I thought I would end my Linux friend bashing session with one more well placed blog post I hope will give some food for thought. While I have had great fun at my new friend Kevin’s expense and do not in any way harbor ill will or think poorly of him or his opinions, I do disagree with some fundamental things that I think set the stage for the over all Linux community’s struggles.

I have said before I think that Linux fails to communicate with the average user. I started doing a little research tonight to try and define the average user and I came across some very interesting things. First, to qualify what appears to define the average user to a Linux user is very telling about why the operating system is in the state it is in today.

When doing research on what an average user is, they went to census statistics to determine what an average user does with his or her computer. While this is quite valuable information, it does nothing to define the skills of the average user. The findings of the census.gov site indicated that the top 3 reasons for using a computer at home were:

  • Internet and Email: 89%
  • Word Processing: 55.8%
  • Games: 49%

And at work:

  • Internet and Email: 75.4%
  • Word Processing: 67.8%
  • Spreadsheets: 64.4%

The all telling conclusion they drew from this research was “With this information we can conclude that the average computer user utilizes his or her computer to surf the web, email, type documents, game and manipulate spreadsheets.”

Ok, fair enough, we know what they do with their computers, but there is one interesting metric that is missing from this type of data. I know for a fact that I do use my computer for internet and email. So does my mother, father, sisters, wife, son, aunts, cousins, friends, coworkers… yada yada yada. But what I also know is from the mentioned associations I can draw a curve of wildly different skill sets.

There seems to be this “I can do it so obviously it’s simple to everyone else” thinking. This is painfully obvious when I read quotes on forums and blogs like: “Linux is way easier, all you have to do is go to a terminal and type sudo apt-get install programname.” Only problem is I have told someone “Go to the start menu, and right click on My Computer.” and that was too complicated. How can you expect that same person to a) know what a terminal is and b) not be completely intimidated when you tell them to sudo to root level permissions and start cranking away commands in a terminal.

Now if you live in the terminal that makes sense and is super easy. Most people live in houses and use computers like they would a blender. I can’t imagine telling my mother “All you have to do to make a smoothie is open a terminal and type ‘sudo apt-get make smoothie’ and you are done.”

Back to the topic, the conclusion drawn from these assumptions of user skills were:

  1. Linux can handle all of these tasks with ease. An Office suite, created by Sun Microsystems, OpenOffice, includes much of the same functionality of the most widely used office suite, Microsoft Office including word processing and spreadsheets. It even retains compatibility of document types of different office suites to include MS Office.
  2. Internet and Email can be handled in a variety of ways. One can either use online email (using Firefox for example) or use a dedicated application installed on the machine for the task (Mozilla’s Thunderbird for example). Many browsers exist for surfing to include Firefox and Internet Explorer (IE4Linux).
  3. Gaming is possible with the vast availability of free, open-source games built for Linux or by using games made for Windows by utilizing Wine or by using virtualization technology to run Windows from within Linux.

Now I have about a dozen ways to shred these theories, but I want to take the “average Joe user approach.”

Let’s talk about OpenOffice first. In candid terms, OpenOffice retains only some compatibility with older versions of Microsoft Office. It does not support the latest version, 2007, without jumping though hoops to convert documents for compatibility. We have already discussed we are speaking about the lowest common denominator of users, and besides being just plain frustrating and a waste of time, it’s a complicated step to some that doesn’t belong in a regular workflow.

The next hit on OpenOffice and StarOffice is this. When you go to apply for a job, they aren’t ever going to ask you “Are you familiar with OpenOffice applications?” Your kids are not going to be trained on using StarOffice in school. As a matter of fact, why aren’t the major PC vendors jumping at the chance to put StarOffice and OpenOffice on computers at ship time, it’s free and just as good right? No.

On to Internet and Email. You can do webmail, I’ll give you that one. I also will hand you POP3 and IMAP support in the box, good job. But you talk about work users. How can you claim to be work friendly without robust Exchange Server support? We won’t mention the nasty part about SharePoint support, I bet Steve Jobs doesn’t want to talk about that either.

Games…oh boy. This can of worms has no end so I will make it short and sweet. I bet if you search the top 100 games right now there isn’t one single free game on it besides possibly America’s Army. The rest are going to be on consoles or PC. Some of the PC ones might be ported to Mac, but except a few failed experiments with some of the Sim City stuff a few years ago, no major studio…I repeat NO MAJOR STUDIO is producing games for Linux. Why? They are not supportable. The video driver landscape is a total mess and it’s not fiscally possible to try to staff a support team for so many different distributions.

What’s that you say? Who needs support? Real users need support. Real users call tech support. Real users actually call Geek Squad, surely you didn’t think they all worked for the possibility that they might get to bone Mariah Carey on a tech call. They get paid.

Wine and Virtualization are not realistic options for real users. I am pretty smart and getting World of Warcraft to install in Wine was not only a pain in the ass but involved breaking countless licenses and laws in reality to get the required components on for it to even update. Again, if it’s screwed, it’s on you. Nobody at Blizzard is going to help you, you might as well have ripped through a “warranty void if removed” sticker.

The problem is most of the tech savvy, and they are tech savvy, Linux users on the internet do not call tech support, they know how to troubleshoot lots of things and can get themselves through most jams with Google, a few forums and an IRC room or two. That is not in any way a workable support solution for the real world.

There are people who call tech support when the computer locks up. There are people that call tech support when their monitor burns out. There are even people who call tech support when they delete a document, empty the trash then realize they still need it.

So what is the point of all of this? The point of all this is “what is a real user?” I hate to tell you guys, but these are real users:

   kidsHome paris-hilton-picture-1

Do you really think Linux is user friendly to senior citizens, kids and Paris Hilton?

Q: Paris, will you please open a Terminal, sudo to root, and type apt-get install littlepinkdoggie3

A: Wal-Mart… do they like make walls there?

That’s right folks, we are writing software for dumb people too.

On that note, I am going to bed. :)