State of Linux: The Linux Wizard

I started asking myself questions about Linux the other day. I began to think about what Linux lacked that Windows had (trying to get into the head of a die hard Windows fan and persuade them to think Linux). Certainly it isn’t appearance. Windows is actually behind Linux in this area. Certainly it isn’t detectability. Linux is also ahead of Windows in this area. Driver support? Yes…big gap…but one that we as Linux programmers, developers, and users are all well aware of and one that cannot be improved drammatically unless manufacturers get behind Linux. So what is left? Wizards. Wizards? That’s right. Wizards. No, not the D&D spellcasting folk…put your twenty sided die away. I’m speaking of the nice trail of menu’s that greet you to set up a function in your operating system.

What makes menu’s more user friendly? Wizards. Setup your internet connection in a snap! Configure your printer in a few clicks! Etc…so on and so forth. I know that some of you are probably thinking “what the heck is this moron spewing!?” but hear me out. I’m not saying we should make Linux become Windows. I’m saying that we should cater to new users to make Linux more user friendly which will in turn make Linux even more popular and mainstream. What happens when Linux becomes more popular? Companies will start listening. What happens when companies start listening? That gap we were speaking of in driver support becomes smaller and smaller. We need wizards! D&D need not apply. Sorry Gandalf.
I’ve thought of projects I could start millions of times in Linux. I’m usually content with just supporting in other roles such as Project Management or Webmaster. Now I find myself wanting to become a programmer to address this issue. But what language? What programming language would work for all xwindow environments? This is a questions I’d put to you, the reader. Mainly because I have no experience with menu or wizard designing and I’d like to know. I’d like to know if it is difficult and takes tons of time or if it is something that you can do in an afternoon of work.

Nothing get’s me more riled than hearing people get mad when someone suggests that Linux become more user friendly. “No!” they shout. “Let them find out things for themselves! I did and I’m better for it.” Fine. Be exclusive. Rumble off into your l33t Linux club and close the door on open source. Or…perhaps you can understand that an operating system is something that should be made to WORK FOR YOU. Not against you. The main goal an operating system should have…ANY operating system…is to become easier to use and more efficient. I say that wizards will do just that for new users. As for older and more experienced users close the wizard when it launches or push cancel. Easy enough eh? You don’t have to use them if you don’t want them.

I know, I know. Perhaps I’m being crass and standoffish…but I’m really tired of people not understanding the benefit of an operating system that caters to your need and becomes more efficient. Sure Windows is a money hog and is full of security holes. However, it is extremely new user friendly with wizards for installing, removing, and adding hardware. With this the case, wouldn’t open source benefit from also having similar functions as well? We don’t have to make it ‘just like Windows’ but we can make it friendlier than it is right?

Perhaps you’re not convinced yet. Perhaps you’re a die hard open source fan that just can’t get past your favorite Linux distro becoming more ‘windows-like’. That’s fine. That is your prerogative and is your right. However, don’t trash new users who don’t share your view. The beauty of open source (in our case, Linux) now is that just about anyone can use it if they have a bit of technical knowledge. I hope we can expand that audience to include users that have zero technical knowledge. The idea? Let open source and Linux become inclusive and not exclusive. Appealing to a wider audience will never hurt Linux.

To make things truly user friendly, more care needs to go in to letting people know what is going on with their operating system and how they can control it. A user should have to be able to program in perl or C++ to tell what error their music player gave them when it crashed. Things should be more user friendly. The menu driven wizard will do much for making Linux more user (especially new user) friendly. Hopefully, people will realize this fact instead of criticize this fact.

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  • http:..www.lobby4linux.com Helios

    Let me share with you what Scot Finnie says in Scot’s News Letter. Scot is a Windows Guru and while not overtly obvious at times, shows a bit of distain for Linux.
    …For Linux to succeed on the desktop, it will require either a coordinated effort by a large industry organization or a major company, such as IBM, to get behind development of a true graphical user interface with direct, or at least, fully evolved access to the hardware and operating system settings. KDE, Gnome, and others remind me painfully of Windows 3.0’s ill-conceived Program Manager. (OK, they’re not truly that bad.) But while the usability of Linux desktops is better than that comparison would indicate, they’re still band-aids on an arterial wound. Someone needs to get serious about creating a Linux experience that’s accessible to Joe and Jane Six Pack.

