The following is a point by point response to a well thought out email sent in by a fellow Gnomie. Other than being misinformed in a couple of areas, some really good points were raised in support of Windows above all of other operating systems.

The person writing in has their thoughts done in blockquotes while my rather long winded reply is not. Enjoy.

Matt, in my [way too long] experience in PC’s there are 4 things that people want from an OS:

1- They want to be able to find software that does what they want to do with a computer.

Sorry if that seems terribly vague, but computers in the general public have become appliances, not super-powered brain machines. A smart consumer these days will choose a machine/OS combo that lets them do what they want to do. Beyond that, they only really about the bottom line price.

Linspire’s CNR trumps Windows in the install world; plain and simple. They even fare well with selection compared to other versions of Linux; although no one is going to likely go exclusive unless they are “Ma and Pa” computer user. I work with a bookstore that run Xandros and Linspire exclusively. I have not had ONE SINGLE instance where I needed to come in because of a software or bug related issue. I do monthly checks anyway, just to double check my work…

With regard to Linspire’s CNR “cost”, Linspire Linux will allow for an install of executables (such as bin files) like any Linux distro or even another free access package installer for Debian. So the choices for ease or for cost are made quite accessible. As a part time Linux user, I hardly ever fool with source packages any longer; not many people do I imagine.

2- They don’t want to have to get a degree in order to install software.
That’s one of the two things that are just killing Linux/Unix. In any case, people now want plug-n-play SOFTWARE. And they really should have it. Windows is getting closer to this and is certainly closer than any other OS out there.

“Killing Linux”? Have you read the news closely on that matter? You are not correct if you believe that Linux is hurting in any sort of way. As for software ease of installation, it depends on what the user has decided on for their chosen distribution…

I’ve had a number of .NET related apps (in Windows) that have taken plenty of time and support staff to get to working right. As for Linux on the other hand, there are very few successful distributions these days that are not working off of either super easy to install Deb or RPM packages for software installation. And unlike Windows, I can run a simulated install to make sure they are valid, too.

Then we have Linspire. Their software installer has been described by many Windows users (my own clients, too) as MUCH simpler to use than “install shield” Windows installers. If they can read and have a grasp of the color representing green, then they can install software from a verified directory of countless apps.

Keep in mind they do not have the kind of applications that allow many Windows power users to migrate, this is definitely true. Yet I have moved many of clients over to it as I left the repair business and it has allowed me to stop the need for software/spyware/virus related service call concerns all together. The numbers are there – you only need experience it yourself.

3- Third, and intentionally in this position, they wouldn’t mind if it LOOKS cool doing what you want it to, but NOT at the cost of being hard to operate.

If you have to spend hours, days, or weeks reading a manual in order to perform day-to-day operations, no-one is going to use the OS, even if it’s free. That goes along with point 2, but is even more pointed – If you can’t operate the OS without opening a book, then its designers have failed.

Novell has an interface coming out soon that can only be compared to Vista or OS X.

As for needing a manual to use a modern Linux distro, you need to re-think that statement I’m afraid. Only command line functions require such a need for book help or configuring out of the ordinary hardware (although there are exceptions to this mentioned below).

4- Finally, that extends to hardware… Plug-n-play has to be more than a future goal.

Windows has pretty much achieved this goal. Yes, there are still driver issues and maybe Vista will remove the last traces of such nonsense. We’ll see. Same as software, if people have to fuss with myriad settings or tweaks to get hardware to operate under the OS, then it’s going nowhere. This is one of the main rocks that sank Linux as a real desktop contender. You may disagree, since you run Linux, but the numbers don’t lie.

Ah yes, the great Windows feature of “plug and pray”. Try this sometime – take any Palm device and plug it into a new machine. Then try to run the driver CD after the device was detected. Notice anything happening? Sure you did, it won’t work! Granted, you can head over to the support website and track down the registry patch to fix this goof. But why would I? This is stupid, who the heck wants to deal with that mess? I can take that same palm device, run kpilot’s wizard based detection and get it working without ever dealing with drivers at all! The app will even support two completely different PIMs; one of which offers MS Exchange support.

The fact is that Linux’s 2.6 kernel automatic hardware detection ability does a great job with needed hardware support (99% of the time). The only issues you can suffer with is either an easy to correct config file error (its a simple text file) or a lack of drivers already on the system.

I guess the final comment on the whole matter is that it really helps an OS if it’s wide-spread. You can go across the world to operate a system and if the UI is in a language you know, you can operate Windows. Even if you don’t know the language, you can still run Windows to an extent.

And yet in a number distros such as Knoppix, I can click on a flag in the lower right side of the screen near the clock. From there, I can bring up a larger selection of flags from which I can choose my own language. As for who’s ‘easier to use Linux distros’ are best, it really comes down to two distinct groups of users: The power user and the common user. As a Windows power user myself, I am dependent on the vast Windows-based programs that I love on my Windows box. Most days, using Windows XP is a perfectly pleasant experience. As a power user, I really have no need to move on to anything else. Therefore, why do I even bother with Linux? Because of conversations like this and for one other reason that I’ll mention later on in this article.

