When it comes to ease of use, there is no difference between a computer with Windows and a computer with Linux, assuming both systems are installed properly. That there is a meaningful difference is a myth perpetuated by Windows fanboys or individuals who have outdated experience with Linux. Also, the comparison that is often being made is unfair: One’s experience with a computer purchased as Best Buy or supplied at work, with OEM Windows already installed (see below) is being compared with a self-install of Linux onto an about to be discarded computer.

When something “breaks” the two systems start to differentiate a bit, with Windows maintaining GUI interfaces as the only thing a user trying to fix the system will see. A proper installation of standard Ubuntu will also have GUI’s for pretty much everything, but most Linux users will “drop to the command line” in certain circumstances. However, that is not a meaningful difference in ease of use for three reasons: 1) It is not harder to type in 20 or 30 characters to form an esoteric command than it is to click-navigate one’s way through dozens of esoteric and confusing GUI screens. In both cases, the naive user is being guided through territory that is scary, unknown, and annoying by someone who is telling them what to do; 2) There are almost always fewer steps to the solution in Linux, while Windows fixes sometimes require going very very deep into the GUI; and 3) When you apply the fix in Linux, the thing is fixed, but when you apply the fix in Windows it often is not and in the end, one must “wipe the drives” and “reinstall the system” or some other radical thing.1

So, if Linux is not Grandmother Ready than neither is Windows.

In addition to this, the comparison between Windows and Linux is almost always made between a computer that was originally sold with Windows on it that someone is converting to a Linux box, vs. a computer that was sold with Windows on it and, well, it still has Windows on it. A valid comparison would be this: Build two sets of computers out of motherboards, processors, and various parts obtained from mail order, then try to install each operating system on each computer. People do not realize that many OEM Windows installations include manufacture supplied patches or utilities to make their hardware work with that system, and the process of developing an installation “image” for a particular computer is a rather involved engineering process. All those dumb-ass manufacturer-specific buttons on your “multimedia keyboard” or your “multimedia laptop” or whatever work under Windows because somebody at the manufacturer made that happen. If you don’t believe me, replace your current hard drive with a new one to make sure there are no manufacturer supplied secret hidden system fixes on there, and then buy an off-the-shelf copy of your favorite version of Windows and install that on your HP Theater-Ready Laptop or some other computer and see how that goes. Let us know.

Another problem with the culture of misunderstanding in comparing Linux and Windows is the dual boot problem. Some people prefer to set up a dual boot computer to try Linux for a while before making the switch, then have problems and blame Linux. Geeks will disagree, but the truth is that changing your computer from a single OS Windows machine to a dual boot machine involves a high probability of totally screwing it up. Also, Windows has built in abilities to destroy other OS’s on the same hard drive. It’s a little like testing out the new safety helmet by standing in a woodchipper: You’ve significantly increased the chance of something going wrong, and that has nothing to do with Linux. A subset of this problem, alluded to above, is trying out Linux now and then but only on computers you are about to trash. A few people have related their Linux Horror Stories on this blog, and it is clear that the problems they were having were broken hardware, but they blamed it on Linux.

And I could go on with how the idea that Linux is hard and Windows is easy is a falsehood. But that is not the objective of this post. Rather, I wish to make the following two points:

1) Linux has a U-shaped distribution of numbers of installations plotted against ease of use, with the easiest end being easier than Windows and the harder end being harder than windows, with most Linux desktop users (a minority of Linux installs) floating around in the low part of the U; and

2) The ultimate Grandma-ready computer is a desktop system on the left (easy side) of that distribution, a computer setup that does not exist but that should, and that you can probably make.

First, about the U-shaped distribution. It looks like this:
i-63a2e786af737a51b50ab7e058cadbb9-u-shaped_linux.jpg

This is unscaled. The height of the distribution is meant only as an indicator of “many” vs. “not many” and there is no meaningful scale on the x-axis; As you go from left to right the system gets harder to use, requires more knowledge, etc.

I wrote in the word “Kindle” to represent all those small devices that are incredibly easy to use (Kindle, Roku, some stuffed animal your kid plays with, a quarter of smart phones, routers, wireless network devices and such, airplane entertainment centers, electronic musical instruments, computer data collection devices, etc.). When Linux is embedded in a device properly, it does a few things very reliably and you don’t even know it is there. When people say “Oh, Linux is so hard, it’s not grandmother ready, when you make it easy give me a call I’ll try it” we Linux users laugh out loud inside. Those people are using Linux every day and it is so easy to use they don’t even know they are using a computer operating system.

On the other end of the diagram is the server and supercomputers. Servers probably aren’t’ really that hard to operate if they are not doing much, but if they are connected to the internet and running various services and must be kept secure and have multiple users then they are a lot of work and great expertise is required. Eight out of ten servers are run on Linux. You might think that since Linux is a free operating system produced by pimply faced fourteen year olds working out of a garage, that real servers, with real demands, and that are of real importance, would use a real operating system like Windows. But no. When we look at the high demand and more critical-task end of server world … the computers used to run the Mars Rovers, the servers used by Hollywood to make those fancy movies, the server that gives you the Major League Baseball strike box graphic … the percentage of boxes running Linux is nearly 100%.

So, Linux comes in two flavors: The kind you don’t see or fiddle with but use all the time with zero effort, and the kind found in servers and supercomputers, many of which you also use all the time with zero effort from you (the web page you are reading now was served up on a Linux server) but that require an expert to run. That describes the vast majority of Linux installations. Those of us using Linux as our desktop/laptop system in every day use are not only a minority of computer users, but we are a minority of Linux users. Every single commenter who bothers to tell me that I’m a Linux fanboy (true) and that I should just shut up (probably also true) are Linux users. Without exception. And, it may well be that the Linux desktop is one of the trickiest places to deploy that system, for the reasons cited above (frequent use off multi-boot systems, crappy hardware, zero engineering to match system to hardware, and so on).

When these problems are removed or controlled for, desktop and laptop Linux is no different than Windows in terms of ease of use. How do I know? Well, I’ve used both systems extensively. Also, every time someone uses my laptop to check their email or whatever, it works for them even though they’ve never used Linux before. I usually don’t even mention that it’s Linux. They just use it and probably figure I’ve got a highly modded version of Windows, or they figure out that it’s Linux and say “Oh, that was Linux. That was easy!” or something.

But what about grandma?

My wife’s grandma would be an example. She has a computer that she uses to type her memoirs. She opens up Word, types stuff, and when she’s done, she prints it out. I’m not even sure if she saves the files. She is using a desktop computer as a typewriter. That’s it. The computer is maintained by her son, my father-in-law. He is very computer savvy, having owned desktop computers since they first became available, and is one of those “go to” guys for when your computer is broken. Recently, he made the switch from Windows to Mac for all but one computer, which he maintained only because it was required for work (due entirely to their secure VPN system). With semi-retirement, he doesn’t need that any more either, so I think he’s all mac now.

But, he does travel over to Grandma’s place every now and then to fix her computer. I’m not sure how often, but every now and then the Windows installation that does nothing other than open and close Word needs to be fixed. Probably because of Microsoft Office or Windows “patches” or “upgrades.”

Grandma Paulson would be the perfect test case for an embedded Linux system. Imagine a desktop (or laptop) that acts as an embedded device, using Linux as the OS, and running only one piece of software (or maybe even three or four). When you turn on the computer, the software also starts up. Perhaps you normally hibernate rather than start up, and there is no password required. Icons on a toolbar allow switching between the apps if there is more than one, and all files are stored in a single directory that, perhaps, happens to be mirrored on dropbox for backup. Files are automatically encrypted, and there is a print button.

The only thing that happens other than typing in stuff is that someone (Duane, me, whomever) comes by once a month and runs the updates. If Grandma had a fast enough Internet connection, that could be largely automatic, and the updates could be done over an ssh connection, but I think she is not that well connected to the Internet. I also think everyone in my wife’s family would freak out if I tried to get grandma on Linux, so I’ll have to find someone else to experiment on. And, probably, I don’t really want to do that either because I probably don’t have the expertise to make something so simple.

But perhaps you can. And report back.

