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A Non-Techie Discovers Free, Legal Software

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Though I'm reasonably comfortable with computers –- to use, not to sound intelligent about –- and I like the opportunity for playtime they provide, I'm not what the techies would call an early adopter. It was probably a year after my brother encouraged me to get out of my Internet Explorer comfort zone and try Firefox before I took the plunge. Then I kicked myself for not doing it sooner.

I get that open source means the underlying code is made freely available so any old geek can work with it, leading to improvements and add ons, but it's not as though I'm ever going to do that. To me, open source means free software that can compete with the big boys – and often blow them out of the water.

Mozilla's Firefox had tabbed browsing and the built-in ability to subscribe to website feeds long before the recent launch of Internet Explorer 7, as well as a huge variety of extensions and add-ons to give you more functions than you could possibly dream of. Adblock by itself cements the developers' place in computer geek heaven, since you never have to see popups or some other webpage ads. I also love Foxmarks, which synchronize Internet bookmarks between desktop and laptop.

The e-mail companion to the Firefox browser is Thunderbird, which made me forget Outlook as quickly as I'd forgotten Internet Explorer. You can use it for multiple accounts and it works as a great news reader too. This is where I subscribe to RSS feeds of my favourite sites and get new posts as if they were e-mails.

One thing it doesn't have is a built-in calendar to keep track of appointments and tasks, but there's a newish add-on called Lightning that fills that gap. Before that integrated option came along, there was Sunbird, Mozilla's stand-alone calendar. I preferred the paper calendar and chalk board above my desk to that more cumbersome choice, which offered far more function than my simple needs warranted. Plus, I guess I'm an old fashioned kind of computer near-geek.

When I got a new computer a couple of years ago, I decided to forgo Microsoft Office completely and give OpenOffice a try. It's the equivalent of Word, PowerPoint, Access, Excel, and Paint, with all the features I ever use, many I never use, and some bonus features like a built-in PDF converter. You can even save files as their Word, etc. equivalents – I set that as my default so compatibility with my Microsoft-bound office network is never something I have to think about.

With all the sophisticated open source software out there, it's been easy to cut my ties to the world of paid software. I'm not quite a fully developed open source junkie though. It's been a few years since my brother encouraged me to try Linux, and I'm still mocking him for his devotion to the penguin-branded operating system, which leads to compatibility headaches I can live without.

The penguin definitely is cute, though. I just don't think that's quite enough to make me take the leap. Yet.

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About Diane Kristine Wild

Diane travels. She doesn't tan.
  • Excellent!!!

    First and foremost: Linux is not suited for everyone. [Contrary to popular Geek opinion.]

    Your cutting your ties to the world of paid software is an important first step – not to becoming a Linux Penguin, but to become a PC user (a person computing). In the past too often people automatically (mentally) locked PC and Microsoft together. Breaking that paradigm is truly liberating. Congrats!

  • Douglas

    Linux maybe hard if you have hardware that it can not use but often that is not the case. In many cases you just burn a CD put it in the computer and it just works. Try Puppy linux or Knoppix and see. These will not do anything to your MS or Hard drive so it is a pain free and cost free (well OK a bit of download time and a blank CD)test drive.

    IF you find that everything just works then maybe you might want to install it which in some cases makes it run faster and makes saving things easier. Also with just a little bit of work you can keep your MS around for back up or retreat.

    I love to use Sabayon linux and Kubuntu but I hear that Mint linux is great and runs all your media straight out of the box. If these don’t run and you don’t want to spend a little time then just give up and you use what you have already nothing lost.

    For more info about distribution choices surf to Distowatch.com and spend some time reading. There are LOTS of choices you could make. Some are for old computer and some or for other countries and yet others are for hobbies, gaming and such. Even others are just for techies. You will find that some work with ease and others can take up to a week to get going when you know what you are doing but like power and fun of the home brewed way (Gentoo). If you want one that just works try 5 or 6 and see what works for you and what you like. Don’t waste your time with getting stuck. Just reboot and try the next one. Have FUN!!


