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Linux Guy and Windows Guy Walk a Mile in Each Other's Shoes

Linux Guy and Windows Guy Walk a Mile in Each Other's Shoes

What would happen if a Linux user switched to Windows? How about if a Windows enthusiast tried Linux? The results were surprising to both, and they illustrate just what needs to happen in order for Linux to finally break into the mainstream PC market.

By Katherine Noyes
01/12/09 4:00 AM PT

There's nothing like the dawn of a new year to give a person a fresh perspective, and that's probably never been more true than it is now, as we begin this year of monumental change.

So it's not surprising that the conversations on the Linux blogs over this past week seemed to be taking place on a somewhat higher plane than usual, and to touch upon questions from more of a bird's eye view.

On the Linux Loop, for example, Thomas Teisberg presented some of the highlights of the Linux dreams for 2009 that readers had submitted over the past few weeks -- both the popular ones (more games and better hardware support, for instance) and the particularly interesting ones (dual-boot PCs straight out of the box was one).

Never underestimate the power of dreams -- particularly as Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches!

Biggest Moves for Linux in 2008

Over on LXer, meanwhile, bloggers debated what were the biggest moves and non-moves for FOSS in 2008.

The fact that more mainstream computer sellers shipped Linux, for example, was one big move named by number6x -- "either that or Linux on smartphones."

"I think those guys pretty much hit it on the head," Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider. "I'd have to say that the netbook surge was probably the biggest move for Linux, followed behind with the press about and release of Android," he said.

'That Nails the Coffin Shut'

"That's a tough one, because there were so many watershed events," blogger Robert Pogson began.

"From the viewpoint of adoption, I believe the move by many OEMs to support/use/distribute GNU/Linux will build user-base/exposure to GNU/Linux assuring vibrancy for the foreseeable future," Pogson told LinuxInsider.

Close upon that, however, "is the admission by M$ that Vista does not deliver," he added. "That nails the coffin shut on the monopoly."

Indeed, "I think the biggest moves towards free software this year had more to do with external forces such as the flop that is Vista being forced on the masses of unwilling victims that are Microsoft's customers and the continued downward trend in notebook prices that have caused netbooks to happen," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

'All Eyes on Vietnam'

Then, of course, there was the news that Vietnam is requiring all government computers to move to Linux, which attracted significant attention on blogs including Digg (with more than 700 Diggs and 150 comments), Slashdot (with close to 400 comments) and Pogson's own, among others.

"That's kind of cool," Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. "Maybe that government gets it. Or maybe it's simply a move to save money. Or, as we've seen previously, it's just a veiled plea for yet another sweetheart deal from Microsoft: 'Give us a break, or we'll go to Linux...'"

Microsoft not only "usually capitulates" in such cases, yagu noted, "they turn it into a great PR coup for themselves.

"What I'd rather see in the news is a story about a government that has gone strictly Open Source and been successful for some time, say, at least 2 or 3 years," yagu added. "All eyes on Vietnam in the meantime."

'I See No Good In This'

On the other hand: "The reason I love Linux is that it's an alternative, a choice," Dean said. "Linux is the essence of my philosophy, turned into code. It's all about choice, about benefit to self without bringing harm to others."

While it's good to see more and more people make that choice, "I'm greatly saddened that Linux is being forced upon people in such a manner," Dean explained. "You can't force people to be free, so I see no good in this at all. Of course, I'd feel the same if it were Windows. It's the force, not the OS, that takes center stage on this issue to me."

Strangers in Strange Lands

Finally, it was with much interest that we discovered an interesting juxtaposition on the blogs last week in which the OS *did* take center stage -- front and center. Specifically, on two separate blogs, we heard the tales of one Linux guy who spent a week using Windows, and one Windows guy who spent a week on Linux.

The Linux guy trying out Windows was none other than Dean, who asked, "Can a Linux man survive in Windows land?"

From there, Dean chronicles his adventures in "The Windows Seat," including looks at BIOS, "Virtualization and Bitness," Shutdown and Interfaces.

'Penguins and Crazy Beards'

Visiting Linux land for the first time, meanwhile, was zMogo's AshPringle, who spent his week on Ubuntu as part of a New Year's Resolution.

"Step one is to research what Linux has to offer nowadays," AshPringle began in his Day One report. "I know absolutely nothing about it, other than the fact that it is associated with penguins and guys with crazy beards, and that I remember it having all the subtlety and ease of use of a sledgehammer to the patience-center of your brain."

Could one ask for a more perfect comparison? We couldn't suppress our glee, and so took to the streets to explore what conclusions might be drawn.

Different Expectations

"The first thing that really jumped out to me starts at the beginning for him," said Dean, who hadn't seen AshPringle's series. "Specifically, he mentioned 'a moment of apprehension' as he feared he selected the wrong drive.

"When I did my review, I didn't even address the installer since I felt it was unremarkable," Dean explained. "But I suppose that highlights a point. As a Linux user, I fully expect to install my operating system myself. Even though I have three drives in my home system, I know by partitioning scheme which is which in both C:\ jargon, /dev/mapper jargon AND GRUBs (0,0,0,) disklabels. It's almost instinctual, actually."

The fact that Linux came pre-installed on several devices was perhaps a "much bigger deal than I gave credit to," Dean now says.

'The Community Came Through'

"The second thing I point out is that while Ubuntu's install actually failed for him, the community support came though," Dean added. "I think the community of users and wealth of tutorials and documentation is a strong plus for Linux in general."

Finally, "he seemed to find Linux enjoyable only after obtaining a computer that worked well with Linux," Dean noted. "I always build my own PCs from parts, so I always know what's in them. But since I'm also a Linux user, I tend to build with parts that I expect will work with Linux."

Dean's conclusion after his week on Windows? "The biggest thing I saw wasn't about Linux or Windows, but myself and how I compute. Dramatics shifts from that home base tend to make things falter, but there can be some very pleasant surprises there. :)"

Back to Competition

Others also found lessons to be learned in the comparison. "It seems to me that Linux users can adapt and exist in a Windows world (I'm one of them!)," yagu said. "It's also clear the opposite is true -- a Windows user can live happily using Linux (I'm one of them, too!)."

The missing piece, however, is competition, yagu added.

"Unless and until some perfect storm of the marketplace repositions Linux prominently, Linux has to work harder and be better, far better, to even compete for consideration," he explained. "Maybe the new administration will have some appetite for more and better scrutiny of Microsoft's continued battering of the computing market."


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