I know what some of you are thinking. I’m talking about something that already exists. They’re called netbooks, or thin clients, or kiosks. Maybe. But I think most of those things are not as simple as what I’m imagining. In fact, maybe I’m imagining something even more simple that suggested above. Like my old embedded word system. Back in the day, I found myself using only word and nothing else for long periods of time, on underpowered hardware running a sucky operating system (Windows 3.2). I discovered that I could run “Winword” as my “Shell.” In so doing, the operating system was not available, but I didn’t need it. I’d turn on the computer, and it would be Word and nothing else. Word had a file management system built in, so that was taken care of. I could even run other office software from Word, if I needed to. But the computer was essentially an embedded word processor system.

Another use of this sort of embedded system is discipline. I’m considering adapting an old laptop I have, which has a fan that works but makes noise, to be a coffee shop computer. No Internet, no browser, just a minimal Linux install with one end user app: emacs. I would take this to the already noisy coffee shop and write, with no temptation to check email, browse, etc.

Just in case I need to look something up, there are ways. If there is an Internet connection, I can use a text-based interface via emacs to access Wikipedia or the Internet Movie Database, and a dictionary or two. Those features would do in a pinch.

Grandma’s Embedded Linux (GEL) would be as close to the left side of the U-shaped distribution as possible, but fill the needs of many who are working in the middle of the distribution. The stripped down nature of the system would add to the already existing benefit of using Linux on older hardware: Your sluggish machine would fly, but with one engine and one seat and one purpose (as a text editor, or perhaps if you like, as a browser).

What do you think? Can we get this project off the ground?

PLEASE PUT YOUR COMMENTS HERE. (The commenting is broken on this site)
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1Windows 7 is, of course, a perfect operating system and nothing ever goes wrong with it, and when something does go wrong, it is easily fixed, and when that does not happen, wiping the hard drive and reinstalling the system is painless. Or so I’m told. Or was I told that of Vista? Yeah, that’s the ticket. No, no, I was told that of XP. Right, I remember now. Or was it Windows 2000? Oh, I’m so confused … I can never keep straight which Windows OS is the perfect one.

i-af727314bb91def34a44e4261c14ccca-PleaseClickOnThisStuff.jpg

Comments

  1. #1 Henry
    December 31, 2010

    I have to admit reading your article Chrome OS came to mind.

  2. #2 Marc Whitaker
    December 31, 2010

    I’ve already done this . . . I switched my wife, my thirteen year old daughter, and my nine year old daughter over to Linux. The kids are now sixteen and twelve, and everyone does what they need to do, problem free. We have three netbooks and two desktops running Ubuntu 10.10, 9.4, and EEEbuntu.

    Everything just works. My router runs Linux (DD-WRT) and our MP3 players run RockBox. Open source is the wave of the future.

  3. #3 Bob_Robertson
    December 31, 2010

    The graphic of the U shaped curve didn’t come through for me. Oh well, it’s not hard to visualize from the text.

    The only thing I would add is that the grandmothers for which I have set up Linux have not cared at all about “ease of use”, one runs XFCE, one KDE4, etc. Their one and only issue is that the applications they want are easy to find.

    They have desktop icons for Iceweasel (Debian fan), XINE, and all their personal data folders of grandkids pictures, spreadsheets, etc. They have all embraced Gmail rather than trying to use a local mail client.

    Make sure that automatic opening of PDF and graphics files, documents, etc., works as consistently as possible.

    Then it’s a matter of personal preferences like card games. So far no one has wanted an IRC chat client, and the automatic opening of a file window to a USB connected camera seems perfectly satisfactory, with drag-drop into those same desktop folders.

    What I found was an absolute requirement, however, is that once it works it be LEFT ALONE. No updates, no fiddling, no changing names or locations.

    This is fine for Linux, because there is so little opportunity for malware to mess the system up. It just runs.

    Of course this isn’t perfect, and doing software updates will eventually become “important”, but with Linux that really can wait until something breaks. Like HTML5 not working in an un-updated FireFox in a few years.

    Stability. Not just “usability”.

  4. #4 Jon
    December 31, 2010

    There are two distros that come to mind, Linux Mint and Manhattan OS, both of which are based off of Ubuntu and are designed to work more out of the box. Personally I have heard that there are Grandmothers who use Fedora without any problems.

    I think that Linux Mint would be an excellent choice, just make sure that Ailurus and Ubuntu tweak is installed, and any other software necessary that an elderly person may try to use the system for. I would image that it would mainly be used for Internet (email) use in most cases, though they may have a camera,or may want to try skype.

    To be honest I am going to get ready to build a computer for my Grandmother and I have chosen Linux Mint as the Operating System of choice, I just haven’t thought of all the software that I believe will make the system work best for her.

  5. #5 Stan Miller
    December 31, 2010

    I moved mom (86) to Linux as she was over her head with windows updates, anti-virus updates, anti-virus scans, adaware scans and spybot scans. They were driving her nuts and she couldn’t figure out what to click or when to click it. The result was of course computer cooties and me having to wipe and reinstall, I have no windows skills and little idea of how to remove stuff the above tools don’t deal with.

    Now she is on version 11.3 of OpenSuse Linux and KDE for her desktop. I put file widgets up for her download, document and photo directories. A collection of icons for games she likes. Firefox set up with her main sites on the bookmark-toolbar and adblock, noscript, cookiesafe extensions. I did set the extensions up to allow her main sites and she has a printed note on allowing new sites in temporary mode.

    I considered going one more step and backing up her critical files using rsnapshot but she changes so little it wasn’t going to accomplish much more that I do now by sucking them off to an external drive once a month or so.

    I figure I’ll update her to version 11.4 in May or June once it has been out for a while and has the first batch of patches applied.

    Lots of recent bad press about Suse due to Novell buying them, messing up a lot of stuff, playing games with Microsoft and now dumping them to another company that also looks to be in bed with Microsoft. That aside I have been a Suse user since way before that mess started and hope to still be with OpenSuse after it pulls away a bit from the shenanigans. For me it is still the easiest Linux OS to support due to the Yast tool that makes over the phone support so simple. Tough cases can still be done via SSH or even VNC but they are rare.

  6. #6 Chris
    December 31, 2010

    I switched my sister-in-law to Ubuntu 10.10 when she got a rogue anti-virus attack. She was sick of the slowdowns from AV programs running, and the different attacks. I created a dual-boot PC and she noticed that with the same hardware Ubuntu ran faster. I switched her to Ubuntu 10.10 and did the few command line tools to make it look like Windows 7. So far she has not come to me with anything she can’t do. The computer has not slowed down and no more malware threats. She likes the one place updates too.

  7. #7 RSG
    December 31, 2010

    I’ve been using Linux Mint Debian Edition for awhile, and I’m liking it. It’s based on Debian Testing, which is more stable than the just out-of-date version of Ubuntu, as far as I can tell. It’s easy to change it over to the new stable version when it’s released. It worked out of the box on my netbook and my wife’s laptop. She is almost what Greg described as Grandma, but probably less competent with computers. She just wants to type stuff, sometimes email but not a lot, and not much more. She really, really hates change, and any changes throw her off and make her really nervous. My mother is a little better, but scared to death of breaking her computer or filling up the HDD. I’ve been trying to wean my wife onto Linux, but it’s hard, because it looks a little different, and she does not do well with different. If I had been able to start her off with Linux things would have been fine, but her church computer support group was using Windows programs, and she had to use them, and I didn’t have the time to get wine up and running right away. Oh well, we continue onward and upward…

  8. #8 Sweetwater Tom
    December 31, 2010

    I’m with Mr. Paulson. I was a system programmer/sys admin for many years. I used and worked on Linux, Windows, IBM, and a few other systems in my career. Now that I am retired, I switched to Mac. I sometimes get frustrated because I don’t know what is going on under the hood, but it is much better than Windows/Linux.

  9. #9 gruebait
    December 31, 2010

    One hotbed of Windoz/Linux obtuseness is ISPs. Newbies must be cautioned against revealing they are running Linux whenever possible. I see various help forums flooded with the plaints of novices who have been told by Help Desk Drones that “We don’t support Linux” when the problem is between the modem and the ISP, not at the other end of an ethernet connection

    Linux is a word that just isn’t in the script.

