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Hardy Heron Making Linux Ready for the Masses? 1100

desmondhaynes writes "Is Linux ready for the masses? Is Linux really being targeted towards the 'casual computer user'? Computerworld thinks we're getting there, talking of Linux 'going mainstream 'with Ubuntu. 'If there is a single complaint that is laid at the feet of Linux time and time again, it's that the operating system is too complicated and arcane for casual computer users to tolerate. You can't ask newbies to install device drivers or recompile the kernel, naysayers argue. Of course, many of those criticisms date back to the bad old days, but Ubuntu, the user-friendly distribution sponsored by Mark Shuttleworth's Canonical Ltd., has made a mission out of dispelling such complaints entirely.'"
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Hardy Heron Making Linux Ready for the Masses?

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  • Possibly (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FoolsGold ( 1139759 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:01PM (#23096256)
    I would say it's quite possible, but until Ubuntu got something like widespread availability as a pre-installed on computers for purchase, then it won't matter how ready it is because few people in the masses will have any experience.

    Right now, with a few exceptions, it's the geeks advertising it to others. There's not enough of us really to make an impact (and not all of us are evangelists). Ubuntu or an equally-suitable disto NEEDS to be pre-installed on a larger number of machines than we currently have. Simple.
  • by javilon ( 99157 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:02PM (#23096262) Homepage
    Also regular linux users that do not have time for tinkering.

    I run a Gentoo workstation for work, where I set up things exactly the way I want them, but this is quite time consuming.

    I also have a "media center" type box with ubuntu that the family uses to get and display multimedia content. This box is almost maintenance free, no virus, no problems. A Windows machine would have given me a lot more work and it would have turned me into a pirate :-)
  • take some risks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by prockcore ( 543967 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:04PM (#23096306)
    I think that in order for linux to be really ready, someone has to suck it up, and include mp3 and dvd playing out of the box.

    Stop playing it safe and force Fraunhofer's hand. Make them come out as bad guys and demand you remove mp3 support.

    I understand there are scary legal reasons for not having mp3/dvd support.. but as a user, I don't care what they are.
  • My Dad uses it. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:09PM (#23096386)
    Granted, he's a retired rocket scientist, but he's nigh on 80 years old.

    He's been on the previous release of Ubuntu LTS for years now and he hasn't a clue how the machine works, which is exactly how he likes it.

    All I had to do was hook up his FIOS and tell him to always accept the patches when the OS asked him for permission to install them.
  • Re:Yes, and yes. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Gat0r30y ( 957941 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:12PM (#23096414) Homepage Journal

    Convincing the masses to actually install it, now, that's the trick.
    No, its getting OEM's to install it that's the trick. Once dell asks you to pay an extra $50 for Vista instead of Hardy, we will start to see Ubuntu pick up some momentum. When there is a price difference, AND an alternative for the consumer when they purchase, the choice is in their hands. Until then, 90% of consumers are just going to work with whats already on their computer.
  • Re:Yes, and yes. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:12PM (#23096418) Homepage
    Being "locked out" by "doing the way it's always been done".

    That's certainly "very interesting".

    It's not as if Linux hasn't had to play nice with other OSen since before 1994.
  • It Depends (Score:5, Interesting)

    by menace3society ( 768451 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:15PM (#23096476)
    It depends on which masses you refer to. Linux covers about 90% of the Windows world, and it's definitely the most importnat 90%. People can and do switch desktops to Linux. Maybe not as often as you'd like, but they do it.

    The problem is that the other 10% is crap like Clippy and Activex that no one on Linux wants to have or implement, but makes a certain number of computer users more comfortable. Windows does so much hand-holding by default, and that's one of the things Linux users hate about it. But it's necessary for a number of people who can never remember the difference between business and friendly letters or for people who are to afraid to even click Settings... let alone dick around with it a bit.

    It doesn't help that Linux is mostly marketed by the community as being "Almost-Windows" or "Free Windows", instead of as a product that stands on its own.

    People have said as a joke that OpenOffice.org or similar programs will take over once they have their own clippy, but may a true word is said in jest.
  • Re:Commercial Gaming (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CowboyNealOption ( 1262194 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:25PM (#23096598) Journal
    The interesting thing about this is that as console gaming continues to grow (presumably some of it due to slurping away people from the desktop gaming market) this inadvertently helps linux. I wonder if we will reach a tipping point where developing for the various consoles is more profitable than developing for desktop PCs?
  • by Dracos ( 107777 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:33PM (#23096706)

    The masses will accept nearly anything put in front of them which is intuitive enough, and familiar enough, for them to comprehend. Eventually, Linux will take over. When it takes over is up to the hardware manufacturers.

