Monday, January 19, 2009

Linuxville and you, a desktop user

Welcome to Linuxville!!!
You are thinking about a Linuxville visit and so you jump on the net to view some screenshots (postcards) and read the travel reviews of critics. It is so confusing because the critics of Linux never match the perspective user's vantage point. Imagine being all day on a fishing boat after promoters rave about catching the big one and you bring home the guppy. Or you are a river wader type of fishing person and you hook something that taxes both you and your equipment. I know, I know, you want the skinny from an expert, that way you can have all your questions answered. Good luck with that!

Linux in review depends on who is looking at it. If you ask the plumber, you get pipes. If you ask the artist you get pictures. If you ask the lawyer you get a legal opinion and a bill. Linux today is described by many experts who happen to be technicians, system administrators, programmers, and are proficient at running servers and large networks. But you need to hear from someone who is just like you, a desktop user, even a home user.

But, but, shouldn't they know all the nuts and bolts and inner workings of Linux thus are qualified and able to tell me what I need to know?? Yes, but no!! These folks know a lot in some areas, not enough in others. Never ask an engineer for an explanation in a nutshell, you will get the details, all the details. At first you want to know what does it look like, what can it do, how is this better than what I already have? What's the cost? What's the point? Then later you can ask about details. It is a common experience that the well versed have little patience for new users and curious inquirers. Why? Because many of these vocal experts have used Linux for years without the desktop GUI (graphical user interface). Linux works without the GUI and in some cases works better, like on servers. They will say "type this", when all you want and need is "click this".

Is there an answer to this dilemma? Yes. The pool of Linux users are really a group of symbiont communities (ooh! Jedi talk) with overlapping experiences. But what is needed is Linux from the point of view of a desktop user. The desktop Linux user is in reality a new group, most of whom have little interest in the inner workings. OK, car drivers should know how to change a tire, how to check the oil and how to adjust the driver compartment for a comfortable fit. Knowing the mechanics is optional, but not necessary. It is the same with Linux. Also, there are kinds of users with different needs. If we are talking about changing from Microsoft to Linux, it is different for a home user than for a business owner or system administrator. Home users don't have to worry about changing and maintaining large numbers of computers. So, choose your critics/reviewers wisely.

As your Linuxville guide I want you to see the views of a typical desktop user. Linux on the desktop is like a car. It maybe boring or very exciting. The desktop is about look and feel and the drive. You may want to rock the chassis, screech the tires, or just drive to work and back. Some want a normal routine experience, some want to tinker, customize, accessorize and say "lookie here".

As a Linux desktop user, my experience has drawn me to these main conclusions:

1. Linux is not a clone of Microsoft Windows or a free version of MS Windows.

2. Linux is not a substitute or replacement for MS Windows, implying that it will run your entire investment of MS based software without a hitch.

3. Linux can be used instead of MS Windows to do the same kinds of computing tasks using software written for Linux.

4. Linux can accommodate software written for other platforms, not flawlessly but it can be done.

5. Linux has its own games.

6. It is the file format that matters more than the program that created it. If the file format is liberated from one company's market controlling whims, it is more advantageous for everyone. Ask any computer networking person about networking protocol standardization and ethernet communication. And why MS Word versions (there are a lot of them!) have different formats to where a conversion program is needed is beyond me.

7. The GUI was invented on a Unix system and passed on to Apple then to MS. The icons and windows and even the tools that perform tasks in applications are all industry standards of the total computer community. This is so skills are transferable and you will know what to expect no matter which computer you use, Linux, MS or Mac, whether you type a command or click the mouse.

8. As a desktop user you have the liberty to be a poster-child or fanboy/girl for the computer system of your preference or be a free range chicken with transferable skills to use any computer under your fingers.

9. As a Linux desktop user you can be a surface skimmer (GUI user only) or deep diving codehead with equal comfort.

10. It is jesting to say that with MS you will be assimilated and with Linux you will be accommodated, but there are rings of truth here.

Well, you have reached the city limits, drive on or turn around and stay for a while. I hope your visit was/is pleasant. Don't forget the souvenirs, we have live-CD's, postcards (screenshots), my blog travel guide and, ooh! is that a bobble-head penguin on your dash? Man, you're my hero!

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