  • Someone wrote recently about the potential for the open source industry to kill the venture capital industry. That may be far-fetched, but it’s fascinating to see how technology can continually and with ever quickening speed blow down the barriers to invention and innovation.

  • The story you tell is almost exactly the same as mine. My brother is also one of those who are early adopters and know a lot about computers. He even is one of those who know how to write the code. He was also the first in our family who have made the switch, first to open source software on Windows and later completely switched to Linux. Because he always praised open source software I also got interested and some day when I needed to reinstall Windows I asked him if he could also install Linux besides it so I could check it out from time to time. It was so for about a year and a half and I found myself using Linux more and more every day. For some time now I do almost all my work in Linux. Just love it because it looks so nice and because you can customize it a lot more then Windows. On top of that there is no worries about viruses and spying programs. Nowdays I only use Windows for some adventure games. All other work I do on Linux. So I can only say that don’t be afraid, ask your brother to install Linux besides Windows and keep trying Linux out.

  • Bliffle

    One of the very best VIDEO/AUDIO players around is VLC, which is free, and will play all your mpg, mp3, etc., as well as DVDs.

    Also, FLAC is the best “codec” for CDs since it is a ‘lossless’ technique that results in undiminished and undistorted ripping and burning of CDs. Much better than mp3, it is most commonly found among classical music files.

    The free FFDSHOW set of ‘codec’ decoders is excellent for videos.

    Open Software is generally better coded than commercial software and more reliable.

  • James Randall

    If the last time you tried Linux was 2 years ago, you may want to try again. Ubuntu has been making great strides and you can try it without installing it (just boot off the free “live” CD-ROM that they will mail right to you free-of-charge).

  • Diane Kristine

    Wow, you Linux crowd are a persuasive bunch. I might give it a try … I’m sure I’ll post about it if I do. I’m working on a part two to this on other open source software I’ve been using, so maybe my adventures with Linux will be part three.

  • Stomfi

    Very nice comments.

    Luckily for me I came from the UNIX and Open Systems camp so never suffered from the compatibility issues MS users complain about.

    I suppose compatibility issues is what we *NIX people call “vendor lock in”.

    I do use some Windows freeware under “wine” as a lot of the simple one purpose graphics manipulation and animation programs I want to use, were initially developed as shareware on win95 before the idea of Freeware as a way of advertising a sophisticated version and FLOSS as a way of selling services and addons really took off. They usually work okay.

    Otherwise, I really feel sorry for Windows OS users. It’s architecture is so old fashioned and out of date. Maybe they could try using Windows under Linux on VMWare. I might have to do that when I upgrade my PC hardware to a PS3.

  • Congradulations on your education. What you have discovered, albiet indirectly, is that when the source code is made freely available, for anyone to change, the result is that quality wins. Not marketing quality, real, it works for me, the program’s not broken quality.

    One reason is that it’s impossible to lie about what the program will do when anyone can run the program and see how it works. The increased transparency introduced into the marketplace makes for a more free market. Hence, you, the consumer, get a better product.

    For an extra bonus, because the license is, ultimately, about your freedom, nobody will ever take free software away from you. You’re free to pay anybody for whatever support you desire, should you happen to find it stops working one day. This means that the big investment you’re making in the software, the investment of your time, is secure. Of course obsolence will never be a thing of the past, but there’s never been a time when there’s so little of it in the future.

  • Phoobar

    Been playing around with Linux off & on for the past 10 years or so. As a techie trained on Microsoft software…find Linux a mature & stable choice for running servers & workstations in the business realm (where software is written for the OS & runs with the help of those trained to set it up & run it).

