Posts Tagged ‘desktop’

Linux fights in the consumer desktop arena with one hand tied behind its back

July 13, 2009

I’ve recently been getting back into Linux, which has matured a lot in the last ten years since I was installing Debian and Redhat on 386 and 486 machines. Ubuntu (and the Ubuntu variants, most notably Crunchbang), OpenSUSE, Puppy, Mandrake, and Go-OS are all more or less ready for the average user who wants to access the Internet, “cloud,” and web 2.0 apps.

An emphasis on ease of accessing the net or automating networking activities still needs to be high priority. If Grandma can’t easily get online to share flickr photos, Youtube vids, email, IM, and webcam with the grandkids, she’s not going to use her Linux box for much else. Expecting her to scour the Ubuntu support boards and piece together diffuse clues about her lack of internet access (chicken and egg, I know) is expecting too much.

If you only want computer hobbyists, professional tech support people, and CS majors to mess around with their Conky configs, their Compiz themes, their triple boot, multi-partitioned boxes, and their frackin’ GNU/Linux sound systems, that’s one thing, and the Linux community already provides a great haven for various and sundry geeks, but the average user has other more immediate needs and interests.

These basic needs and interests include word processing, internet browsing and communication, multimedia support, and software upgrade and installation. The Open Office software is quite adequate for everyday user needs. The Ubuntu Applications > Accessories, > Games, and > Graphics offerings should do for most users. Media access, however, is still problematic: music players linking with digital portable players is rough, and watching DVD’s, doing video editing, and just using Adobe web apps (Flash) can still be a challenge in Linux. Installing anything non-Synaptic packaged in Ubuntu (and mutatis mutandis for the other distros) is a chore and a crapshoot.

The Debian and Ubuntu software repositories are filled with all sorts of good but also many specialized applications. These should be categorized not just by function but also by expertise or specialized interest: games are popular little apps and should be top level, readily visible, but why clutter an average user’s experience with stuff like aylet.gtk or basilisk2? If Joe Sixpack is trying to find a good game for his cheap Ubuntu box (that his geek neighbor set up for him), Synaptic handles that pretty well (although more high quality, good looking games and amusements are important to the average user experience). But Joe should not have to wade through selections for bastille or zssh or other technically specific programs. If he actually develops an interest for a Mac emulator, he can ask his geek buddy for help or start Googling for information, though that’s not a likely scenario in any case.

Probably the biggest disappointment for Linux enthusiasts in the last year has been the widely reported 4X greater customer returns of Linux netbooks over WinXP netbooks. To me that is still a puzzle. Users want something familiar, and yet average users are constantly confronting new OS schemes on cell phones and other digital devices. Why balk at a sweet looking, very recent looking, Linux netbook for not being some teletubby colored, nine-year old piece of software that’s still visible design roots go back even further to 1995 (Win95)?

Linux fights in the consumer desktop arena with one hand tied behind its back: Linux’s great strengths (multi-user support, networking, radical configurability, and scalability) are lost on the average desktop user. (Of course, some commentators don’t even think Linux should try to compete on the desktop.) What’s left is its stability, inherent security, design potential (interface and theme designers have to work harder to capture users’ imaginations–brown may not cut it), its large, free software repositories, and the inexpensiveness of the OS itself.

(See the original post at the Ubuntu Support Forum.)

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