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Making Linux Look Harder Than It Is 764

drkich writes: "According to an article on The Register (by our very own roblimo). Many 'gurus' teaching new users about Linux make it look harder than it needs to be, and apparently fail to explain that yes, you can make PowerPoint-style presentations in Linux, you can view Web Pages that use Flash animation and other "glitz" features, and that you can manage all your files though simple "point, click, drag and drop" visual interfaces. Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?"
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Making Linux Look Harder Than It Is

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  • Yes (Score:4, Informative)

    by global_diffusion ( 540737 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:52PM (#2673714) Homepage
    I'd say yes. When I first started out, there was a lot of hand waving and "this is too complicated for you." Then I looked at it and said, "this is easy."
    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by global_diffusion ( 540737 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:02PM (#2673799) Homepage
      As an addendum, I'd like to point out that using linux is extremely easy, especially with KDE or (somewhat) Gnome. It's the install that is tough for a newbie. When I first started using Debian, I was a little intimidated about picking out specific packages to install. I had no idea what was needed for the system I wanted. But nowadays we have Mandrake for the newbies, so even installing isn't a big problem (I tell people looking for linux distros that my mom could install Mandrake if she didn't have to do the partitioning step...).
      • Uhm, no. (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Actually, Linux is not at all easy, it's documentation is atrocious when available, and most importantly, from the point of view of 99% of all people who use computers casually or in the office, it sucks compared to the competition. I realize this is slashdot, but you silly people need to realize once and for all that there is no, no, no compelling reason for anyone to install Linux unless they are an interested geek.

        Yes, it really is that simple. Yes, that is why Linux will always be a niche OS.
      • You missed one thing (Score:3, Interesting)

        by roystgnr ( 4015 )
        Using Linux for most tasks is easy now.

        Installing most distributions (I consider Debian an exception) is easy now.

        Administering a Linux box is still not easy.

        As an example, to get the pictures off my digital camera:

        The Red Hat upgrade (somewhere around 7.0, I think) installed my USB drivers automatically.

        Easy to install, check.

        When I have new pictures, "mv camera/* pictures/new" (in my home directory) transfers them to my hard drive.

        Easy to use, check.

        Setting the "camera" directory up required editing two of my automount config files and making a symlink to the mount point.

        Easy to administer? No.

        Well, okay, this was easy to do, but way too difficult for someone uninterested in computers to learn to do. Similarly with most tasks that require you to touch the /etc directory: the simple stuff is GUIfied now, but the extent of that depends on your distribution, and doing anything complicated requires reading man pages and figuring out config file formats.

        Ironically, this makes Linux a great choice for office environments where users aren't expected to administer their own systems in the first place, but other considerations (say a little prayer for OpenOffice and KOffice tonight) are the limiting factor there.
  • by Brian Knotts ( 855 ) <> on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:54PM (#2673730)
    The inability for Joe Blow to buy a consumer-y machine preloaded with Linux and everything he needs to do the normal kinda Joe Blow stuff.

    It'd be a risk, though...because I don't know if the average person is ready for Linux.

    But people are going to be scared until they see Linux boxes for sale at CompUSA and Sears.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      It'd be a risk, though...because I don't know if the average person is ready for Linux.

      I don't know if Linux is ready for the average person.
  • Too smart? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hobobo ( 231526 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:54PM (#2673731)
    It might not be too smart as much as too arrogant...
    • Um, maybe that's because helping users learn how to work with an OS is the job of a company? Windows, MacOS, UNIX and every other OS known to man has a company behind if offering help and support, and many other companies offering training. And more important, for every OS there's a company spending $$ on advertising and marketing to convince users how "efficient and easy to use" is their OS. Linux is perceived as an OS for geeks? Well, duh. That's what you get if you rely on geeks to support new users.

    • by Tachys ( 445363 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @09:19PM (#2674154)

      It might not be too smart as much as too arrogant...

      What!! a Linux user arrogant?!? No way

    • Re:Too smart? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by odsign ( 535843 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @09:48PM (#2674269)
      I think the problem might lie in the difference between being self-taught and being taught by others. In my own experience, I have found that I become quite frustrated in trying to help people with computers, simply because just about everything I know was either learned from plain ol' messing around, or through some sort of document, without any sort of instructor. When I'm asked for help, I think "Why can't they just figure it out themselves, like I did?" Physics, on the other hand, something which I'm also not too shabby at, I find quite easy to help people with, because it is something which I have had taught to me. I know how to talk to somebody who doesn't understand physics, because initially, I didn't understand physics, and had to be taught.
  • i'm new (Score:4, Funny)

    by mabus ( 47611 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:55PM (#2673740) Homepage
    I just installed red hat 7.2 and i'm having difficulty learning linux. I have read lots of stuff but maybe I'm not reading the right things. My samba says "unknown error... hmm..." when i try to access my windows machines, and I have no idea how to install programs.... I think the HOWTO's that i read are too complicated. They always mention things that I have no idea how to do. I barely know DOS so I don't know many commands for the shell. LINUX is difficult.
    • Re:i'm new (Score:3, Insightful)

      by betis70 ( 525817 )
      You might try poking around the OS for a little while before you create samba shares. Linux is different for you, so it will seem difficult. Just about anything completely new is difficult.

      I still have trouble with some things (configuring new hardware for example), but usually find the answers in a HOW-TO or on a web site.

      You might also get a "Learning Linux" type book to give you information about basic features. Once done getting your feet wet, a great book is "Running Linux". Also the "Linux In a Nutshell" has lots of the commands for the shell explained.

      Poke around on the Red Hat site. I found lots of useful information there. Don't try to run too fast with this new OS. Pretty soon you will be working in windows and think "Dammit I wish I could just write a BASH script to automate this ..."

      Hang in there. Every Linux guru had to start somewhere.
      • Re:i'm new (Score:3, Insightful)

        by reaper20 ( 23396 )
        You might try poking around the OS for a little while before you create samba shares.

        I agree with this guy .. learn around a bit before you try something like that, learn the filesystem and how linux works. I don't know how many times I've seen "Just booted into Linux for the first time 4 minutes ago, need help setting up firewall/samba/apache/cluster ASAP, HELP!"
        • Re:i'm new (Score:2, Interesting)

          by ichimunki ( 194887 )
          Well, and that's just the problem. I'd guess over half of new users want to run Linux precisely because it has some powerful tool available that convinced them to give it a try.

          I knew I wanted a Unix-like system so I could run the IRC client that I was used to, learn Apache/CGI/Perl development, and read mail in Pine-- all things I'd gotten accustomed to doing on Unix shell accounts during college. (Plus Mac OS crashed on me constantly, what a pain!) Now running IRC and Pine were no big deal, neither is a default install of Apache and Perl. But before you know it you've got services all over the place and maybe some serious security issues. Besides, you know how it worked for you as a user, but you never had to think about the administration side.

          And so yes, I agree that it's important for Linux newbies to get the basics down. After all, just learning about process management, disk space, and things like that means (if you ask me) learning the Unix way of doing things. Now maybe GNOME and KDE have made this less problematic, but how many Linux users just want to surf the web and do email? If they bought a new computer anywhere in the USA it came with an OS that is fairly reliable for those two things. So why would anyone switch at that point?

          I guess, to me, the upshot is: yes, setting up a non-default Apache server or a Samba share probably is biting off more than you can chew if you don't know du from df. But we also need to recognize that there may be ways to work with Linux that don't require understanding the deep magic to get something going-- even if it is something we traditionally think of as complex. That was part of the point of the article "geez, look at all the pointy-clicky configuration stuff that's out there now."
    • by sterno ( 16320 )
      While linux can be difficult, if you know how to get support it can be a lot easier. Heck if you want some help on this one, e-mail me, I've beat my head against SAMBA a few times. But look at newsgroups, IRC, and websites and you can find gobs of useful info.

      Remember Linux was designed for geeks by geeks and slowly it's working its way back to being usable by normal people. There's still the occasional chink in the armor though.
    • Re:i'm new (Score:3, Informative)

      Try reading this []. Especially that part about running testparm to test your configuration.

      Another very common newbie problem - samba uses unencrypted passwords by default. This only works with Windows 95 and possibly 98. Later versions of Windows encrypt their passwords so you won't be able to connect to your Samba shares. Run smbpasswd -a on your Linux boxes to fix this.

      Also while you can access Windows machines from Linux using Samba, its default setup is to access Linux servers from Windows. You will need to learn about mounting Windows shares (try man mount) ala mount -t smbfs to access Windows shares in Linux.

      Above all be patient. Unix is not for those who give up easily.

  • My theory is . . . (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Captoo ( 103399 )
    My theory is that a lot of the people teaching Linux classes learned the OS before it had a good GUI. Now they think they need to pass all their knowledge on to the students, regardless of how much the students will use it.
  • by Isldeur ( 125133 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:56PM (#2673745)
    Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?

    I hardly think it's because they know too much. It's more that they want to show themselves as sauve and intelligent infront of those they're instructing. I think you'll find all the people who deserve the right to brag are generally much more humble because they honestly have nothing to prove.
    • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:18PM (#2673883) Homepage
      Well, I'm not going to say I'm humble, but I will say that I already have everyone I'm teaching linux too impressed enough where I don't need to show off. ;)

      Anyway, I actually have found myself having problems helping people with linux because I really can't see the problem from their point of view. It's hard for me to recognize what they will or won't know, and I tend to make assumptions, completely unintentionaly, about their knowledge base such that I end up just confusing them.

      It also doesn't help that I have never wanted my Linux box to be "easy to use" (as defined by those who say Linux needs to be more so), and thus have a hard time trying to make it so for others.

      All in all, I'm just not that great a teacher, but I do think that the difference in technical knowledge is part of the problem.