    On the other hand…being the main reason I still run XP is because my choices in PVR (Personal Video Recorder) software in Linux is very limited. Having tried MythTV & never being able to get it running right (able to record anything at all)…am running the free GB-PVR software from New Zealand & Auto Gordian Knot on XP Media Center Edition. This is the reason I don’t kill XP & run Linux. Too many of the programs I depend on run only on Windows. It’s situations like this which will keep Linux/Unix from being fully adopted.

    It’s still the difference between running a Hyundai (Windows) or a Porsche (Linux) in a race. Both will get you from here to there…but not everyone can or should drive the Porsche.

  • Diane Kristine

    I do appreciate the philosophy of open source, but on the other hand, I just want the computer to do whatever I want it to do with minimal fuss. I also long for a restaurant that has 2 items on the menu so I don’t face much choice. So the array of Linux distributions out there and the potential learning curve for setting it up and getting comfortable with it is overwhelming. I’m willing to try it just to see if it’s only a slightly more intense version of my reluctance to move away from the known evils of IE, but …

    … Phoobar, you just hit on one giant reason I’d probably not be able to give up Windows – I am completely in love with my Beyond TV PVR and would not be willing to part with it.

    Yes, I tried the open source versions and could not figure them out – the documentation was definitely not designed for the non-techie.

  • Mr. Pink

    Open Software is generally better coded than commercial software and more reliable.
    This is not true at all. Further more Linux on desktop tends to disintegrate with time same way Windows does. Linux people don’t know that because they jump from distro to distro every month. On top of it add the frequent releases with features added/removed/reshuffled and you got yourself another reason for frustration. You have to change you habits again to accommodate “new and improved” whatever it is they changed again. Geeks love this stuff, normal people don’t.

    Disgruntled Linux User.

  • tbuitenh

    I wrote something rather long and friendly, but the comments system complains about a banned word and won’t tell me what that word is.

    You may find http://www.getgnulinux.org useful.

  • I first tried firefox over the summer and now I hate using Explorer. That was a VERY easy switch and I was happy to do so.
    I just barely got going on Linux not too long ago. I am pretty comfortable with computers and understand the basics a little better than most. Linux was a little tough for me because I like to customize my computer. For those who don’t know much about computers i think Linux could be just as easy (if not easier). This is because they wouldn’t have to un-train themselves from standard Window’s practices. Linux is a little tougher for those who know how to get around in Windows and like changing things. But the internet is full of forums teaching you how to do it. Essentially you just have to learn how to do in Linux what you’ve already learned how to do in Windows. it’s know harder, you just haven’t been using it for years.

  • Tom

    I reckon you should give Linux another go. It’s come a long way in a few short years. If you’re having compatibility problems, I suggest you try the Ubuntu LiveCD. It will give you a taste of Ubuntu (albeit a very slow taste – remember, it’s running off a CD), and you should be able to check for problems then. My bet is that the only real problem you’ll encounter is multimedia support. This is not a linux issue, it’s a legal issue. Distributions can’t legally provide the required codecs and such in the US and some other countries, so they generally don’t bother. There are tools available, such as Automatix, which should help you get everything you need to watch movies and listen to music etc.

    I don’t know whether automatix will work on anything other than Ubuntu.

    You may also have trouble with wireless internet, but this can be solved if you spend some time reading. I originally used Linux with a cable connection, and only ever ran into a problem when I switched to wireless. I managed to solve it by using a friend’s connection to read up on the problem. After I’d installed some drivers, I was on my way 🙂

  • Josh

    It should be noted that free software is free as in speech, not free as in beer.

    If you like free software you should support it by getting involved in its forums to offer feedback, submit bugs when you find something wrong and offer suggestions for new features.

    In this way you are paying for the software in a way that is not financially burdensome and allowing others to enjoy free software more.

  • Homerman

    Sorry but you sure sound like a techie to me. A non-techie is someone like my mom who doesn’t know the difference between save and save as.

  • “Mr. Pink” writes that Linux degrades over time, just like Windows always does.

