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Comment of the Fortnight
30 November 1998
Linux® and the Consumer Market - Feedback

Well, I had no idea my previous article would get as much reaction as it did. Someone at www.slashdot.org linked to my article, and the mail just started coming in.

The comment I received most often was, "Have you looked at KDE (the K Desktop Environment) yet?" No, I hadn't, but I did, and I modified the original article to mention it. Actually, KDE is worth a whole article all by itself, and here it is.

I would like to thank all the people who wrote to me for taking the time to read the article and give their feedback. Herewith a sampling of comments:

Robert Sievers suggested that I check out www.abisource.com; it's an effort to develop Open Source desktop productivity applications.

clarkcd says, in regard to my comment that Linux purists will simply have to resist the temptation to strangle John Q. Public as he patiently changes twenty .txt files to .html one - at - a - time in his graphic file manager:

I'd add," or get to work on designing a GUI toolset that brings the power of unix tools to JohnQ."

In a similar vein, Travis Tabbal says:

I think a new distribution may be necessary because of the anti-'luser' sentiment existing in the community at present. We should lower the bar of entry to allow non-experts into the club. :) We're getting closer, but there's still a long road ahead.

Other readers, such as Tracy Scott, have had success with Linux and beginning users:

I setup a linux machine for my parents (almost totally computer illiterate) so that my mom could use wordperfect and my dad could surf the web. I have them running KDE and it works well for what they want to do. ... I log in periodically from California (they are in Idaho) and maintain the machine for them. Upgrade software, etc. For the many sons and daughters that run managed computer services for their parents, Linux is a dream come true.

This ties in nicely with Bryan Sampsel's comment:

However, I've seen few typical users that can reliably and without fear install their own apps. These people work w/ computers, yet they still have problems with installs b/c the install asks questions they don't understand. Even most MAC users have this affliction.

Jody Leavell came up with this very clever idea for a new installation paradigm:

I don't think we should make a M$OS like install at all. Rather we should break the installation up into two distinct phases: hardware detection and initialization, and software installation and configuration. This would be for the support personnel ease of use as much as the end user. The idea is to be able to boot from either floppy drives, network connections, or even ROM and run a simple program using a very small kernel that detects hardware and initializes the devices, then writes this information down as a hardware profile.

In regard to the state of documentation, Eric Finestead says:

it's very true that this sort of documentation wasn't written with the public in mind. There won't be any documentation on how to use your window commands, your mouse, keyboard, etc. because this was an OS written by programmers for programmers. Up 'till now, that sort of support just wasn't needed. You either knew what you were doing or didn't mess with unix.

The issue of interoperability among file systems and application file formats is not as large an issue as I had thought. Carlie Coats informs me that:

...where linux already can read and write all the MS and Mac file systems already (and many other UNIX file systems as well (the ability to write reliably the "FAT32" system that came with Win95R2 is quite new new, the ability to read it has been around a while. This is, by the way, a capability that WinNT does *not* have!)

... Applix 3.7 reads Office 95 documents ...StarOffice 4 reads Office 95 documents quite well, and StarOffice 5 reads both Office 95 and 97 quite well....

A computer professional with twenty years experience, who uses both Windows 95 and various Linux distributions, disagreed with my opinion that the flexiblity of the X Window system appears in many cases to work against a consistent user interface:

Actually, no. The flexibility of X allows one to design a variety of user interfaces, and let the best one or few win on merit. We just haven't found the "best" one yet. This goes for inconsistent file dialogs as well. This is far, far, better than trying to pick the "right" UI for a particular widget right off the bat, and then being stuck with it. You're just seeing the free market in motion, sorting good UIs from bad ones.

Simon Drabble also comments on widgets, saying:

I don't agree that all widgets must look alike, they at least must work in a consistent manner - one thing you must remember is that Motif widgets were first designed something like 15 years ago before a 3D-look really took off.

Correspondent Robin Stephenson observes that:

I think you might be missing the point somewhat. As long as the system works for me I don't really care whether other people choose to use it or not. As long as there continue to be sufficient users and developers to keep it alive I'm happy. Some people want `world domination', but I don't think it's all that important as long as it keeps doing what I want it to do. Don't get me wrong, I'm not keen on Microsoft, but frankly I use my computer to do a job, not to make a point about evil corporate behemoths.

And finally, this most excellent general commentary from Justin Farnsworth:

From a long term historical perspective, Linux has "won" already, the momentum is there, and the encroachment to the desktop has begun and will continue.

The tragedy of the desktop today is that the OS/software is so mediocre. The public has grown used to daily crashes and DLL hell and reinstalls every now and then. Ultimately this will be replaced. I can think of no good historical analogy, but perhaps it is like the early 60's with respect to automobiles, where Detroit iron in its arrogance and market power, ignored the foreign import. Given this perhaps silly analogy, Linux is the "thinking man's" system just like Volvos were the "thinking man's" car in the '60s.

As always, your comments are always welcome.
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