      Not that roblimo isn't still an ass.
    • I disagree. Consider this: Who would you rather have coaching you at Basketball? Michael Jordan, or Kurt Rambis?

      I doubt that Jordan would be able to explain how to do stuff... it's too natural and instictive to him. Rambis, on the other hand, IIRC, had to work hard at it.

      I have the same problem when it comes to helping my daughter with her math homework. I can't help her because I can't explain how to do it. I just do the problems instinctively. I send her to her mom, or to our next door neighbor (who is a math teacher).

      I wonder if this is a case where the old saw actually works out better... "Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach".
  • Right ON! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lysurgon ( 126252 ) <joshk&outlandishjosh,com> on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:56PM (#2673748) Homepage Journal

    The biggest obstable to widespread Linux adoption is not its actual difficulty to use, but perception that it's for geeks only. An idiot proof installer would be good, but evangelests and PR that speaks to average users is perhaps the single most important thing standing in the way of more pervasive acceptance.

    I understand how the general attitude that "you've got to know how to use a computer to use a computer" gets bred. I used to work 1-800-support. But that won't cut it on the public image tip.

    GNU/Linux needs salespeople. Jeez, I can't believe I just wrote that, but it's true. The barriers are 90% cultural at this point....
    • by lysurgon ( 126252 ) <joshk&outlandishjosh,com> on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:01PM (#2673793) Homepage Journal
      I should add a big "USER FRIENDLY DOCUMENTATION" to my previous post.

      I started geeting into this stuff about 2 years ago, and I'm naturally a technical guy. The documentation currently has a terrible 80/20 problem: 80% of it is...
      • Poorly written
      • Assumes you know things without telling you it assumes you know them
      • Was written by academics for academics (little practical value)
      • Or all of the above

      Most often, documentation is an afterthought to a coding project. This is not a good way to get novice users to get to use the software, because those writing the docs are too intimately involved with the project and usually burnt out to the max.
      • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @09:13PM (#2674131)
        > I should add a big "USER FRIENDLY DOCUMENTATION" to my previous post

        One problem with that approach.

        Users. Don't. Read. Documentation.

        Go around your office, and ask your non-technical (marketing, accounting, etc.) Windows users questions like:

        • Did you get a manual with your computer? Did you use it?
        • How did you learn how to use Windows?
        • Did you get a manual with Windows?
        • Have you read any manuals for Internet Explorer?

        I'll be amazed if more than 5% of your user community answers "yes" to any of those questions.

        • That is because in Windows I almost never need to look in a manual
    • Re:Right ON! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nomadic ( 141991 ) <nomadicworld AT gmail DOT com> on Friday December 07, 2001 @11:35PM (#2674526) Homepage
      You're starting to think like a marketer. "Our product is too hard to use." "Well let's advertise that it's EASY, that will solve the problem." Linux IS difficult to use. Worse than that it's annoying a lot of the time. God forbid you don't have the exact version of a library in the exact place that a new program expects. God forbid you want to cut and paste something from one window to another. I've been using Linux for about 6 years, and I've run into a lot of simple problems that are solveable but take too much time. And since I might not use it again for another year or two, when I DO have to use it again I've forgotten about it.
  • by Ludwig668 ( 469536 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:57PM (#2673752)
    Don't forget that for people who don't understand how computing tools work, Unix kinda doesn't make much sense regardless of how it's taught. Pipes and filters really only make sense when you're filtering down large lists of information... and this kind of information pretty much only happens in system administrative contexts.
  • I think it's hard for some of us to sit down and and learn our own GUI tools. I've actually had my boss (who I convinced to switch from Windows to Linux about 3 months ago) show me a couple of things in KDE that I wasn't aware of because the thing I use most in KDE is Konsole.

    His eyes get generally glazed over when I do something like:

    $> rpm -e `rpm -qa | grep -i ^xf`

    ...which actually came up today in reinstalling X. And I've done quite a few nastier things.

    I think that it would do Linux users--especially Linux evangelists--well to learn our own GUI tools so that when our non-geek friends ask us for help we can give them something that's meaningful to them.

  • by Glowing Fish ( 155236 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:58PM (#2673761) Homepage

    In the basic O'Rielly book on Linux, it makes a point that most textbooks on Linux go into detail about such topics as how to use the ed command and other things that most people never use.

    There are some conceptual points about Linux that even a newbie needs to know...such as permission and the file tree, but there is a lot of stuff that you really can just open it up and click around on stuff.

    I think the problem is that a lot of Unix work in general has been going on in academia, and so that a lot of books are written with a lot of traditional complicated busywork in them. Students now are learning about the vi editor for the same reason that students for a long time had to learn Latin, because it is a tradition.

    • Absolutely right, to some extent (how's that for hedging?). This isn't just a textbook problem: type "man whatever" and tell me that the OS accomodates novice users.

      Not that there shouldn't be access to expert materials like man pages in linux, but that the man page still constitutes the norm rather than the exception to designing linux help. I can't tell you the number of times I've watched a linux expert try to explain something to a novice in a discussion like this:

      E: You just need to chmod the files.

      N: I need to what?

      E: Chmod the files.

      N: Ch... Mod?

      E: Yeah. (Begins drumming fingers on desktop because he's anxious to change the permissions on the files.)

      N: What files?

      E: Here. (Grabs keyboard, whacks thirty keys in eight seconds, types ls and eighty files whip by on the display while E turns white.) Yeah! You're on the Web! Let's light that candle, Mr. B!

      N: (whimper)

      You get the picture. Getting linux to the mainstream is going to require both a reconfiguration of how the OS treats users, one that doesn't dismiss or ignore experts, but that offers multiple paths for experts, intermediates, and novices in the same space. How many linux developers usability test their apps or docs? How many force themselves to sit back and take a deep breath while their novice friend thinks for a second?

      @johndan (whose hyphen and tilde keys are broken)

      Disclaimer: I'm an academic and I've written several textbooks (although none about linux). On the other hand, I also run a usability lab.
  • Agreed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LinuxGeek8 ( 184023 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:59PM (#2673768) Homepage
    I can only agree with it.
    Part of the problem is that most "guru's" know how to use a commandline, but not how to use a GUI.
    When I install software, I use the commandline, not Kpackage, Gnorpm or Rpmdrake.
    So when someone asks me how to use such a program, he mostly knows more about it then I do, I just know more about the underlying architecture.

    Though I do think the users are coming along.
    Recently I heard about people who were using Linux, because they liked Tux, and were collecting pictures of him. Sure.
  • Nope. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @07:59PM (#2673772) Homepage
    Biggest problem with Linux usability is a lack of applications to use with it.

    WAAAAIT! Hold off on that flame-thrower!

    I'm talking serious productivity applications.

    There is no Linux equivalent to MSWord. Yes, yes, yes: I *know* there is StarOffice and others. But they aren't MSWord.

    There is no Linux equivalent to AccPac. Yes, yes, yes: I *know* there are other accounting packages. But AccPac is the defacto standard.

    There is no Linux equivalent to Photoshop. Yes, yes, yes: I *know* there's Gimp. But it's not Photoshop.

    WAIT! Hold off on that flame-thrower!

    I know it's unreasonable to expect Linux apps to be identical in functionality -- and misfunctionality! -- and appearance to the big-time, deeply-entrenched "standards."

    But that's not the point. The point is: the problem with Linux usability is that its lacks applications that are direct clones of the standards.

    That's unreasonable, illogical, stupid, and every other abusive word you can toss at the idea...

    ...but it's the truth. The PHBs see it that way, and countless users who've spent years learning the ins and outs of the standard apps see it that way.

    It takes years of invested time and experience to become at all proficient at any comprehensive productivity application. No one wants to throw that investment away, just to move to Linux.

    And that is, I think, at the very core of it all, a usability problem. If it isn't exactly like the original, it is less usable for many folk.

    And now you can flame. Ouch.
    • Re:Nope. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by slamb ( 119285 )
      It takes years of invested time and experience to become at all proficient at any comprehensive productivity application. No one wants to throw that investment away, just to move to Linux. And that is, I think, at the very core of it all, a usability problem. If it isn't exactly like the original, it is less usable for many folk.

      Then there's no point in ever creating anything different. I think a better goal is to make it so much more efficient/friendlier/whatever than the original that it's worth the initial loss in productivity.

      • Re:Nope. (Score:3, Insightful)

        Then there's no point in ever creating anything different. I think a better goal is to make it so much more efficient/friendlier/whatever than the original that it's worth the initial loss in productivity

        Congratulations! You've just encountered inertia and have hit on an effective way to counter it. Microsoft used this same technique back in the 90's to build its Office franchise in the first place.

    • Your point is well taken. But have you used StarOffice or the GIMP? These applications are about as close to a feature-for-feature clone of the original as they can legally be. As an experienced user of Office 95, I felt right at home in StarOffice 5.1 the first time I tried it. I can't wait to try v6. It took me a bit to learn to use the GIMP, but again the fit is very good. I didn't feel like I was in a foreign country.

      I would go beyond your statement and say that what Linux really needs to be accepted is not clones, but *the real thing*. Which is unlikely to happen any time soon.

      But you said we don't have any functional clones of the leading productivity apps. In the cases discussed above, I say we do.
      • It has taken me a while to get used to Gimp also. and I really like it. But. It's not Photoshop. Most businesses need something that they can use for print as well as the web, you just can't do that in Gimp yet, because you can't get a good resolution (or at least I haven't been able to). Linux really needs some decent apps for print; ie. something like Quark, Photoshop, and Illustrator, etc. I think it has made it in the office suites, because I think that as a standard MSWord sucks. As soon as I can get something very close to these puppies, I'll leave MS behind. The Gimp is a good start, and a fine program (for web work), but it's not enough.
    • Re:Nope. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:29PM (#2673944) Homepage
      You're right, of course.