    If even one-third of the Linux fanatics on this great green planet would devote their time to making that happen — instead of sniping at Linux newbies, Windows pundits, and each other — maybe Linux would become a mainstream desktop OS. But I’m not holding my breath.
    You can read the article in its full glory here: http://www.scotsnewsletter.com/72.htm#readpoll-primaryos
    Devnet has it right on this one, much to the grief of many Linux elitists. My advice to such like-minded people. Form ranks and march off to some developers corner and write an OS that truely stops newbies in their tracks. It was tried as Linux and BSD, unfortunately, those who seek have conquered. Finnie is wrong about the “command line driven” portion of his statement. The part that irritates me is that he knows better.
    helios

  • Psion

    I still believe that there is a fear of change, a fear of techie stuff, and the fact that people don’t see what Linux has to offer over what they have right now on their desk.
    They have been brainwashed by Win-blows.

    Most articles I read reviewing Linux distros by Win-blows authors seem to make things harder than they seem. They seem to go into the review expecting consoles and code, then criticize when they have to make an adjustment in the control center.

    In the end, i believe that most people have their present OS and don’t see any reason in trying something new.

  • Olivier

    Hello Devnet,

    You chose to adress mainly drivers. The one thing that pisses me off currently is how Linux manages my “speedy” *mouse* (a nice Microsoft mouse ;-) ). KDE Control Center gives access to mouse acceleration. No solution. The only solution I could find requires to edit (as root) xorg.conf and add a “Resolution” directive in a completely unassisted way. Needing to restart X to see if the new setting makes things any better. :-(
    I guess the solution might be some sort of … WIZARD ;-) that lets you easily set (and test) the speed of the mouse.
    BR
    O

  • http:..www.lobby4linux.com Helios

    See…this is where the staggering number of distro’s is beginning to hurt us. In PCLinuxOS, the PClinuxOS control panel is evolving to do just as you say. Sadly, many distro’s leave it to us to stumble around and either figure it out for ourselves or go back to Windows.
    I am not saying choice is a bad thing…I am saying too much choice will confuse most people. If too befuddled, they will run right back to the devil they know vs the one that is confusing them. Let them choose Gentoo and see the reaction.

    helios

  • jimf

    Computers are in essence technical tools no matter what OS you run. I also think that the ease of operation and installation of Linux has made enormous progress in this area in the last year. I know that it will continue to do so. Sorry (well not really), but I have little sympathy or respect for the average computer user or the complete noob, but then, I find the Debian Net Install to be desireable way of installing.

    Particularly, Xandros, PCLinux, Mepis, Linspire, even VLOS (which is gentoo) have made a real effort to get the noob and the average user up and running. PCLinux is to be commended on its excellent video configuration tools… they really work better than any I’ve seen. If you can’t install and use one of these Distros, you probably should stay away from computers altogether… Or hire one of us to support you… Then it doesn’t matter what OS you choose anyway.

    In my experience, there is a large population of computers who, for one reason or another, simply don’t want to spend the time to learn to use a computer, much less install an OS or configure one, no matter how easy it becomes. I also think there is a substantial number like the ones described here: http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=25219

    There will always be those who have their difficulties with computing, and, like MS, we need to regard this as a business support opportunity for experienced Linux users.

