Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Linux: Only for Advanced Users?

I was reading an article about the ease of use that is some of the Linux distributions on another blog. The author made some solid points about how modern distros will often take care of most of the setup work for you and still have less bloat and be more secure then Windows could ever hope to be. One of the things he noted was that some of the distros "install your drivers for you."

Needless to say the responses were mixed with many people highlighting that he may have over stated the simplicity of using a Linux system.

The comment that stood out fom me was rather mean spirited and reminded me one more time of the need to break the elitism of the Linux community. I paraphrase.

- Installs your drivers for you? You must be using Ubuntu or you've never been a system administrator. Try downloading the Debain source, bootstrap your computer and compiling it yourself. I bet you'll give up after six months because you can't get anything to work. -

I happen to think that this is the wrong sort of attitude to have. Yes the power of Linux can be best seen through kernel hacking and shell scripting and all that good stuff, but whose to say that other people can't get use of it as well?

When I migrated to Linux I didn't know the first thing about compiling source code let alone the kernel. I had no clue what gcc, binutils, bash, vi, or lisp were. I started with a distribution that was simple to install and simple to use. It remains the primary OS on my main computer so that my wife can use it without having any problems.

As I worked with Linux I started learning all kinds of things I could do with it. I read articles online and online books by the Free Software Foundation and the like. I started looking into Slackware and Linux from Scratch and reading up on kernel hacking and compiling from source. Now I have a computer dedicated to tinkering. Allowing me to freely experiment and find out just what kind of things can be done. I compile from source, I edit config files, and I spend hours at a time trying to find a way to fix whatever bug is preventing me from getting things done the way I want.

However, if Linux was that hard right off the bat I never would have used it. Not as a primary OS anyways. As fed up as I was with Windows there was no way in hell that I would have subjected my wife to months of tinkering and learning just to get things running.

The Linux community has to let people in. Even if all they ever do is run Mandravia or Ubuntu or Fedora and they never even learn what bash is or how to use it, they are contributing to the community just by choosing to use Linux over any other operating system.

My wife will never compile a kernel. I know that for certain. She's only interested in playing games, surfing the web, and writing papers and resumes with our main computer. Then again, she'll never go back to using Windows either. That I think, is what really matters.

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