      But I do think that there are apps that are meant to be clones. Like StarOffice. The first time I used it, I felt like I was using office -- all the way to the exact menus and buttons you had to click to turn off auto formatting. I was amazed, until I realized that I hated StarOffice for all the same reasons I hate Office.

      But still this doesn't matter. Because no one is going to try out StarOffice to find out that it's exactly like MS Office, simply because it -isn't- MS Office and that's scary.

    • Re:Nope. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by theantix ( 466036 )
      It takes years of invested time and experience to become at all proficient at any comprehensive productivity application. No one wants to throw that investment away, just to move to Linux.
      Yeah. Nobody wants to throw away an substatial investment like that. But are you aware with the economic concept of sunk costs? The idea is pretty simple, in that once costs are incurred they don't matter anymore. The only costs that matter are future costs.

      Since MS has a forced (or strongly persuasive) upgrade cycle is also an investment that should not be underrated. As StarOffice gets better and better (and it seems to be) and remains free... the margin narrows.

      A person ( or a corporation) has to make the tradeoff between 3 factors while switching: features, familiarity, and cost. Right now, MSoffice blows SOffice5.2 out of the water on features and familiarity, but loses on cost. But if the features are pretty similar, then the only tradeoff is between cost and familiarity. IF the cost of upgrading (or purchasing new machines) with Windows and MSOffice is greater or equal to the retraining costs for Linux and StarOffice, then people will start to switch.

      It's happening already as the Linux GUI gets easier to use, and more feature-rich and user friendly.

  • You know, there was a kid who sat at my lunchtable and babbled incessantly about Linux and his "Linux box". I think he sat home all day and hacked it, which, in laymans terms, means he tried to break into his own system and failed. Sounds poor, if you ask me.

    No, but really. Anyone who's tried to teach me the larger part of linux commands has taught me in "code form". In other words, they've tried to teach me how to do everything through the console, and what's worse, they try to add their own, new "terms" for them. A "Flood Ping" is suddenly a "Hurricane River Overflowing of Packets", and you casually ask them what EITHER of them are, and the kid tells you that he's talking about sending large amounts of binary data through his umbilical cord into an unsuspecting system. Right.

    I think that schools should consider hiring IT professionals who can teach as well as do IT. It might open up a whole new market of jobs. Open Source software would be a great class, if anyone ever got around to TEACHING it.
  • 100% agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by reaper20 ( 23396 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:01PM (#2673782) Homepage
    Newbie - "How do I use my dial up modem in linux, using redhat 7.2?"

    Expert - "First of all, you need to make sure ppp is compiled into your kernel, then recompile, RTFM."

    Newbie - "Is there an easier way?"

    Expert - "Yes, but first, lets's get you all the kernel patches, since you're using 2.4.9, which has some known VM problems under high loads, then, we'll need to gut your X server, then, you might as well recompile/build KDE, since the one in Red Hat sucks, which comes with GNOME, but I think it sucks, so I'll make sure that you think it sucks too ... you know, if you used Debian, this wouldn't be a problem...."

    Newbie - "What's a Debian?"

    ... and so on and so forth ....
    • Re:100% agree (Score:5, Informative)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @10:58PM (#2674433) Homepage
      WRONG! you picked a wannabe or poser as your expert.

      Newbie - "How do I use my dial up modem in linux, using redhat 7.2?"

      realEXPERT - click on that configure dial up icon on your desktop and follow the instructions.

      an expert knows what he/she is talking about your expert example was that of a poser trying to make someone think they know what they were talking about and obviously never touched Redhat 7.2 or 7.1 for that matter.

      and that is a HUGE problem in linux. a ton of posers and very few real experts. Just like it is in the windows /mac/sun/everything else worlds.
    • by jabbo ( 860 )
      My girlfriend and I both use Red Hat 7.2 on my laptop. This is because it's easier to get all the networking set up (802.11b, DSL using PPPoE, IrDA) under Linux than under Windows, since the drivers are terribly buggy under the latter. She understands that sometimes web pages won't behave perfectly because the average HTML writer does not understand that people use platforms aside from Microsoft Windows, but since this is ostensibly my "work" machine, she's okay with that. Moreover, everything "just works" and when it doesn't I can log in remotely to fix it.

      Contrast this to when I was just getting started... I expected people to know things or at least care why the computer acted the way it did.

      Boy, was that a crock of shit!

      I have nontechnical users merrily sending mail from Mutt and Pine on OpenBSD now because I simply give them a set of directions, say "It's not perfect, but it's a compromise, and in 3 years we've never been hacked; please play along nicely". Since my users all accomplish what they want to, they are happy, and since they're happy, I have more time to twiddle RAIDframe, play with Coda and Heartbeat, and generally nerd out.

      The more experience I get, the less experience I expect my users to have, and the happier they are overall. Next week the marketing guy will be switching over to using RSA keys for SSH access from his cellular modem. I'm not kidding.

      It doesn't have to be intimidating or nerdy to do the job right!
  • I have seen many secretaries, writers, and scientists getting started with UNIX. Most people have no problems with command line tools and get proficient at them faster than at GUI tools. Among many other advantages, command line tools and text-based tools are much easier to document and explain.

    The main reason Windows seems so "usable" is because people already spent years learning it. And, pictures and graphics engage people (just like television), whether they actually help or not. Of course, people coming from Windows expect the same interface on Linux, just like UNIX users have tools like Cygwin on Windows. But there is little that's intrinsically intuitive about the way Windows handles files, applications, and all that.

  • by nsample ( 261457 ) <nsample.stanford@edu> on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:01PM (#2673786) Homepage
    I think there's a lot of truth to this, but not just with linux. It seems to be a phenomenon at all increasing levels of sophistication, in many different fields.

    In my own example, I taught an advanced database course at Stanford, and how no trouble connecting with upper division CS majors and industry professionals in the course. Two quarters later, I taught "CS01i: Introduction to the Internet." I found myself at a loss sometimes trying to relate to the uninitiated Internet user. I had become detached.

    It seems that the same thing is true of linux. We get ingrained in an OS/culture that requires a certain level of sophistication to succeed. Then (for better or for worse) we often become trapped in that paradigm.

    I've found that with Linux education (and CS01i), that an old maxim holds true: "If I can tell my mom how to do it, and she can then successfully explain it to my dad, my job is done."

    It may sound like an elementary test of fitness, but it works as a good filter for teaching the uninitiated.

    (please note, this only works if your mom isn't a kernel contributor...):)
    • Another field would be politics, I think. When I started getting involved with it and paying more attention to how politics effected the daily lives of myself and everyone around me, I found that my passion for it would sort of rub off on others. I remember ranting on one small internet forum that I frequently visited, and more often than not my topic was politics. Eventually more and more of the regulars there started caring about the things I cared about. In fact, when the 2000 election came around a good majority of them were set on voting (for Nader) and making sure their friends and family got out to vote as well. In contrast, these days I find that most peoples' eyes just start to glaze over when I'm talking about politics. My guess is that I stopped relating an issue to how it would affect a person's daily routine. I would just start blabbing about Carnivore, or the DMCA, and expect someone to understand how it would impact them.

      But anyway, to get on topic, given the impending exinction of Win98 I hope somehow to learn to use Linux. There's two reasons I haven't done it already...

      1. I know a lot more about politics than I do about computers.

      2. I don't know if Linux is, as yet, fully compatible with my gaming addiction.

      But I know for certian that I'd rather learn Linux or buy a Mac than give any of my money to Microsoft.
  • I'm somewhat ashamed to say that it's often easy to forget that everyone hasn't been using Linux, vi, and command-line tools as I have. I do a lot of work with public school teachers and other "non-computer-literate" people, and while I do try to remember what it was like to start out, sometimes I forget that what I think is obvious, other people have just never had the chance to learn. In fact, I'm often shocked by the fact that many people have "grown up" with Windows or Mac and don't even know that a command prompt exists.

    Still, while some people aren't good at explaining things in terms that a newbie can understand, others are. It's the same way with teachers of anything, though, so let's not lump this in with Linux/Unix/BSD* etc. I had many math teachers who made things sound so horribly complicated and uninteresting I just couldn't get it. Then I had one teach me enough Algebra/Trig to get an A in Calculus and 1st year Physics in about 3 hours. I remember thinking, "That's it? Why the hell didn't they say so???"

    Partly, too, there is a prestige aspect to this. Sadly, some people's teaching style is all about showing off how wonderfully smart they are and showing how woefully stupid the student is. No, this isn't everyone, but I do seem to encounter a lot of people who feel that if you can't use vi, then you are just hopelessly dumb.

    Maybe the gurus need to think more about what the goal is. Is the goal to make it so that other "ordinary" people can use Linux, or so that we can all be some kind of honored clique who, together, are just so much cooler than everyone else? Once the goal is declared, act accordingly: simple as that. :-)
  • I, like a lot of others, learned how to use linux from the many many howto's and guides on the internet. I didn't have anyone to teach me, because no one i knew ran Linux. The only real help i got when starting was from a kind soul on IRC, who spent a few hours with me, to teach me the basics, and what packages to download for slackware 3.5.

    But i find the bigest problem I have with trying to teach someone else how to use it, is the nice graphical user interfaces. A lot of people think of this as a great teaching tool, to make linux "look" like windows translates into the user being able to "use" linux but not "work" with linux. For example, my ex-girlfriend runs Mandrake 8.0 , and has been since early summer, but ask her something about linux and you can literally see the question marks floating above her head, she has no clue about it, she doesn't even know how to install an RPM (not that it's a bad thing).

