I posted this a year ago (and reposted on my last vacation, as well) and, needless to say, it sparked quite a war of words (both times). It's worth a repost, though, since he no longer cares what OS he uses (see the next repost above).
My oldest son is a fairly typical 15 year-old end user. He’s on the computer all the time, has a decent idea how to get things done, and is largely not interested in the inner workings of hardware or operating system. He, like most other users, just wants the computer to work.
This isn’t actually a bad expectation. We don’t usually expect our computers not to work, do we? Unfortunately for him, he recently inherited my tinkering machine. It’s a beast in every sense of the word: 17″ screen, big hard drive, Core 2 Duo, 2GB of RAM, and all the usual multimedia goodies. It’s also running 64-bit Ubuntu with XP in a virtual machine.
As I said, this was my tinkering computer, the laptop I used to install various operating systems, bits of software, test configurations, etc., such that by the time I received my Mac and passed it on to my son, I really should have done a clean system install. I also should have dumped the 64-bit operating system since, while it screamed for the sorts of computation I was doing (go 64-bit Maple!), Shockwave and Flash still require too many hacks and don’t work universally.
For my purposes, the Flash support I had running the 32-bit Swiftweasel browser was more than adequate. For a kid who wanders the Web looking for fun Flash games, the 64-bit user experience left something to be desired.
So where do you think he spends most of his time? That’s right, in the VirtualBox Windows XP virtual machine. The other day he asked if I could just (GASP!) install XP on the laptop and get rid of Linux because “Linux sucks.” I thought about grounding him and taking away Internet privileges until he had completed some significant open source coding project, but realized that his initial experiences with his new (to him) computer had defined his view of Linux in general.
He didn’t remember the two aging Linux computers he had used for Internet access and typing term papers that used to live in our basement. They were 32-bit Mandriva and Edubuntu installs that met his needs perfectly at the time. All he knows is that his current computer running Linux doesn’t meet his needs.
So what’s the moral of the story here? Don’t even think about rolling out Linux for your users until you’re sure it will meet their needs. Test it with groups of users, avoid 64-bit distros (for now) with your mainstream users, and provide plenty of training. As many of us know (even the Windows fanboys know it), Linux can meet the needs of those mainstream users quite handily and on the cheap. However, most of us also know (even if the Linux fanboys won’t admit it), how easy it is to kill time tweaking and fiddling with a Linux box, getting it running juuuuust right. This is not something that those average users have any desire to do. For them, it needs to be placed on their desks and it needs to work.
As we know, first impressions are lasting impressions. Don’t let your users’ first impressions be that Linux doesn’t work. Get the deployment right before it appears on their desktops and many won’t even notice the difference (unless they were using Vista; then they might thank you). I’ve convinced my kid to give it another shot when I do a clean install of 32-bit Ubuntu 8.04 as soon as it comes out. I’ll report back on his impressions.