Monday, January 05, 2009

and try not to confuse the user this time

Part of my job as a Linuxville official is to show by my true life adventures that the fear of Linux is unfounded. The trick is in how you approach it, but you have to know that the Linux developers have come more than half way to meet you. It is called a graphical user interface or GUI. Thus begins the tale:

My car became toast as I drove it home, rattling and clanking. Not being the backyard mechanic I had it towed to the repair place. In it's place I got a loaner. I have a mid sized car. The last time of major repair I got a small car loaner, this time a SUV. I jumped in the front seat, put on the seat-belt and froze. This is different. The steering wheel is in plain sight, the pedals in familiar places, I just have to find the other stuff. Window controls, heat, radio, gear shifter, all a bit different. The posture, the view out the window and the sound of the engine and feel of the road. It was a car changing moment!

My point is every car sold has the standard layout and equipment. You can put the same driver in any vehicle. That layout is the user interface. Designers go crazy making sure the greatest swath of drivers can be accommodated, thin, tall, short and large. It is the same with computer hardware and in fact computer operating systems. Why, because all kinds of users have to use it. Many folks are lined up on the Microsoft side or the Apple side thinking their brand-name of choice invented the GUI. One company is even trying to patent all or parts of the GUI to prevent others from using GUI's without paying fees. The truth is that the GUI was invented on the Unix platform. And as with all things that enable the public to use it, the GUI became the standard way of computing on all platforms.

On the hardware side you have the keyboard, mouse, and video display. On the software side you have a text screen and GUI. In Linux you really don't need the GUI to operate it, but the GUI is the most comfortable way to use it. And when you log into Linux the GUI that is presented is no different than that on Macs or MS Windows because this is what users expect. I still can't get over people seeing Linux for the first time saying "hey, that's just like Windows, I thought Linux was like DOS!". The elements of the GUI's we have today may be different in style and varied in function but are all similar for all platforms. If they were too different from platform to platform there would be some who would like it but most would not. Businesses especially want a consistent GUI to keep training and support cost down. And how could anything be popular if wide variations were on the market. Well, what about Linux?

Linux has 30+ different GUI's. The three most popular ones Gnome, KDE and Xfce. The others are available if you want them, but most Linux distributions start with these three. Don't forget Mac and Microsoft are company products, they have to decide what they are going to sell you. Linux is open for anybody to design GUI's for it, this is what has happened. Businesses have got behind the most popular Linux GUI's so support is there for business use. If you are not a business, you can find a dream GUI and fly with it.

I just want you to know about Linux, that it is not way different as some say. That Mazda car had a rotary engine, the actual user part of the car was just like any other. Think of Linux like that. I drove the small car, the mid-size car and now the SUV. I've used MS Windows, Linux and Macs with only minor hesitation and very little learning curves, because the GUI's were similar.

Now if they can only do something about multiple TV remotes!

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