Asa Dotzler: Linux not ready for the desktop

Asa Dotzler opines that Linux not ready for the desktop, surely not the first to have that opinion, but he identified four areas where he felt improvement was necessary:

1. Migration: Asa suggests that Linux install side-by-side on a Windows machine and read all the settings and preferences and set the same on the Linux side. While this sounds like a killer feature, I’ve found most people haven’t even set much beyond the defaults, and those who have are comfortable enough with the concept to customize their software again. Switching from Windows to Linux (or Mac) is also not a one-for-one match and new capabilities in the software need to be discovered, too. A “Migration Wizard” could be a killer app for the Aunt Tillies of the world, who’d like it to just work for them, but for corporate environments where much is pre-set for the user, IT should be able to script a similar though perhaps not as thorough effect.

2. Stability: by stability, Asa is referring to what Windows users call DLL Hell: the problems with library dependency conflicts between different software installs. This is a universal problem with computers, and Linux is no further along a solution than Microsoft is. The simple answer is to stay within the lines and only install the software that your distribution’s installer has to offer. That’s a pretty frustrating answer, but the major distros do supply a vast array of software these days.

3. Complexity: Asa seems to be complaining that there are too many configuration choices. Freedom to configure the software the way you want is an advantage, but the difficulty of supporting clients who have tinkered with their settings is a counterbalance. Again, this is a universal challenge: have you taken a look at many tabs in Tools|Options in Word lately? Too many choices! Unless they don’t have the one you want…

4. Comfort: “The final major issue is comfort. Linux must feel comfortable to Windows users.” I have to respectfully disagree. People can learn to adjust, and most do. Witness the radical and sometimes trivially silly differences in UI between Windows 3.1, 95, 98, 2000 and XP. The world didn’t end because Microsoft installed a Teletubbies background on top of a Candyland theme, and hid common options five layers down behind difficult-to-navigate cascading menus and modal dialogs. People can learn to adjust, and that needs to be factored in to the transition process, along with a patient teacher and helpful support available. To duplicate the UI that Microsoft rolled out (and which version?) may aid in muscle-memory exercises, but it doesn’t open up the minds to new possibilities. Apple argues you should “Think Different” and the effect on many switchers — the It Just Works Effect – argues they have done a better job of the Computer-Human Interaction design than Microsoft did.

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