    This has two components. When the OEMs gather up enough courage to escape Microsoft's shackles, and when the device makers decide that developing open drivers is worth their time, Linux will flourish. Until then, every year will continue to be the "year of the Linux desktop". How many of these are we up to, 12?

    The two main culprits right now are Dell and Nvidia. Dell needs to release the sales numbers of their Linux desktop systems, and Nvidia needs to abandon their binary-only driver approach.

  • Xorg (Score:2, Interesting)

    by copponex ( 13876 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:37PM (#23096766) Homepage
    I'm speaking mostly of the inevitable endgame for most power users - when Xorg refuses to launch, most users are completely stuck.

    Windowing environments are a requirement for 99% of all computer users, and until someone gets Xorg or another windowing environment to operate -- correctly! -- and 100% of the time in failsafe mode, Linux will never be acceptable to the average user.
  • Re:Yes, and yes. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:39PM (#23096794) Homepage
    Now, now. He did admit to being a dick. This is significant emotional progress, and the road to recovery may be coming at long last to an end.

    But yeah, it was years ago, and I think years ago there was a bug in the installer that he happened to trip on. It's been fixed since.
  • by bigstrat2003 ( 1058574 ) * on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:40PM (#23096822)
    That's just a lack of realism on Linus' part, then. Anyone who's worked more than a few months in IT can tell you that not only are users stupid, they tend to be complete idiots. People REALLY DO need that much hand-holding, and while I don't like it, I can at least accept it.
  • Re:Yes, and yes. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:45PM (#23096874) Journal
    How the fuck do you actually brick a PC by installing an operating system? Maybe if the OS is evil and directly fucks with the flash memory on your BIOS (which Grub does not do). I would suspect that something else went wrong, and you're dealing with proximity in time (and yes, I've had that happen to, having a hard drive crash just as I was rebooting after installing a service pack in Win2k, and spending an hour thinking the installation had fucked up).
  • by rantingkitten ( 938138 ) <kitten&mirrorshades,org> on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:50PM (#23096984) Homepage
    Now hold on a second. Would your friend have been able to get wireless working in Windows if the driver didn't automatically install? It frequently doesn't, you know? I can't count the number of times I've done a clean XP install, and had it fail to install sound drivers, video drivers, ethernet controller drivers, or wireless drivers. (But it does helpfully offer to look on the internet for such drivers. How it plans to do this with no connectivity is anyone's guess.)

    Every time this happens -- which is often enough to be annoying -- I have to go hunt down individual drivers from individual manufacturer's websites, since half of them seem to need to be propietary to work at all (the generic Broadcom driver for a Dell laptop, for example, would not install, but the one from Dell's site did). Then I have to burn them to CD, take them to the afflicted machine, and load them that way.

    Ironically I usually end up doing this from my Ubuntu laptop, where everything -- absolutely everything -- worked out of the box. Even on Broadcom chipsets, the only thing I've ever had trouble with in the past when it came to Linux, Ubuntu just threw a message box that said something like "Check this box to enable the restricted wireless driver," and presto.

    My point, I guess, is that I've never understood why people criticize Linux because Your Mom wouldn't know what to do if something goes awry. While true, it isn't like Your Mom knows what to do when things go awry with Windows either, so what's the difference?
  • Re:No, and No (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:52PM (#23097008) Homepage
    Quite frankly, I don't want to use the same operating system as someone who refuses to edit any configuration file.

    Marketing Linux to the average desktop is a bad idea. Leave Linux to the power users and the server market.

    Just because I'm not afraid of editing a config file doesn't mean I want to. I like that in a modern Ubuntu distro I can get everything working with a minimal amount of fuss, and don't like the parts that don't work automagically so I have to go mucking about with config files.

    You know what the best part about it is, though? The "it works automagically don't worry" part and the "oops didn't work but don't worry you can fix it with text-editor-fu" part live in perfect harmony. Linux is getting better in the usability department, without sacrificing its "power user" roots. I can't see anything to complain about.

