Thursday, September 29, 2011

Playing To Our Strengths

Are Linux Users Shooting Themselves In The Foot?
Written by 1roxtar

In April of 2009, my Windows XP computer crashed for the umpteenth time and this time around I lost a lot of valuable data. I was so angry because I didn't even have a cd copy to reinstall my OS. Neither did I have the cash to shell out for a new cd so I did what most broke people do in my situation, (don't tell anyone) is use a bootleg cd of TinyXP. Even though I hated going this route and I never feel confident about the security of any cracked versions, I felt it was a necessary evil that got me to the point I am now.

Nevertheless, as soon as I was up and running again, I began to Google for alternative computer operating systems. “There had to be something out there”, I thought to myself. I searched and read about BSD, and Solaris, but the one that kept sticking out was Linux. I quickly came to understand what a Linux distribution or “distro” was. I further researched as to which distro would be the easiest to install and use. What blew me away was that, for one, it was free. Secondly, I could install it on all my computers from the same cd without activation keys. Thirdly, I could even test drive it right from the cd itself.

I asked myself, “Is this even LEGAL???” I still laugh to myself that such a thought entered my head, but it was justified. My previous experience was that if it was free it had to be a bootleg or that it just wasn't any good because I never heard of anybody using it. Nevertheless, I tried several LiveCD's before I made the attempt to install it on my own computer, I tried out Fedora, Debian, Freespire, and ultimately, Ubuntu. Everything I read about Ubuntu told me that that was the distro of choice for Linux newcomers, so I ran with it.

I ran an Ubuntu 8.10 LiveCD and surprisingly it was pretty easy to navigate through and even though it was different than the Windows I was using, a lot of its features functioned in a very familiar way. I was quite impressed and completely intrigued. Ubuntu came with my favorite internet browser, Firefox, installed by default. It had a movie player, a music player, it's very own office suite, a bittorent client and a universal instant messenger client, right out of the box. I was one week away from the release of 9.04, so I waited and after its release I downloaded and installed it to my computer. I never looked back again. I was “sold” on this free Linux.

Of course, I still had lots of questions. My only experience was with Windows up to this point. I needed to know which Linux programs could replace the ones I used before and which ones worked well. I joined some forums and with the help of the community, I was getting more familiar and more adept at using a linux based operating system with success. They even helped me make friends with the command line terminal, something I rarely used on Windows. My question now is why isn't everyone in the whole world not using it? We should be giving Microsoft the middle finger and laughing our butts off at the absurdity of paying $100 - $300 to an “evil” company, while we can do the same things on our computers and that it can be done at no additional monetary cost.

I know that Redmond is acting like Linux isn't a big threat, but it is doing everything in it's power (and deeeep pockets) to keep vendors from preinstalling any kind of distro on their machines. But thats not where the deeper problem lies. In my opinion, Linux users are more responsible for spreading far more FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) about themselves than even what Microsoft has thrown against it. As I read through various forums and blog sites, it is our very own who cry out, "We are NOT ready!" From my perspective, it even seems like old linux power users don't even want for Linux to go mainstream. They don't want anyone messing with their niche. Other users say we won't be ready until we get Linux versions of MS Office or Outlook or Adobe's Photoshop or mainstream games. These may be what many are used to, but Linux also possesses awesome feature rich programs that can stand on their own two feet.

Too often the attention is focused on what we don't have rather than what we do have that makes our computing lives more complete. The forums are filled with folks who have abandoned Windows and Mac on their personal computers. Governments, schools and businesses are starting to adopt Linux on the desktop and open source, in general. Largely, as a community, we don't play to our strengths and that is what I believe is hurting mass adoption. In essence, we are shooting ourselves in the foot with all the negative talk and attitudes.

When I started looking into ubuntu and linux forums a couple of years ago, I found it to be very, very helpful. I learned so much about Linux that I completely removed Windows from all my own computers. Nowadays, it's become a constant flamewar battleground against Ubuntu, Unity and Gnome 3 Shell. Sometimes I feel a sense of embarrassment as I read through new user's threads in the testimonials and experiences sections. Many newbies post that Ubuntu is the next best thing since sliced bread, only to be sliced and diced themselves by “power users” who hate Unity.

But I don't want that to take away from the fact we do have excellent examples of quality programs that could keep you from ever having to go back. For starters, LibreOffice is becoming a truly solid and fully featured suite. Gimp is also a powerful tool for photo editing. Firefox and Chrome are faster and more secure replacements for Internet Explorer. OpenShot has much better features than Windows Movie Maker. K3B is a disk burning tool that rivals and surpasses Nero, in my opinion. Arista Transcoder does all my video conversions effortlessly, Sound Juicer rips my cd's like a ninja and VLC plays every video format I can throw at it. This isn't even the tip of the iceberg, folks. There are tons more and many distros are making it easier and easier to install apps from their repositories and software centers. In fact, both Linux Mint and Ubuntu offer customer ratings and reviews, thus making it easier to pick the best ones out there.

For gamers, I understand that we don't have a lot of commercial games ported to Linux just yet, but we are starting to hit big with beautiful and fun indie games. Thanks to the likes of the Humble Indie Bundle, the Ubuntu Software Center and Desura (an online digital distribution service for gamers), we are getting more games coming at a rapidly increasing rate to wet our appetites. In fact Linux gamers have consistently payed more than both Windows and Mac users combined during the Humble Indie Bundle pay-what-you-want campaigns. There is a lot of optimism on that front now, much more than even two years ago.

