Linux Education Is The Key To Popularity

Ryan Paul reports that Linux notebooks have not been a hit with the consumer world. They have a higher return rate than the Windows counterparts. And the reasons cited hover around hardware compatibility and usability problems.

I am surprised to see the hardware compatibility problems coming up as Linux is a lot polished in this area now. I have my Acer 5920 laptop working with all its bells and whistles using Arch Linux, including the integrated webcam and wireless. In fact I did not have to do anything special to get them working. I am sure other consumer-focused distributions make it more usable. However, some piece of hardware will always be incompatible, and if the manufacturers ignore this, it will be a problem. Even Vista had seen this day.

The other reason which was highlighted as usability problems, was perhaps an education problem, which we, as a Linux community should acknowledge. The worst way of adopting Linux is to get it to do things the way Windows does it. Linux can be better than Windows, but it can better only by being different.

Matt Assay feels that Linux has to at least match the Windows experience. I say the problem lies in trying to sell Linux as a Windows clone. It can temporarily attract people, but they will hit a wall when they see the difference. This creates usability problems because they expect Linux will install applications the way Windows does it, or the desktop will look as it does with Windows. When in fact, application installation is more secure and usable.

I applaud Apple that it has made OS X popular by highlighting its difference, not the similarity. People who want to want to sell Linux should take a hint from it and show consumer how they can be more productive with Linux. However, as a Linux community, the only way we can to avoid copying Windows is to educate consumers about it.

According to me, educating people through seminars, talks, demos and presentations should be the highest priority for the various Linux foundations and user groups. Only then will consumers be able to see the difference and use it to their benefit.

Discussion [Participate or Link]

  1. Encephalosponge » Learning to Love Linux? said:

    […] noticed an interesting article on ifacethoughts stating “Linux Education Is The Key To Popularity.” I agree to an extent, but there are some caveats. This started off as a comment on his […]

  2. rick said:

    We should start by mandating that government institutions need secure computing environments at the lowest cost. I know of schools that pay hundreds of thousands to keep up pcs and that is not repair, those are windows licenses, server licesnses, vendor agreements and other crap that is just a waste of money.

    Children should be learning how to use computers and also how to program them. I learned BASIC on apple IIs and they were brilliant to use, worked perfectly every time and were even easily networked. Why can’t we have that now?

  3. Mike said:

    I have actually had alot of compatibility problems with the few linux distros I have used. It always stems from the video card drivers for me(Nvidia based). Which stemmed from being a noob to the software distribution/installation systems on the different distros.

    The fact is all of the different software distribution/installation systems for Linux turns alot of people off. The fact that there is so much actual need for user interaction just to get simple software installed turns people off. Until there is a uniform system that is easy to use and needs almost no user interaction Linux as a whole will not gain great ground.

    Also to say that every computer user needs to learn to program as look said seems a bit harsh. Would you say every person who watches television needs to learn how the underlying hardware works, does every person who has heat in their home need to learn how a furnace functions? Maybe the every person needs to learn everything about everything. Its seems a bit idiotic

  4. Abhijit Nadgouda said:

    Mike, thanks for the comment. Some Linux distributions are more of DIY-kind, where the interaction is significant. However, I believe distributions like Ubuntu, Suse or Xandros are dealing with these issues quite nicely. Most of them have a GUI for installing softwares, and they are quite usable without having to know the underlying system. Of course, it is different, and that will require some reading up. Most of them also have working with popular hardware documented in wikis, which reduces interaction significantly. And there are also some efforts in normalizing the packages installation API across all distributions (http://ifacethoughts.net/2007/01/17/cross-platform-package-api-for-linux/).

    And this is what I mean by education. Linux is of course going to be uncomfortable in the beginning because it is different. And education can help us get familiar quicker. I feel this is better than developing a clone of Windows to comply with the current popular choice.

    Let me also clarify that most of the Linux distributions do not ask you to learn programming to learn using them. There are some Linux distributions which are targetted towards developers and if a novice picks it up it can be turn off. But distributions like Ubuntu are very much usable and highly productive without having to know any programming.

  5. Mr Moof said:

    I agree with a lot of whats written here that Linux shouldn’t be compared to windows. It doesn’t surprise me that a larger percentage of Linux sub notes get returned. I used to work for a large retail chain that sold PC’s & Macs and Macs had a higher return rate, usually buyer is an idiot and part magpie is attracted by shiny Mac, gets home and after a couple of days it sinks in that he/she owns a Mac then phones brother/uncle/father/son whoever is the goto guy about computers in their social group/family and get told they bought a load of rubbish. They then return it to the shop and the shop staff refund it for any given reason because they themselves know nothing about the product it just arrived and they got told to put it on display. I expect it is exactly the same for Linux hardware. One thing thats always bothered me about the linux community I myself being a long term member, is why doe’s everyone have more of a problem with windows than the people who actually use it? I use Linux and point blank can’t use windows in the same way i’m using Ubuntu and after years of working in I.T retail, resale, distribution aswell as doing telephone and onsite support, it’s really nice to be able to turn around to people and say “sorry I don’t use windows I’m sure there are for more people who could help better than me”. So why the hell do I want to convert uninterested people to use a system they neither want or could use? Linux is more involved than Windows or Mac and to make use of the advantages it has over other systems takes time, and most people are not interested enough to spend the time to learn because they don’t use their PC’s enough to warrant it. Let the Windows user be!(their own problem).

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Abhijit Nadgouda
iface Consulting
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