Can the ordinary computer user ditch Windows for Linux?

That's the questions Mark Golden recently asked in the Wall Street Journal. His conclusion?
For me, though, using the Linux systems didn't make sense. I often send documents and spreadsheets between my home PC and the one at work, which uses Microsoft Office. And the files are sometimes complex. Meanwhile, for both personal and professional computer use, I want access to all multimedia functions.
While solutions may exist to almost every problem I encountered, I was willing to invest only a limited amount of time as a system administrator. Claims by some Linux publishers that anybody can easily switch to Linux from Windows seem totally oversold.

Despite a few minor errors (Linux was really written as a Minix replacement, I'd hardly call Usenet in 1993 a “Web bulletin board”, Linus really is not in charge of maintaining central Linux standards) I think Mark gives Linux a fair assessment (although I think he would have faired slightly better with newer distribution versions). Linux isn't ready for the desktop. But, things really are changing. During the first round of Linux on the desktop talk about 4-5 years ago, Linux wasn't ready for technical reasons. To a large degree, that has changed. It's not ready now mostly due to legal encumbrances, software patents and other non-technical stumbling blocks. For many reasons though, I think these will be much harder to overcome than the technical obstacles were. You see – the Linux community is filled with some really smart people that excel at overcoming tough technical issues. We were bound to fix the technical issues. The Linux community however is not necessarily filled with people interested in marketing and it's especially not filled with people who are willing to concede freedom in the name of marketing. Look at the drubbing Linspire took when they released what from one angle can be seen as a legitimate attempt to fix the problems Mark had.
As you know, I've covered this topic a lot recently. I'm coming to see this situation as sort of the Ying and the Yang or the fire and the water. On one side we have the people who will fight for freedom, do what's right and solve the technical issues. On the other side we have the people that are interested in making things easy and catering to the masses. The intersection is that they both want to help Linux adoption (albeit for much different reasons). I'm slowly coming to an understanding that both groups need each other more than they may think at first. You see, the first group – they want open specs, open solutions and Open Source. But, with the current marketshare, it's not hard to understand why some companies aren't listening. Very few companies are interested in doing the “right thing”. They are interested in maximizing profits. So in come the people who are attempting to market Linux to the so called unwashed masses (ie. the ones who don't see there computer as a tool or something to tinker with, but merely as a way to check email). So, the question becomes can both sides meet at the intersecting point and agree to work to the same end via different means? Can we work towards to end goal of group 1 (which I think in the right one, personally) via group 2 gaining marketshare and mindshare in the main stream while avoiding the binary doomsday scenario? I'm still thinking about that one, but I'm interested in what others have to say.
So, does the fire need water?
–jeremy
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One Response to Can the ordinary computer user ditch Windows for Linux?

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think that its time to do a newbie, or Windows-user tryout on some of the “pay for” products out there that have all the codecs and some extra non-free software included, so that there can be a comparison to what Linux can be to those who don't want to hack their way into compatibility. I know that people are going to try the free stuff first, but most distributions exclude any questionably-licenced or paid-for products from their free version (and they should). The problem comes with there being no easy repository access to a download of the controversial products/codecs/etc for a newbie to go ahead and download. With Windows, a user can stumble upon these things and double-click to install. That's where Linux needs to be in order to be interchangeably accepted, IMO. I know that this is not an ideal situation, so I think that we are going to see that Linux will still be installed by those who want to do that extra work. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to be the trend that users want to be just users and not administrators. Linux is not at that point yet.
    Many will not try something new if they don't have to. But, some will. And I welcome them to the community.

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