The response to the Five crucial things the Linux community doesn’t understand about the average computer user post I made the other day was, well overwhelming. With some of you I think that the post rung a bell, while with others it must have touched a nerve. I'm pretty sure that getting over 750 TalkBack comments in a couple of days is some kind of record here at ZDNet and just in case there's an award, I'm already writing my speech! :-)
Choosing a suitable Linux distro is a bit like the uninitiated making a trip to Starbucks and expecting to be able to order a plain simple cup of coffeeAnyway, after wading through some of the comments (I don't know how some of you managed to keep up with the conversation in real time ... you deserve some kind of award too) I've realized that I missed three more points about regular PC users that some in the Linux community (the more vocal members perhaps?) just don't get.
1 - The Mac effect
If consumers want a safe way to experience the benefits of running a Unix system, then they have the option of bypassing all the driver and application hassles that Linux offers and choose the Mac route. Sure, you have to pay for it (and pay a premium at that) and it's closed source but the average consumer with money burning a hole in their pocket doesn't give a hoot whether the OS is open source, closed source something in-between. What most users want is a bit of kit they can just push one button to get it going and then start using it. Mac offers this. While Linux offers to remove security worries, Mac does exactly the same while at the same time removing the uncertainty that things won't work.
Choosing Mac over Linux also eliminates the complexity associated with choice. Choosing a suitable Linux distro is a bit like the uninitiated making a trip to Starbucks and expecting to be able to order a plain simple cup of coffee – you quickly realize that life isn't that simple and you need to step out of the queue and do a lot of learning before you walk up to the counter again. With Mac the choice is simply one OS. Simple.
Apple also manages to add two other ingredients to the Mac OS that I find lacking in Linux distros - The Mac OS is perceived as being cool and sexy. Even Ubuntu, which is the best Linux distro I've used doesn't match up to the Mac OS on either of these points.
Mac is the perfect example that people are willing to pay good money for peace of mind. The premium price that Apple charges for products sets a subconcious value on the quality and service that the consumer feels they can expect. Free just can't compete with that.
Next -->2 - Who provides the free tech support?
Negative campaigning seems to work for political parties but it doesn't work for Linux - and the numbers prove thisI'm going to take a wild guess and predict that the average ZDNet blogs reader is seen by those around them as being "good with computers" (as well as being suave and sophisticated of course ...). I'd also take a guess that you're the person that friends and family members turn to for free tech support (and if you're free of this curse then you don't know how lucky you are!).
Most people who own a PC will want help with it at some point and while some people turn to tech support and others hit the web searching for answers, the majority turn to friends and family for help. If you're a Windows user then there's a good chance you know someone who falls into the category of "being good with computers" who will be willing to help. If the person needing help is running Mac, it's more tricky to find someone who falls into the "owns a Mac and is good with computers" category. Running Linux, forget it. I know people who really want to make the leap to Mac but who won't because they don't know people who could help them if they needed help.
3 - Chill out, it's just an operating system!
Here's another reason why the Linux market share has been flatlined for years while the Mac share is increasing - Mac communities are on the whole friendlier than Linux communities.
I'm not sure if it's just a case that there's a small subset of the Linux community which is both aggressive and vocal or whether the problem is much broader, but this is a major turn off for people considering making the transition to a Linux OS. Even back when Mac communities were considered by many to be pretty hostile and unfriendly places Steve Jobs was clever enough to make sure that this kind of fanatical nonsense didn't make it onto the Apple site and sales literature (although Apple is perfectly capable of coming up with their own fanatical nonsense, at least it's not that aggressive). Negative campaigning seems to work for political parties but it doesn't work for Linux - and the numbers prove this.
Seriously, given the passion behind some of the comments I come across from some Linux users, you'd have thought I was talking about something with life-or-death importance like a heart machine and not an OS.
Bonus - Linux is not too geeky ... really!?!?
One of my points was that despite recent attempts at making some Linux distros more accessible, there are still aspects of the OS that are too geeky and inaccessible. Many disagreed with me on this point but what they didn't realize is that while arguing the point they proved my point. Here's just one such example of someone proving my point:
Put a Windows user in front of a Gnome or KDE environment and I’m willing to bet that they will be able to find their way around.
OK, and talking about Gnome and KDE environments isn't too geeky? Care to simplify that for the average user? The author of the post, having got that off their chest, then goes on to pretty much agree with that I said:
It may take a little while, but eventually they’ll figure out what applications are available and what they need.
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