Politics and Whatnot

Just another liberal political blog

Why Linux isn’t taking off

I’m a big fan of open-source software – I use Firefox, Apache, Launchy, Autohotkey, and many other such open-source programs that have made my life much easier without costing me anything.  But when it comes to the most prominent example of open-source software – Linux – I just can’t make it happen.  It’s not like Word, where I’m forced to use it because my co-workers can’t figure out how to open a .odt file, it’s that Linux has a lot of really unnecessary complexities that make it difficult for people like me who aren’t computer programmers.  Sometimes I feel like Linux programmers tend to think everyone is a programmer and can do whatever they do just as comfortably.  So if you’re one of those Linux guys who just can’t figure out why the public is still addicted to Windows, here’s a non-programmer’s thoughts on what needs to change:

1. The Console: This is the first big problem new Linux users will run into, and probably the root of many other problems.  People who give out Linux advice treat this like it’s the simplest thing in the world.  “Ok, you just open up a console at type ‘sudo chmod /root/…'” That all sounds fine to you, but the average computer user is thinking “done” at the point.  Any non-programmer feels very uncomfortable looking at a black screen with a blinking cursor staring back at them.  They’re thinking “Can’t I just click on something to make this work?”  This is why Windows really took off – simplicity.  No typing mysterious commands, no committing full file paths to your short-term memory.  I understand that having the console available is great if you’re a programmer and want to do something complex, and one of the drawbacks of Windows (especially recent versions) is how little can be done from the command line.  But Linux goes to the opposite extreme where you can’t even make half the stuff work without opening up a window and pretending you’re back in the MS-DOS era.

2. Chmod: Chmod is the DMV of Linux: it handles who has permission to do things, it always takes longer and is more complicated than you expected it to be, and everyone hates having to go there.  Part of the problem is that it’s often unclear if something needs to be done in chmod or if the problem is somewhere else, so when you try to do something and it still doesn’t work, you don’t know if you’re not doing the right thing in chmod or if you’re supposed to be doing something else.   Then there are those times you do something in chmod, it seems to work, but then you later found out that apparently nothing happened.  I’m increasingly accepting the idea that if I have a problem where the solution involves doing something in chmod, that problem’s not getting solved.

3. Sudo: Sudo is like the magic password – when you’re in a console and trying to do something, and it’s not happening, typing “sudo” first tends to make it happen.  This isn’t really a massive problem in and of itself, but it represents the needless red tape in Linux that new users tend to find frustrating.  Why is this necessary?  Why not just ask for a password if I’m about to do something that needs high security?

I don’t know if these things can be made any easier, but until they are, Linux is going to be simply something I play with on virtual machines rather than a serious competitor to Windows.

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