  10. #10 tracyanne
    December 31, 2010

    Hey I am a grandmother, or would be if my kids bothered to have kids. I’m using Linux Mint 9 right now, I started on Mandrake/Mandriva 10 years ago, and looking seriously at moving to Linux Mint Debian now that they have a 64 bit version.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    December 31, 2010

    Tracyanne, you are not a grandmother until they have the kids. Better get on them about that.

  12. #12 Rorschach
    December 31, 2010

    You had to, didn’t you….;)

    So, if Linux is not Grandmother Ready than neither is Windows.

    I would dispute that. My father-in-law had a Windows XP box, and it would never run longer than 3 months, before I had to come over and do a reinstall, or major retrieval works, to get rid of all the malware and accumulated problems. I installed him Kubuntu a few years ago on some old P4 system, and no problems since. That’s what I call granny-ready !

  13. #13 GrayGaffer
    December 31, 2010

    Rorschach@12: you agreed, not disputed. Check your logic module.

    re pre-installed Windows and hardware compatibility: I bought a cheap machine with Vista. They neglected to note that Vista required a minimum of 1GB just to run itself so the machine was unusable. I decided to upgrade it to XP. In the end I found I had hunted down no less than 9 drivers for various bits just to get full resolution video, audio, and movies. The OEM was no help – they had never put XP on that particular hardware. Good news: it’s been in the office for 4 years now and I have never had to wipe it. Just boot it every day.

    More recently I bought a NetBook. Note that contrary to Greg’s assertion that these lie on the “Easy” end, they are actually no different than desktops, just with a smaller screen and slower CPU. Mine came with XP. I made a USB stick to boot Ubuntu on it so I could get it right before dual-booting the thing. It Just Worked. No driver hunting. Mostly just download time for the iso image. Installing it as dual boot was just one more click.

    Lastly, why is the myth that Mac OS X is as different from Linux as is Windows so prevalent? Under the hood – which is only a terminal away – is FreeBSD with all the same tools as Linux. If you really want all the gui tools it even has an X11 server. The visuals are just a desktop skin, albeit very pretty. I really do not understand why Apple is so often slammed for being “closed” when it is very nearly as open as Linux. Perhaps the only major omission is centralized update management. But all my main apps make up for that by being able to check and upgrade themselves.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    December 31, 2010

    More recently I bought a NetBook. Note that contrary to Greg’s assertion that these lie on the “Easy” end

    No, I didn’t say they were on the easy end. I said that MY grandmabuntu concept was on the easy end and these other things were not, but that someone was going to tell me that they were. I agree that a netbook is a smaller “laptop” often with quirky problems, in my limited experience.

    Lastly, why is the myth that Mac OS X is as different from Linux as is Windows so prevalent?

    I don’t know, good question. Part of it may be that if you don’t let the Mac users think they are very different and very special they whine and get testy.

  15. #15 Anonymous
    December 31, 2010

    I’m a programmer (since 1970) with an old PC (with FreeBSD in a partiition) and a Mac laptop (with CentOS via VMWare and Windows via bootcamp). I use a Mac at work and our servers are primarily RedHat with a few Windows machines. Macs are the favorite machine of every programmer I know, because they have the simplicity and apps of Mac but the capabilities of linux when we need them. As far as grandmothers (and grandfathers) are concerned, most want simplicity and clarity for the few tasks they use, and automation of tasks like upgrades – I always say they want a ‘toaster’, a machine that just works for what they want to do. if you can afford it, get them a Mac. If they need primarily internet access get them an iPad. The problems with Linux include in part the very reason people find it attractive: so many options in configuration, and in part availability and dependability of drivers. The only benefit of Windows is still the commercial software written for it. If you’re willing to find alternatives for that software for them then do that, but if they’ve already been using apps for windows that aren’t available for mac or linux that will be an issue. Personally, I wouldn’t wish windows on anyone.

  16. #16 jwillar
    December 31, 2010

    I still run a dual boot laptop with Win7 and Ubuntu 10.10. I decided to keep Win7 because (1) I paid good money for it (pkg deal) and (2) it’s still needed to do certain things like upgrading BIOS and configure USB devices such as my programmable Logitech TV remote. I’ve successfully converted my brother and his wife/daughter, my wife/daughter and my 86 year old mother to Ubuntu 10.10. Life has gotten easier for everyone w/o question. Good article.

  17. #17 Ian Tindale
    December 31, 2010

    1] get a Mac, don’t tell us you’ve done so. Live with it for a while.

    2} the issue you are referring to (in some parts) is not what you are capable of connecting to with freedom of choice, but rather, the thing that plagues us all in the 21st century media infosphere — but that of attention management. You’re shit at it. We all are. It’s the problem. It’s the significant problem we all have. Nothing to do with emacs or primitive imprisonment. It’s to do with our dorsal and ventral attention networks. We haven’t evolved management of them. Yet. Listen.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    December 31, 2010

    So, getting a Mac will fix that, Ian?

  19. #19 Stephanie Z
    December 31, 2010

    As a Mac user, I can say with confidence–ooh, shiny! What were we talking about again?

  20. #20 Bill James
    December 31, 2010

    In 2005 I bought ‘Grandma’ a Compaq v2000z laptop which came with a sporting 1.86Ghz AMD Turion processor, 512MB of ram and Windows XP with reason being she needed to run excel spreadsheets for work. Fine, I installed Microsoft Office after stripping out all the preloasded annoyware and walked her through the basics of Excel since ‘Grandma’ is/was not computer literate nor wanted to be. For this singular task she got along reasonably well and upon retirement three years later the laptop took residence in the roll top desk for email and online banking. Not without near constant aggravation however, as Windows and various ancillary programs would invariably demand attention by way of informative if not warning dialog boxes when not automatically rebooting the computer along wit occasional delays during startup or shutdown while some update process ran its course. She found the whole matter horribly disconcerting not knowing for example if the Adobe Flash updater should be given permission to install a new version. Grandmas of all ages do not know these things but do know what can happen when clicking, or for that matter failing to click, for in the great unknown of it all hangs the ability to communicate online with friends and family. One false move and those precious photos of the grand babies in email can be gone forever.

    Eventually the continuous stream of updates each installing ever expanding and enlarged versions of themselves grew to the point where it was all XP could do booting itself with AntiVirus running and starting Firefox into 512MB of memory no matter what else was eliminated. But a couple of web pages later would the machine start swapping memory to disk for the lack of it, thus becoming unresponsive for extended periods of time. A web page might take a minute or more to resolve. Clearly we had come to the end for I wasn’t about to invest upgrade money in hardware of that age even though pristine in appearance, all the while Grandma demonstrably angry at the bastards who stole her memory whomever they are. She had a point. The computer used to run great in 512.

    I had planned on switching her to Ubuntu as this all came to a head about the same time 10.04LTS was released. Not at all sure that Linux with its ever expanding kernel and desktop would still run acceptably in such a now limiting amount of memory, found no problems booting live of the CD. In fact everything notebookish just worked out of the box. Wireless, sound, der blinkin lites, suspend/resume, all the specialty hardware buttons such as track pad enable/disable etc. Gold. Blew away XP completely on the disk install, loaded Firefox, Thunderbird and a print driver, then started work on desktop theming.

    I rather like the Gnome desktop and suite of applications but there is too much of it for Grandma. Two menu bars were reduced to one and even that was decluttered. Applications, Places and System icons on the bottom left, Wireless, Sound, Date and Time on the bottom right. Two larger icons on the desktop for Firefox and Thunderbird along with a pleasant but not confusing background and that’s it. Nothing is missing but most is tucked out of the way. An entire day was spent on the project making sure everything came up as expected on boot, that the computer suspended when the lid closed and woke up when lifted and so on. Details such as insuring that ms core fonts, codecs and flash were all available and her bank was prominent on the browser link bar. It’s not a stripped machine at all, just tasked specifically to what she wants to do. Since she was already a FF/TB user there was no learning curve required to use those programs with the new OS which was a plus.