    If you want to be an elitist about it, go use Slackware, or any *BSD. You can still consider yourself superior to the poor slobs whose Linux distros don't require config file editing, for whatever that's worth.

    Oh, and I may be a power user, but I'm also a gamer, and I want games that run natively on Linux. Besides a tiny subset of games, that's not happening until Linux is the average desktop.
  • Re:I agree (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kramulous ( 977841 ) * on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:08PM (#23097264)
    I'm a linux newbie and managed to get my 30" and 23" working just fine within 15 minutes ... and that included the time to install the nvidia drivers. Try going through ubuntu forums, find a howto guide, print it out and follow step by step. Couldn't be simpler. Enabling stereo was a total time of 1 minute from knowing nothing to getting it working.
  • Re:No, and No (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fimbulvetr ( 598306 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:08PM (#23097270)
    Before you take on the elitist attitude, you may notice that I put "plists" in the original text. I've seen these corrupt hundreds of times, with the leading cause being the same as many other problems - improper shutdowns.
    In addition, this can happen in a variety of other situations, and a quick perusal of apple's docs confirms as much. Indeed, a search for "terminal" also reveals many cases where one has to drop to a shell in OSX.

    While we're on the subject, I should also note that second only to windows, Apple updates are capable of breaking things in wildly spectacular ways - moreso than I've ever experienced with ubuntu.
  • by rantingkitten ( 938138 ) <kitten&mirrorshades,org> on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:32PM (#23097590) Homepage
    Vista is better about drivers, yes, but in my experience it's still behind Ubuntu. Especially when, god forbid, your driver isn't Digitally Signed and Certified by Microsoft, at which point Vista just refuses to install it. But out of the box, yeah, it handles most of my hardware pretty well. Not as well as Ubuntu has, though.

    As for your other point, yes, a computer to the average person is a box with useful programs. In that light, what do you get on a fresh Windows install? Practically nothing -- a crippled, hideous audio/video player (WMP), a crippled word processor (WordPad), and a browser that, while it is making progress, is still pretty much a gaping security hole.

    That's pretty much it. Anything else you want, you're going to have to seek out, buy, find shareware, or pirate, and install it yourself, sifting through dozens of .exe installers or CDs and whatever else. Those programs you've been using since the early days of XP suddenly won't install in Vista, or won't work because they're written for 32 bit and you've got 64 bit, or some other crap.

    Ubuntu comes with practically everything the average user would ever care about. Email, browser, Office suite, IM and IRC client, music player, video player, CD burner... it has it all, out of the box.

    If you want something else, click the Package Manager and help yourself to any or all of thousands of programs. For free. Click on them and then sit back and let them magically appear in your menu -- without, I should add, leaving fifty thousand worthless icons and helpers and startup bullshit all over the place. All tailored to your exact OS version -- no guesswork.

    Honestly, I would feel more comfortable giving my own mother an Ubuntu CD than an XP or Vista CD at this point. I expect I'd have to field a few calls from her, but I have to do that with Windows anyway, and I can also guarantee that I wouldn't have to go clean trojans and viruses off her machine every month either.
  • Re:Xorg (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:34PM (#23097612)
    Ubuntu 8.04 does supposedly have a failsafe mode. Frankly, when I tried it with an earlier alpha release, it did not work usually.. it was trying to use VESA support instead of plain-jane VGA. Something Ubuntu SHOULD do, it's not friendly but it'd work, is try the failsafe, and if it fails, make sure there's something on the (text) screen that says "If you're reading this, try running sudo dpkg reconfigure xorg-server". That regenerates the xorg.conf, and has fixed every instance I've had of switching a hard disk into a system with different video and having xorg blow on me. Not elegant, but it'd work.

  • Not ready (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DraconPern ( 521756 ) <draconpern AT hotmail DOT com> on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:34PM (#23097620) Homepage
    I can't use dual screen on my laptop with it. Why can't both screen have different resolutions? OS X can. XP can. Vista can. Ubuntu can't.
  • Re:Yes, and yes. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chandon Seldon ( 43083 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:46PM (#23097794) Homepage

    Get back to me when you do that without broadband. My grandparents use dial-up since it's their only option.

    Lots of software comes on the Ubuntu DVD and can be installed without broadband - including enough single player card games to provide for any grandparents. Hell, if you're willing to leave the computer up overnight you can even install large software packages from the repository over dialup - I've done it myself. But dial-up is really obsolete technology at this point. Even Windows just assumes that users can download tens or hundreds of megs of updates every couple weeks.

