One of the great Linux desktop myths is that it's hard to use. People still think that you need to be some kind of mad computer wizard to use Linux. What nonsense. Desktop Linux has been as easy to use as any of the mainstream desktop operating systems for over a decade. How easy is it? My 79-year old mother-in-law, Hulvia, can use it.
She arrived a few weeks ago with her Windows laptop, but without her power cord. So, she needed a computer of her own. As I went down to garage/server room/spare computer storage locker, "What the heck, if Jason Perlow's father-in-law could pick up Ubuntu Linux in 2007 at the age of 71, why not my mother-in-law at 79 in 2012!"
So, I grabbed a Dell Inspiron laptop, and I installed the latest Ubuntu 12.04 beta on it. Canonical always claimed its Unity interface was easy to use and I thought it was too, but let's see how someone who's only used Windows could do with it.
Once installed and hooked into my Wi-Fi network, I sat down with her, and I explained how to open applications. Actually, she didn't need my explanation. She could see that she needed to click the applications on the left sidebar to start them at a glance.
I then showed her how to login to her computer--no auto logins allowed in my house, not even on Linux systems!--and sat back to see how she'd do with it.
The answer: Just fine. For over three weeks she used Ubuntu, without any instruction or hand-holding. That's a good thing because you see, she speaks almost no English, and I speak almost no Spanish, her native language. My wife's our translator.
What did she do with it? She wrote a little bit on LibreOffice, but she spent most of her time on the Web with Firefox. She watched her telenovelas (Spanish-language soap operas), and e-mailed her friends.
She did have one "technical" problem though. She lost the sound once on a YouTube video. It turns out she'd clicked on the Web page's mute button. She could have worked that out on her own, but the icon was too small for her to see. Indeed, one of the things she liked about Unity was having large, easily visible icons on the left.
That was it. Three weeks went by. She spent three to four hours a day on her computer and-this is the important part-she never had any trouble what-so-ever with it. Desktop Linux? Hard? I don't think so and neither does she.