Linux for morons needed

(An aside on the posts about TW’s Linux problems and the really helpful comments people have posted.)

When they are working, new forms of Linux are great for the user and they make you feel all warm and fuzzy about the possibility of voluntary co-operation.

I love Linux when I can get on a machine that someone else has set up.

A few years ago, setting up Linux was a fantastic challenge. (It took two days to configure it to even see a screen display on a bog-standard monitor.)

Modern versions set themselves up on a stand-alone machine perfectly, while you are having a cup of coffee. But modern hardware and our expectations of having things like networked wireless broadband access can make the set up process just as intransigent. It’s great to use a pre-configured and working Linux system. It’s harrowing to set one up when something goes wrong.

Not least because you need net access to even start to find a solution. Hmm. How exactly do you manage this if you haven’t got another working machine with an Internet connection? Pretty unsurmountable problem there.

Surmount it and you find an infinite number of forums that offer access to other people’s expertise. Assume you are lucky enough to find one where you aren’t laughed out of the place for saying “what’s the root directory?” You find that the people who know what they are doing and are really trying to be helpful expect you to be able to adapt their instructions to edit the source code and recompile binaries for your PearlDropsElectric 4-USB-hub adapter on the basis of a slightly similar driver for the Dolcis 2-USBII adapter. (Yes, I made them up)

At this point, you already know you will reduce a potentially working PC to a new form of electronic landfill if you even open the file in a code editor.

At the same time, a fair number of Linux distros still seem to call for you to use a floppy disk, when it’s unlikely your case even has one, let alone that you have spare disks that haven’t degraded into the dust from which they sprang.

You slink off back to Windows, shamefaced, until you have taken a post-graduate course in computer science. In Swedish.

If only someone would bring out a version of Linux for morons… This blog has always whined about technology books that claim to be for “newbs” or “dummies” or “idiots” and turn out to mean “slightly below par rocket scientists who do brainsurgery in their spare time”.

It has to be for real Linux morons.

People who can’t even untar distros (or understand what that means.)

(The FireStats for this blog – which makes its fair share of LInux posts – show that about twice as many visitors use a Mac than use Linux. A Mac, ffs. )

8 thoughts on “Linux for morons needed

  1. Quite a reasonable suggestion, except it massively defeats the purpose – unless Linux is produced deliberately handicapped so that it generates a market for people to do home installs?

    If I had a different network connection, my recent troubles would not have existed and I would have a perfectly functioning Linux system. If I then bought the USB WiFi device which fails to work, would I be expected to pay even more to get some one in to install it? Surely this is a trip back in time to the 1980s.

    PCs and their operating systems are no longer things which exist in large universities and corporations. There is no one I know who does not own a computer of some form. No one. It is the same with televisions. In the 15 years I have owned a computer (Windows), I have never needed to pay some one to install software or hardware. To me, that is how it should be. In the 15 or so years I have owned a television, I have never had to pay some one to tune the channels in. For a computer to be a consumer item it has to simply work when turned on. Most people do not want to mess around with things.

    Now, I am not trying to denigrate earning a living from IT installations or anything but the reality is, if people have to make the extra effort to get Linux installed on their PC they wont bother. I already have a working Linux machine and as I design websites, I need to be able to proof things on my server and check scripts on different platforms – so for me getting Linux on this machine is worth some effort. However, that “some” effort is fast being exceeded.

    For Linux to become successful, and for Linux companies to be profitable, Linux needs to have mass market appeal. As long as people with standard, off the shelf, hardware are required to compile drivers from scratch to make it work, this will never happen.

    Hopefully no one will misinterpret this – I am a bigger fan of Linux than Windows, but sadly, at the moment, Windows has the desktop market sown up. Fortunately for Linux, Microsoft seem to be determined to through this away but that is a whole new post in itself… 🙂

  2. Spot on comment, TW.

    Point taken, Tel. But, the post wasn’t intended to be a personal complaint. (I know better, from experience, than to try to install LInux without a least a couple of other people around to help me sort it.)

    It was a general complaint.

    TW and I are both about an order of magnitude more able to cope with these things than the average person – much more so than the average tech support person where I work – who has to follow type instructions with screenshots to do anything, and call an expert when things break.

    If Linux is to be used more widely, it can’t just be a hobby for techies or an expensive luxury item. You are saying Linux is just for the well-off then?