  • http:..www.lobby4linux.com Helios

    but I have little sympathy or respect for the average computer user or the complete noob, but then, I find the Debian Net Install to be desireable way of installing.
    There was a time I would have taken issue with your statement, but the more I evangalize PCLinuxOS and the more people I talk to…I must admit I get a bit short on the patience side myself. While I do not think the new user should have to manually configure his network card, neither do I believe the user should be ignorant about what is getting done to his computer and why. I do agree with you…the “average” user is making it easy for me to walk away without an effort, but respect isn’t an issue here, but lack of sympathy is. If the person shows a genuine interest in what we are doing when we install Linux and pays attention, I’m ok with that. It’s the ones that tell me, “Look, I don’t care about permissions, just make it so I don’t have to learn anything like in Windows” that I more often than not walk away from.
    You want to know who has demonstrated that attitude to me most lately?
    Friggin’ 8th grade school teachers. Lobby4Linux recently concluded an installfest at one of the local school sub-districts. 106 computers and stations all running PCLinuxOS. It was the teachers that didn’t want to learn. Sad part is, I had 13 year old kids at my elbow wanting to know every move I made.
    helios

  • jimf

    “If the person shows a genuine interest in what we are doing when we install Linux and pays attention, I’m ok with that”

    Agree completely.

  • Anonymous

    Great article. The easier the programmers/developers can make it for people to switch from Microsux the better for Linux. At least that is my opinion about it. Most people are lazy and are not going to spend a lot of time trying to learn something new–as some of you have wisely stated they will return to the devil they know rather than trying to understand the new devil.

    I am looking forward to learning how to use Linux and would have been using it some time ago but for the fact that it was incompatible with my modem and I didn’t know anyone at the time who could help me get around that.

    Danny

  • http://linux-blog.org Devnet

    Danny,

    Give PCLinuxOS a try! It’s very good for new users. You can also try SimplyMEPIS as well. If you need any help at all, please post in my forum and I’ll do whatever it takes to get you up and running in Linux :)
    Devnet

  • http://osunix.org Josh

    What is it about a wizard and having several screens to get to an end result, or one simple screen with all the options laid out? Most everything can be configured with a GUI tool as it is, and each distro has their own way of doing this; in fact IIRC YAST (SUSE) already has wizards for many items.

    As for how to go about it, pick a graphics toolkit that works with a language you know. If you don’t know any, look at Python. I know it has Gtk bindings, but I don’t know about Qt. Any of the major GUI libraries will work on most any DE.

  • http://osunix.org Josh

    IIRC Suse’s YAST already has wizards for many things. I know the SES versions do anyway. Personally, I’d rather have a single window covering all options rather than a wizard with one or two options per window. Anyway, if it woudl help then I think one of the new-user focused distros should look into it.

    For the technical stuff, if you don’t know a language I’d suggest starting with Python. I know it has the ability to use Gtk, and I assume also Qt. I know KDE has some type of thing for basically making shellscripts into GUI tools, but I can’t remember it for the life of me. There’s one for my beloved GNOME as well.

    BTW, where’s my phonecall? :-D

  • http://www.iconsworks.com ramez hanna

    i totally agree with devnet on wizards, many small tasks like adjusting mouse speed, video settings, multimedia playing, etc . . take long time on linux to do because there is no menues that do the job right.
    some might say that the distro x does that and distro y does something else.
    what linux needs is not forking new distros to address issues but building tools on the current packages.
    i mean GNOME is there so is KDE why not develop tools/wizards within these projects and why is mozilla and epiphany and konqueror each on its way and not trying to complete each other.
    linux needs more merges than forks

  • http://linux-blog.org devnet

    I would be interested in making a Debian based distro chock full of wizards like this…If only my programming and kernel hacking skills were up to the task.

  • http:..www.lobby4linux.com Helios

    I would agree to a point, but when PCLinuxOS forked from mandrake 9.2, it evolved into possibly the most user friendly distro that exists. However, Both Devnet and I have stated before the overwhelming number of distro’s works against us as much as it does for us. People are boggled by the choices and therefore choose not to choose.
    helios

  • ramez hanna

    i would like to start on that effort with you, i’m a sys admin not a programmer but i am ready to learn.
    so maybe we can join our efforts together

  • http://www.journalhome.com/tomas/9551/ title

    I started asking myself questions
    about Linux the other day. I began to think about what Linux lacked
    that Windows had (trying to get into the head of a die hard Windows fan
    and persuade them to think Linux). Certa…