Why You SHOULDN’T Try Linux

Okay, I know I’m probably going to get flamed for this, but let’s give it a try anyway.

Linux is not ready for prime time on the desktop.

There, I said it.  And now that I have, please don’t flood my comments with your ridiculous arguments for Linux, believe me, I’ve heard them all before.  And I will turn off commenting if this becomes an issue.  (And, if you are down-right rude to me, I will delete your comments.  This is my house, play nice or go home!)

Let me just start by saying I’ve got nothing against Linux.  Linux is great in the enterprise (especially on the back end).  Linux may be a great operating system for computer geeks, but it is not built for the average user, no matter how much Linux advocates claim it is.  Linux advocates have a real hard time separating average users from themselves and their Linux-loving friends.  (I’m guessing that not too many of them have had to support users professionally.)

Here is another article trying to make a case for average people to try/use Linux.  Ugh.  Where to start.?

First off, yes Windows sucks.  Windows is abysmal when it comes to security.  So, I agree with the author there.  Linux is by far a better operating system.  But, that doesn’t mean Linux is a great replacement for Windows on the desktop, especially for "average" people.

Okay, let’s move on to debunking this B.S., shall we?

The article tries to make the claim that the many, many choices offered by Linux is a plus.

Since not everyone has the same idea of a good system, there are a few hundred distros out there, each having its niche–though often many distros share a niche.

Again, this is great for geeks, but not so much for the average person.  I mean, people complain at how many versions of Vista there are!  Are you really going to turn around and claim that "a few hundred distros" is a good thing for the average person?  Seriously?  For people who don’t know anything about computers, it’s just confusing and daunting.  If Linux wants to be taken seriously as a desktop operating system, the choices need to be more limiting.  The average user is not going to want to figure out which one, of "a few hundred distros", is going to be right for them.

The author tries to build reasons why the average person should try Linux, giving her own reason as an example:

For me, the main reason to switch was to try something new. I wanted to know what else was out there besides Windows

That’s great, for you.  Geeks like to try new things, the average user does not.  Again, you’re confusing yourself with a typical user.  NOTE TO ALL LINUX ADVOCATES:  YOU ARE NOT A TYPICAL USER!

Next up, "it’s free".  Well, yes, it is.  And that’s great.  But that also means that it comes with no support. Again, this is fine for all of the people out there advocating Linux, but not for typical users.  If you want to set up your friends and family on Linux, that’s great.  They have you call when they need help, and I know that you’re happy to help them (just like I’m happy to help the people I’ve gotten to switch to OSX).  But, the average person does not have you to help them.

And don’t get started on that whole "there’s tons of Linux forums on the ‘net that people can get help from" argument.  That’s just B.S., plain and simple.  Sure, there are help forums out there, but guess what, they’re filled with Linux geeks.  First off, few "average" computer users are going to be able to find these forums in the first place, but if they do, the "help" they get will be anything but helpful.  While you all may love to set up Linux for your friends and families, and support them, there’s nothing you hate more than a newb coming into your forums and asking stupid questions.  The answers these people get will mostly likely be over their heads, or the person answering will assume that the user knows more than they do (since they are using Linux after all), or will be downright condescending.

The next argument is "You’re Free".  The argument here being, basically, that since it’s Open Source you’re free to do whatever you want to it.  Sure.  Do I even need to address this as it relates to the average person?  Just because Linux geeks can go in and tinker with it does not mean that the average user is going to be able to.  But, wait!  The author says:

Even if you can’t code, if there’s something you want changed, there’s probably a 12 year old down the street who could make the changes for you.

Again, I’ve gotta go with sure there is.  If you want to be that person for your friends and family, that’s great.  It does not mean that this applies to the average user.

The next argument:  "It’s Secure".  Okay, I’ve got no problems here with this one.  Linux is more secure than Windows.  However, it’s not any more secure than OS X.  (And, honestly, a properly configured Windows box behind a firewall is more than secure enough.)

Last up, "It’s Easy".  Alright, here’s where we really get into the real B.S.  Linux is not easy, not by a long shot.  It may seem easy for the Linux advocates out there, but (and how many times do I have to say this) that doesn’t apply to the average user.  Again, if you want to set up your friends and family on Linux so that they have a nice, functional system, and then support them and answer their questions, that’s just fine.  But, do not expect the average person to be able to do this on their own.

My mom’s been using Linux … since Thanksgiving 2006. I set it up for her, showed her where Firefox was, told her she could find whatever she needs in the Applications Menu,… By New Year, she was bragging to her friends about how much faster and easier this Linux thing was than Windows. Wow. And they said only a geek could figure out Linux.

"I set it up for her…", followed by "And they said only a geek could figure out Linux."  Wow.  Just, wow!  Do you not see the contradiction in these two statements?  Really?  I’ve got news for you:  your mom didn’t "figure out Linux" – you did.  You set it up for her and the showed her how to use it.

What happens when your mom wants to load pictures from her new digital camera to the computer?  Does she figure that out, or call you?  What happens when she buys a new printer?  Does she set that up herself, or call you?

This is really where we get into the meat of Linux not being ready for the desktop for average usersMost average users can do these things in Windows, and certainly in OS X.  But Linux?  No freakin’ way.

I am far beyond what you would consider an "average user".  I’ve been working with computers for nearly 20 years (not counting the Coleco Adam that I had as a kid, which I used for programming in Basic and Logo).  I’ve worked with PCs when Windows was really just an GUI app running in DOS, and not an actual OS unto itself. 
I’ve had to set the IRQs and memory addresses on NICs using jumpers, and then manually configuring the driver with those settings, and then wash/rinse/repeat to find a combination that actually worked.  I’ve worked with Novell (since 3.11), nearly every version of Windows, and Macintosh dating back to System 7 (and been certified in several versions of all of those systems).  I am a professional computer support engineer.

I mention this all because, while I have nothing against Linux, as a seasoned computer tech (and not an average user) I find Linux to be too much work to bother with.  The last time I tried Linux (Fedora 5, for those of you who care), I spent all weekend trying to get the wireless adapter to work.  All weekend!  The adapter that was in the laptop I was doing this on didn’t have Linux drivers – not in the distro, and not available anywhere else.  After wading through all of the ever-so-helpful Fedora and Linux forums, I finally found a way (which was incredibly kludgy, btw) to force Linux to use the Windows drivers.  Even having the answer, to actually do this was by no means an easy task.  Again, I wasted an entire weekend doing this.  And even when it did "work", the system would lock up if encryption was enabled.  It connected great if I left the wireless router wide open, but any WEP or WPA, and BAM!, the system would completely freeze (hard re-boot freeze we’re talkin’ here) when it tried to connect.  (So much for Linux being "secure" in this case.)

It’s only slightly ironic that the first time I tried Linux (probably about 10 years ago) I couldn’t get the ethernet card working, and just gave up.

I just want to sum all of this up with a point that I think I’ve already made more than a few times in this needlessly long rant, and that is this:  Just because Linux is better than Windows for you, that does not make it better for the average person.  And, if you really want to get people off Windows (as well you should), might I suggest OS X?  Again, just because OS X isn’t right for you, that doesn’t mean it’s not the right choice for average users coming from Windows.

Linux is a great OS, and hopefully one day it will be ready for the desktop (which, by the way, won’t happen until there’s only one desktop distro of Linux).  Until then, stop telling people that Linux is a great choice for them, because for the vast majority of people, it simply isn’t.

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