    This is oh so untrue.

    Of course, if you _think_ you know what you are doing and really don’t, if you persist in installing all sorts of binary-only drivers, proprietary software, and random smatterings from the Internet, of course you’ll wind up with something that’s _highly_ dependent upon the particular combination of installed versions and produce a fragile mess. No doubt “Mr. Pink” thought that he should manage his Linux system like he manages his Windows system — running hither and yon to get drivers and software and then going through the pain of integrating the various pieces into a system himself. It’s a hard thing for the typical Windows geek to un-learn, because Linux does let you take the training wheels off and won’t stop you if you decide to accumulate geek points and take your shiny new bicycle onto the the interstate highway.

    Linux comes “pre-integrated”. Stick with the Linux “secret sauce” that nobody talks about, get _all_ your software the easy way direct from your Linux distributor, and your system will (almost always) run forever _and_ have continual trouble free software upgrades. Install and uninstall at whim, you can always reinstall with a click direct from the Internet. (Is there a Linux distro that does not have a software repository freely available on the Internet?)

    This is one reason why the distro is important. The more software pre-packaged for a distro the less need to manage your own software integration. Debian probably has the most pre-packaged software, at about 15,000 packages. Other distros will vary.

    Which distro should you choose for your first foray into Linux? The one recommended by the person who will sit down next to you and help you with the system. Find a local Linux user’s group at linux.org, or a local Linux geek. If you don’t want to go that route, just choose something and stick with it for a bit. Ubuntu and Xandros are the two with the “most easy” reputation. You might want to hang out for a bit on the various support forums, and IRC channels, to see what kind of help you can expect come the inevatible problem, and choose based on who you like to interact with. There probably isn’t much of a difference in the learning curve between the “easy” and the “medium hard” distributions, so you might base your choice more on what will serve you in the long run than what’s easiest to install.

  • Diane Kristine

    Ha, no, I’m not that bad. On the spectrum from techie to clueless, I’m probably in the middle. I am comfortable using a computer and learning new programs, I just don’t know much about them, have little patience for fiddling with them, and want them to pretty much work out of the box.

    So, yeah, when people talk about putting in some effort to find the right kind of Linux and make it work with the programs and features I want … that’s what scares me off. My computer works now, and I am completely comfortable using it. I think I’ll give Linux a shot just out of curiosity, but it’ll be when I feel like a new challenge to play with, not to make my computing life easier. Maybe it will end up doing the latter, but the learning curve makes me a skeptic.

  • Scooter

    On the subject of Open Source.. I’m still at a loss for how it maintains commercial viability? How does a company that doesn’t sell its software stay alive? I understand its utopian appeal, free as in speech, etc., and that when code can branch based almost entirely on user needs (as opposed to market forces, legacy compatibility, etc.)that the result is better for the user…

    But how does an open source developer make a living?

  • Oh yeah. When choosing a distro, take a look at how long each release is supported. Unless you’re one of those people who want to upgrade your OS every 6 months. Are upgrades hard, no. You want to be _able_ to do them, but you don’t want to _have_ to do them.

    You never really _have_ to do them, but you’d feel ever so stupid if somebody broke into your system because you didn’t keep up with the security updates. And the time you’ll spend _then_ will make you wish you considered system security. What “supported” means really means is how long will security updates continue to be made available on a timely basis?

    This is why I’ve chosen the Debian “stable” release. I can automatically install security updates and only _have_ to upgrade every 2 or 3 years. I’d _like_ to be able to upgrade more than every year and a half or so, but I’m willing to forgo the latest and greatest if it means less hassle. YMMV. I don’t even run flash because I find the ads so annoying, so that gives you an idea of how behind the times I’m willing to be. A year and a half is forever in Internet time, which is the clock Linux runs on.

    P.S. I hear there’s some new distro out that’s _just_ for MythTV.

