There’s been some confusion as of late via emails and comments on other blogs about YALB that I would like to “dumb down” linux to try to reach the masses. I’d like to take a little time to clarify exactly what I think of the Linux Desktop and the directions it is taking.
I’ve worked in quite a few different IT jobs the past 8 years. My current job allows me to work with many diverse individuals and technology. Diverse backgrounds, diverse ethnicities, diverse cultures, and diverse experience. Whenever the main business system can’t do what the users’ want it to do, they call me. Whenever they need information from that antiquated database (runs on AIX…not current) they call me. However, since we have a small staff being a small agency, I also get to answer some helpdesk calls. The odd part is, I like answering helpdesk calls. Why? Because it tells you more about the users and allows you to help them better. It also gives you a pulse for your users…something to measure them against.
Having done this for quite some time now, I can honestly say that if we rolled out Linux desktops tomorrow to these people in my agency our productivity would be seriously inhibited (for a while…until everyone got used to things). This is despite the standard business system running via telnet to an AIX Box. It’s not because of Linux…but rather because of the people. See, Linux is ready for the average power user…someone who went to college, graduated, and now works happily in department X of your business or someone who went to high school in the last 5-10 years (depending on where you grew up of course…we didn’t even have a computer at my school and I graduated in the early nineties)…and people all agree that government should be pushing Linux first and foremost. Since my current job is for a state agency, one would figure we’d be looking into FOSS, but this isn’t the case. The average power user isn’t the majority in this goverment agency and I’m sure it isn’t in many government agencies so we continue to look to MS for all solutions because they are the defacto standard.
So is Linux to blame for all of this? For not making headway onto the deskop? Nope. Linux is what Linux is. It is a fantastic operating system that is stable, secure, and customizable. The problem does not lie with Linux…sure, Linux could get better with increased usability and UI reconfigures, but in the long run, it can only do so much. Somewhere along the way the user must meet Linux halfway.
I’ve said in the past with my posts and I’ll say again…Linux ISN’T where it needs to be to appeal to the masses. It’s getting close and making fantastic strides. However, in order for it to make headway on the desktop, it needs to increase usability. Once again, I stress that this doesn’t require the “dumbing down” of the operating system. It requires a shift in the target audience to which Linux ‘aims for’. Instead of being designed with power users in mind…we should design it with standard users in mind. Here again, many people will take this to mean that we have to dumb down the operating system…but that’s not the case. You can make things quite usable without dumbing things down…some Linux programs prove this to be true. Please don’t confuse usability for dumbing down…they’re not the same thing.
Some readers of this blog think that I’m preaching out against the Linux “elite” (don’t confuse the use of this word…it’s used as in hacker speak to signify someone who is VERY knowledgeable on a subject: wikipedia entry) that is, those Linux users with a higher than usual knowledge level. They think I’m trying to say that these users should be persecuted for their knowledge and that I’m generalizing that all people with knowledge are elitists. This isn’t the case…those with knowledge I call on to not hoarde knowledge but rather to share it…to open source their knowledge. To teach those new users who have no idea how to do searches and RTFM the correct way. To have patience and understanding that people trying something new aren’t going to respond well to criticism.
What I’m trying to convey is that the Linux desktop CAN get friendlier. It CAN get better. And it MUST get better to make headway in the PC Desktop market. What i’m NOT saying is that we need to ‘dumb down’ Linux in any way, shape, or form. What I’m not saying is that we need to carry new users on our backs throughout the move to Linux. What I am saying is that we need to make it more friendly, more inviting. We need to give the standard user more victories than defeats on the desktop to give them confidence to WANT TO LEARN more about Linux.
Hopefully, people will understand my take on desktop Linux now. There’s been confusion on this topic in the past and I’d like to clear this up right away. It’s no fun to have people pointing fingers at you accusing you of being a geek basher (when you are a geek). I sure hope that this clears things up on my side of things.