    I believe the only way that someone can really learn how to use linux, is to do it themselves, and only seek help if they are really stuck, that way, what they learn will stick with them, like anything else. My ex-girlfriend can call me up and say "hey, i want to install napster, how do i do it?" i could easily tell her to go to the gnapster website, download the file, open up the terminal, type "rpm -Uvh filename.rpm" but she will only remember that for 33 seconds it takes for her to type it, after that, it's gone, and she'll be calling me up again in a few more days asking how to install another program.

    Note: If you go out with a girl, do not introduce her to Linux, because when you break up, she will still be calling you for months and months.
  • Take A+ for example (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Ape With No Name ( 213531 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:05PM (#2673814) Homepage
    As a *nix person who has had to pick up Winders skills, I will be the first to admit that all the Windows training I have taken has had the tone "This isn't really that hard."

    In contrast, I went to a LUG meeting where a workshop was held for Newbies and I distinctly remember someone saying "Look, mounting a share with NFS is hard." You would never hear this at a Windows workshop.

    Take my example:

    C:\net use p: \\foo\bar

    hookado@monkeyfudge ~$ mount -t nfs gorilla:/export /mnt/disk

    Why is one "easier" than the other? Is it just cultural?
  • by sterno ( 16320 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:05PM (#2673818) Homepage
    I have been using Linux routinely since like 1995 and so of course I've learned the hard way to do everything. Today, when I'm dealing with friends and colleagues who have a problem with Linux I start spouting off command lines and obscure file paths. The fact of the matter is that I have no idea how to do a lot of these things the easy way. When I tell them I can sense their dread.

    As an excercise in trying to be more helpful I've been trying to learn the easy way to do things. I did an out-of-the-box install of Redhat 7.2, and I'm trying very hard not to touch the command line. As it turns out I can do an amazing amount of stuff without touching a command line. The stuff I do have to do is usually obscure power user stuff that normal humans don't have to mess with.
  • by Gen-GNU ( 36980 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:07PM (#2673823)
    I recently had this problem. My roommate was using my computer to burn some CD's. He had mp3's that he wanted in cd audio format. I tried to show him how to do what he needed...starting with command line ftp, to command line file management, to command line cd recording.

    He looked at me like I was from mars.

    Then he said, "Don't you have explorer like in windows?"

    I was stunned. Of course I did. I was running KDE for Crissakes. I never use it, so it just didn't occur to me. Then I showed him again, using konqueror for ftp, and file management. (He was impressed that you could use the same program to get files from other computers, and file management.) He did have to do command line cd recording, since I didn't have a gui, but he was ok with moving files to the right directory, and hitting up-arrow, enter.

    When he was done, using almost all GUI tools, he came in and said something about Linux not being as tough as everyone said. If he hadn't hit me over the head with the obvious, though, he would have given up in frustration at the command line.

  • I beg to differ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by O2n ( 325189 )
    From the article:
    and apparently fail to explain that yes, you can make PowerPoint-style presentations in Linux,

    The keyword here is "style". PowerPoint-style. My boss wants to create .ppt documents to send to his boss, the clients, and to intoxicate us. PowerPoint-style just doesn't cut it.

    you can view Web Pages that use Flash animation and other "glitz" features,

    Ha! You're joking, right? All those sites "enhanced" for "best experience" with IE... maybe if you have Mozilla, Konqueror, Galleon, Opera and Netscape 6.2 and you them one-by-one, on each website!

    and that you can manage all your files though simple "point, click, drag and drop" visual interfaces.

    Well, no details about this in the article. Personally, I dislike the "graphical, point, click, drag and drop" interfaces - call me old-fashioned... I would use mc, but nothing more.

    So... I use linux both at work and at home for 99% of the time; but it's not ready for my mom (or the other way around... hmmm... :)
  • The problem is... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:08PM (#2673828) Homepage Journal

    Most casual users don't want all of this complexity - heck, to most the idea that they need to login to their home system seems absurd.

    Linux was written by geeks, for geeks, and it shows. Most Linux users (myself included) would not give up the security and reliability of Linux for the sake of using something simpler.

    And from a user design standpoint, the system fails - unlike windows, 3 different Linux boxes can have 3 different interfaces - each of which confusing to the new user.

    Linux will be ready for the clueless masses when:

    • Users can use the machine without logging in. (perhaps under some restrictive user account...)
    • Users never have to manually configure hardware - the kernel detects the hardware and compiles and loads the requisite modules automatically
    • There is one standard GUI interface across all distrubutions; even though GNOME and KDE are remarkably similar in function, the different appearance of windows will confuse the average user.
    • The user can install or upgrade any system with a single click of the mouse.
    Granted, this is an OS that not many geeks would like. However, there is a tradeoff involved - one can run a good, but obscure OS, or use a popular, but buggy and restrictive OS. If Linux is changed to suit the average desktop user, most technically astute users wouldn't use it; the old adage holds - make something that even an idiot can use, and only an idiot will use it.
    • Mandrake 8.1 seems to have all of this functionality.

      Users can use the machine without logging in. (perhaps under some restrictive user account...)

      GNOME Display Manager->Automatic login->"Login a user automatically on first bootup"

      Users never have to manually configure hardware - the kernel detects the hardware and compiles and loads the requisite modules automatically

      Mandrake's kernel comes with every stable module compiled and ready to go. If a process looks to the /dev directory for something that isn't linked to a driver, the module automagically links right in and takes over. This is transparent to the user. In addition, HardDrak detects and configures hardware on bootup.

      There is one standard GUI interface across all distrubutions; even though GNOME and KDE are remarkably similar in function, the different appearance of windows will confuse the average user.

      Perhaps, but only for a second. Besides, if someone is going to load Linux on their system, I don't think they won't have any problems taking 15 minutes to orient themselves to the slightly different look-and-feel of the GUI. My wife's been a Mac person her whole life, and I had her happily using WindowMaker in no time flat.

      The user can install or upgrade any system with a single click of the mouse

      No OS in the world can meet this requirement (at least no OS worth seriously considering; people should have some involvement in what is and is not loaded onto their computers). But, for what it's worth, Mandrake can be upgraded by booting off the CD-ROM and choosing "upgrade" when prompted. I've even created a software RAID and installed the OS on that RAID with Mandrake's installer, simply by using the GUI fdisk-like program they provide. How simple can you get?
    • Two of your four points seem like genuine advances in the OS.
      • Users never have to manually configure hardware.
      • The user can install or upgrade any system with a single click of the mouse.
      If your next statement that

      this is an OS that not many geeks would like

      is indeed true, this says a lot. I would argue that making an OS suit the average user doesn't have to make it unusable to technical users. Different distributions might target different audiences. Just because you can install or upgrade with minimal effort doesn't mean you should be deprived of flexibility. Even Windows has that figured out. (Typical install, or Custom detailed checkboxes?) Windows online update lets you pick and choose what to upgrade, to a limited degree.

      the old adage holds - make something that even an idiot can use, and only an idiot will use it.

      I've often wondered about this. I think this statement is false. Just because an idiot can use something doesn't mean that it logically follows that only idiots will use it. This statement is true -- if an idiot can't use it, an idiot won't use it. A hammer can be used by idiots and non idiots alike. Similar for firearms. Automobiles. Should non-idiots give up driving?
    • Most casual users don't want all of this complexity - heck, to most the idea that they need to login to their home system seems absurd.

      But this represents both a problem and an opportunity. The truth is that there are real world advantages of having separate logons for each user (to pick the specific example you give) and it's only necessary to show those reasons to people to get them to consider the advantages. Once people get the idea that they can customize their system to be just the way they want it without having the next user screw it up, they'll accept the tiny inconvenience of logging on. When they realize that having separate home directories (and a little bit of fiddling) will keep other people from looking at their personal files without permission, they won't want to go back.

      And from a user design standpoint, the system fails - unlike windows, 3 different Linux boxes can have 3 different interfaces - each of which confusing to the new user.

      This is the most overhyped disadvantage I've ever heard of. As long as the different desktops are all installed, it's just a matter of setting which one is your default and you can get the same behavior everywhere. Disk space is no longer a serious objection to doing this, so it should be a non-issue.

    • by iabervon ( 1971 )
      I don't need to log in to my home linux system. It's set up without any services and so it doesn't have any user passwords (if someone manages to get a username prompt, they've almost certainly broken in anyway). I do need to unlock my ssh identity file, of course, but that's normal. Users exist to allow customization and home directories, not security.

      Autodetection of hardware is a sensible feature for geeks as much as anyone else; if you're in to turning random old machines into linux boxes, you probably don't know what the video chipset with all the printing worn off is.

      A single click of the mouse is not much simpler than apt-get. In fact, if you're installing something, it's probably simpler to know what the thing is called than to have an icon for it. Even tar zxvf $1-*.tar.gz && cd $1-* && ./configure && make && make install isn't all that difficult, if someone's given you a slip of paper or a shell script to do it.

      There's no need to have only one GUI. What's needed is to have the user's GUI of choice available with any distribution. Ideally, a user would be able to fetch their customization info from somewhere, too, and then it wouldn't even be as confusing as sitting down at someone else's windows box (not to mention switching to CE or ME or NT or XP or... how many interfaces did you say?).

      The adage doesn't really hold. A good tool can be used by an idiot and used very well by an expert. Looking around my desk, I see a telephone, a box of tissues, a coffee mug, a book, a pair of headphones, a paper bag, etc.; they're all really easy to use and pretty idiot-usable, and every geek I know uses them. Linux should be similar: it works well without fiddling around inside. You can take the cover off and rewire it to make it do other things, but you don't have to.