  • Mark Saleski

    I think I’ll give Linux a shot just out of curiosity, but it’ll be when I feel like a new challenge to play with, not to make my computing life easier. Maybe it will end up doing the latter, but the learning curve makes me a skeptic.

    it’s this kind of thinking, which is perpetuated by a generally lazy tech midia, that has hurt linux (well, that and the fact that it’s tough to find a computer with the software preinstalled…a topic for another day).

    if you install something like Suse 10. it looks a lot like any other windowed interface. i swear, the writing about linux makes it sound like it’s one step above hooking a logic analyser up to computer.

  • Dianne Kristine,

    Good attitude. 🙂


    (FOSS == Free and Open Source Software)

    They make a living by:

    Working for a software company that wants to compete on software and support quality, not marketing. (Red Hat)

    Working for a company that sells hardware or support that has enhanced value in conjunction with FOSS software. (IBM, Digium) How much money is made selling software by anybody not named Microsoft these days. Not much, except in big vertical markets where the money’s all in the ongoing support fees anyway. Small folks develop something and pray that Microsoft buys your company, because if they buy the competition you are crushed. With FOSS you can sell something that’s not software, and get an extra piece of the pie by charging more for a complete itemX+software+support bundle.

    working for a company that uses the large user base to derive indirect revenues. (Mozilla gets revenue from Google for search bar placement.)

    Working for a regular company writing and supporting important but generic software. (The bulk of FOSS developers, probably.) 70% of software is written for in-house use. Most of that is the same web-portal-or-whatever software that everybody else uses, but tweaked slightly. 70%+ of software development costs are for ongoing maintenance. Guess what? Contribute your enhancement to a FOSS project and your ongoing maintenance for that code is $0. You just reduced the overall cost of that part of your IT budget by over 2/3rds.

    Consultants that make money installing and maintaing FOSS solutions for their clients. They get paid to develop/enhance and the customer saves on ongoing software maintenance as above.

    Or, they don’t make a living at it but do it because they like making things.

  • Diane Kristine

    I don’t think it’s my “kind of thinking” that’s the problem. Read Karl’s comments, for example, and think about what they sounds like to someone who just wants to use the bloody thing to do specific tasks. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to use a computer as a tool, and not wanting to spend time getting an education on computers or operating systems.

    I don’t mean to suggest your comments aren’t useful or valuable, Karl, just … what you’re saying I need to do in order to use Linux successfully separates the basic computer user from the avid computer geek (I hope it’s clear I use the word geek with affection). I not only don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t think I know what I’m doing. How could I possibly think I’ll do any better than Mr. Pink?

    I think the first comment here is spot on. The people who are trying to convince me to try Linux are maybe unintentionally supporting the argument that it is definitely not for everyone.

    Linux sounds wonderful, I’m sure it will do everything I desire except create world peace, but I don’t want to need someone to sit next to me to help me with the system, or to use tech support, or read forums just to have a tool to surf the Internet, write emails, create word processing documents, etc. I have that tool now, without all that. I get the security advantages, but I also get that it’s safer to fly than drive, and I still choose not to get my pilot’s licence.

    [Karl – just saw your most recent comment when I hit preview. Yeah, I know, bad attitude. I said privately to someone that I’m going to try Linux just so I can write about how it didn’t work for me. And so I can be open-minded. Heh. I’m kidding – mostly. I was skeptical about trying a new Internet browser, too, so I will go into it with more of an open mind than it sounds.]

