Saturday, February 16, 2008

The approach, how to arrive safely in Linuxville

In the Linux past users have been IT specialist, coders and developers. Today Linux has spread to include less knowledgeable business and home users. The problem has always been that Linux is not in wide popular use because it hasn't been simply described and taught by the experienced users.
How do you approach Linux so that any user can want to begin to understand it? There are lots of Linux experienced people whose claim to fame is that they also are IT specialist, avid coders and developers. They know all the ins and outs of Linux but in truth have no need for the reassuring comfort of a GUI. I learned this from working at NASA, never ask an engineer for a quick overview of a project. They will impress you with the vital (interesting to them) details, important to know how they see it. With these type of folks the simple basic truth of Linux is the command line or terminal. So you need to learn something called the standard basic Bash commands and eventually learn to compile programs. Then you should learn how to use the text editor called Emacs (it does everything!) or Vim. "Only then can you know the true nature of the force." Yeah, you must become an auto mechanic before you can drive too. I have a great respect for IT folks, coders, developers and auto mechanics but the know what I know how I know it way of passing on knowledge is not the path to user enlightenment. Critics of Linux seem to perpetuate the attitude that the complexities of Linux are barely covered by the desktop GUI. Let's talk cars, you will find a dashboard, steering wheel, gas and brake pedals on a Ford Focus sedan and on a heavy-duty F-150 truck. Does more power under the hood require a different driver interface? How is it the Focus driver is able to drive the F-150? The driver interface is standard on cars/trucks and the GUI is the standard user interface on computers. The question of whether Linux is ready for the desktop is a stupid one. The Linux desktop has all the features the MS Windows or the Mac desktops have. The perception that Linux complexities and power is cheapened and degraded by the GUI is ignorant. The perception that Linux is only for geeks and techies in spite of having a GUI is also ignorant. Let's review the facts of computers. The OS (operating system) is a program that makes all the hardware work together at the request of a user. A GUI (graphical user interface) is an efficient (point & click vs type in commands) way to make those request.
Now we have settled the basic truths of computers (users point of view), you can argue all you want about who has the best or most popular operating system and who has the best or most popular desktop GUI. The fact is that the GUI is what the user expects after boot up. Robin 'Roblimo' Miller of "Point & Click Linux" fame (very good book) says that today's Linux can be used with six commands, point & click, drag & drop, and cut & paste. Linus Torvalds the inventor of Linux said that the OS (operating system) should be transparent to the user. The Linux desktop GUI does this very well and yet you can if you have the skills, tinker under the hood. Speaking of cars, even if you like the outward appearance, the engineering and the standard features, the interior look and feel is what sells the car. An awkward dashboard design and misplaced amenities will spoil the allure, you look good being seen in it but it doesn't look good to you while you are in it.
Of course when we talk about desktop Linux we also refer to the programs that run in Linux. We first want to run MS and Mac programs on it because we already know, love and use them. Then we want to know if Linux has equivalents (drop-in compatible replacements) of MS and Mac programs. Finally we come to realize that there are softwares for Linux that are better or worse than MS or Mac programs that do the same things. It is so hard to convince us users that the only true requirement is for file formats that are transferable between systems. The MS Office file formats that are widely used in business and home can also be read and written by Linux programs. There are other file formats like PDF and multimedia formats like Flash that can also be used in Linux also. You can safely use Linux rather than use MS or Mac and not miss a beat. Well, I guess there is a curve to over come. If you are a Ford Focus person and come to drive a F-150 (I've seen it done), you might have to adjust your judgment, perception and your techniques but you should have no problem working all the features.
OK folks, you got the GUI and the file formats, you just need to kick the tires and drive around the block. Don't worry about the terms and agreements of leasing because you can actually own it, to pimp it, junk it or drive it until it dies (if ever). You can fold, spindle and mutilate it without voiding the warranty. You can copy it, clone it, replicate it, even mutate it and yet, install it on as many machines as you have access to. With all the freedoms and liberties with Linux the only thing holding you back from using it is FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). This is user inertia caused by extended MS and Mac product use. I assure you that the existence and pedigree of Linux are firm and the pleasure of using it is comparable to if not better than what you have previously known. Sorry there is no money back guarantee, Linux is free!

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