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Linux vs Windows - my perspective

I'm a basic computer user who happened to have grown up in a technology-rich world. Computers were everywhere for me beginning about 2nd grade. The kids of the '90s, those who are now starting college, are steeped in technology in a way that I can't even imagine. To have never seen a record player (pre-clubbin'), to have had a computer from the moment your fingers were dexterous enough to use a keyboard, to eschew email as inefficient and old--these are concepts that an 18 year old lives in. I understand some, but can't fathom others.

But is this the way it's supposed to be? Everything I know from school and experience tells me that, deep down and generally, people do not want to think. Thinking requires sacrifice and effort, two things most of us are unwilling to give. Technology is the ultimate "needer". It needs you to keep up, to be current, to understand ever more concepts in order to function at the top of the heap.

This is what Linux advocates miss time and again. I've played with Linux (I'm downloading the Suse Live DVD right now). I understand the benefits, I understand the philosophy, I understand the sense of community. But when I see a list like this of the literal hundreds of Linux Live distros, it cracks me up. The whole point of a Live DVD (or CD) is to give Windows users the experience of a Linux environment without having to actually install and learn Linux. Except, the average Windows user can't. Hell, I've never heard of 3/4 of the distros on that list. Unless you're a part of the aforementioned community, how could you?

The bigger problem is, how can that community reasonably expect anyone other than a community member or fringe lurker to ever choose one of these distos, much less use it or, blue-sky world, switch to Linux? They can't, and defending that position is laughable. Read Slashdot for around three hours and you'll get a sense of the cognitive dissonance that isn't setting in with the Linux community. You can't have Windows users who are so stupid as to not install updates (and decry the fact that updates exist in the first place), and then build so many distros that someone with a reasonable amount of knowledge is still unable to effectively compare what, to the non-initiated, is suddenly a virtually endless parade of options. You can't "know" the user you're trying to convert, and then not use that knowledge to make your product fit the user.

As much as I understand the need for a solid competitor on the desktop, Linux won't be it. The community will always hold it back. The very essence of the open-source community is its own fatal flaw. People, as a group, cannot makes important decisions. Design by committee doesn't work. The Linux community gets a taste of this every once in a while when someone cuts off a code branch or makes a unilateral decision. OSS people laugh and fork the code, but miss the point. That fork isn't just doomed to obscurity itself, it dooms all connected projects to obscurity. Joe User doesn't understand, or need to understand, the religious wars that cause a list 236 Live CDs/DVDs. Try explaining that concept to someone who didn't use a computer until they were 40.

Legal objections and dirty business aside, the reason Windows always won was Microsoft understood their user. Windows does many things pretty well. Linux does a few things perfectly. To a user, the difference is obvious and the winner clear. People will adapt their behavior to the path of least resistance. If that means I have reboot once a day to have my camera just plug in and work, so be it. At least I didn't have to go hunt down a driver on the 20th page of Google results.

I don't see myself switching to Linux anytime soon. It's a cute toy to play with occasionally, but it doesn't give me the experience I want. I also can't game on it (and no Wine-ing). My business apps don't work on Linux, and likely won't for a long time. I wish I had the fix, because I'd love to see my own cognitive dissonance set in.


  1. I think Linux or something like it will be the competitor. Except nobody will call it Linux. In fact, it already sort of is: Mac OS X has a whole lot of BSD (a similar, free Unix clone) under the hood. Tivo runs Linux under the hood. LinkSys hardware has Linux under the hood. Etc.

  2. And BSD is just one of a bunch of Unix clones/flavors, etc. The strength and weakness of *nix is that it's infinitely configurable. The general user can't (or, more accurately, won't) sift through all those options to find what's right for them. Somewhere, sometime, if Linux wants to be serious about the desktop, it has to give up the illusion that the infinite possibilities can be brought to the masses.
    I'm not disagreeing with you completely. In fact, I think Linux is in a great position because of wins like TiVo and the mobile market to be a huge leader in the portable market. But, those realms are so foriegn to an even greater majority of people, the OS tends to be the last thing they ask about. Maybe Mark Cuban is right and the desktop is dead. I doubt it, but I just don't think Linux will ever be able to control the elitest elements of the community and get serious about the desktop.


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