  • eldar

    Well I put on ubuntu, easy huh. sure if you like to compile everything. Oh wait, you can get automatix, well that does help, so does the synaptics. However, I am not the internet geek that so many here are. I like my computer games. Many new games still do not support linux, though they support windows(of course) and mac. Why is this? Oh I know, there are so many distros for linux it is impossible to keep them straight unless you spend half of your day on the net. then you get so many linux geeks that complain because the software vendor is not supporting linux. That is one of the reasons linux will have a hard time breaking into mainstream. Not because it is a bad system, but because the linux fanboys keep pumping out changes and different distros and complaining when others dont keep pace. To me, linux is about where apple was with the OS9. I personally find OSX to be way better than linux at this time and while I use it at work, I am still reluctant to use it at home cause it still does not do everything that I want to do. As for karl o pinc, I have great uptime with my xp box, I never need to defrag it, that is all from the win95/98 days. I analyze it once in awhile but I have never had over 2% fragmentation, that is good for any OS.
    I have used all 3 systems, windows is still the best for many different things, mac is still probably the better choice for graphics but that is more software based than hardware now. Linux is still all back of the bus. It has bright spots but unless you spend hours upon hours learning the system with someone BESIDE you, it will take a long time to learn it and cost a lot of free time better used for other things such as having a social life. Aside from linux, I do like most open software I find. Firefox is great, so is thunderbird(handles imap way better than outlook), opera might work ok but is kinda ugly looking.

  • Diane Kristine,

    I really did mean you have a good attitude regards computers. Not everybody wants to mess with them all the time.

    The thing about Mr. Pink is that he had to go to extra effort to mess up his system. He may have even followed well-meaning advice from Linux people who are all excited about having the latest and greatest. If you use the software install/remove tool that comes with your distro, then that’s the _only_ place you need to go. Stick with that and all the software should “just work”, forever, and if it does not then the distro support should be enthusastic about fixing the problem. Venture into other sorts of installing, you’re on your own with whatever support you can get. (Which could be quite a lot, with all the folks who know more than you do that will tell you how easy it is to install the absolute newest “project-X”. And it is easy. Easy-ish anyway. But the hidden cost is in keeping up with all your non-distrubution supported customizations. You’re sure to find gobs of people willing to help you install the proprietary Nvidia graphics driver that will frobnatz your graphic experience so that it’s state-of-the-art. But you have to ask before most of these willing helpers tell you that after installing the Nvidia driver upgrading your Linux distribution can cause your video to stop working. There’s no blame here, these people are just excited about getting as much as possible out of Linux. You may even need to frobnatz your graphic experience to have the Linux you desire.)

    What if the MS Windows software install/remove tool allowed you to instantly install or remove _every_ software program ever made for your version of MS Windows? Free of cost downloaded straight from the Internet. (eldar: No compiling. No goofy dialog boxes and clicking “I ACCEPT” and “Next” and product registration or monthly update fees, or system reboots either. Really. Much eaiser than MS Windows installation.) Think of synaptic (or whatever your distro’s software install tool is) as being like that. If you want to install Macintosh software, or software for a different version of MS Windows (e.g. software for MS Windows CE, the cell phone OS) well, with MS Windows you’re out of luck. Linux on the other hand makes it easy enough for an ordinary mortal to do such a thing. Trouble is, the ordinary mortal isn’t usually up to dealing with the long-term implications.

    Linux, done the easy way, using only the package install/remove tool, _is_ for everybody. At least everybody’s basic Internet surfing, word processing, spreadsheet making, needs. You’ll get more, lots more, out of some distros and just the basics from others. Application support is one place where shopping for distros comes into play. (The other big factors are probably the availablity of help and plain old personal taste.)

    What you miss out on with Linux is the big marketing campaign to tell you what (they say) everybody else is using so you know what distribution/software package/whatever to choose.
    It’s up to you to make the decisions, and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Who wants to start off on the wrong foot and waste time and look stupid? The first step is to realize that all you get out of a big marketing campaign, along with superficial information from a questionable source, is someone to blame for a bad decision.

    So, chill out. Take your time. Go exploring when you’re ready. And, as I mentioned before, see if you can get a guide. (A meatspace guide is best, but VNC is a good substitute.)

  • eldar,

    You are right. Linux is not for everybody. IMO it’s perfect for the geeks and the grandmothers. Those who know why they need to frobntaz their graphics card and those who don’t need, and probably shouldn’t have, that confusing “flash” thing.