Because I am well versed in both operating systems, I am able to make sure that people such as yourself are working with to timely and accurate information. Based on what I have read today, you appear to be only partially informed. Perhaps I can remedy that?

You are quite accurate with regard to Linux software not having an attractive or even consistent appearance. You also happen to be spot-on with the lack of hardware support for Linux with SOME hardware devices such as ever-changing chipsets within wireless cards, scanners and of course video cams. However this is a decision that hardware companies made for us; based on perceived Linux user numbers in the US no doubt. If hardware companies were to look at worldwide numbers however, I think they might reconsider their position. Even as it stands now, the the 2.6 kernel has provided amazing support for most hardware – right out of the box. With regard to worldwide usage, China and India are already proving this one for us in the sense of pure numbers. It’s really too bad that we are so self-important as to ignore this lesson in true worldwide numbers. Instead, we continue clinging to a company who cannot even get a already “dated” Windows Vista OS (just look at the OS X timeline) out the door…

Linux is far from perfect though. I believe that their community needs to loose the “ponytail appearance” and begin working closer than ever with corporations such as Novell (yes, even more so than they do already). In a slight tweak to this line of thinking, if we had Novell and Linspire working as a team instead of trying to one up each other, there would be a much improved chance for a more consistent experience throughout the Linux desktop. Granted, the Slackware crowd can continue with their “command-line commando” way of doing things as they have chosen to do so. However I believe that it will only be through true cooperation that Linux can overcome its biggest challenges gain ground outside of the niche markets.

With all of that being said, those same corporations will still need the love for the OS and the hard work that those Open Source devs have volunteered over the years; ponytails and all (no offense intended, I happen have a number of Linux devs who are friends of mine). Frankly, we have reached a crossroads where both parties need each other more than ever. It’s unfortunate that much of the community still holds onto Linux’s initial mission rather than allowing its adoption into the mainstream market. Honestly, I believe that any remaining short comings come from both hardware companies and from the Linux community itself.

Eventually though, I see the Linux world getting a handle on consistency, standards and the acceptance that it is OK to pay a company for services similar to CNR (Linspire). From there we can then move on to creating software development programs such as what Microsoft has offered developers for the Windows platform. The incentives will likely be different, but that’s OK.

What about the promise of Web based software based on Ajax?
Oh yes, we hear all these wonders about Ajax Web based software and how it is going to change the world as Google and Linspire’s Michael Robertson might like to believe. And yet with the simple act of unplugging the Ethernet cable, the entire concept is rendered null and void. No, the future will remain executable – regardless of your OS choice.

The key will be to groom software development for CNR-like services (in Windows, Linux or whatever) for an even wider software adoption. Folks, I am not your ‘typical’ Linux user. Nor am I your typical Windows user. I do not spend my time making excuses as to why blue screens are a fact of life or why it is OK that so many Linux applications have an ugly appearance or a total lack of clear instructions for usage. No one OS out there is the answer. However, I instead chose to become well versed in multiple operating systems out of common sense.

The fact is that I have no OS loyalty whatsoever, that would be foolish. Rather, I use whatever the task calls for. Perhaps this is a small part of what makes the new Intel-based Macs so attractive to PC users? Nothing says BOOM like walking into a situation with a computer running Windows, Linux and OS X!

But hey, maybe we should instead put all of our faith in one operating system? Perhaps we ought to maintain the lemming-like actions of our neighbors and just follow the numbers created by one single well timed company? Let’s ignore the fact that we are still waiting for the ‘safer’ Windows platform. We must forget that even the PC giant Dell is experimenting with the Open Source OS concept. Granted, this is not a concrete situation yet. Heck maybe it will be Apple that begins offering an alternative OS to Dell rather than Linux? Regardless, as I type this out on my Windows PC I continue to sleep well at night knowing that I will not be caught with my pants down in self induced OS ignorance.

If for some unforeseen reason Microsoft was wiped off the face of the OS marketplace, where would you be? The harsh reality is that many of you would find yourselves back at school learning about the alternatives OS’ (or perhaps studying from home).

Folks, even if you only become very comfortable in Linux or OS X (based on Unix) just to shut me up, you will still be doing yourself an immense favor. The OS marketplace is changing. With Google getting into more and more items and OS X/Linux making strides into new realms, it pays to be aware of what the future will likely hold. The world does not revolve around Microsoft just because North America does. Sorry to burst that bubble for ya.

Microsoft has done a tremendous service for the computing world by using their influence to get PCs out of the hobby stores and into the mainstream. However, it is equally important to remember that there was a world of computers before Microsoft. And at risk of sounding obvious, there will be a world of computers after they’ve moved into other areas of commerce as well. It’s your skill set, but please make sure you understand what is REALLY at stake by putting all of your eggs into one basket…

[tags]windows vista,linux,windows xp,linspire,suse,xandros,simply mepis,debian,commentary,debate,linspire cnr[/tags]