      I mean, I *could* configure things with echo, sed, grep, and cat, and I actually do on occasion, but usually I use a text editor if that makes it easier to get the result I want. If I had a special config tool that worked well, I'd use that instead, so long as it didn't needlessly destroy my hand-tuned files and left files that I could hand-tune if I found I needed to do something not supported. Being a real power user isn't about always using the more powerful tools; it's about using the tool which will have the effect you want in the shortest time.
    • I have to disagree with most of your points here. This is from the perspective of a Mandrake user, i.e. I'm still learning. I think that as far as my experience goes, Linux (in itself) is ready for the newbie.
      from a user design standpoint, the system fails - unlike windows, 3 different Linux boxes can have 3 different interfaces - each of which confusing to the new user.
      This is true. But the difference isn't as great as all that if you have a remotely intuitive display manager. If I have an account then I can use my settings.
      Users can use the machine without logging in.
      It's as simple as setting up an autologin from your display manager or distro installer. Surely this is done and dusted -- Win XP has a comparable concept.
      Users never have to manually configure hardware
      Done, with most hardware (by Mandrake at any rate).
      There is one standard GUI interface across all distrubutions
      Where did you get the idea that these desktops have such different GUIs? On the fresh mdk install you could hardly tell Gnome, KDE (and even AfterStep) apart. Blue wallpaper, grey taskbar, some kind of 'start' button. That's it! All the same programs lie in very similar menus. The "appearance of windows" varies only with my choice of theme, and the default ones are very MS.
      The user can install or upgrade any system with a single click of the mouse.
      The toughest one, but graphical frontends to rpm (etc) do exist and are documented.

      I really don't think there's a tradeoff "required" here. The features for making Linux idiot-proof are in the system right now. The 'culture' of the product in fact seems much less of an issue than availability. Can I (in the UK) get a new PC with Linux from a high street retailer? Can I get a distro on the cover of a PC magazine? No. Why not?

    • by rho ( 6063 )
      Linux will be ready for the clueless masses when:

      Here's the problem in a nutshell, right there. "clueless masses"... they're only "clueless" because they don't understand the computer as well as you do, though they probably severely outclass you on other knowledge (history, or art, or automobile mechanics, or any one or more of a million other things). Does your lack of knowledge about 16th century French Realist poetry make you "clueless" as well?

      This elitist attitude shows up again and again with advanced computer users and programmers--usually from people who should know better, like some of the wizard programmers I know who will try to plug an ISA card in a PCI slot: they may do fantastic software, but they're "idiots" when it comes to hardware. Are these guys "clueless"?

      I'm sorry, but this attitude really needs to be adjusted. It's the difference between:
      Scenario A:

      User -- "I saved this file, but now I can't find it! Is it gone?"

      Programmer -- "You dummy! Hit Control-F and look for it!"
      sotto voce "Stupid lusers!"

      Scenario B:

      User -- "I saved this file, but now I can't find it! Is it gone?"

      Programmer -- "Well, probably not. It probably got saved in an odd location. Hmm, this seems to happen a lot, I get a lot of complaints about this. Perhaps I should re-think this whole heirarchal filesystem, and instead think about how to use this powerful computer with scads of RAM to keep track of things like this in a relational database so you can arbitrarily organize files by date, project, or manager rather than the physical location on a spinning magnetic platter you probably have never seen."
    • Granted, this is an OS that not many geeks would like. However, there is a tradeoff involved - one can run a good, but obscure OS, or use a popular, but buggy and restrictive OS.

      I am so sick and tired of these kneejerk assumptions about Linux and average users.

      There is absolutely no reason to believe that that an Everyday Linux for Average Joe would automatically wipe out a Linux geek's Superduper Power Linux setup.

      What could Everyday Linux do to you? Would it nullify the GPL? Somehow kill off vi or emacs, or destroy OSS developer communities? If you think so, how? I can't even imagine why folks are so worried.

      In case you had forgotten: LINUX IS OPEN SOURCE. Also, lots of related software is open source too. Nobody can take your carefully crafted Power User setup. Nobody.

      Or put another way: Existence of Simplified Linux =! No More Linux for Power Users.

      Additionally, it would be in Everyday Co.'s best interest to keep Everyday usable by Power Users and average users alike, without alienating either group. If the OSS community gets drowned somehow, the company would lose their developer base, right?

      So please stop with the "simple & stupid will absolutely destroy powerful & smart" Linux arguments already. If you want to put it that way, you are simply wrong.
  • by Slarty ( 11126 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:09PM (#2673837) Homepage
    It's not necessarily that you *can't* surf the web, make PowerPoint presentations, etc... obviously, you can. It's just that in many cases it seems pretty darned hard to get a system to a configuration where you can. Pre-installing stuff would probably help, because if a PowerPoint clone isn't installed, how is the average uninformed user going to figure out how to make a pretty presentation?

    On a Windows box, if PowerPoint wasn't already preinstalled, then most people at least know that they need to get PowerPoint somehow... MS has at least done their job in getting mindshare. Love it or hate it, everybody's heard of Office.

    But will they know what to use on Linux? Will they know what to download, whether they need KDE or GNOME or whatnot? And where to find it if they do? How to build an app from source, or how to use a package management system to install it? Probably not, and there is a lot to learn there...

    On Linux, the software is there for the most part, and some of it finally doesn't suck (not just a Linux issue; most software sucks, although at least on Windows it's a form of suck people are familiar with). It's just a question of familiarity with it, I guess. Things in the Un*x world are sufficiently different from the norm that people just aren't comfortable with it yet. The only way to fix this is lots of exposure, which is tricky to get sometimes.

    But to get back on topic, knowing a lot of geeks, my guess isn't that they're too smart to teach "normal" people but just tend to focus on what they deal with, which is the technical details which tend to intimidate everyone else. Geeks are tinkerers, "normal" people like to get things working and leave it that way. So when systems running Linux that have all this stuff, and work fine without any tinkering, become widely available the problem might go away somewhat.
    • by fingal ( 49160 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:43PM (#2674002) Homepage

      I agree entirely about the learning curve of getting a system running. After having installed multiple versions of both windows and linux, I would prefer not to put a newbie through either one of these trials on unfamiliar hardware unless they knew what they were aiming for.

      There is also the learning curve associated with the usability of linux. Previously, people have always approached it from "learn the command line first and we'll deal with those GUI addons once you have the basics down". I personally can't think of a faster way to alienate a new user, especially if they have experience using a GUI based system.

      I recently upgraded my box from a tower that I've been using for the last 4 years to a much more powerful laptop so that I can travel and still work. As a result I donated the linux tower to the graphic designer in my company so that he could have a "play" and work out what was going on, but not really expecting him to get that involved (have you ever tried to move a designer of his beloved Mac?).

      As it turns out, he is currently using the box for everything other than Illustrator and Photoshop. And he is considering getting involved in the development process of Gimp and Sodipodi or Sketch as a non-programming contributor to the process so that he can switch completely. However, he didn't learn any shell commands or any incomprehensible alien languages to make this jump, but rather got given a configured tool that just worked and did the job.

      The nicest thing about the whole process is that he is now starting to get interested in those wierd terminal boxes that I tend to leave open and has started to get his head around methods that for me appear faster and more obvious but which for a Mac user are the very antithesis of useability. This would never have happened if I'd started him on shell scripting in console mode on day one.

  • YES (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MongooseCN ( 139203 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:09PM (#2673841) Homepage
    Most of the people who know Linux well assume that everyone else can learn Linux just as easily as them. I think that's about all that needs to be said because that is all I have ever seen.

    These are some of the major points I've seen guru's forget about "average" computer users.

    1. Average computer users are afraid they will break their computer. Example: Many think if they mess up setting up a drive in the BIOS, the drive will physically break.

    2. Average computers users need to get their information visualy. Just look at all the Visual MS products. People don't know where to look for information so they need all the info laid out in front of them. They need menus and GUI's that can show them all the options they have to use. They don't have the time or ability to hunt out where the information is they need.

    3. Average computer users have a very short time span for learning something on a computer. A computer is just another utiliy they need to use. They don't learn how it works for the same reason they don't learn how their TV, VCR, microwave, refrigerator, cellphone, etc works, they don't have the time. They expect someone else to do all the detailed work for them.

    4. It takes logic to understand a computer, and most people just can't grasp the concept of logical thinking. "The computer shouldn't do that when I click there!" "Why?" "Because.. that's a stupid thing to do!"
  • I guess all the time I've been spending playing Civ III accounts for the last 1%. I remember when all I did on my computer was write and print letters, oh wait, that was a typewriter.
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:11PM (#2673851) Homepage Journal
    You learn the trick of coming down to the user's level. Yes, you know EVERYTHING about the product you're supporting (Actually MOST tech support people don't and the ones who do move on quickly, but that's another story) but they don't.

    I see a lot of people intentionally going over the user's head and the vibe I get from the people who do that is "See how leet I am?" Those people need to grow up. Of course, when you get free support you often get what you pay for. If you get that attitude from someone paid to provide end user support, you should ask to speak to their manager immediately and complain.

    Some of us can't help but go over the user's heads. I'll do it if I start focussing on the issue at hand but I've learned to pick up on that blank look and pause at that point and say "Ah, you don't care about that!"

    Part of the problem too is that some of us are just unfamiliar with the tools. I haven't used StarOffice in ages and get better results with LaTeX. I'm a programmer so I never need to do Powerpoint presentations. I _like_ mucking around behind the scenes to see how things work, and I've become used to working behind the scenes as well.

    The best way to approach someone you want to help is to view it as a learning experience for you both. You have to learn to put your personal preferences aside and look at what is best for the user you're working with. You can actually expand your horizons that way.