    It bugs me that nobody’s telling those that need the basics that they can have something better (faster, more supportable (via vnc/ssh, or thin clients, or…), more secure, and constantly updated). The tech journalists are all about gushing over the latest and greatest, and somehow can’t bring themselves to tell people the big advantage of FOSS. Complete software systems, everything needed for the basics, all pre-integrated and ready to run. MS could afford to give away IE with the OS because they wern’t making any money on it at the time. They can’t afford to give away MS Office. Each Linux distro comes with _everything_, well, included in the Linux distro. Everything the average computer user needs, in one easy-to-use bundle. The tech media seems to enjoy telling folks how to make it into a hard-to-maintain system because they’re fixated on “The MS Windows Way” of always going to a 3rd party to get more software. Sure, the “power user” needs to do this, but we don’t all want to be “power users”.

    The “power users”, those just geek enough to have shaped MS Windows into something useful by persistantly poking it with a stick, are the ones that will have the hardest time with Linux. In my mind anyway, these folks focus on the GUI, which is ephemeral, as anyone who’s transitioned from Windows 95 to XP (or, I imagine, XP to Vista) will tell you. MS has given them nothing else to focus on, hiding real understanding from these poor souls and habituating them to a treadmill of GUI skillset obsolsence. 🙂

  • eldar

    Pinc, what you describe is exactly how a windows installer works. You launch it and click next a few times, accept license and in many circumstances, you do not even have to restart. You say linux does that but I must ask what distro you use. My ubuntu can do that sometimes. some items are ready to go. some are not. To say that everything is all in one neat package for linux is mis-leading at best. Another thing with linux are all the dependencies that are required for some programs. I mean if you are doing basic things with linux, such as word proc or net scrounging, then you don’t need to do anything special. Basic fact is that a linux install is no easier than a windows install.

    As for your comment, “What you miss out on with Linux is the big marketing campaign to tell you what (they say) everybody else is using so you know what distribution/software package/whatever to choose”. I don’t have to look far to see that over 80% of the computing world uses windows. This did not suddenly start, this was happening in the 3.1 days. And part of the reason is that most average people can use it with minimal training. Even OSX has a larger share than all the linux distros, at last check.

    I am not saying to avoid linux, however I must point out opinion when I see it. Linux works great for some people but to say it is so easy and never has trouble and does everything windows does and mac does and more is just a plain falacy.

  • eldar,

    I don’t think we’re in disagreement. I’m not saying to use Linux, or that it does everything. I’m saying that it comes with everything it comes with, which is all most people need. The difference between it and your Windows installer, is that with MS Windows you have to go get the software. Linux gets the software for you. As soon as you get the software yourself, your not a basic Linux user any longer. Your on your way to being an expert that needs to know about the things experts need to know about. Not the place for a beginner to start.

    I’m using Debian, the 1.5 year old stable version. I’m using only the free software repositories, not any of the non-free stuff, and I have a choice of 19,484 packages I can install with a single click via synaptic. Just to be safe and allow for versions, source code, etc., divide that by 2 for 9,742 total distinct software programs available at a click of a button. As for upgrading to new major releases, last time (IIRC) there were 3 steps. 1) Read the directions. 2) open a terminal window. 3) Type 2 commands. Most people install Debian once, and upgrade painlessly forever after. When they want to upgrade hardware, you either copy the disk or just phyiscally move the drive. No licensing hassles, no driver issues. Painless. (Unless you’ve already decided to be an advanced user and use 3rd party drivers.) Oh, if you copy the disk you do need to remember to type 1 command to re-install the boot loader. This sort of simplicity is possible because Linux comes “all included”, no special drivers, no crippled “system restore” disks, no artifical restrictions.

