For several years now, I've watched in amazement as two different groups of technology fans have exchanged blows back and forth on the mainstream readiness of the Linux desktop.
On the one hand, we have the crowd that has managed to find countless reasons why switching to Linux remains difficult or impossible, despite expressing desire to do so. On the other side of the coin, we have people who've managed to migrate to the Linux desktop full-time without too many troubles. (I’m in this second group.)
Now I find myself asking the question: why is there a rift between the two groups? Both groups say they want to use Linux, yet only some of them have managed to take the leap of faith needed.
In this article, I will look closely at common objections, workplace software lock-in, and personal preferences for possible answers. I will also be acknowledging not only the strengths of the Linux desktop, but many of its weaknesses as well.
Taking your work home with you
Access to the Linux desktop is incredibly simple to run with modern distributions. Yet many naysayers have grasped at a difficult to dispel excuse for not switching. They say that their workplaces require them to use Windows along with a number of other specific-to-Windows programs.
For someone who is simply interested in experimenting with Linux on their desktop, their employer's wishes win this round. A more motivated new user to Linux would explore the possibility of running a virtual machine or dual-booting their computer before giving up.
Unfortunately, the reasoning for not successfully making the switch isn't always as black and white. Sometimes, it's a matter of not getting the computer to cooperate with Linux in the first place.
Many new Linux users struggle with devices that don't work out of the box. To be ultimately clear, sometimes hardware designed for Windows doesn't play well with the Linux desktop. This problem has become increasingly rare over the past few years, but some devices simply don't work out of the box in Linux.
This experience can be frustrating for new users. While HP and Epson printers work just fine without any extra help, some of the advanced functionality we're used to using in Windows software might still be missed. Not everyone realizes that you can find solutions to these issues from sites like HPLIP and AVASYS.
Both printer types offer software and driver solutions for most of their devices that don’t work out of the box on the Linux desktop. New users would never know this in a hundred years. Thankfully though, the Linux community does.
Asking the Linux community for help
As a general rule, the Linux community is more than happy to help you out with any configuration questions you might have. Where new users tend to run into issues, however, is in not providing helpful information when asking their questions. Even worse is when these same users fail to use the search box included on the forum that they’re asking for help from. This can lead to problems for everyone involved.
This is where experienced users often find themselves feeling frustrated. They come away from the experience feeling like the new user is being lazy where, in fact, the new user is merely unsure what specific questions they need to be asking.
This is the main area where I see new and experienced users on opposite sides. Experienced users got to the advanced stage with Linux by researching problems for themselves. If the help wasn’t enough, these experienced users would turn to the community forums for selective help.
So does this mean that new users these days are lazy? Perhaps to a limited degree. But it's also fair to point out that, in many instances, these people are not tech-savvy and are unaware how to ask for help successfully.
A great example of this are new user posts that state something vague like "my printer isn't working." Speaking as a person wanting to help, this information is completely useless. However if, the same new user would post something like "my specific printer brand/printer model/connected via USB isn't printing," I imagine the answer they get back would be much more helpful.
Then again, maybe the critical thinking needed to realize this has been dumbed down by operating systems that do the thinking for them?
Proprietary operating systems make us lazy
Please don't misunderstand me. Neither Apple nor Microsoft is responsible for our critical thinking skills or a lack thereof. That is something we must exercise for ourselves. It's worth pointing out, however, that proprietary operating systems have proven to be something of a gateway drug for the lazy-minded.
After all, if your OS can do "everything" for you, why would you need to bother learning anything PC related for yourself?