    It’s been six months of silence. In fact I had to ask if everything was ok which it was. It just works. It don’t nag, doesn’t jump on the screen with confusing questions demanding answers and actions. Open the lid and it’s ready to go in three seconds. Close lid when done. She likes it. Allot. Will never go back to Windows and recommends same to her friends. She also likes having stuck it to Microsoft for stealing her memory. Bastards!

    Given average wants/needs of most computer users and working with compatible hardware, it’s not really a question of Linux being ‘Grandma’ ready. In this case it was the best way to go.

  21. #21 P Smith
    December 31, 2010

    I hope the author is not asserting that all users of Lose7 – I mean, Win7 – are “fanboys”.

    I tried a Ubuntu version last year and will concede that installation has been made far simpler and much better than Linux installations once were. I made and kept a boot-up CD which runs from the drive if I ever want to use it, rather than install it. The GUI is nice and the system is fairly easy to work with. But there’s an issue of application compatibility, and I don’t mean Windoze programs under Wine. The Linux applications I tried to install had to be of a specific version or they wouldn’t work, and that meant downloading and trying/installing multiple versions.

    I’m no Windoze fanboy. I only use it because of backward compatibility with older software. I still actually would prefer using DOS – seriously – and the only reason I don’t is that most hardware manufacturers have stopped making drivers that work in DOS, the most crucial of which are audio and video drivers. There are internet drivers, a graphical browser, USB driver, DVD/CD read/write, video players, audio players, word processing, etc.

    All the necessary software exists to be productive, but the drivers don’t. That’s where Microshaft really pisses me off, the way they have forced competing software out of the marketplace, forced hardware manufacturers to make drivers for their OS only. I’m sure many Linux users have experienced the same thing, hardware that doesn’t have a driver and companies won’t make one for Linux.

    .

  22. PLEASE PLACE COMMENTS HERE: http://gregladen.com/wordpress/?p=1763

  23. #23 howard.peirce
    January 1, 2011

    For me, I’m pretty much a 99%-out-of-the-box, whatever goes kind of guy. I have no choice at work, and at home, it just doesn’t make a huge difference what OS I run. And I’ve run them all.

    But my Dad is an old-school IBM assembler programmer from the 1960s, who took until the 90s to put a desktop computer in his home. I’ve been talking up Linux to him for years, but he’s still stuck in mid-20th-century business models, and won’t give up Windows. (As smart as Dad is, he’s running Vista–Vista!–at home.)

    This is a guy who bitches about the default behavior of Solitaire. And I say, “Dad, if you installed Linux, you could change the behavior of Solitaire.” But he’s retired, and retired means retired. And corporate drone means Windows.

  24. #24 Tulse
    January 1, 2011

    Imagine a desktop (or laptop) that acts as an embedded device, using Linux as the OS, and running only one piece of software (or maybe even three or four). When you turn on the computer, the software also starts up. Perhaps you normally hibernate rather than start up, and there is no password required. Icons on a toolbar allow switching between the apps if there is more than one, and all files are stored in a single directory that, perhaps, happens to be mirrored on dropbox for backup.

    It’s called an iPad.

    Seriously, an iPad (perhaps with a Bluetooth physical keyboard) pretty much has all these qualities. (Well, it runs BSD-based iOS instead of Linux, but still…)

  25. #25 SteveL
    January 1, 2011

    Tho’ one area where Ubuntu isn’t grandmother-ready is getting sound working.

  26. #26 Snarkyxanf
    January 1, 2011

    @25,

    Linux isn’t non-computer-user ready for any “getting foobar working” because “getting things working” on *any* system is not really a job for people intimidated by computers, just like fixing leaky pipes and changing car batteries is not a job for me. Getting your hands dirty inside the computer is not a good job for people afraid of it.

    A complete computer novice would have an easier time of (a pre setup) Linux than a long time computer luser. The novice will just start using what is now a well-developed system. The luser will be completely flustered that things aren’t in the “right” place (i.e. wherever they were in the version of MS Windows that they’ve been using for a decade).

    You could well have better luck setting up your grandfather on a linux box than your father.

  27. #27 Snarkyxanf
    January 1, 2011

    Re OP:

    just a minimal Linux install with one end user app: emacs. I would take this to the already noisy coffee shop and write, with no temptation to check email, browse, etc.

    So in an attempt to minimize distraction, you choose Emacs, the text editor that comes not just with a newsreader, mail reader, and web browser, but toys like various games, a chat bot, and a full scripting language?

  28. #28 MadScientist
    January 1, 2011

    I wonder if that should be a ‘U’ or a Hockey Stick. Are the number of kindles really comparable to the number of Linux servers out there?

    Speaking of dual boots, it took me hours to tame a dual-boot install for a friend ~4 years ago. Winduhs does all sorts of weird things to screw up and the older computer BIOSes don’t help any either. I’ve often wondered why MS bothered with w7 – it is pretty much incompatible with XP/NT and yet they didn’t even bother to fix the various problems with the system. I guess it was too much to hope for them doing as Apple did. With all the time and money sunk into the system, you have to wonder why they didn’t more or less start from scratch. They should have gone *BSD and spent most of the time porting MSOffice and their small enterprise software and writing the necessary code and shared libraries on the OS side to ease porting.

  29. #29 Jim Ramsey
    January 1, 2011

    I posted something similar where Greg directed comments.

    Wouldn’t a Linux distribution through AARP make sense?

    It would be simplified.

    There might be some special attention paid to accessibility.

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    January 1, 2011

    Snarky: So in an attempt to minimize distraction, you choose Emacs, the text editor that comes not just with a newsreader, mail reader, and web browser, but toys like various games, a chat bot, and a full scripting language?

    You totally caught me.

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    January 1, 2011

    MadS: I wonder if that should be a ‘U’ or a Hockey Stick. Are the number of kindles really comparable to the number of Linux servers out there?

    That’s why I say there is no vertical scale other than “some” and “lots” or whatever. But, in truth, the total number of embedded devices may be huge. Android phones plus linux-based book readers plus chumbies., Well, maybe the chumbies don’t count for many..

    I spent about ten minutes trying to figure that out but was unsatisfied with the number. But there are about 15 million linux-based smart phones. Also, every home has a router/modem, and many of those run Linux. It adds up, but to how much, I don’t know.

    Jim, good idea, except that AARP is a very greedy commercial enterprise and they may not understand the open source part.

  32. #32 Adam Trickett
    January 1, 2011

    I’ve long said that stock anything isn’t good for a new user. It’s the quality of the set-up that matters, and I find it easier to set-up Linux. For similar stories, see:

    http://dnc.digitalunite.com/2009/03/31/shopping-delivered-by-ubuntu-linux/
    http://www.iredale.net/p/by-topic/unix/desktop/dad-1/
    http://www.iredale.net/p/by-topic/unix/desktop/dad-2/
    http://www.iredale.net/p/by-topic/unix/desktop/dad-3/

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    January 1, 2011

    Adam: Brilliant. Your video should be required viewing for anyone working on this sort of problem. You’re Da would be very comfortable, visually, with my desktop (colors, fonts, etc.) though I have a zillion apps installed and root access!

  34. #34 magicJay
    January 1, 2011

    I just spent some time playing on my netbook. It seems pretty easy to set up the “Ultimate Granny Machine” with your favourite flavour of linux with fluxbox as the window manager.

    Obviously someone who knows what they’re doing would have to set it up but once it’s running it’s no problem.

    For a really simple system I’m seeing a word processor, e-mail client, web browser and probably a file browser and that’s about it.

    You can set up fluxbox to start all these programs on separate virtual desktops at startup. Using the apps file you can start them all maximized with no window decorations (at least I would) so when a particular program is being used it’s the only thing visible and can’t be accidentally dragged around.

    The virtual desktops themselves can be renamed “Word Processor” etc. and that name shows up on the taskbar. A quick glance at the taskbar tells granny what program she’s using. To change to another program she just uses the “next” and “prev” arrows on the taskbar to switch workspaces. Or you can install a Mac-like dock app for switching.

