Saturday, November 11, 2006

Linux: The Silver Bullet of Operating Systems

I've been reading a lot of reviews of IE 7 lately, and many of them allow users to post responses. There seems to be a fairly common theme among those who don't like it: with zealous fervor, they tell you that you can solve all your problems by simply switching to Linux.
My god, people, wake up.
Are you honestly suggesting that the average home user switch to Linux or any Unix-based operating system (excluding OS X) simply because Internet Explorer doesn't meet your exacting standards? Get real.
First off, the average home user isn't going to have the technical skills to be able to use any of the xNix operating systems (again, excluding OS X). These operating systems tend to be complex, having been built up over 40 years and counting. Their vast feature set is daunting, even to advanced IT professionals. You cannot expect the average home user to turn in an operating system like Windows, which shields them from the complexities inherent in an operating system and expect them to switch gears without introducing a whole new set of problems. The frustration from learning a new operating system alone would likely drive them bonkers.
Second, you have to take application selection into consideration. Are your favorite applications even available in that operating system? Can you get Microsoft Office for it? PageMaker? Adobe Acrobat? Decent video or music editing software? And of the software that is available for it, can the average home user go to Best Buy, Circuit City, or CompUSA and purchase it in a nice shrink-wrapped box (complete with documentation, mind you), or does he or she have to go to some obscure website that he or she may or may not trust and download it (possibly with a complimentary virus)? And if they download it, will it work and can they get product support for it?
Third, how about device support? Can I plug all of my peripherals in it and have them just work? Or will I have to go on a mad search for device drivers again, like I had to back in the days before Windows XP? Sure, if I'm an IT professional, that's a snap. But if I'm the Average Home User (TM), that's more than I'm usually able to deal with. It's probably going to tick me off royally, and I'm going to wonder why in the heck I bothered with this operating system in the first place. I'll be wondering, "Where's my plug-n-play support?"
Fourth, how good is the font support? Does it support true WYSIWYG? Or does the type look completely different between the screen and the printer? The same could be asked of the colors. That's going to be really important for the average home user who's working with videos and photos, printing calendars, Christmas cards, and invitations, you know.
Fifth, if I need to do my office work on it, will I be able to do so? If so, how difficult will it be to do so? Will I have to be a rocket scientist? And if it breaks, who do I call? I mean, if I was able to call my brother or my kid before, because he was a Windows guru at his company, will he still be able to do that? I switch operating systems, and now no one knows anything about it. I'm now an island in the middle of a Windows ocean. I've effectively isolated myself from everyone. How long do I have to wait before I can get meaningful support in an emergency?

Now. Ask yourself a really serious question and think hard before you spit out a really ludicrous answer. Are you really going to tell someone to risk losing all that support just because the browser isn't that cool, or because there are a few security loopholes?

Sure, we live in a Microsoft world. Are all their products perfect? Heck no. I work with Microsoft products every day, and I can testify to the fact that they aren't. I also own a Mac computer at home, and I happen to be a big fan of OS X. I've also had the occasion to use Linux. Each of them has their pros and cons. But I'm here to tell you that there is no silver bullet. Statements like those being made in these IE 7 reviews are asinine, short-sighted, and utterly ridiculous. Linux is not the solution to everyone's problems because it isn't the ideal operating system for the average home user.

Average home users need an operating system that's easy to use, has a large selection of over-the-counter applications, is secure but not intrusive, supports all of their peripherals, and has great product support. In my opinion, the one that comes closest to that is Mac OS X. However, it's pricey nature makes it cost-prohibitive for the average home user; and that's one of the reasons we live in a Microsoft-dominated world.

Sure, Linux is cheap. But the over-the-counter application support just isn't there, and the GUIs, in my opinion, still look like their in their infancy. And they're still targeted at tech-heads. When all the Linux variants start targeting the average home user, and the over-the-counter application support gets there, and they get really good device driver support, things might change. But there's no way on earth I'd ever recommend it to my family or any of my non-technical friends. They'd go out of their minds trying to figure it out.

So, in the end, I'll continue to read these kinds of posts from Linux advocates and shake my head. In my personal opinion, statements like these demonstrate a complete lack of comprehension when it comes to the average home user's computing needs.

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