Linux Ready for Prime Time?

Scott Doty scott at
Tue Jun 20 22:35:22 PDT 2000

On Tue, Jun 20, 2000 at 07:33:15PM -0700, Devin Carraway wrote:
> On Tue, Jun 20, 2000 at 05:53:08PM -0700, Eric Skagerberg wrote:
> > I got this call from a reporter at the Press Democrat, and he's doing a
> > story about Linux.  He's going to call me back tomorrow (Wednesday), and he
> > wants to know if I consider Linux ready for the average computer user.
> 	I have this sinking feeling you're dealing with the illustrious Bob
> Norberg.  If so:  (1) rant rave rant rant

Eric, Bob Norberg is a better-than-average-journalist for handling technical
issues, and you should find it fairly easy to explain your position to
him.  (It's not difficult to figure out why Devin doesn't like him.)

Regarding the Linux desktop issue, I think it has a good shot at
being a novice's desktop as long as the novice has someone around
to help out with the tough issues.  Note that this is _precisely_
the situation found with MS -- grandma doesn't set up the computer,
the kids do that.  The advantage of MS over Linux in this area is
that there are more people around that can help out with MS.
This advantage erodes as more and more people learn about and try Linux.
Additionally, there's an app that most novice users will want to use,
but only became available for Linux this month.  (More anon.)

The big issue isn't the novice user -- if all they use are Netscape and a
word processor, they don't need much after being set up.  (They'll want
more than that, but I'll address apps at the bottom of this message.)
No, it's the "power user" that needs specialized apps, such as (say)
PhotoShop. This, too, is starting to change, as some software companies are
starting to support Linux with these apps, like Corel.

It's also another "power user" that wants to get into and change the system.
While someone mentioned the difficulty of dealing with multiple
configuration files (where the filesystem namespace is part of the
configuration "key"), one should point out that this is just as bad,
and sometimes better, than the Windows registry (where the configuration
"key" is one long name).  Since it's these "power users" that will be
helping out grandma ("let me set up your computer for you"), I think
these are the people that will determine whether or not Linux becomes
a novice desktop.  _Not_ the programmers and sysadmins, _not_ the novices
themselves, but the folks who take it upon themselves to support the

I'm happy to see these signs of mainstream acceptance of Linux, such
as more mainstream apps and the PD coming to you with this story.  But
without the support of those "power users", it's not going to fly.

Case in point:  I have a buddy in Finland who laments that there is no
multi-track audio editor for Linux.  He would gladly pay for one, but there
is nothing for Linux like (say) the ubiquitous cooledit.  Thus, he runs W2K
most of the time (though he has been known to boot Linux, and likes it.)
Since he basically manages their family's computer -- and his parents aren't
running anything special -- the only reason the whole family aren't Linux
users is a matter of a single application.

And then, there's the big issue: until this month, I've had to boot to W98
to listen to G2 Real content on the Net.  Fortunately, Real 7 just came out
for Linux, so now I don't have to boot to an ugly, unfriendly environment. 
But can you see explaining to a novice user why she can't play G2 content
because the app isn't supported by Linux yet?  Their response would be:
"enough of the Science Fair, give me a _real_ OS with _real_ applications."

So in short (I know, too late ;), as long as all the right apps are
available, it doesn't matter what OS they run on -- what matters is
the novice user's "web of support" needs to help them out with their
novice desktop.  For that to happen, we can't forget the "power users."

Take care, and good luck!  :)

p.s.  Oh yeah -- we've got Linux Flash, but no Shockwave.  Bummer.

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