Sunday, November 05, 2006

Linux Vs. Windows

In a blog post (The World Just Isn't Ready for Linux) I read on ZDNET this morning, the author cites many good reasons for the average user to stick with Windows instead of moving to Linux. As things stand, I'm in 100% agreement.

The author cited Ubuntu as his favorite flavor of Linux, and said that there are too many flavors of Linux for the typical user to choose from - I agree. My own favorite flavor is Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED), which retails for around $50.00US per year. Some vendors sell the desktop license for less if you download the operating system yourself. If you're cheap like me, OpenSuse is available for free, and has most of the same applications as SLED, but fewer bells and whistles - mainly regarding the user interface.

The most obvious example of the difference between OpenSuse and SLED is the multiple-desktop switching - OpenSuse switched from desktop to desktop with no transistion effects - its like changing the channel on the TV. SLED "flips" from desktop to desktop with an effect like a rotating cube - check out some screenshots here. Some folks dismiss this as mere "eye candy" - but the effect is profound. It gives the user a frame of reference that makes more sense than "virtual desktops" by giving more natural visual cues.

Despite the ease of installation (which I guess is as easy as Ubuntu), the author of the aforementioned ZDNET article is again quite correct in that once its installed, the typical user won't know what to do with it. SUSE make finding and installing new packages a snap with YAST (Yet Another System Tool), but it only finds the packages that Suse is distibuting. Overall, there are four different ways to install applications in Suse that come to mind - and most DON'T involve YAST. There is not typically a simple setup program that makes things go then drops a nice icon on your desktop. Note to developers: a nice ./install that takes care of the particulars on any given flavor of Linux would be nice, but is likely too much to ask.

Which brings me to the most important point about Linux and the free software movement: don't ask for much - this stuff is FREE, the developers are likely uncompensated, so they have little incentive to personally support their application like a for-profit outfit would. Can't figure out how to make a program run? Tough, RTFM (Read the freakin' manual) is the typical answer - and rightly so - you're lucky to have the program at all since you didn't have to write it yourself or pay a bunch of money for it. The average Windows user may spend a fortune on software during the lifetime of his computer compared to a Linux geek, but the time and frustration saved by the Windows user is usually worth it.

Linux is a labor of love.

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