  • Re:No, and No (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shulai ( 34423 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @08:01PM (#23097958) Homepage
    Since I'm trying to put myself in a more regular user position (partly to eventually move in-laws when their XP installation get broken), I got my own list of things that need work in order to be really competitive:

    Configuration: Yes, usually autodetection and GUI config work. Sometimes doesn't. The worst part is the case of X. Some Distros like Ubuntu trash X.org autodetection in order to use their own, inferior solution (then Debian doesn't include xorgcfg). That's stupid. Enhance the GUI, but keep the working functionality! There are no excuses for misconfigured monitor these days!

    Software installation: Again apt/yum/etc is great, but still imperfect. Distros make me feel like different houses with different power outlets each. Yes, all use the same voltage, but I need to get the appliances from the house builder, or mess getting original plug-less appliance and attach it a plug myself. The case is, there is no distribution including all the software all the people will ever use, and downloading and compiling tarballs (sometimes including tricky "./configure" parameters and/or iterating over several dependencies) is of course out of the question. I think the community should embrace things like ZeroInstall (or Autopackage), and either becoming the standard for packaging and installing anything besides the base system, and developers providing those packages instead of just source and waiting for some packagers picking it and integrating it into distros' repos.

    Translations. AFAIK, just the development version of libapt is getting i18n support, that tells a lot about how important the end user is, and there are a lot out there that doesn't understand English. And I won't start talking about lack of quality of translations in general.
  • by mweather ( 1089505 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @08:03PM (#23097972)
    There's a porn browser in the repo: pornview
  • Re:No, and No (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dfn_deux ( 535506 ) <datsun510@NospAm.gmail.com> on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @08:42PM (#23098340) Homepage
    Configuring a ten button mouse is a seriously edge case scenario. If you are using these sort of issue to differentiate what a "mainstream OS" is and isn't then you are shooting way over the target. By definition a mainstream OS is one that hits solidly in the middle of the user base's needs. To that end you'll find that out of the box Ubuntu support for 98% of pointing devices is not only there and quite capable, but actually exceeds what is offered out of the box on windows. For instance touchpad devices are automatically detected and are configurable for both horiz/vert scroll edge actions, dwell events, and tap clicks. All 3 of these features on windows require 3rd party software even though those features are clearly within the 98% of mainstream users wants/needs/expectations. Furthermore if one were to click on the add/remove program item in the application menu and type touchpad into the search box you would find that you can easily, with a single click, add reconfigurability for many other types of touchpad events; while on windows not only would you not have a simple "add/remove program" interface but you'd also not have any easy indicator as to where you'd go to find the appropriate software to configure these features. Don't believe me? type "touchpad software" into google and let your Grandma choose between the 2.3 million results that you get; or heck ask her what a "synaptics touchpad" is.
  • by sgtrock ( 191182 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @08:44PM (#23098360)
    (Raises hand)

    Umm,no, that's not actually true. I haven't had a commercial off the shelf copy of Windows XP supply all of the drivers for any PC that I built in I don't know how long.

    You see, the latest release of Windows XP that you can buy off the shelf is SP2. That most certainly does _not_ come with all the drivers you need for a new system. At most you'll get some generic drivers from peripheral manufacturers that will be several years out of date.

    Nope, to get current drivers for a modern machine, you have to have the OEM's release of XP for that machine. At which point, you're not really loading generic COTS XP, are you?

    By contrast, a Ubuntu LiveCD (or a LiveCD from just about any major Linux distro) is FAR more likely to have the drivers available for your hardware. And if it doesn't, it's a quick automated check of the repositories to find them. This works for everything except wireless from the two major vendors and even that works about 70% of the time. When you are talking about installing OSes, let's make sure we're comparing apples to apples, mmmk?

    Besides, the truth is that we geeks tend to obsess far too much about the install process. 99.999% of the world never does an OS install. That's not the dealbreaker as far as Joe Sixpack is concerned. The real issue is, when Joe buys a Linux box, is he confused, or can he get things done with it? The eee answers that question rather handily, don't you think? :)
  • Re:Yes, and yes. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wicka ( 985217 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:31AM (#23100234)
    I think you've convinced yourself it's ready for the masses. It's not. Don't try to pretend it is. Is it being targeted towards the casual user? Absolutely. But it's hard to actually make it usable for casual users when people like you think that goal has already been reached.
  • It doesn't matter. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Icarium ( 1109647 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:11AM (#23100834)
    It doesn't matter how 'ready for the masses' any product is if it's not being marketed to the masses.

