Problems Linux Enthusiasts Refuse to Address

A Linux expert points out the nagging problems that keep the open source desktop from wide adoption.
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I like to think of myself as a relatively long time Linux enthusiast. In fact, I feel like a fish out of water when asked to work on a Windows box or with a Mac.

Like most of you, I can certainly make the adjustment for a day, but I always come away feeling a little stranger from the experience. Guess this happens when you’re bound to a single way of doing things for an extended period of time.

Now let's flip the coin for a moment. Despite the many successes seen from the desktop Linux camp over the years, there are some areas that continue to be left largely unchecked. Rather than automatically painting my findings with a negative brush, instead let's examine each issue closely.

Let’s see if there is in fact a real problem at all. In this article, I’ll tackle specific concerns I’ve noticed and focus on whether these issues present any real concern for us in the long run.

User adoption – the good, bad and the ugly

Most people agree that desktop Linux adoption is up. We just don't really know by how much. And with new people making their way into the Linux way of doing things, there comes many questions and plenty of new user frustrations. Many of the concerns expressed by new users are easy enough to overcome.

One of the simplest ways to overcome new user issues would be to purchase PCs with a little sticker attached that says "your distro here." Don't laugh, they exist.

Yet oddly we still see many new users wanting to try and make their “made for Windows” computers work instead. I suppose one can hardly blame them, what with a tight economy and the desire to get the most out of the computers they already own.

But what I find frustrating about the entire process is that nearly all of the Linux distributions targeting new users don't bother to explain the challenges that exist with using “made for Windows” hardware combined with their distro. Sure, for you and I it's a snap. For a new Linux user, however, this is not clearly spelled out. Often, selecting video or wireless chipsets can provide hours of unneeded frustration.

Distro developers have done their jobs well. So have those who are working to promote their distributions throughout the various channels, for the most part. But where I see the ball being dropped early on is with clear guidelines as to what new users should expect.

I'm sorry, but I think in 2011 we have outgrown statements like "it's not Windows" and "visit the forums for help." Providing a simple notice on the distribution websites indicating that self-installation is to be an "as is" type of deal, would provide some much needed reprieve for newbies everywhere.

This is especially true when followed up with a list of links where they can purchase Linux pre-installed desktops and notebooks as an alternative.

The state of Linux pre-installed

If you're someone who purchases their computers online, finding computers with popular Linux distros installed is fairly easy. If however, you're among those who have never even heard much about Linux on the desktop, you can thank the lack of visibility in local big box stores.

Now I'm not saying that this is a show-stopping issue and that it's going to create a massive problem for existing Linux users. Fact is, that's not going to happen. But I do think this lack of local pre-installed availability is a crying shame and really stacks the deck against non-geeky adoption.

Now I think it's awesome that there are a small handful of reputable vendors selling desktop Linux PCs online these days. Unfortunately this does nothing for the casual user who will never discover it. Up until recently, Dell was the closest shot we ever had with a big brand retailer. Visit Dell.com/Ubuntu today, however, and behold a complete lack of any actual products offered running Linux on the desktop.

It's truly sad that Dell dropped the ball like this. There was a time when Ubuntu PCs were even seen in Dell circulars! Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Now many of you will be "chomping at the bit" to point out how various community groups and so forth are fulfilling the need for local Linux marketing. I would respond by stating that this is nonsense and further point out that out of 100 random people familiar with OS X and Windows, I'd bet my left kidney that none of them even know what Linux is.

Offer an experience, not just another OS

Accepting the reality that we may never see a foothold at the local big box level has me pondering about what the alternatives may be to a necessary evil at this juncture. I believe another approach is in order.

Remember the concept behind Zonbu? Clever idea with a horrid execution that wasn't planned out very well. What Zonbu did right was the idea of selling people a worry-free PC that just worked and also happened to keep all personal data safe "in the cloud."

Where Zonbu completely dropped the ball, however, was in selling cheap computers that had no long term value. Users couldn't even operate a scanner with Zonbu, for Pete's sake! It was really poorly thought out.

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Tags: open source, Linux, wireless, Linux desktop, USB

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