    Less used programs (games?) can be put in a customized menu which is bound to an easy to remember hot-key (the otherwise useless windows key comes to mind)

    Long story short granny can easily navigate her 3 or 4 most used programs and never has to know what’s running underneath.

    Terminals and other handy programs can be bound to other keys for whoever has to do the (hopefully infrequent) maintenance.

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    January 1, 2011

    MagicJay, excellent. Fluxbox seesm like a good way to go because it is also fairly low in resource demand. And if it can be explained without using the word “desktop” that would be perfect!

  36. #36 Chris
    January 1, 2011

    I agree that for a Granny only machine then linux can be perfect. But I completely disagree when it comes to putting your whole family on it, including your kids.

    As a kid I’d play for hours with windows, installing hundreds of apps and playing with them all, I had a great time. If I had been given Linux then this almost certainly would not have happened. It’s not so easy to install linux apps, and if you come up against any issues, usually dependency ones, then if you don’t understand linux you’re screwed.

    I disagree with the mantra “It does what they need it to do”. You should also think about “What else might they want to do with it if they show an interest?”. Linux massively fails when you think about it like that.

    So for grannies, Yes, but for kids, No (unless you want them to be a command line geek).

  37. #37 Greg Laden
    January 1, 2011

    Chris? No! It’s not so easy to install linux apps, and if you come up against any issues, usually dependency ones, then if you don’t understand linux you’re screwed.

    OK, imma let you believe that in a minute, but I just want to tell everyone else who may not know that installing Linux apps is at least an order of magnitude EASIER than Windows apps. Modern methods on installing Linux apps handle the dependencies. You just search, select, authorize and the apps are installed painlessly and subsequently automatically maintained and updated.

    I think maybe the last time you looked at Linux was five years ago, or maybe you only know about Gentoo or something.

  38. #38 Ian
    January 1, 2011

    ” 1) It is not harder to type in 20 or 30 characters to form an esoteric command than it is to click-navigate one’s way through dozens of esoteric and confusing GUI screens.”

    It is not harder for YOU to type in 20 or 30 characters. Because you can type. You can spell. You understand that it matters whether you spell things correctly, and where you put the spaces and punctuation. You know how the file system is structured and what a path is. You have some idea what to expect the required command to look like.

    Your grandmother probably does not. Having helped a whole lot of grandmothers with this kind of thing, I can tell you there are few that do. It is no more difficult FOR YOU because you have vast amounts of experience that makes it easy. I’ve met dozens of people who don’t, and frankly even expecting a user to be able to spell or type correctly is asking too much.

    A GUI presents the information required to do something within the means to do it. A command line requires reading manuals or forums for explanations to things, then constructing your action. I’m sure that’s an appealing idea to a scientist or engineer. It is NOT appealing to a 70 year old woman who is just trying to figure out how this webcam thingy she bought at Walmart works.

    Which brings me to the other problem with Linux, one that you barely touch on…it isn’t just when things BREAK that things diverge, it’s when things CHANGE. If you want to install new hardware or software, you start running into that command-line voodoo, or into situations where the correct drivers, or any drivers that would work at all, do not exist.

    You laugh at people who balk at using Linux, but they’re using it in places where you CAN install it correctly and expect it to STAY installed that way. They’re using it in situations where most people would never even give a shit what operating system they’re running. With a PC, the OS is such a part of the experience that you can’t ignore it. And you can’t expect everything to remain the same as when the last expert to touch it was sure it worked.

    Maybe the PC will shrink to a niche, only for creative types…there’s a case to be made that they’re the only people who need that versatility. Maybe then this will all be moot. But for now, with most people wanting to access the Internet wanting to do it from a general-purpose machine with lots of capacity for hardware upgrades (either internal or external), Windows IS the better choice for a novice who will be flying solo.

    Your Grandma’s Embedded Linux needs the following to work:

    Either completely standardized or at least tightly specified hardware. It should install with absolutely no user interaction required beyond starting the install. There should be no possible incompatibilities with included drivers. Any hardware to be added should be equally standardized…I’m thinking some kind of certification program.

    Software updates should be transparent and automatic, and never screw anything up.

    As many types of content as possible should be viewable right out of the box, and in perpetuity. Grandma should never have to wonder what a “codec” is. (Have you ever tried to explain what a codec is to someone who doesn’t even really understand what “digital” means?) They shouldn’t wonder why they need ActiveX or Java or Silverlight or whatever. Adobe, Oracle, and Microsoft are not really helping right now…unless HTML5 destroys everything else, this is an objective that won’t be fully met.

    There’s no reason a computer lab can’t run Ubuntu right now, though.

    This post was made from a netbook running Easy Peasy.

  39. #39 Greg Laden
    January 1, 2011

    Ian, regarding typing in the characters vs. clicking: I’m not talking about following the GUI with a logical sense of what is going on vs. figuring out the command line. I’m talking about someone sitting there recieving precise instructions over the phone from an expert. And I’m correct. If you get tech support from any of a number of sources in Windows, you’ll often be directed to open a command line and type precisely what you are told, even though there is a gui alternative. I’m not talking about expecting grandma to understand the file system. On that, I totally agree with you.

    .it isn’t just when things BREAK that things diverge, it’s when things CHANGE

    Actually I do mention that insofar as it has to do with initial setup. But no, Linux does not have more problems than windows in this regard! Not at all. That’s a myth.

    But for now, with most people wanting to access the Internet wanting to do it from a general-purpose machine with lots of capacity for hardware upgrades (either internal or external), Windows IS the better choice for a novice who will be flying solo.

    Why? There is simply not one iota of support for that.

    Software updates should be transparent and automatic, and never screw anything up.

    You need to try using a Linux system which post dates the last one you tried, which mush have been at least four years ago. My system updates all the software that needs updating, including the system, every week (or more often if I want) in a few minutes, flawlessly, and I’ve been doing this on between two and three systems continuously for the last five years with not one problem. NOT ONE PROBLEM, I SAY!!

    Meanwhile I have one Windows box and almost every single software update is an annoying experience, and one out of five or so beak something.

    As many types of content as possible should be viewable right out of the box, and in perpetuity. Grandma should never have to wonder what a “codec” is. (Have you ever tried to explain what a codec is to someone who doesn’t even really understand what “digital” means?) They shouldn’t wonder why they need ActiveX or Java or Silverlight or whatever. Adobe, Oracle, and Microsoft are not really helping right now…unless HTML5 destroys everything else, this is an objective that won’t be fully met.

    Exactly!

    I’ll have to look into that Easy Peasy thing. That’s a form of Linux, right?

  40. #40 GrayGaffer
    January 1, 2011

    Tulse@24: “all files are stored in a single directory that, perhaps, happens to be mirrored on dropbox for backup. “, “Its called an iPad”.

    Unfortunately not the iPad. I thought so too at first, but Apple chose to make every App do its own “file system”, and the iTunes App file system section is flat – it does not allow for exploring or partial sections inside app folders, you have to drag the entire system or not use folders at all. Because of this I have several copies of many of my files depending on how I chose to view them all but one of which are logically unnecessary but necessary because of this idiosyncrasy imposed by Apple.

    OTOH, my experience with neophytes is that they do not understand file systems. Nor do they understand being able to open a document on multiple Apps. Instead they seem to expect their work to be an attribute of the App in which they created it. For those people the iPad is just fine.

    To those who complain about the “getting the machine Granny-ready” being too hard for Granny, we’re talking about one of us doing that bit, Granny is never to be bothered by it, so the complaints are null and void.

  41. #41 ian
    January 2, 2011

    Easy Peasy is formerly Ubuntu Eee. Ubuntu for netbooks.

    The benefit of command lines for tech support is that you don’t need to have either everything memorized or the same program the user is using in front of you to help them…but you gain more problems in dictating what to type (bearing in mind that they may not have email access at this point). You can be more vague, and the user’s understanding can be more vague with the GUI. (At least with the typical nested text-based GUI…Microsoft’s “ribbons” are hell even if you’re standing over their shoulder.)