    My PC is worth about as much in money terms (IF it got fixed up with things like a real on-switch) as it would cost to have a competent techy here for the couple of hours it would take to fix it.

  3. I have been there, so I can feel your pain. Really!

    My starting point is very similar to yours, so I got as frustrated with Linux as you are. My solution: I managed to get a stable installation of Ubuntu in my laptop that is now almost one year old, and I have even been able to overcome some really hairy problems.

    My advice: take your time, don’t expect a working install for next week; start with live CDs (Ubuntu has one, Suse and Knoppix seem suitable candidates, too), see which one gets your hardware working, see which one you feel most comfortable with (don’t take anyone’s word about this); proceed then to make hard disk installs, just don’t expect the strike home with the first run; read a lot of docs and howtos, print the ones that you like (especially the short sharp ones), and take lots of notes. You’ll get there, eventually — you’ll never be a Linux guru, but by then you’ll find yourself a seasoned user. Oh, and after you get a stable install, dual boot it with windows, just to be on the safe side, in case you screw it…

    P.S.: In the end, I find that the main appeal of Linux is that it isn’t for morons, but for (self-)educated users…

  4. Thanks, Midas. I completely agree with what you said in the PS.
    “P.S.: In the end, I find that the main appeal of Linux is that it isn’t for morons, but for (self-)educated users…”

    A lot of the pleasure of Linux comes from meeting the challenge of learning how to work it.

    I’ve actually installed Linux on a good few machines, mainly in the days when it was well nigh impossible, but I worked for an IT training company and had 36 PCs and lots of enthusiastic students with months to spend messing about on them. (Plus a dozen or so Macs, Nullfidian. Which had treats like Photoshop and Quark Xpress, which were hard to find on PCs, then. So they were great too.)

    It’s great if you have a spare machine and time on your hands. It’s also nice the way that most Linux users are so generous in sharing their time and experience with other people. (As you did here and a fair few people have done for TW, who I suspect was mainly just ranting, certainly not expecting actual helpful assistance, but who got lots anyway.)

    (Its dark side is the arrogance of some Linux fanatics, as you can see in a fair number of forums and even in some responses to Linux posts here.)

  5. a reasonable suggestion, except it massively defeats the purpose – unless Linux is produced deliberately handicapped so that it generates a market for people to do home installs?

    I guess that depends on your particular purpose… if you are trying to save money then you must expect to spend time instead. If your time is better spent doing something with your computer system rather than doing something to you spend money. Open Source gives you the option of doing it either way (and various shades in between).

    Probably more market in business installs (they have more money and they recognise the long-term value of a system that doesn’t break easily) but there’s no deliberate handicap. Most of the problem with drivers is vendors not getting behind the Linux philosophy and not wanting to release documentation of how their devices work, all I can suggest is not buying such devices. With USB devices, I take my laptop (fc6) into the shop and plug the device on the spot, if the driver doesn’t auto-load there and then then I say, “thanks but no thanks” and move to a different shop and look at different USB devices (there are plenty to choose from). I’ll admit that it can be a bit annoying at times… for me, that’s a small annoyance. I’ve used Microsoft products and they are a bigger annoyance.

    I even used a Mac for about 10 minutes. I double-clicked on an icon to make the program pop up and nothing happened. I tried a few more times and still nothing happened. Someone explained to me that the program was already running in the background somewhere and I was not allowed to run it a second time, instead it had moved itself into a menu somewhere. That’s about the least intuitive thing I have ever seen in my life… I dunno how Mac got a reputation for being easy to use but if you advertise heavily for long enough then I guess people believe anything.

    If Linux is to be used more widely, it can’t just be a hobby for techies or an expensive luxury item. You are saying Linux is just for the well-off then?

    It’s a free market out there… price curves, supply vs demand, talk to an economist about such things. For the people running massive Linux server farms (e.g. google) it is hardly a luxury. For home users, some of them do it as a hobby, some have access to a techie in the family and they get the work done for free, others have money to spend and just want things to work. Third world countries are taking on Linux because they have plenty of spare human resources and can’t afford the best computer hardware… for them the cost equation is different so the price of services is cheap in those countries (e.g. RedHat linux hire a lot of Indian techs for their phone-support desk, and my experience with their Indian call-centre guys is that they were good techs who really knew their stuff, probably not fair to call India a third world country but labour is cheap there).

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