will
Name me five bits of hardware that lists Linux as a supported
system on the box. I've just had a look around the office and I can't find a
single thing that lists Linux explicitly (I think I got a USB key some time ago
that mentioned Linux but I can't be sure). Until we see hardware vendors
shipping Linux drivers for hardware as standard, this will remain a nightmare
for anyone who doesn't have a sense of adventure.
It's worse for software. Anyone making the leap from Windows to Linux has to
start from scratch with regards to applications. That's a much bigger
undertaking than the Linux community gives credit for. Having to come up with
an alternative for every application you use is a big job.
Even with Dell's plan to ship PCs with Linux pre-installed, it's likely that
the only people who will buy these will be people with enough experience using
Linux to know what will work and what won't (or who will know where to find the
answers). I'm also left wondering how many people will buy an Ubuntu-powered
Dell only to find out that there's more to running a Linux distro than getting
an OS for nothing. And how many will eventually give up and install Windows
4 - As far as most people are concerned, the command line has gone
the way of the dinosaur
Linux users rave about the fact that under
Linux you can dispense with the GUI and go back to the command line (even I like the power
offered by the command line). But let's face it, we "command line fans" are
in the minority. For those old enough to remember DOS, most are glad than those
days are over, for others bought up on Windows, it's hard to explain the
benefits of a command driven interface.
In an age where people find it hard to keep a few control key keyboard
commands in their head for any length of time, the idea of switching to a
command line system just doesn't appeal to many people.
5 - Linux is still too geeky
Over the last few years
there's been a huge push to make some Linux distros easier to use, and when you
look at a distro like Ubuntu, you realize that they've done a pretty good job.
Problem is, there are some areas of the OS that are still overwhelmingly geeky
(for example, updates). Here's what I wrote about this problem a few weeks ago:
Ubuntu is nice, it's solid, it's fast and it's robust (so far anyway), but
it's also way too geeky in spots. Don't get me wrong, overall Ubuntu is nice,
friendly and convivial. But there are dark corners that absolutely reek of
Linux geekdom cliquiness that average users aren't going to feel at home in (I
don't feel at home there). Ubuntu updates are one such area where you need a
high level of know-how to understand what's going on.What the Ubuntu
dev team need to do is find, I don't know, 100 people who aren't Linux geeks and
stick them in front of the OS. Use these people to get feedback on different
aspects of the OS. As soon as users start to look confused, scared or go
bug-eyed then something needs tweaking. If your average home user is going to
look at Ubuntu as an alternative to Windows or Mac, all these geeky corners have
to be smoothed out.
Posted by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, ZDNet
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|Tech News:||Updated: February 2008|