  • Now if only Roblimo could try to make the point without overgeneralizing. I know quite a few old time Unix/Linux users who happen to agree with Roblimo. But his writing sure doesn't seem to leave that option open. Lots of flame wars in our community get started in this fashion; too bad Roblimo hasn't learned how to avoid the problem.
  • by Monkeyman334 ( 205694 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:13PM (#2673863)
    It is too hard. Okay, maybe not too hard, but definitely a bit harder than Windows or Mac. After the wu-ftpd warning I decided to update all my RedHat 6.2 servers to the latest version. What do you know, the RPM doesn't work. Why? Because it wants RPM version 4. So I go to install RPM 4, it wants glibc. Surprise surprise, glibc wants RPM 4. And when I got my RedHat user friend of many years, he managed to get glibc installed using force or nodeps, but RPM version 4 and wu-ftpd also wanted xinetd, and for some reason we couldn't get it installed. So we had to resort to getting the latest 7.2 CDs and taking the server down for a while for an upgrade. Windows on the other hand, will tell you when updates are there. It installs them automagically and one reboot is all that's needed. I hear people claim that Windows Update can make it unbootable, I've never seen it happen.

    Now, installing something like flash under Mozilla/Linux. I managed to install it fairly easily. But at our crowded computer lab at school, where the only box left was a linux one (we usually use mac), a student couldn't quite figure it out. He downloaded the file, and that was the end of his knowledge. He doesn't know how to use tar. And I'm sure he didn't know what root was or where mozilla was installed. I even had to start X for him. In Windows/IE it's auto install. You click "Yes" on a prompt and it's installed.

    When I was first running Debian I wanted to get my sound card running to play some music. I went into modconf and I just couldn't get it installed, even though a pnpdump seemed to find it. So a friend suggested ALSA, which I tried to install. What do ya know, I need to do a kernel upgrade. It still doesn't work. In Windows its found, you put in the driver CD or floppy, don't have to worry about mounting, and a reboot. Maybe it's just my crappy hardware, or I'm just stupid, but with 6 billion people on this planet, I'm sure more than one person has the same problem as I do. The worst part is I got smart people with their degrees to try and help me out, who have been using linux for years. Like the sysadmin for our school district, someone else who just got their CS degree and is a debian package maintainer, someone who is in college learning the kernel. They couldn't get it installed as fast I could, someone who has taken zero (0) college courses in Windows.
    • Although this is a bit offtopic, what you did was a bit unnecessary. Since you're running RH 6.2, you need to grab the packages that are built for 6.2, wu-ftpd-2.6.1-0.6x.21.i386. If you grab all 6.2 packages, then it will work fine. As far as upgrading your "RPM" rpms, that generally *always* involves a RedHat version upgrade, especially to a new major number.
      As another poster mentioned, you can easily use up2date in 7.2 to keep your machines updated - it works a lot like Windows Update or apt-get, automatically grabbing the necessary/desired RPMs and installing them for you.

      For the installing flash example, how was he running mozilla already to get flash if you had to start X for him? I completely understand what you're saying about the problem, but that just seemed a little weird to me.

      I think that you'll find hardware gets adopted by Linux distros pretty well. Every successive release of RedHat that I've installed on machines has gone a better and better job recognizing and installing hardware without me having to go in and recompile or anything. If you have a computer that's a year or two old, you should probably be able to install something like RH 7.2, or the latest unstable Debian and have nearly all of the hardware supported without manufacturers' or third-party drivers.
    • If you had kept up with the updates as they came out (as all people who maintain and operate a computer should), you would have gotten the intermediate versions of RPM and glibc that eased the transition. The fact that RedHat doesn't keep these intermediate versions around after the latest comes out is unfortunate, but the fact that they were there and all the good users got them is undeniable. As a bonus, if you had kept up with the 6.2 updates, you eventually would have gotten up2date, a splendid tool which takes care of updating your system semiautomatically... all you have to do is run it and keep clicking on 'Next'. Note that up2date shipped with all later versions of RH Linux.

      If you're really feeling adventurous, a 6.2 user can grab the redhat-release package from 7.0, upgrade that one package, and up2date will think it's updating a very out-of-date Red Hat 7.0 system. It isn't quite automatic at that point, since there are things that disappeared from 6.2 to 7.0 and the replacements conflict with them, but barring that one drawback, it's as powerful as 'apt-get upgrade-dist'. (Actually, I would presume that that's the difference between 'apt-get upgrade' and 'apt-get upgrade-dist')

      Also, IIRC, Red Hat 6.2 is a year and a half (or is it two years?) old. If a modern Windows system can tell you what updates are available automatically now, great, have fun, but don't say your distro of the week can't when your looking at an obsolete version. After all, I don't recall anyone's Win98 SE systems telling them there were updates available.

  • by Sanity ( 1431 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:13PM (#2673865) Homepage Journal
    ...that the skills required to be a "guru" in Linux or anything else, are not nescessary the skills required to explain that knowledge to others, and unfortunately, they are often mutually exclusive.

    I know many people who are very smart, yet I cringe when I hear them try to explain things to non-experts in the field. It is not that they aren't trying, just that they lack the ability to put themselves in the shoes of someone who doesn't have their level of knowledge.

  • The real problem is the users themselves who are migrating from another operating system (typically an MS OS, although I'm sure this would apply to any other). While taking a Human Computer Interaction course not very long ago (early this year), the project we chose was to create a simple interface for the Linux lab, for new users.

    Now, most users are familiar with buttons, right? Everyone who has used a modern GUI has seen and used and is familiar with buttons. So, we made a little app in QT 2.x [] that would have a screen with a few rows of labelled buttons. There would be categories (office apps, math and science apps, development apps, etc.), and the user could select a category and click the button of the app they wanted. You don't really get any easier than this.

    The results were disturbing. Our team (made of mostly windows users) had little problem, since they had seen it in development. But almost no one else could use it! We tested on a decent number of people in the NT lab (since this was our target audience), gave them a few simple tasks (like "start a word processor"), and only a very small percentage could complete these tasks. They just couldn't handle something different.

    This is the problem I see with making it "OK to be ignorant (about computers)". People can't really use a computer at all, they can only repeat a set of rote tasks to do what they want.

    Using a computer isn't difficult. Understanding what is happening isn't difficult. Which OS you use, whether you have a GUI or a command line, is irrelevant. Most of the problem people have with "Linux is Difficult" stems from the fact that they only know a series of rote tasks on one platform, and these rote tasks don't work on Linux. (Even if they do, there is mental confusion simply because it isn't the platform they're used to... we tried this with GNOME and KDE as well, which are quite similar to what people here do, which is use the Start menu.) I have set up a Linux computer for my mom and sister, both of whom had no previous computer experience, and they had absolutely zero trouble using it. My dad, however, who had a deal of Windows experience, just couldn't handle it. (In fact, I had my sister edit a LaTeX document one time, just for kicks, and she picked up on the formatting codes without any explanation. She didn't get them all right, but she came very close.)

    People don't like to change. They don't like to learn and adapt. But they should, even though they will make a fuss. We know they should. We are experienced, and we do know better than they. This is not an elitist attitude: we want them to learn too. (An elitist attitude would be that they are inferior and cannot, or should not, learn.) Making it OK to be ignorant is merely harmful for them and ourselves, as well.

  • Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?

    If this is so, then the secret to Microsoft's success with usable operating systems must be that Microsoft people aren't very smart or knowledgable. That implies that Apple people must be totally ignorant morons. A description of Amiga poeple would be unprintable on this public forum.

  • I am a Linux newb and every time I go to #linux on Dalnet or similar IRC hangouts, I am confronted with "You aren't good enough to use Linux" elitists. They do nothing but hinder the spread of free OS's and apps.
  • by jchristopher ( 198929 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:24PM (#2673915)
    My main frustration with Linux is not only that it's hard, but that you can't even convince anyone that it's hard! There is a big "can't see the forest for the trees" problem.

    Example: "How do I use a USB hard drive under Linux?" Answer: "modprobe usb-mass storage, and use the mount command (man mount)"

    And no one sees why there is a problem with such a statement.

    • I've always felt uneasy using commands like "man mount" - just doesn't sound good.
    • Example: "How do I use a USB hard drive under Linux?" Answer: "modprobe usb-mass storage, and use the mount command (man mount)"

      I don't see the problem with that, because it really is simple. If an average windows user had asked me this, I would have to say, "Insert the driver CD into the CDROM drive. It's the CD that came with your USB hard drive. Now, Autorun should launch the installer program. It didn't? Ok, go to My Computer. Double click it. Under My Computer, go to your CD-ROM drive. Which one? I dunno, try your D: drive. Yes, Double-click it. Now, there should be a program called SETUP -- double-click it. Now follow the insturction on-screen." (assume that user can do this, which they usually can't.) "Now, when Windows reboots, plug the hard drive in, and Windows should recognize it and set it up as your E: drive. Windows freezes whenever you plug it in?" etc. etc.

      If a newbie linux user had asked me and I might say "modprobe usb-mass-storage, and use the mount command. You don't know what modprobe is? It's a command that tells Linux to load a drive. The one you want is usb-mass-storage. Ok, now that that's loaded, make a directory under your mnt folder and call it 'usb-harddrive.' Just type 'mkdir /mnt/usb-harddrive' -- mkdir tells Linux to create a folder. Now, mount the usb device to the folder you just created with 'mount /dev/usbwhatever /mnt/usb-harddrive.' It can't find a filesystem? Do this: 'mkreiserfs /dev/usbwhatever.' While we're waiting you want to know what the last two commands do? mm... just accept that they do what they do for now -- we can set up a one-on-one session with later. Now, just type the mount command again. There. It works."

  • Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?"

    I disagree. See there are three types of people that use computers. Those that thoroughly understand them. Those that use them for a little while and then "get it". And those that need to be taught.