Herein lies our path to success on the desktop. We have to stop the flamewars and bickering. There has to be a unified consensus that Linux is ready. Pave the road for adoption. Remember why you came to linux. Show your immediate world what we truly have. Additionally, we need to dig into our pockets and help FUND our favorite Linux and open source programs. We have many great programs and distros already and if we promote their strengths rather than their shortcomings, we could start pulling ahead and gain some much needed market share.


Adam "Dangertux" said...

Great article, I enjoyed it, I agree with you on a lot of points. However, I have a few things I would like to point out.

First I totally agree that the Linux "community" can be very discouraging toward newcomers, this isn't as noticeable on Ubuntu Forums as it is in other places, however it's there too. It's really quite a shame. I've been using Linux for a long time over a decade at this point. I originally chose to try it out of curiosity. I enjoyed it a great deal and my first distro was Red Hat 6.2 (back when Red Hat was free).

However, I feel the biggest reason for the flame wars that you spoke of is misinformation on both parts. The part of the new user, and the part of the "power user". A lot of power users aren't really as knowledgeable as they would like to think they are, and what they lack in knowledge they make up for in opinions (example : the Unity debate). New users are put off by this and or get the wrong information from the start, this makes the transition harder for them and propogates common myths about Linux.

For example : Firefox and Chrome are more secure than Internet Explorer, while that would have made a GREAT argument 10 years ago, it's not so true anymore. In fact, in certain respects IE is ahead of the curve, and in just about every other aspect they are on par with each other.

Also, while I fully support donating to open source projects and supporting them in any way you can, I don't really think this is why Linux hasn't gone mainstream. Nor do I think it's the lack of a user friendly environment. If anything it's the lack of education about what Linux offers, which you mentioned as well in your article. In some aspects it's unrealistic for Linux to go mainstream at this stage of the game. At least in terms of proprietary developers making ports. You can't expect a company to invest millions of dollars into porting to a distro when there is no money in it. Face it, the Linux community isn't known for paying for their software. Also there are technical issues involved, driver support, architecture support, common fonts and printing support to name a few. Keep in mind developers have to consider all distros not just Ubuntu, or Fedora, so while the support may be there in the more mature distros, the software companies need to impact the largest audience possible to make their money back.

Just my thoughts, in any case I enjoyed your article.

scrat said...

LOL: My XP hard drive was turned to byte-ash in 2006... went just about the same route, tried a dozen of distros only to settle on Ubuntu LTS for now on the desktops/laptops. I also run a CentOS server and a pfSense router. But, the way they're messing Ubuntu with Gnome 3 and Unity - I foresee I'll switch completely all desktops to some Slackware distro, or Debian or CentOS or Scientific Linux in the next 1-2 years...

As for the "wild" communities of Linux: I've been a Windows user for just about 20 years now and I think people are just people, regardless whether they use Linux or Windows. (And, no: I would not return to using Windows at home even if it were free in any way.)

kfp said...

The reason Linux hasn't taken off on the desktop is because there is no one marketing it. such as: tv ads, radio ads, getting it promoted by a b&m like Best Buy, paying OEMs to include a liveCD with purchase like McAffee and Norton(or pay to have a wubi icon preinstalled in Windows). People may hear about Linux word of mouth but aren't going to take it seriously until it gets marketing exposure like everything else.

However, only RedHat and Canonical have the money to market Linux desktop. RedHat though doesn't care about the desktop. This leaves just Canonical and with Ubuntu One(now avaible for Windows) this is the time for them to start some serious advertising.

And by advertising I mean how Apple advertises. (Everything else Apple does makes me want to vomit, but their advertising/marketing is top notch.) This means tell people exactly what they can do with Linux. Show them! People don't understand really what Linux can do and what it is about. Walk them through the Linux experience. This is the good type of hand-holding and needs to be done in the advertising.

Why are iPads selling so well? One, Apple fans are a cult. But Two, Apple shows people why they should want an iPad and how to use it.

Linux will only take off in the desktop when Canonical or someone else starts doing this type of marketing.

Tim said...

Great article. I couldn't agree with you more. Interestingly regarding Unity/Gnome3, I've found myself starting to understand it this past week. They are slowly maturing and, if they get it right, offer a simpler approach to desktop computing.

Everyone's grandmother should be able to use a computer effortlessly. Just because a UI has been altered from what I'm used to does not mean I can't get my work done. Besides, let's be honest, those of us who have been around a *nix environment for even a couple of years tend to stick with the CLI--and you've gotta work pretty hard to ruin that experience. Give me bash or ksh and I'm set for just about anything.

Paul Brown said...

Loved it... but, we also have to have a fair share of self-deprecating criticism. Not conforming is what drives innovation! So yeah: we must market Linux, but we must also not let it's success go to our heads.

1ROXTAR said...

There was an interesting statement made during FUDCon India 2011, the Fedora conference. A keynote speaker said "The number one enemy we have today is ourselves. And I mean that with all seriousness. Too many times we shoot ourselves in our own foot, by the way we act, the way we deal with people, in our narrow minded-ness that we develop. And it is not easy to change that. The biggest battles we wage are inside our own head. And so that’s one thing I want to see worked on in Fedora."

Rae Celeste said...

Nicely done DC3!