    You’re wrong about anybody being able to use a computer. Ignoring learning how to type, which is quite a hurdel, there’s quite a bit to learn about any computer before you can get it to do anything even semi useful. Try introducing a computer to somebody who’s never used one before and see. It’s quite the experience.

  • Diane Kristine

    Oooh, you mean you weren’t being sarcastic to me, Karl? I’m not used to that.

    And you’re right – there’s lots of people in the offline world who can’t use a computer, or who must so they do, but never feel comfortable even with the basics. Come to my workplace if you don’t believe me.

    My uninformed opinion is that until Linux as an OS makes bigger inroads into the work/educational world, personal users aren’t going to make the transition to Linux in giant numbers. My first computers were Macs, until everywhere I worked had PCs. And the prices on PCs were better. So I took the path of least resistance and got a PC when it came time to buy. I think that’s the biggest Linux hurdle – most non-techie users are going to take the path of least resistance and stick with what they’re familiar with and what’s pre-installed.

  • Diane Kristine

    Hmm, just realized I made it sound like I’m not used to Karl not being sarcastic with me. Since we don’t know each other, he’s probably thinking – huh? I meant I’m not used to being told I have a good attitude in a non-sarcastic tone 😉

  • Ah, the cold, cruel world of the blogger. 😉

    Anyhow, with respect to using computers, there’s an amazing amount of presumed knowledge. E.g. you need to click twice on an icon, but only once on a button, and how can you tell if something’s a button or an icon again?

    My guess is that you’ll see Linux first being used at work, and in people’s houses where somebody else is the one called to keep the computers working. Really, most people niether know nor want to know which operating system is which. They just want to go program their Word to get the Christmas letter out to their family. Truely. They’ll continue to program their Word no matter where their software comes from.

  • luis

    Yup linux is just for experts, I have being using it for years, actually I manage the computers in my workplace with ltsp (terminals), but the programs are a few (even microsoft office) it just works perfectly no problems, but you have to know how to configure it, than is all quiet and calm and easy as it gets, except that I had to study hard for a long time, once you get to know it you don’t want to use anything else. There are somethings lacking like good OCR plus making all that work in terminals, but believe for any bussiness I wouldn’t recommend anything.

  • eldar

    Karl, we are in perfect agreement about not everyone being able to use a computer. Not everyone can drive or swim, it is natural. I love to work with the hardware aspect but have much less patience for software sometimes. I often feel that anyone that wants to get a computer, no matter the OS, should take a class first!

  • Rod

    I’m really dissatisfied with Linux. It stinks for commercial use in stand alone PC’s in most workplaces.

    Linux is for the guy who saving money by building his own house — but then can’t go to work and make actual money.

    Linux is finicky to install, and really requires lots of under-the-hood know how, and where does that get you? The apps you can find are really, really disappointing; Open Office is downright unprofessional and distinctly third rate. And plenty of apps you can’t find for your company.

    You can literally spend all day working on your Linux system — and then not be able to do your taxes or a million other things, and need to buy a Windows computer for that.

    And the next day, and every day, you’ll get another 25 Megabytes of Linux patches to install until you filled your hard drive, so forget about going without broadband to save $40 a month, which you can do with Windows. Where exactly are the financial savings in Linux for the real penny pincher? It probably costs him more.

    It is also sad that Open Source thumpers have a double standard for Microsoft and Linux. When Linux distros come out full of bugs, inconsistencies, errors, and limitations, or can’t do Wifi or can’t drive the printer, or can’t even load, it’s a “work in progress.” When Microsoft makes a booboo even though it has to cover 93 different complex computer situations to every 1 that Linux has to (which has a built in advantage because it is only techies putting it in), it’s hubris, complacency, and time to holler. Show me the baby, don’t tell me about the labor pains. I don’t care what the sappy backstory of anything is if the work is not up to snuff.

    And that after it turns out that most of the major software wasn’t really Open Source, just failed commercial programs left on the discount rack they call the Internet.