Is Desktop Linux Hard?

Here is a story of an “average user” dealing with desktop Linux (courtesy of The ERACC Web Log)

I often see the sentiment expressed that desktop Linux is “too hard” for the average PC user. Yet the qualification for “too hard” is usually that it is too hard to install Linux or too hard to fix problems on Linux for the average user. These arguments seem to completely overlook the fact that an average PC user willnever install his own operating system. Also overlooked is the fact that the average PC user will never diagnose and fix her own system. An average PC user is taking a “sick” PC to a local computer repair shop, or to Geek Squad at Best Buy or calling a geek friend to come fix it. An average PC user is buying a PC with an operating system preinstalled and not changing it for something else. Those average PC users would have zero problems using desktop Linux. I have proof.

I am no average computer user. I run a computer consulting and sales business and I steep my brain in computer related news, technical documents and computer trivia on a daily basis. I am the guy that people call on when they do have computer problems or are looking to buy a new PC customized just for them. The fact that I use desktop Linux every day to run my business and for personal use is not remarkable.

On the other hand my friend Chuck is an average computer user. Chuck needs to send and receive e-mail, use Flash based web sites, connect and copy music to his MP3 player, create and print documents, use Instant Messaging to talk to friends and play a few games to pass the time. Chuck does all this on Mandriva Linux and has done so ever since I built him a PC with Mandrake Linux, now known as Mandriva, preinstalled in 2004. When Chuck needs to upgrade Mandriva he calls me and pays me to do it, he does not do it himself. When Chuck has hardware problems he calls me and pays me to fix the PC, he does not do that himself. This is what average PC users do.

Chuck is my average user desktop Linux success story. He has been so for about six years now. Chuck does not want to go back to Microsoft operating systems as he sees no benefit to that. He does see some negatives to going back though. He would have to go back to buying and installing anti-malware software and keeping that up to date. He would have to go back to worrying about malware infections through e-mail or cracked web sites. Certainly if Chuck were using a Microsoft operating system I would do all I could to secure his PC for him. But I could not guarantee Chuck would never get malware “owning” his PC in that case. I am not there to watch over Chuck every time he opens an e-mail or browses web sites. With desktop Linux Chuck and I both know that he does not have to worry about those problems. Chuck is happy to use Linux as an average PC user.

I asked Chuck today, after finishing upgrading his PC to Mandriva 2010, if he considers himself an average PC user. He did not understand the context so I explained what I meant. Chuck agreed that he would never attempt to install his own operating system nor would he attempt to solve problems on his PC himself. He would call an expert for those every time. Just like he calls on an expert when he needs his home sprayed to prevent infestations of termites. Just like he calls on an expert when his SUV needs an oil change, new tires or some repair done. Chuck is very much an average PC user. Yet, Chuck uses desktop Linux on his home PC every day to do the things he needs to do. I asked Chuck if using Linux is hard. The answer? “No”.

And two interesting comments about it:

Wow, always good to see another technical Linux person gets it when it comes to “the average user”.

Whenever I hear people say things like “average users could never handle Linux”, I scoff… ever seen an “average user” install Windows from scratch?

Yeah, thought so. All the stuff that Linux detractors like to point out about what’s “hard” about Linux are just as true about Windows — and sometimes even more so about Windows. Installation, configuration, drivers, patching, more drivers, MORE patching, then anti-virus, anti-spyware, more patching, flaky problems reading basic hard drive partitions, system restores, starting over from patching.

Ugh. By those measurements, Windows itself has a LONG way to go before it’s ready for the “average user”.

So, well-written, my friend. Sounds like Chuck has a good experience with technology, that is to say, technology that lets him do what he needs to do and it stays out of his way. Even better, it comes at a good price (assuming you’re not gouging him for your services). :-)

I have a similar testimonial I posted on my own blog last fall, about my Aunt Jean.

So I know just where you’re coming from.

– Trent

I wholeheartedly agree with your normal user analysis. An average user can use Linux with no problems. All the problems an average user would run into with Linux involve system administration, which is not something they can do with Windows or OS X either. I would dare say that many things would even be easier, such as plugging in a printer and it printing without having to install 700mb of HP drivers and software.

Good post!



2 thoughts on “Is Desktop Linux Hard?

  1. This blog appears to recieve a large ammount of visitors. How do you advertise it? It gives a nice unique twist on things. I guess having something authentic or substantial to post about is the most important thing.

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