With Window’s recent security problems (stretching all the way back to last year’s Blaster fiasco), attention has been called anew to the Linux operating system. It also helps that most important Linux distributions now have support for AMD’s 64-bit architecture, whereas Microsoft’s comparable systems are still beta and moving forward at a crawl, hampered by higher-priority projects and a lack of third-party driver support. Many say that Linux represents a much more secure and stable environment in which to work and network. Many servers are currently running Linux software for its perceived security.
But Linux isn’t simply server software. The integration of Windows-like UI such as Gnome or KDE and the easy installation of comprehensive office suites, media players, and browsing software attempt to nose Linux into the desktop market. Certainly, its most vocal proponents tout not only its security but its ease of use as a desktop system. If only that were the case. Enthusiasts not too dedicated to Windows might get a kick out of Linux as their bread and butter, but for John Q. Where’s-the-Any-Key, as well as the hardware-freak gamers, Linux still doesn’t (and probably won’t ever) present itself as a viable alternative to the Windows paradigm.
I Keep My Recipes On It
I went ahead and installed Mandrake 10.0 on a test partition of my machine. I asked my mother, who normally uses an old 333mhz Toshiba running Windows 98 in the living room, to come test it out. I showed her how the star(t) menu worked, and even thought she’s about as lost with computers as one can be, she was able, given the clear labels on the menu, to find the programs she needed. She played a CD, she typed a letter, and I had her log in to her email and send one out. When all was said and done, she liked Mandrake even better than Windows.
My mother represents the computer-illiterate portion of the O/S market (large, but growing smaller). She has only her basic needs, which Mandrake (or almost any version of Linux, for the matter) could fill. In fact, the uncluttered GUI and intuitive menu system makes her user experience easier and more enjoyable. Tomorrow, I may even make Mandrake her primary O/S on the computer downstairs.
Score one for Linux, right? Wrong. While Linux may be the glove that fits her hand, my mother would never have even known about, much less have been able to acquire and install, Mandrake. The precise market segment for whom a clean, preset, intuitive desktop (read: Linux) is perfect is the same segment that buys eMachines, preloaded of course with the Windows du jour and whatever crippled software comes piled on top of it. Linux can never reach these poor people unless it manages to muscle its way into lucrative deals with computer makers… and I don’t think Redmond will let that happen. Wal-Mart is beginning to sell Microtel PCs loaded with Sun’s Linux, and HP is shipping some machines with RedHat, but one has to question the effectiveness and longevity of these moves, logistics being what they are.
Man, my Radeon 9800XT makes checkers fly!
Then there are people like me. The type who can build their computers and tax them with new games and tweaked programs. The type who screw around with Windows’ guts to make their machines a little faster and a little better, but aren’t programming whizzes or electrical engineers. We are the upper-middle-class of the computing world.
I built a $1700 computer three months ago, an AMD64 system, and I recently I tried Mandrake once again, this time its 10.0 for AMD64, hoping that I’d finally be able to utilize my system’s dormant performance advantage. Unfortunately, I came to learn that, at my experience level, there was little I could do to stress my system. Certainly, few popular games are available for Linux, only the simple bundled system games, akin to Windows’ solitaire. For people who spend $500 on their graphics card, for those who spend their college tuition pimping out their machines, an operating system that can’t or won’t utilize the full potential of their hardware is a joke. A few games are available for Linux, such as Soldier of Fortune, but with Microsoft’s DirectX as one of the gaming video standards, how easily will the tide turn to Linux for the rest of the software developers?
Another problem that I had (and I take solace in the fact that I am not alone in this sentiment), is Linux completely baffled me. I wasn’t satisfied with the new-puppy installation of Mandrake, but couldn’t take the dog for a walk without screwing the pooch. The change of paradigm left me confused as to how to tweak and manipulate the O/S to my advantage. I could only trust in auto-updates and the like.
Currently, RPMs serve as installers, but they aren’t always available. In Linux, one often has to compile the source code of available software on their his/her own machine, something I patently do not know how to do, which gave me no end of grief during my trial period of the Linux Experience. I felt like an accomplished orator in a foreign country: talented and completely useless.
One nation, under Gates
Whether or not Microsoft deserves its exalted position as Grand High Poobah of the O/S world is another article entirely. But no one can deny that Windows is a deeply entrenched icon of computing, and most of the resources are in its camp. A slow trickle of rebellious users and hopeful companies won’t dethrone Bill Gates as King of Computing, and meanwhile, Windows continues to dominate most of the industry and bully most of the standards. Linux’s inability to reach to determined moms and AOL users, or those of us in PC Purgatory, smart but not brilliant, means that it’s exiled to a dedicated group of programmers and enthusiasts.
Windows, for all its faults, has going for it a large headstart of familiarity, and a certain extent of immediate accessibility and user-friendliness. We can patch security faults, tweak the O/S to eliminate resource drains; what we can’t do is make a seamless tinkerer transition to a new computing paradigm. But for what it’s worth, I wish the little penguin the best of luck.