    Linux is and will remain an enthusiast/power user OS until someone, somewhere makes an active effort to market it to the masses (and no, word of mouth simply isn't going to cut it). The only active marketing I've ever seen is at a server level to businesses.

    Or do we expect the masses to automagically know about linux?
  • Re:No, not really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LingNoi ( 1066278 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @05:12AM (#23101642)
    and how did....

    Linux can't run games
    Turn into..

    And how many of them have, say, made it into the top 100 selling games of any year?
    and why does this matter? A game is fun however popular it is, minus MMOs. Your the problem, not an operating system.

    Your problem is that it will never be good enough for you because you just keep coming back with more and more ridiculous complaints.

    You won't be satisfied even if it cures cancer and gives you a blowjob at the same time. You fail.
  • by LingNoi ( 1066278 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @06:20AM (#23101892)
    Then you're out of touch with the gaming market because most games are on consoles such as the 360 and Wii. I'm talking 90% of the gaming market.
  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:25PM (#23106460)

    Oh man, not these tired old arguments again. I have mod points and I was going mod this down, but I'm in a charitable mood and feel like feeding some trolls today.

    I'm a desktop Linux user, but man, some of your arguments are pretty weak or disingenuous and I have to call you on them. Calling people trolls for expressing some very common opinions is also rude.

    The Linux software ecosystem is rife with applications that perform the same task as their popular proprietary counterparts. Some of them aren't quite up to par (Gimp), some are roughly equivalent (OpenOffice), and some are leagues better (Firefox). There are more and more proprietary applications being ported to Linux all the time.

    There are lots of Applications for Linux, but there sure aren't equivalents for everything. The overlap of applications however, tends to favor a lot of the free/OSS stuff being ported to Windows, whereas a lot of the Windows payware, freeware, and shareware never gets ported to Linux. We're talking stuff a significant number of people need to do their job or their favorite hobby. If you want to browse the Web, well Linux has plenty of good choices. If you want to layout a magazine every month, and it is not formulaic, you really are going to want Windows or OS X.

    Neither Mac or Windows come with a system where you can browse from a catalog of over 10,000 applications and install any one of them instantly, for free, with the click of a mouse button.

    True, package managers are a big win, in some cases. That doesn't dispel the point. It is harder to find and install much software if you're using Linux and like a normal person doing your research on the Web or in a retail store. If you happen to already know what package you want and it is in the repository, package managers are a win. They're also a win for automated updates and several other tasks. They're still not comparable to Windows, however, if you want to do something so you look through Web pages or go to the store and ask a clerk.

    This hardware myth really needs to be put to rest. Linux supports a wider variety of hardware [lwn.net] than any other operating system on the planet.

    That's great and all. The thing is, if you're looking to buy hardware, you're going to have a harder time finding given hardware will work with Windows and if you're a normal person who does not install their own OS, you're going to have a harder time finding a store that will sell you a system with Linux pre-installed and all the hardware/software interactions polished.

    Ubuntu and many of its derivatives will ship you a copy of their OS on CD at no charge. No media fees, no shipping and handling. Free. Most of the software that you can install afterward is not at all too large to pull down via a dialup modem. Windows and OS X cost hundreds of dollars each.

    Yup, this is really nice, but most people buy hardware and it comes with an OS already installed. Asking them to order a DVD from some place, wait for it to arrive and then install it and hope it works with their hardware is worse than the average user's experience with Windows.

    Not sure what you mean here. On KDE- and GNOME-based distributions, a shortcut to every installed application gets put into the applications menu.

    For default apps, I agree. Never had a problem with most of the stuff in the repository.

    Contrast with Windows where each application goes into its own folder or a folder named after the company that distributed it. Install enough applications and the Start menu becomes large and unusable. Contrast also with Mac, where you have to dig down into a special (and also unsorted) Applications folder to find newly-installed apps.

    To be fair, a lot of Linux software is installed in odd menus, is CLI only, or installs into a directory named after the company that made it too, only free/OSS softwa

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