    I think the secret for a piece of software's popularity is to capture the second group. If linux was really as easy as it needs to be, it wouldn't need to be taught. Just like most people don't need someone to teach them how to use windows and most of its apps. It's the second group that make most users and eventually they drag along the third group.
  • fonts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jchristopher ( 198929 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:42PM (#2673998)
    A perfect example would be fonts. Install RedHat 7.2 (very recent, presumably containing the most up to date widgets). Start it up, fire up Netscape. See how shitty the fonts look?

    I've seen people ask how to fix that. I'm sure there's an answer, too. But the fact is that it's fucking RIDICULOUS to have fonts that look like that in the year 2001.

    If you give them some complicated instructions for fixing it, 95% of new users will just say "screw that" and either: 1) abandon Linux, thinking it sucks, or 2) keep using Linux with crummy fonts, and think it sucks, or 3) keep using Linux and waste a bunch of time fiddling until the fonts are right.

    All three of these situations are horrible, yet it doesn't seem to bother any of the developers that RedHat still ships this way.

    This type of situation is common and it infuriates me that not only are you assumed to be stupid if you can't make it work, but everyone is amazed that you'd complain about it in the first place, because fixing it is supposed some sign of your computing prowess.

  • All right, I just started using Linux last month, so I ought to be able to comment on this.

    First thing I did was visit my University's CS Club, where they were offering to give a full version on CD (Which happened to be convienient at the time). They ask me what version I want. I only know of Red Hat and Mandrake (from friends). He says that I should get Mandrake, while I nod my head, not really caring at that point.

    So I start the installation process, and begin to enter information. I choose advanced installation (naive me), and was amazed at all the options that I could choose to install of the CD. A reasonable selection, so I picked anything that looked interesting.

    About an hour later after all the files had finally copied onto the hardrive (and the partitioning, etc.), I booted up. Created my account, and was immediately greeted with a happy first-time wizard. Except the text-boxes wouldn't work. Needless to say, after a few minutes of frustrations, I just skipped it. I have no idea how to get it back, but it would sure be useful, as I still haven't got my Internet working under Linux. Plus, the fact that there are so many control pannels (3 or so, I think), I never know where to find anything. In fact, once I have KDE running, I can barely tell the difference from Windows, and besides the fixed memory leak, I can hardly tell the difference.

    So what's the benefit of switching right now? The only positives to using Linux are: it's not Microsoft, and the lack of a memory leak. Quite frankly, rebooting my computer every two days is worth the price for being able to use all my old stuff.

    Personaly, I believe the best interface would be one that is so intuitive it would require no training at all, you would just 'know' what to do. And frankly, I think we said goodbye to such an interface when MAC OS X came along.

    That said aside, I happen to use Linux a lot as a UNIX substitute, the terminals I work with get garbled all the time, and have broken mice. I think Linux is a wonderful replacement for UNIX!

  • by Kope ( 11702 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:43PM (#2674006)
    There are at least 2 problems with calling these instructors 'smart.'

    First, it is stupid to think that a user wants to understand the inner workings of the system. The user wants to unlock functionality. They want a simple, easy way to accomplish a task. They want to have to learn as little as possible in order to accomplish that end.

    The second is related, and that is in implying that those who are users and see computers as tools used to accomplish a goal rather than an object of study in and of themselves are not smart. Frankly, this is the sort of sub-cultural elitism that stops most "geeks" from actually having meaningfull career advancement. Until you can think of mere users as equals you'll always be working for someone else.
  • most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?"

    Yeah, that's it.

    Reminds me of those "tricky" job interview questions where you lie your ass off to make your weaknesses sound like or be derived from your sources of strength

    Interviewer: What's your biggest weakness?

    Me: I'm just too damned focused in everything I do!

    I use Linux, so I don't understand why it's so hard for most Linux users to grasp the fact that the reason Linux is unpopular is that it lacks apps and that the user experience is wildly inconsistent and unruly.

    Stop looking for answers that make you feel good about yourself, and start looking for solutions that will cure the real problem
  • by quakeaddict ( 94195 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:44PM (#2674011)
    People who post here are very smart. In many ways they sort of look at the computer as something that an average person shouldn't really touch unless they know what they are doing, and if they don't know how to administer their own box then that is their problem.

    And for people who devote alot of their time to making the stuff work, I don't find this unreasonable. I mean, after all there is real effort and dedication involved is it too much to ask to read a man page?

    What MS gets and the Linux commnity doesn't is that most people just want the damn thing (the computer) to do something useful. They want to turn it on and have it work. They don't give a crap about the technical merits of the OS or the effort behind it and for the mass market that is how it should be.

    They don't want to mess with config files.

    They don't want to care about what hardware is in their box.

    They do want to be able to plug stuff in (USB) and have it just work.

    They don't want to compile a program to install it.

    They dont want to untar things

    They don't want to deal with RPM (they want something called setup.exe).

    they want easy access to the internet.

    they want a browser that works.

    and above all they certainly do not want to have to recompile a kernel to upgrade their OS.

    MS has money and time to spend on these and other usability issues. Linux does not. Linux is not easy to use unless you are steeped in Unix. There is no way around it.

    I think Linux should stop wasting cycles on a mass market that will never happen.
    • by LS ( 57954 )
      "In many ways they sort of look at the computer as something that an average person shouldn't really touch unless they know what they are doing"

      No kidding... I have a computer science degree, and have been using computers forever. But I can't keep up with everything that is out there. For instance, I mentioned on slashdot that I only had enough time to get basic security on my linux box, and everyone screamed that I should take my box off the net []. My box is secure enough to not have been hacked in over a year, but what about these newbies? How are they going to secure an OS, when they barely understand the concept of logging in?


  • by 11223 ( 201561 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @08:49PM (#2674028)
    Linux/*NIX usability has a ways to go. I say this sitting in front of a TiBook running Mac OS X, a modern UNIX that's perfectly usable without resorting to a command line. What's the problem with Linux usability? Basically, it's the desktop environments. Both GNOME and KDE have a "not my problem" attitude wrt helping users configure basic aspects of their system (hardware, software installation) without using a command-line or distro-specific tool.

    While programs such as gnorpm, kpackage, and the Ximian setup tools are available, these tools are mostly either not easy enough to use, not widespread enough, or not stable enough for most users.

    Secondly, the menu layout in both KDE and Gnome is incredibly confusing. Gnome puts the main menu on the screen in two different places by default! KDE has at least two address books. And how is anybody supposed to remember that Konqueror is a web browser or that GIMP is an image manipulation program? The naming of Linux programs is very hard to understand, and while these names might work in the Windows world as "brand names", new users facing hundreds of unfamiliar programs deserve something more helpful. Also, there isn't a standard menu system for GNOME and KDE (even regular GNOME and Ximian GNOME use two different menu systems!), so users installing programs may find that it never shows up in their menu at all!

    I hope the GNOME and KDE usability projects result in some feedback for those two desktops, because, up until now, these projects seem to have been focused on building a development environment first and a usable desktop second. These priorities really need to be changed.

    • by tempfile ( 528337 ) on Saturday December 08, 2001 @11:42AM (#2675517)
      The menu layout in Windows is incredibly confusing. I don't want to memorize the vendor of each application, because that's how the program menu folder is called. And how is anybody supposed to remember that Excel is a spreadsheet or that Explorer is a web browser, file manager, bad ftp client and responsible for some GUI elements? The naming of Windows programs is very hard to understand, and while these names might work in the Linux world as "brand names", new users facing hundreds of unfamiliar programs deserve something more helpful. While we're doing the "keep the text and switch words" game, there's a lot of discussion going on in the Gnome project to remedy this situation in Gnome 2 (beta out in a couple of weeks), and last time I checked the solution of having the app menu split in topics (graphics, internet, etc.) and the entries themselves saying things to the like of "GIMP, image manipulator" was quite popular.
  • by pnambic ( 3298 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @09:14PM (#2674133)

    IMHO, the problem with 'gurus' teaching 'users' has nothing to do with their relative intelligence. Rather, it's an issue of the semantics of teaching, or more specifically, teaching the use of computers. To a 'guru', teaching the use of computers means getting their student to the point where they can figure out what's going on when confronted with a new program, task, or problem on their own, by connecting it to what they already know. This is called understanding, but that's not what 'users' are used to in the context of computers. What's worse, it is continually suggested to them that it's not what they want.

    To quote from the linked article:

    People using their computers don't need to know much beyond "Push button A and action B results." They don't need to get confused with a lot of complex commands while they're just starting to figure out the way to do things in Linux that they already knew how to do in Windows. That basic level of knowledge is enough for a start - and for a good while afterwards.

    This is the basic problem. Telling someone "To A, push B" is not teaching, it's more like programming the student. The student will not understand what they are doing. They'll end up with an unconnected heap of little task descriptions in their head; actually, a lot of people end up with a heap of Post-its glued to their screens and keyboards. They are unprepared to cope with B not causing A (at best they'll reboot, typically they'll call tech support), and if they're given new software where B happens to look a lot more like C and is 5 inches off to the left, they'll need retraining.

    That sort of thing doesn't happen with, say, cars. But contrary to popular opinion, that's not because cars are easy, it's because Driving School actually teaches you something, while 'Computer User School' does not.

    One can only speculate as to the reasons behind that; after all, driving schools surely wouldn't complain if their students had to return at regular intervals to be told that "in this new and improved model, the windshield wiper switch is now located on the second stick right of the wheel". But in the computer user world, this is exactly how it works. The end result is the perpetual myth that computers are complicated and hard to use, plus excellent job opportunities for 'teachers'.

    Feh, that came out rather rambling... Thanks for reading it anyway. ;)

  • by judd ( 3212 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @09:18PM (#2674147) Homepage
    In any skill, there are stages of mastery, from novice to expert.

    Novices know nothing.
    Apprentices know some things by rote.
    Competent people have mastered all the rules...
    ... and so on, until you hit experts, who no longer follow any easily described rules at all - they understand everything as it is, with no simplification.

