Best of ECT News


Have Courage, Linux Noobs

This story was originally published on Jan. 21, 2010, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.

To know Linux is to love Linux, aficionados would surely agree, but does one *have* to know Linux just to be able to use it at all?

That’s the question that was posed in a post over at Computerworld recently, and it’s made quite a splash in the blogosphere.

“Lately, I’ve been noticing stories about how to use Linux you need to know half-a-hundred Linux shell commands and the like,” began Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, author of the post.

“Ah, what century are you from? Today, if you can see a window and handle a mouse, you’re ready to use Linux,” he asserted.

Bloggers swarmed the topic like so many mice after a hunk of cheese.

“Very well said,” wrote one anonymous reader in the Computerworld comments, which by Wednesday had reached 18 pages. “With 2009/2010 Linux distributions it is entirely possible, depending on how you use your system, to never visit the command line for as long as you use the system.”

On the other hand: “Sure, you probably don’t need to know anything special to USE it,” countered ms. “But to set it up, in my experience, there’s always some dumb f—ing thing that prevents a smooth experience.”

Blah, Blah, Blah

Then again: “This is all pointless blather,” chimed in TNOT. “I just read 13 pages of arguments about why or why you don’t need to know Linux to run Linux.

“Linux can be run without the Command Line and knowing Linux very well. Yes, it can be done,” TNOT added. “However, that doesn’t mean Linux is a truly useful OS on the desktop. To make it useful requires appropriate user software.”

To those comments the gang on Digg added 300-plus more, making it crystal clear to Linux Girl that the topic demanded a closer look.

“Of course, you don’t need to ‘know’ Linux to use it,” blogger and educator Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider. “It’s a graphical user interface. You point, click and gawk.”

Using Linux is “almost natural, but you still need to poke around to be really fluent — just as in any OS with a lot of features,” Pogson added.

“I have exposed Grade 1 kids to GNU /Linux GNOME desktops, and after they learned to click a mouse they were off to the races,” he recounted. “They were the only humans able to max out that terminal server.”

No Kung-Fu Training Required

Linux requires no more knowledge than any other operating system does, blogger Martin Espinoza agreed.

“If you have a problem with OSX you can find yourself needing single user mode to fix it,” Espinoza told LinuxInsider. “When I last did this, it was NOT at all a straightforward process, requiring the user to manually start daemons to change a password — I do hear it’s better, now.”

Similarly, “if you have a significant problem with Windows you’ll need to know all kinds of Kung-Fu to get it solved without a reinstall,” he added.

“Linux does not differ at all in this way, but it is substantially less likely than either to develop a spurious problem,” Espinoza concluded.

On the other hand: “You don’t need to know Linux to use Linux? BWA HA HA HA HA HA HA!” countered Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. “Thanks for the laugh, that was a good one. Should have known it was that Linux troll Nichols — that boy has drunk the koolaid too often.”

If a computer is used simply as an Internet kiosk, “sure, Linux is fine,” hairyfeet told LinuxInsider. “But I have always had at least one ‘gotcha,’ be it sound, wireless (really bad) networking, something. And that gotcha is gonna cost you several hours to several days trawling forums and putting in miles of CLI crud in vain attempts to get it to work before finally tripping over the correct ‘fix.'”

Users First!

What’s needed is “an easy way for customers to tell *in the store* — not two days later, after trawling forums — if that device in Staples works or not,” hairyfeet asserted. “We need certified lists of hardware, from the latest motherboards to WiFi cards, that are guaranteed to ‘just work’ and, more importantly, will continue to work even after updates.

“We also need solid, easy-to-use GUIs so users can do basic tasks without CLI,” he added.

In short, “Linux is by geeks, for geeks and built by geeks,” he concluded. For that to change, “it will take a ‘users first’ attitude that Linux simply doesn’t have.”

That, however, may be changing, Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

“Back when I started using Linux, you had to have a good command of bash and the ability to write scripts, as well as hand-configure the GUI with the monitor timing codes,” he explained. “These days, the installer does it all for you, and for most home users you never actually need to touch a shell prompt, since everything has a wizard to configure it.”

In addition, “the nice thing is that if you really want to learn your machine deeply, you can use Linux From Scratch,” he added.

Skip the Black Turtleneck

“On the whole, you don’t have to know Linux to use Linux,” said Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“I would just add that it’s no different than going to a country where they drive on the other side of the road — it’s not harder, just ‘different,'” she told LinuxInsider.

Switching to Linux is no harder than switching to OS X, for example — “just without the black turtlenecks and the cool ‘I’m a Mac, I’m a PC’ commercials,” she said.

“If you’ve ever seen someone who’s never used a mouse before … they drag the mouse around and see the pointer move on the screen,” Hudson added. “When they get to the edge of the mouse pad, they say, ‘I can’t go any further!’

In short, she concluded, “anything new and different can be confusing.”

Indeed, it’s not a matter of knowledge per se, Linux Girl would suggest. It does, however, take an open mind, an enterprising spirit and a certain level of confidence. Fear the technology, and Redmond will show you the way; make it your own, and make Linux a way of life!

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