    And Linux driver support is still way behind Windows. To install my printer, IIRC, I had to fiddle with Alien, download things from a repository other than Ubuntu Software Center, and configure the driver via command line. My scanner isn’t supported at all at this time. (It’s new, maybe it will be eventually.) These aren’t obscure models from niche makes, either. I could do this stuff. My dad probably couldn’t. He is adventurous enough to buy new stuff for his computer. Because Windows is better supported with drivers, he’s pretty safe from hassle in doing that.

    Linux is better now in every respect than it has ever been and is a viable choice for any knowledgeable user. But the problems that prevented it being the right choice for an unskilled user in an uncontrolled environment are still there. Better, but still there, and not to be solved by just another distro.

    It’s probably moot anyway. By the time Linux is as easy or easier than Windows in all respects, Grandma will be in a walled garden environment, and it won’t matter what OS she’s using.

    Oh, and I’ve had updates repeatedly fail in Linux, causing them to keep popping up over and over again. May have been a connectivity issue to the repository, since they eventually did work. Really though, that was no worse than Windows forcing restarts.

    Until recently, I might have thought differently about this subject, but I’ve been volunteering with a lot of completely computer-illiterate, and in some cases barely-literate-at-all elderly people, and the only way I’d put desktop Linux in front of most of them is either if someone else was in control of it, or I was sure that they’d never want to add, upgrade, or change anything. (In which case, I’d rather put Linux in front of them)

  42. #42 Greg Laden
    January 2, 2011

    Gray: “Instead they seem to expect their work to be an attribute of the App in which they created it. ”

    That’s a good way of putting it.

    “”getting the machine Granny-ready” being too hard for Granny, we’re talking about one of us doing that bit, Granny is never to be bothered by it, so the complaints are null and void.”

    Exactly.

    Ian: “The benefit of command lines for tech support is that you don’t need to have either everything memorized or the same program the user is using in front of you to help them”

    Exactly. Especially when the gui (and this is both a Linux and Windows problem) changes in its hierarchical structure now and then.

    And Linux driver support is still way behind Windows. To install my printer, IIRC, I had to fiddle with Alien, download things from a repository other than Ubuntu Software Center, and configure the driver via command line. My scanner isn’t supported at all at this time.

    Yes and no. Linux actually supports more hardware than Linux, if you count it up. There are scanners that Linux does not support at all, true. Many Linux “drivers” are advertisement delivery systems. The most commonly used printers are HP and HP printing on Linux is problem-free. Entire versions of Windows have been produced that have thrown out everybody’s ability to use much of their hardware. Overall Microsoft has the explicit philosophy that they will occassinally develop past the average hardware and expect people to catch up by buying new hardware. It hardly matters if the driver works if the coputer doesn’t. (Apple has a similar philosophy) so there are entire computers that will run Linux nicely but not Windows. Remember the original point above about how machines that you buy with OEM systems are pre-engineered. That is the fair comparison. If you are “engineering” a system for Linux, do what what the OEM engineers for Windows to: Select a combination of hardware that the system supports.

    What scanner are you using? I’m going to get a scanner and I’m trying to engineer what will work!

    “Linux is better now in every respect than it has ever been and is a viable choice for any knowledgeable user. But the problems that prevented it being the right choice for an unskilled user in an uncontrolled environment are still there. Better, but still there, and not to be solved by just another distro. ”

    We basicically disagree. Linux is at this time as good as windows out of the back and paired with arbitrary hardware. Both have problems, both will let you down, but for different reasons. Again, you are comparing OEM windows from Best Buy with putting Linux on the computer that happens to be laying around.

    There is nothing easier about Windows. It is, in fact, harder than a simple working Ubuntu-Gnome installation and will do better on the same hardware in terms of resource use and speed. Linux is not at all second rate in this way at all.

    But, the point here is not really a new distro: It does not matter if you install a Windows box or a Linux box for grandma. Both will require your fiddling to make it work. But, you can fiddle the system to work better if it is a Linux system becaue Linux is adaptable, while Windows is an arrogant monster.

    Oh, and I’ve had updates repeatedly fail in Linux, causing them to keep popping up over and over again. May have been a connectivity issue to the repository, since they eventually did work. Really though, that was no worse than Windows forcing restarts.

    Are you seriously making the claim that Linux is as obnoxoius about updates as Windows? No. I call bullshit. What happened to you is that you have a connectivity problem that is not related to the system. Five or six years ago, I’d wager, when the desktops we see now were starting to take off and a lot of repositories were slow. Or you were using some obscure software which, again, is not af air comparison. You need to understand that everybody has problems with both systems and sometimes those problems are quirky and that is not data.

    My father in law had major problems upgrading a laptop in Windows. He finally ave up and got a new computer (a mac) and gave me the laptop. He have up on Windows because that was the last straw. I installed Linux on the laptop and it ran fine, until I discovered that there was a hardware problem on that HP. Object lesson: Blame the system for what it does wrong, not for what you do wrong (or the hardware or the internet).

    “the only way I’d put desktop Linux in front of most of them is either if someone else was in control of it, or I was sure that they’d never want to add, upgrade, or change anything. (In which case, I’d rather put Linux in front of them)”

    See the video linked to in comment 32. What you apparently don’t know is that Linux has always been a multiuser system designed to serve end users with limited permission to access the system, and a sys admin. Grandma is not the sysadmin.

  43. #43 Sven Türpe
    January 2, 2011

    Pointless discussion. People do not use operating systems, people use applications. Only nerds use operating systems. Oh, and then there’s cloud computing. The ultimate Grandma-ready system in 2011 is a web browser with an appropriate set of bookmarks. Whichever operting system may run underneath, it does not matter the least to Grandma. Everything she’ll ever want to do runs in a browser.

  44. #44 Greg Laden
    January 2, 2011

    Yes, Sven, I know the strategy. Imagine a future in which everything works just right, then wait for that future to come along. All the granma’s who used their first computer at the age of 75 will be long dead by then, and no one alive in the west will have NOT had use of a computer in High School or earlier. That strategy will in fact work.

    OK, I gotta go … my jetpack is all warmed up and ready.

  45. #45 J S
    January 2, 2011

    Two families and grandparents all running Linux. It’s not a big issue as it was six-ten years ago. Ubuntu’s 6-month pace of continuous improvement has surpassed Windows and is gaining/already there on OSX.

    When phones get connections for regular keyboards, mouse, monitors then those will be the platform of choice … and Linux is already there : )

  46. #46 jillian
    January 2, 2011

    I call BS. I am a smart person and I’ve been using Unix (mainly as an end-user) since college, and I still haven’t been able to maintain the Ubuntu systems my husband installed for me when he had terminal cancer. Use them, yes. Maintain them, no.

    Linux is not Ready For Prime Time until someone like me can, say, upgrade to the lastest Flash or Firefox without having to call in a favor from a friend. I’m willing to get in there and futz around, too, but after about an hour of that I’m ready to shoot myself in the head. Don’t get me wrong, I’m nowhere near interested in switching to Windows, but if I could afford a Mac that’s where I would be. The Linux guys are kidding themselves when they think a layperson can maintain his or her own machines.

  47. #47 Greg Laden
    January 2, 2011

    Jillian: “Linux is not Ready For Prime Time until someone like me can, say, upgrade to the lastest Flash or Firefox” But that’s not what I’m talking about (though I KNOW you can handle the Linux, if you just give yourself a chance).

    Granniebuntu is an Embedded System. You don’t fiddle with it any more than you fiddle with the Linux running a Kindle or a really fancy thermostat. Somebody else is doing that for you.

    Now get back in there and get tweaking, Jillian!

  48. #48 jillian
    January 2, 2011

    Part of the problem may be that I can only work on this stuff after my 3-year-old has gone to bed. My brain -may- not be at its peak performance at that time, but unfortunately that’s the only time I’ve got to work with.

    Grannie’s advantage is her grandchildren, who are willing to sysadmin for her. Perhaps what I need is Widowbuntu. Or a working Ouija board. Because what the Linux guys don’t realize is that (1) nothing maintenance-related ever works as it is supposed to; (2) there is no documentation that makes any sense to a relative layperson, and therefore (3) you just have to Know Things to get maintenance tasks done.