    In general, the best people to teach novices are the competent, whose knowledge is still at the "rule" stage, but whose abilities are broad ranging and well learnt. The worst people to teach novices are experts, who understand so much that they no longer think in the same way as the novice.

    Hence the derision experts often express for teachers ("those who can't, teach"). The good teacher knows something the expert doesn't - what to leave out, how to convey broad principles memorably, what explanations to leave until later. Cranky experts knock Dummies books, which for all their cutesiness and condescension are models of clear technical writing.

    The first wave of Linux documentation was written by experts for experts. I have no doubt that the simpler stuff will come along (there's a Linux for Dummies, perhaps it's coming already).

    The point: don't assume that you can teach well because you are a subject expert. Conversely, don't think that you have nothing to teach because you're not.
  • by ElDooderino ( 542228 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @09:55PM (#2674304) Homepage
    I get the feeling that a lot of my fellow Linux geeks assume that because Windows users feel more at home in a GUI and are scared of a shell (duh, they've been using a GUI, and not a shell), that they are somehow not intelligent enough, or somehow incapable of reading documentation... of any sort.

    On the other hand, I get the feeling that most Windows users believe that us Linux geeks have purposely encrypted current linux documentation in our own esoterica so that we can feel special when nobody else understands; We also explain things extra difficultly so we can feel better about ourselves, like we all have some sort of inferiority complex.

    Of course neither is correct. Here are some of the underlying reasons I believe this situation has come about:

    Until VERY recently Linux has been pretty much a system administrator's thing, or a serious code hacker's thing. Because nobody outside of the circle probably ever even heard of Linux, why the hell would the documentation have been written for those outside of the circle? It was generally (and correctly) assumed that anyone else reading the documentation was either a sys-admin, hacker, or similar type, who knew Linux/Unix and simply wanted some configuration details or command line arguments. There's no reason our HOWTOs and man pages should have been written any differently, at the time they were written.

    Now suddenly Linux got some time under the spotlight and a lot of people are trying Linux for various purposes, Server, Desktop, or for the reason maybe a good portion of us started playing with Linux, just to tinker around. They "grew up" in GUI land for the most part, don't know jack about using a command line, and are now confronted with something that's somewhere between both. They are obviously interested or they wouldn't have bothered, but they are completely frustrated because all of the documentation is really just there for configuration details or usage details. Maybe we don't see it that way, but they probably do. It seems like a lot of energy is being spent in finger pointing when it could be spent writing migration-documentation (I don't know if I just made that up or not). If I did, what I mean is that for the transition from Windows to Linux to be easy we need documentation that not only explains how to do things, why you are doing each step, and what exactly it's going to do, but also what the equivelant would have been in Windows.

    Just my $0.02
    P.S. Yes this nick is completely unoriginal, but you jerks already stole all of the good nicks! =)
  • copy&paste (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eyeball ( 17206 ) on Friday December 07, 2001 @10:34PM (#2674385) Journal
    "Look, I can copy this web link from one window and paste it into my browser. Oh, wait, that didn't work."
  • by elflord ( 9269 ) on Saturday December 08, 2001 @01:36AM (#2674837) Homepage
    The problem with GUI tools is that they're idiosyncratic and vary from distribution to distribution. That's fine for the home user, but for a sysadmin, developer, or anyone else who needs to deal with multiple platforms, you need to be able to use different systems, and that means understanding the consistent underlying POSIX system, as opposed to pointing and clicking with some GUI tools. I'll admit to using kppp for dialup, but all other system, configuration I do the "old fashioned way", because I know that the old-fashioned way will work on some other distribution or Solaris.

    I agree with the tone of the article -- this basically disqualifies me as someone to help newbies. I recently went to a LUG meeting, where some relatively new Linux users demonstrated all the GUI tools you can use on Linux. I didn't even know what "Evolution" was until I went to the meeting.

    I suppose the best advice for the newbie is to find some kind of user group and meet people with common interests and/or struggles with their systems (usually the slightly-less-newbie types as proposed by the article).

  • the hell you know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Michael Wolf ( 23460 ) on Saturday December 08, 2001 @02:33AM (#2674956)
    Linux is complicated, and so is windows. Intelligent, experienced users have windows and linux breaking all the time in thousands of ways.

    Less technical users (i.e. normal people) have no hope of dealing with problems: unless things are exactly as they expect and work perfectly, they are completely lost. (This is not a criticism, but rather follows inevitably from the first paragraph.) With windows, they are endlessly frustrated, but they have memorized a few dozen "tricks" that work. With linux, a different set of "tricks" are required and they are completely lost when one of their tricks fails. Linux ends up looking harder simply because it is different.

    Had they been raised on linux, then windows would seem impossibly complex.

    "Backward compatability" (i.e. desktop behaving like windows) is essential for linux to make headway on the desktop. Perhaps this is a bitter pill. Sorry, that's life.
  • by MZoom ( 93667 ) on Saturday December 08, 2001 @03:52AM (#2675093) Homepage
    Linux is not hard. It just has many options. Some Windows immigrants may complain it has "too many options". It's a paradigm that needs to be redefined given that the typical Windows desktop user is not familiar with "options". For example Windows OS's do not ship with a variety of Web Browsers to use...only Internet Explorer. Out of the box you do it Bills way or your left to figure it out for yourself.

    Option Anxiety is the result of having at least a half dozen different ways to accomplish a single simple task! Take the Linux ditros themselves for example. Each one has a different way of installing the OS. Each one generally has its own preferred way of managing software, either apt-get, rpms, tarballs ...whatever. But by far the biggest origin of Option Anxiety is from what I call the "Big Three".....Email, Web Browseing, and Word Processing. Pine, Emacs, Mutt, Kmail, StarOffice, KOffice, AbiWord, Emacs, Mozilla, Lynx, Netscape, Konqueror, etc, etc .... a Windows user can easily be tormented by which or what to use.

    I actually had a client say to me, "I just want my email, search the net, and type business letters that my clients can read on thier computers. I don't wnat to know about all that stuff."

    From the article:
    "People using their computers don't need to know much beyond "Push button A and action B results." They don't need to get confused with a lot of complex commands while they're just starting to figure out the way to do things in Linux that they already knew how to do in Windows. That basic level of knowledge is enough for a start - and for a good while afterwards."

    I totally agree with that! What I think is more important is that Linux and Linux distros keep getting more and more "approachable" by novices while still allowing seasoned Linux users the freedom and ability to do what it already allows them to do.

  • My experience (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JubJubb ( 318098 ) on Saturday December 08, 2001 @08:33AM (#2675139)
    My experience has not been good. I'm probably an intermediate user, and have been using Linux on and off for about 5 years, and have done a couple of clean installations of RedHat and Slackware, including X and KDE. Right now, I'm doing my first useful application with MySQL and Apache/Tomcat, and the configuration was a major hassle. Here are some problems that I run into:

    1. Documentation that assumes too much. This has been mentioned above, but I'd like to stress this as a number one problem. After all, what good is a free operating system if you can't use it in a meaningful way without buying 2 or 3 books. Some of the HOWTOs will walk you through setting something up in one particular way, and don't give much guidance on general principles. I guess that's the definition of a howto, but that's really a poor substitute.

    Installation program: What packages would you like to install?
    New User: Huh? I DON'T KNOW!

    2. Too many configuration files. When I first started using linux, one word came to mind: Chaos. Configuration files are all over the place and they all have their own particular formats and quirks. And 99% of the time, the defaults don't work for anyone but the developers. This is getting better though. Some of the more professionally developed applications are better at this. MySQL really shines in this area. It was a breeze to install and the things that it asked for were clear. It is a very peaceful, well-behaved piece of software. But I really wish software developers would include configuration wizards. Lengthy editing of text files just for basic functionality is unacceptable. This is such a problem that I'm considering helping open source projects by specializing in documentation and ease of use. Configuring the kernel has gotten easier in recent years. Modern configuration tools step you through the process and help is readily available if you don't know what something means. Even better, it tells you what you probably need. This is a step in the right direction.

    3. Dealing with dependencies. Linux gets a lot of praise for quick bug fixes, which can be a good thing, but its a double-edged sword. You have to juggle kernel versions, glibc versions, and GNU tools. If Linux is trying to reach a mainstream audience, do you expect the average user to have to recompile their kernel and rpm half a dozen other dependencies just to install the new web browser? Windows software developers have a much easier time - you know that an app that will run on one Windows 95 machine will run on just about any Windows 95 machine. Occassionally you run into things like needing X version or a above of DirectX or something, but that's a minor upgrade. Linux applications don't often check for their needed libraries.
  • by slasho81 ( 455509 ) on Saturday December 08, 2001 @09:12AM (#2675183)
    Many 'gurus' teaching new users about Linux make it look harder than it needs to be

    You might want to check out this case from a social psychology [] point of view. People who are not real experts but perceives themselves to be experts might want to emphasize their expertise by showing the new user how smart they are in comparison.
    It should be noted that real experts shouldn't (at least in theory) have this inferiority complex, which makes the interaction for them with newbies much more straightforward and purposeful.

    Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?"

    Or is it they don't know that much but think and want others to think they do?
  • by rebelcool ( 247749 ) on Saturday December 08, 2001 @03:12PM (#2676050)
    Growing up on DOS, the command line of unices is no sweat. Just some new commands to memorize and other things.

    However, the biggest problem, is getting things to print. I truly dread printing in unix. It is unnecessarily complicated. Granted, my experience with it is network printing where a printer has to be specified (I suppose you could set it up to default to one...but that of course requires manipulating some config file somewhere). Until printing is as easy as windows (literally, just click the icon and whatever is on your application prints perfectly)...

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle