Self defeating desktop Linux strategies

Self defeating desktop Linux strategies

Summary: things that let people continue doing things the oldway, including boot strategies and this nonsense of making the Linux desktop look more Windows like than Windows, are doing far more harm then good

Back on August 9th Michael Singer had a very interesting analysis piece called "Linux on the desktop--almost there again?" focused around the observation that "even with all the hoopla last year about Linux progress, the buzz over breaking the Windows stronghold has died down considerably."

The article drew 155 talkback comments, mostly from people offering their views on why desktop Linux appears to have run out of steam.

I've been looking at language design issues with respect to the four major programming models (Cell, CMT, PowerPC, and x86) in the context of a specific set of requirements. In working through the hows and whys of language acceptance one of the most striking things is the continuation of Fortran as a viable scientific programming language.

Fortran, to put it nicely, hasn't had a right to exist since the late sixties in the sense that it does nothing well and has no comparative advantage even against something as stunted as Algol66. And yet not only does Fortran retain an enormous following among people working in science and engineering, but its simplified spin-off, the Beginner's All Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code is the foundation language for Microsoft's developers worldwide.

There's a parallel phenomena that affects systems implementations of all kinds: busy users will spend hundreds of hours doing something the old way in order to avoid having to spend a couple of hours learning the new way. You can see one rationale for this by looking at each learn/do decision independently: imagine that a task takes 30 minutes the old way, and five minutes the new way -but it takes an hour to learn to use the new tool for this purpose. Put the user under daily "get it done" pressure and continuing the old way of working looks thirty five minutes better each time the decision comes up -even though learning the new tools would free up a full working day each month.

There's only one way to get around this during a systems implementation: take the users out of their regular jobs, force them to learn the new tools, and then completely take away the old tools before they return to their jobs.

That's really why Fortran remains so popular: people carry around "their" files and become so vested in what they know that they'll defend it to the death. It's also, of course, a major contributing reason for the continuation of Microsoft's hold on the desktop market.

So what's the lesson for the Linux desktop? -it's the same as for any other systems implementation: things that let people continue doing things the old way, including dual boot strategies and this nonsense of making the Linux desktop look more Windows like than Windows, are doing far more harm then good.

Topic: Linux

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  • Broken link

    The link to the original article referenced above is a) https and b) not working. Please delete this post after its fixed.
    Real World
    • Thanks - it should be fixed soon

      The right URL is:
  • 180 degrees wrong

    The key to adoption is to absolutely make it painless to use the new method. In business this is called barrier to entry.

    One of the reasons excel destroyed lotus when it came out was because excel was 100% lotus compatible. It could to everything lotus could, including saving and opening files, but it cost less than lotus, and it could do MORE than lotus.

    For the Linux desktop to succeed, it needs to do everything Windows can do in the same way Windows does, and then it needs to do more things that Windows can't.

    Linux fails as a desktop because the people coding for it have not learned this lesson.

    Case in point. Dual boot is asinine. That's high barrier to entry. Windows and Linux should run in PARALLEL. Wine is the correct answer, not dual boot. Furthermore, WINE should be able to use an actual Windows system folder. The machine boots to Linux, the user installs his Windows license, and Wine uses that to run Windows programs.

    The Linux desktop should function exactly like the Windows desktop, only better. The user shouldn't have to relearn anything, but should have NEW things he can do on Linux that he can't on Windows.

    The biggest problem with Linux today is that geeks and not users design and code it (that's a big problem with most software). Let me give you geeks a clue: What you think is cool isn't.
    • Some good irony there.

      "The biggest problem with Linux today is that geeks and not users design and code it..."

      Ahem, I find this most funny. As it is the nature of "Open-Source" that the users have the power to alter their software however they see fit, including the OS. As such, the 'user' has power to design and code however he or she deems is their need. So what you are saying is that only geeks can code, because otherwise they'd just be using. And if a user could code, he or she would be a geek. So you are complaining that the biggest problem with Linux is that only coders can code.
      • Proving the point

        No, the problem is that geeks do the DESIGN, not just the coding. Almost without exception, coders suck at software design and yet they think they are the best designers on the face of the Earth.
        • I'll agree with that...

 general - not ALL 'geeks' are poor designers, but they generally are. What makes it worse is the disdain that so-called 'geeks' seem to feel toward most users. With an attitude that users are 'morons' or 'sheep', how do 'geeks' expect to win converts?

          Carl Rapson
          • Geek / User Divide

            Geeks usually do suck at design, primarily because they're not
            very good at taking into account the context of someone who
            doesn't know what they know. But the flip side is design based
            on ignorance (e.g Linux needs to be just like Windows). That's
            the kind of suggestion that just reinforces the Geek's idea that
            only they can do design.

            But that's not the problem with Linux. The whole Linux world is
            based on the idea that the best software would be created by a
            collective. Designed by everyone in general and nobody in
            particular, completely free from "corrupting" market influences.
            This has been proven wrong a thousand ways. The main
            problem with Linux is that nobody owns it.

            Anyone who thinks people stick with Windows because they
            don't have to learn new things must still be using Win95. It
            yanks them around, makes them work constantly to keep virus
            and adware free, and learn a new set of arcane control panels
            every few years. Most people who stick with Windows don't even
            think in terms of a choice. Windows just simply *is*.

            Windows is a lot more than the appearance of the desktop. It has
            identity because someone owns it (like the Mac has identity).
            Linux does not. Linux is popular with Geeks because it lets
            *you* own it. You can decide what you want it to be. Most
            people do not want that. They need someone else to tell them
            what it *should* be. That's why Windows beats Linux. The
            average person knows what Windows is - they don't know what
            Linux is.
            Steven Rogers
          • I think you brought up a good point

            "Linux is popular with Geeks because it lets *you* own it. You can decide what you want it to be. Most people do not want that. They need someone else to tell them what it *should* be."

            I wouldn't necessarily say that people "need" someone to tell them what it should be, but it is apparent that most users simply don't care as much about computers and software as so-called "geeks" do. A lot of computer-savvy users don't seem to grasp this. And that disconnect is probably at the root of a lot of the animosity "geeks" feel toward "users".

            Carl Rapson
          • Very good post

            It summarizes many facts which are hard to accept to both Windows and Linux geeks.

            Linux requires too much knowledge to become useful to most users who already have other things to concern about.
        • I agree completely...

          As we do dev work in our company I have to constantly (and forcefully) remind the coders that it must work for the end user, not their geek friends.
        • User-designer-coder

          I guess I am in a unique position. I eat and support my own dog food. I work in an small office and design and write the database application that runs our office. The office database application has to be easy to use and do everthing our office workers need. This application has evolved over 5 years and works for the novice computer user as well as the power users.

          My boss can undestand and appreciates the cool geek things I can get the computer to do, the office workers want the software to do all the work for them with a minumim of key strokes.

          To design and code software you need to know the job that need to be done, the capablities of workers that do the job and the data flow of the work environment.

          By the way I use Visual Basic and MS Office to create my office applications. We have had only one bad virus incident a few years ago. No spyware/pop-up problems. The computers and server runs 10hrs/5 days a week 340 days a year with 99.99% uptime. It is possible to have a good experience running Windows.
      • The average user

        is not a coder, therefore, not a geek. This is what 'Geeks' do not
        get. Yes, you can change your environment, but to do this, you
        have to know more than how to turn on the system. I could
        probebly rebuild my own car engine, if I a) knew how, or b) cared
        to. Most people want to put gas in and go. Trust me, I sold to
        small businesses, and this was their biggest issue with switching to
        • Spoken like a true geek...

          One without a clue what Joe Average wants. ;-)
      • No irony.

        >" is the nature of "Open-Source" that the users have the power to alter their software however they see fit, including the OS. As such, the 'user' has power to design and code however he or she deems is their need."

        Only a small percentage of computer users know how to code, and very few of those know how to code efficiently. It's ridiculous to expect most computer users to modify the OS, especially by re-programming (rather than purchasing programs). Do most drivers know how to rebuild their vehicle's engine and drive train? Should they?

        >"So what you are saying is that only geeks can code, because otherwise they'd just be using. And if a user could code, he or she would be a geek."

        Sounds reasonable, although I would substitute the word "programmer" for "geek".

        >"So you are complaining that the biggest problem with Linux is that only coders can code."

        Not me. My biggest complaint with Linux is that it has no documentation, no global standards, inadequate software and hardware support, and employs cutesy-pooh names to describe that which already has a perfectly good (and more descriptive) title.

        Besides, from what I've seen, very few "coders" can, in fact, code [efficiently], and even fewer know how to adequately test their work before releasing (and/or selling) it to a gullible public.
        • The irony is not in the situation, but in his statement.

          I am unwilling to say I disagree with all that which has been posted in response by you and others. The point of irony that I was attempting to address was the fact that the initial poster seperated those people involved with Linux as Geeks and Users. When in fact they are the same people. That is not to say that all users are programmers or all geeks are programmers. Or that all Users are Geeks. But all those programming on Linux presumeably use Linux. Thus, it cannot be said that they do not develop in the interests of the users, which are themselves as much as any other group.
    • I've got your clue right here...

      I'll only disagree with the cool statement. Cool is relative. What you probably meant was that what is cool to geeks isn't cool to everyone else. For instance, at work I write a lot of shell scripts to do a lot of cool things. I think it's amazing that I can use several single purpose command line programs to make a separate program that does exactly what I want. When in my excitement I show the results to my Windows dependent coworkers, they tell me they can just purchase <some app> that will do that one exact thing. Such disappointment occurs, but I no longer point out that I can spend a few minutes rewriting my script to do an infinite variation of different things, and they would have to purchase a new application. So cool is very subjective, and geeks do things they way they like because they like it like that. The fact of the matter is, while most programmers would like everyone to be happy with their work, you cannot please everyone all the time. You cannot even get people to agree about the quality and ease of use in Microsoft's software, and they spend millions trying to do just that.
    • Sorry but you have some misconceptions

      This is one of those classic technology problems. As far as they are both operating systems Windows and Linux have a lot of similarities on a gross level. The problem is that in the specifics Windows and Linux are entirely different. Windows simulates a multi-user environment while Linux is a multi-user environment being just one example. There are certain things that you can do better in a Windows environment and certain things work better in a Linux environment but that has to do with the radicaly different natures of the two operating systems. The problem with Linux is that it can't quite do all the same things user applications wise that Windows can. It's close but not quite there yet. Most end users can't appreciate the differences between the two OS's.

      As for things like WINE using a windows system folder, don't be absurd that would get every programmer and every wine user sued by MicroSoft. You want things like that then you need to work on that draconian EULA that MS has.

      If somebody did make the Linux desktop exactly like the MS desktop only better as you put the coders, designers and users would be sued into oblivion and quite rightly so as the Windows desktop belongs to MS.
    • I agree.

      "Dual boot is asinine."

      I agree 100% with this statement, and these two paragraphs. I began with dual booting Linux and continued for years, mainly because my wife was still using Windows. But I was a MOTIVATED Linux user. I fully intended to completely switch to Linux someday. But because of the time it takes to switch back and forth, I (and probably many other dual booters) will stay in Windows and websurf after leaving Quickbooks, rather than switch back to Linux (for an example).

      The only windows-compatibility applications that have worked for me (with varying degrees of success) are WINE, VMWare, and Win4Lin. Each though has some issues that makes it a less than seamless solution.

      As for geeks not being cool, who am I to say what's cool. I can't program worth a lick, and my design skills bite as well. I think anyone that can do either is TOTALLY cool.
    • Agreed

      I've been working and coding with Linux since 1998 and Drivers were the biggest issue of the day but we are at a point in Linux to make a great leap forward and that leap is in ease of use and Inter operability these are paramount to any OS's success. I?m a firm believer that gamers are the largest contributor in the drive for faster technology... Linux needs to gain a following in the gaming community to increase the development in Linux. I?m not just talking Wine or WineX. DirectX needs to be assimilated in some form as well. If Linux can show it can provide a clean, and faster gaming experience more people would join the fray.
  • Why I haven't switched to desktop Linux...

    Games. Games games games games. Let us face it. Majority of folks in the workplace could be switched to Linux tomorrow and they'd hardly even notice. They could get their email, surface the web, print that report.

    Linux desktop will arrive eventually. No reason to get too impatient about it. U.S. will be the last bastion of Microsoft though. Well U.S. and Japan because they love the U.S. so much. Good portion of the rest of the world will use Linux as an excuse to develop homegrown IT talent, I predict.