    Like when I download a package, and open it with the package installer GUI thing, and the default location to install to is my home directory, and I -know- that’s not right, but I don’t know the -right- place. I’m like, “ummmm, /usr/bin/local/ohmygodihavenoidea.” And my button to run the thing won’t work unless I put it in the right place, and I can’t remember how to look up my path, and there is no easy way to look that command up. And why does some stuff say Mozilla and some of it says Firefox, and are they 2 different things? Or 2 versions of the same thing? Because one readme says one thing and another says the other, and neither of them makes any sense anyway. This is about the time I start to feel dizzy and decide to go to bed.

    The guys who are in charge of developing this stuff just don’t realize that they haven’t done the work to make it easy to use. They actually think it is already easy to use.

  49. #49 Greg Laden
    January 2, 2011

    Jillian, one thing you should do is this: Only use the package manager (if you are using Ubuntu, that’s the snaptic package manager via the admin memu) to install software. Much of what you run into that are packages is available this way if you search for it. If it is not available on synaptic, pretend it doesn’t exist.

  50. #50 hdjvmhv
    January 3, 2011

    I distinctly remember hearing about this exact thing, incorporated into some HP computers. It was appliance something, you turn it on and there are a few icons, very fast boot and very snappy operation. Email, internet browser (presumably with only the most common plugins) word processor. And linux based I think. You must be able to find them somewhere.

    Btw I will not be commenting on your site again I think, after discovering you delete people’s comments because you dissagree with them, form one of your comments in which you mention deleting a palin apologist’s comment. Palin apologist or not.

  51. #51 Greg Laden
    January 3, 2011

    HDjvmhv, yes, please do go away if you like, but you’ve demonstrated (anonymously, as usual) your ignorance.

    This is not your blog, or anyone else’s. It is not a government installation or a public park. The comments area of a blog are not protected space, covered by some Internet version of the 1st amendment. Perhaps you don’t know, but on the blogopshere there are both individuals and organization that systematically put comments on blogs in order to get their point of view distributed, often with links back to some site that is equivalent to an ad. I’m not talking about individuals with a response to a post, but spammers. Not all spammers are companies selling penis enhancement. I am hit with political spammers every day and they are not allowed to use this site.

    The particular “sarah palin apologist” comment is, IIRC, an organiztion based in Madison Wisconsin that runs one or more political web sites that post only pseudonymous right wing apologist commentary (which is, of course their right) but also sends comments out to the Internet under a dozen different names, just to have their terminology, their links, their rhetoric be more common on Google hits. I get stuff form them every day. It’s my choice as to if I want that on my blog.

    If you really see the world in this way — that if someone starts a blog that they should be required to allow any comment to stand, no matter what — then you need to change your perspective. This morning I deleted comments (four caught in my spam filter, two not) that, if you clicked on the link on the person’s name, and were running Windows, you’d get a virus. Nice. Should I have posted or left in place those comments? They looked like perfectly normal comments.

    When I post something on global warming, I get the people who run the two major totally fake, paid for by the Republicans politically motivated “science-looking” sites placing dozens of link-backs to their sites in my comments They are using my site as a link farm to promote their own site. Do you really think I’m required to allow them do that? Exactly what do you think a blog is, and exactly what do you think I’m doing here?

    You can read my comment policy here: http://tinyurl.com/26esl3w It is reasonable, protects my readers and myself, and is pretty close to the comment policy of most bloggers.

    If I deleted comments of actual people on the basis of disagreeing with me, how do you explain all those comments on my site that diagree with me?

    OK, you may go now.

  52. #52 Roman
    January 4, 2011

    @Greg Laden

    “When it comes to ease of use, there is no difference between a computer with Windows and a computer with Linux, assuming both systems are installed properly. That there is a meaningful difference is a myth perpetuated by Windows fanboys or individuals who have outdated experience with Linux.”

    You’re lying. It’s 2010, you can’t be excused by naivete.

  53. #53 Greg Laden
    January 4, 2011

    Actually, Roman, it’s 2011 and I’m telling the truth.

  54. #54 Emile
    January 4, 2011

    Are U the same “Roman” who insists that LaTeX is the only universal way to make it “easy” to exchange documents? If so, you are disqualified to discuss ease of use.

  55. #55 Roman
    January 5, 2011

    @Emile

    Wut???

  56. #56 Robert Hobbes
    January 10, 2011

    OK, here are my thoughts on this. I have a laptop (Dell d830) that I use for web surfing, watching videos, downloading various programs to play with, and occasionally VPN/RDP into work. It has run WinXP Pro since I brought it home from work. I have contracted the random trojan/malware/spyware infection from time to time, but a little Malwarebytes scan and all better. Now, I got rootkitted the other day, and before I re-installed XP or moved to 7, I figured I should give Linux a go. I’m no noob to Linux. I installed my first LinBox in 1999 with RedHat and have run various distros since, including BSD, Gentoo, Mandrake/Mandriva, Fedora, Yellowdog, Ubuntu, Slackware, Suse…ect. Here are my thoughts on Linux as of today after installing the latest Mandriva and Ubuntu distros on my laptop this weekend.

    PRO’s
    1) Installation is about as easy as it gets for both of these systems
    2) All my hardware seemed to be supported
    3) Zero config for wireless. It just worked.
    4) No worries about infections
    5) Firefox was working out of the box
    6) Software installation on Ubuntu was easy. Point and Click
    7) Auto mounting USB worked and easy
    8) CD/DVD burning worked and easy
    9) Decent boot time

    CON’s
    1) VPN support was 50/50. Worked fairly easily for Mandriva. Took a second to see how to connect the VPN tunnel to my wireless adapter, but after that I was golden. Couldn’t get Ubuntu to connect at all. The Cisco VPN client in Windows is very very simple to use and seems to need less info to config than the vpnc or openvpn clients. Kvpnc crashed if I tried to run it with root priviledges and would run under normal priviledges, but would immediately close because I wasn’t root.

    2) Remote Desktop connection. Since VPN worked with Mandriva, I thought I was getting somewhere, but then I tried to use the preinstalled app for remote desktop/VNC type connections. Yeah, that didn’t work stating that I didn’t have rdesktop installed. Searched the net, found a suitable rpm package, tried to install, received an error about the package not having support for something. Tried to install the required dependencies, but that errored out as well. Decided to install from source, but there was no GCC compiler installed. Frustration. No Joy. I don’t know whether or not Ubunto RDP will work because I can’t get the VPN client to connect.

    3) Website page loading is delayed. After the page loads it works fine, but there is a 10 to 20 second delay in loading and it is annoying. Windows XP with Firefox loads pages very fast with no hesitation.

    4) 50/50 on program execution satisfaction. Mandriva is relatively quick at loading a program after clicking the executable, but Ubuntu has a significant lag in loading after executing. Very annoying.

    There has been a lot of forward motion in the Linux Home Desktop front lines. I was mostly very impressed with these distros. I remember when you had to work all night to get your audio drivers to work, or enable scsi emulation to get your burner or usb devices to work. These are turn key features now. Awesome. But, for those of us that have to work from home, our desktop computers have become part Home Desktop part Remote Office Workstation, and the apps that make that possible aren’t consistant. While Linux has progressed by leaps and bounds in many areas, I think they still have a few “ease of use” areas to address.

    Just my .02

  57. #57 Roman
    January 13, 2011

    @Robert Hobbes

    Most “Linux on the desktop” reviews read like yours: like a report from Special Olympics.

  58. #58 2 cents
    January 13, 2011

    there are entire computers that will run Linux nicely but not Windows
    i deal with cheaper (when new) pcs, so this doesn’t occur with XP. A cheap creative SC designed for vista/7 lacks hardware for xp (reminiscent of ‘winmodems’ on other oses?). Search for “fake x-fi”

    i’ve read that wifi cab be pickier with linux. but i get sense this is becoming less common.

    X seems to be linux’s weakest “link”. XP runs fine on old pcs (16mb agp), but ubuntu is a horrible slug. somedayyyyyyy i will try some “lighter’ distros, but I don’t see how just basic desktop or apps at normal resolution (17″) can run any faster.

    BeOS. haven’t tried enough, but brief tryout, it runs very well on win98 pcs. BeOS is outdated, particularly, IIRC, the browser is a bit too old for css (however old beos builds of opera and seamonkey may have css)

    Haiku-OS. Once release, should run better than linux on weaker pcs. However, this won’t be terribly valuable because weaker PCs are disappearing.

    Haven’t had much trouble with winupdates. ubuntu 9.04 ‘add/remove’ (gnome synaptic, afaik) works ok. IIRC, the system updater warns of conflict if app updater also running, implying both share underlying libraries etc.
    Disclaimer: decades using win-dos vs few 100s of hours on linux (mostly ubuntu 9.04) (and ~1year system7 macos)

    AFAIK, (and i’ve searched) linux lacks native privacy tools that windows has. Proxomitron is probably the only app functionally unique to windows. But Proxomitron has been good (gold? platinum?) on win app db for years.

    GrandMa/Pa apps:
    email
    media (and pdf) viewer/album/catalog/player
    browser
    mail/doc/bookmark/pwd mgr & backups
    voip

    Maybe:
    word processing
    finance manager
    speech recognition
    audio text reader
    nuclear weapons engineering program (whoops. maybe not)

    cloud privacy is inherently sketchy(?)

    cli vs gui for phone tech
    user may be confused by the prompt.
    i’ve one some over the shoulder “support”, and i think that traditional text-based pulldown menus are the best.

    my experience with neophytes is that they do not understand file systems
    yep. explorer vs web browser, vs acroread, vs word processor.
    webserver-based email, vs local email app

  59. #59 Enoch
    January 13, 2011

    i’ve read that wifi cab be pickier with linux. but i get sense this is becoming less common.

    Linux/*nix not only does a better job than any other type of system with all networking functions, but there is a good chance your wifi router actually relies on an internal embedded Linux, chosen for reliability.

    The problem is not wifi on Linux, the problem is that some dist’s don’t provide the automatic installation of the redly available perfectly functional wifi driver for some cards.

    It is easy to fix, but one should not have to. But it is not a limitation or problem with Linux.

    X seems to be linux’s weakest “link”. XP runs fine on old pcs (16mb agp), but ubuntu is a horrible slug. somedayyyyyyy i will try some “lighter’ distros, but I don’t see how just basic desktop or apps at normal resolution (17″) can run any faster.

    You have just conflated X, the Linux Kernel, a “desktop” and confused monitor size with resolution and the graphics subsystem with system memory.

    IIRC, the system updater warns of conflict if app updater also running, implying both share underlying libraries etc.

    Databases. They use the same databases.

    AFAIK, (and i’ve searched) linux lacks native privacy tools that windows has. Proxomitron is probably the only app functionally unique to windows. But Proxomitron has been good (gold? platinum?) on win app db for years.

    sudo apt-get install privoxy

    Maybe:
    word processing
    finance manager
    speech recognition
    audio text reader
    nuclear weapons engineering program (whoops. maybe not)

    word processing is almost identical to Windows using OO. Or, wine and Word for Windows (works better in Linux on wine than on some Windows boxes)

    Finance manager: you may be correct. There are Linux apps, I do not use them, have not opinion.

    I’ve heard Dragon Naturally Speaking works well in Linux. It is an IBM product.

    Adio books: Don’t know

    Nuclear Weapons research: The world’s largest supercomputer uses Linux. A UDDOD nuclear bomb modeler (and some climate research). LHC also uses Linux.

    cloud privacy is inherently sketchy(?)

    Is this a concern of linux or the cloud? What do you mean?

    my experience with neophytes is that they do not understand file systems
    yep. explorer vs web browser, vs acroread, vs word processor.

    Fix that, you can rule the world.

  60. #60 -
    January 13, 2011

    father-in-law had a Windows XP box, and it would never run longer than 3 months
    (default xp wasn’t very secure until sp2 in 2004, imo)
    Retail PCs may come with win ‘preinstalled’, but they really aren’t ready to go.
    i mean not ready for “grandma”, because no default install is ready for my use :-)
    MS has a ‘OOBE’ standard that results in “everything” running. so their biggest headache since the lax-security (naive internet) late 90’s is how to secure the pc, yet avoid much setup for whatever the diverse unknown users want to do. (digression: MS still handles legacy well)
    Then, most users should find better apps than the foistware. or just uninstall the apps they’ll never use.

    i’m not a linux user because i’ve ‘evolved’ with windows, and my productivity on linux would be very aggravating.
    but i’m casually researching installing a netbook distro as an alternative PC for a grandparent age person. what holds me back is that i’m not a nix user (reason given above), yet i would be support.

  61. #61 -
    January 13, 2011

    easy vs hard nix:
    i don’t think non desktop pcs should be on the qualitative curve. you wouldn’t put motorcycles on a curve with pickup trucks, right? or even closer, but imo needing separate curves: servers (pickups) separate from desktops (soccermom vans or crossover suvs)

    i very much agree with dual/multiboot adding unfair ‘defect’ to nix, in realworld “nix vs win” comparison. Grub2 upgrade borked my multiboot ‘test’ pc. Admittedly anecdotal ‘data’, but searches readily found forum posts with same symptoms.

  62. #62 -
    January 13, 2011

    OSX
    why is the myth that Mac OS X is as different from Linux as is Windows so prevalent?
    afaik, because few osx users go into cli.

    if you can afford it, get them a Mac.
    a factory refurb mini is likely cheapest with apple support.

    If they need primarily internet access get them an iPad
    i’m totally speculating that android touch tablets will be better choice… but …. they’ve already been written up at the usual fansites.
    afaik, the ipad is tied to proprietary net service (presumably ppl have jailbroken ipads to run on standard wifi, but that’s way out from granny ready)

  63. #63 Greg Laden
    January 13, 2011

    I absolutely wouldn’t put embedded systems, servers, and desktop systems in the same category (so they really don’t belong on the same curve), but I put them on the same “curve” anyway exactly because it normally isn’t done and thus an important point is missed: the average person who swears off Linux is like that guy in the christmas movie who tries to jump off the bridge. If you removed all Linux systems that the average person uses every day, it would be Potterville everywhere.

    The grandma readiness is, of course, a different point. Perhaps this could have been two posts?

  64. #64 -
    January 13, 2011

    maybe two (differently colored) curves in the same “coordinates”?
    I’m not really visualizing this, but this graphic is intended only to be a visual expression (yes?)
    anyway, it’s done already. :-)

    grandmaready seems the much larger topic.

    the ease vs hard curve seems only a statement. there’s not much reason to comment on the idea. i suppose if “somebody” added points (representing each distro) on the curve as if it were a real graph, then opinions would fly :-)

  65. #65 Rick O'Leary
    March 9, 2011

    As a Linux user, a Mac user and a Windows user, who was for many years a Mac Genius…

    This was a very good article and, and I expect to get nasty stuff for saying this: The Mac is very similar to Linux, especially behind the GUI, and it is nearly (but not quite) as easy to fix.

    And you don’t get Windows style viruses. (Same as Linux)

  66. #66 Greg Laden
    March 9, 2011

    Rick, I agree.

  67. #67 not telling
    April 25, 2011

    simple problem – linux doesn’t isntall properlyu with everyuthing needed out of the box i cant even play videos or use itunes or use my webcam without spending hours truing to find a fic!

  68. #68 Greg Laden
    April 25, 2011

    Linux is not for everybody. Linux users are just a little smarter and a little more focused and a little more serious than the users of other operating systems.

    But that’s OK. It’s OK to be a Windows user or a Mac user. Leave the more challenging and powerful system to us. You don’t really need it, and couldn’t really make use of it anyway.

  69. #69 Snel Geld Verdienen
    July 20, 2011

    Linux is a great platform for use on servers and if you are a little bit geeky for your desktop. The power of Linux is it’s flexibility but you can’t expect that all hardware is supported. I just love Linux on my rival media server environment but on my normal Desktop i can’t live without a normal windows installation.

    But i have to admit that with the coming of ubuntu it’s much more user friendly then ever! It’s just not that practical when you need to run a bunch of applications that are not supported without virtualization.