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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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  • Yes, and yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KingSkippus ( 799657 ) * on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @05:59PM (#23096224) Homepage Journal

    Is Linux ready for the masses? Is Linux really being targeted towards the 'casual computer user'?

    That's easy, and we've known it for a long time: Yes, and yes.

    Convincing the masses to actually install it, now, that's the trick.

    • Re:Yes, and yes. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Brad_sk ( 919670 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:05PM (#23096330)
      >and we've known it for a long time...
      Not really. If that was the case, what was the necessity of Ubuntu? Ubuntu has definitely made Linux easier to install and use which was definitely not the case until like 2 yrs ago.

      Ubuntu (7.10) still has its own shortcomings in configuring things like Bluetooth or Wifi which I hope will not not be there in 8.04 release.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Wifi for me works great -- never a second's trouble. Bluetooth has gotten better, but I still can't browse my Blackberry. I can detect it, exchange passkeys, and connect very easily through the GUI, but the OBEX still barfs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gat0r30y ( 957941 )

      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.
    • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:25PM (#23096596)
      Geeks aside, why would anyone install over an MS box?

      What we do see, however, is that devices like EEE PC are making people aware that there is a choice and that Linux is real. Here in New Zealand we can buy laptops preinstalled with Ubuntu in regular retail shops []. These have been quite popular. They are still quirky: for example setting up wireless is a bit messy (not as slick as windows) and the power management sucks a bit.

      I run HH on one of these laptop that came installed with GG. For the most part, I don't think that HH vs GG is much of an issue for adoption. What is important is that distros like Ubuntu are very easy to use/update and that devices like Eee PC are exposing more people to the option. Soon people will be asking for Linux preinstalled on higher spec laptops and we'll see more choice.

    • Re:Yes, and yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chineseyes ( 691744 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:20PM (#23099220)
      I used to use linux as my primary desktop but next time you think linux is ready for the masses I want you to go to a slightly above average windows user and.....

      1.) Explain why their pda will no longer sync with their calendar, mail client, or transfer files
      2.) Explain why they can't just plugin more than two monitors and just get it to display without editing config files
      3.) Explain why they can't use that one application they NEED for work that only runs on windows.
      4.) Explain why they can't play [latest high end game]
      5.) Explain why [latest high end hardware] doesn't work in linux at all.
      6.) Explain why their cheap no name printer doesn't work with linux out of the box.
      7.) Explain why the pptp linux client is such a pain in the ass to use.

      Before you go into some detailed explanation about how the evil M$ empire is preventing interoperability or how linux is so much more secure and stable remember your average user doesn't give a damn. They want to work/play and they can either do it right away or they can't, excuses and explanations don't matter.
    • Re:Yes, and yes. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kokuyo ( 549451 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:39AM (#23101258) Journal
      Excuse me? Ready for the masses? Where? I've been working in IT for years and tinkering with computers for about 15 years now so I'd say I've come across my share of problems and I've mostly been able to solve them myself or with the aid of, then, AltaVista and google.

      That being said, I tried to install Ubuntu a month or two ago. Well, it appears that the graphical installation is shot. Whatever I did, it wouldn't run on my now at least one year old machine. So I had to download the text install version.

      I have two SATA Harddrives in there. One houses XP which I won't get rid of until Cedega actually manages to run ALL my effing games without 'minor problems'. Did you know that I've been partitioning with the likes of fdisk and cfdisk back in those days? Did you know I've been able to do a dual boot as a sixteen year old kid back in those days with an ancient version of SuSE?

      Well, don't go believing I was able to partition the disks the way I wanted with Ubuntu because Ubuntu is made for the masses and the masses obviously don't have a need for partitioning more than one drive because the drive I wanted to partition just didn't show up.

      What did install eventually was Mandriva. And it worked... mostly. Except I have two monitors with different resolutions... Man, THAT was unpleasant but after days of scouring message boards and trying to get familiar with xorg.conf I managed even that. My scanner isn't supported in linux it seems, so there goes that idea.

      Frankly, perhaps it's just me but on every damn try I run into stupid little problems which take me hours or even days to solve. As long as that remains the case, Linux for the masses remains a myth. As long as we don't have doubleclickable install files that guide us through software installation, as long as we have to set up repositories and work with dependancies that go beyond "you need Java!" Linux is definitely NOT ready for average desktop users.

      And to those who'd like to mod me a troll, I'm the first person throwing a party the day I can just replace windows with linux. But at the moment I don't have the time to spend hours tinkering with my box. I need that damn piece of equipment to just work.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:00PM (#23096228) Homepage
    It's getting better all the time.

    But, unfortunately, it's far from perfect. Ubuntu is and has been good enough for my completely non-computer-literate roommate to use when the system is up and running. But there's no way he could have gotten the wireless working on his own (even in the 8.04 beta, I still had to download and install drivers, then muck around with /etc/networking/interfaces file to make it work).

    Still, the progress is outstanding.
    • by rantingkitten ( 938138 ) <(kitten) (at) (> 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?
  • 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 :-)
    • by pak9rabid ( 1011935 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:13PM (#23096440)

      I run a Gentoo workstation for work, where I set up things exactly the way I want them, but this is quite time consuming.
      Might this be because you're compiling everything from source?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by javilon ( 99157 )
        Well, not really. I don't compile things myself, it is the compiler doing it. My father used to compile things himself from source, he worked with punch cards and had no compiler.

        Where I spent most of my Gentoo maintenance time is configuring the different applications to suit my needs.
  • TYoLotD (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:02PM (#23096274)
    This year's the Year... I can feel it!

    (Not like all those other years -- those were totally different.)
  • by mollymoo ( 202721 ) * on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:03PM (#23096300) Journal
    Normal people don't install operating systems, they buy a machine in a box at the computer shop. While I agree that Ubuntu is the distribution that is closest to being ready for mainstream desktops, it has to get pre-installed on those machines in order to really break into the mainstream market. So far, it hasn't. Dell went with Ubuntu, but they aren't exactly pushing their Linux offerings. Asus chose Xandros for their Linux machine. HP have chosen Suse (Novell). Their machines are or will be on sale at the local computer shop. I don't think it's any coincidence that both those companies signed patent agreements with Microsoft. I imagine Microsoft's legal team can be pretty scary if 99% of your business is based on selling hardware to run their software.
    • Normal people don't install operating systems, they buy a machine in a box at the computer shop.

      Normal people buy from their favorite big box retailer. Best Buy. Office Max. The aren't thinking "computer store," they are thinking "office supplies and home appliances."

      That is why Dell is shifting focus to in-store sales through outlets like Walmart.

  • 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.
  • Commercial Gaming (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:04PM (#23096310) Homepage Journal
    As much as i hate games, and hate to admit it, until you can go down the street to your local big box store, buy a game and it 'just work', its not ready for "the masses". "the masses" want to surf porn, buy stuff from ebay and play their stilly computer games.

    For actual useful work, in a company with an IT staff, Linux and BSD have been ready for a while now.
  • by ionix5891 ( 1228718 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:06PM (#23096348)
    Linux - Get The Facts

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  • 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.
  • 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 or similar programs will take over once they have their own clippy, but may a true word is said in jest.
  • Just keep asking (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iliketrash ( 624051 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:15PM (#23096480)
    "Is Linux ready for the masses?"

    I think that the fact that this question keeps coming up on /. every few months is some sort of indicator.
  • Ubuntu on a laptop (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:18PM (#23096516) Homepage
    Ubuntu gets better with each release. When I first put Dapper on my Toshiba laptop, I had to fiddle around with the boot menu to get it to work correctly, and I had to remember to do this everytime a new kernel was installed, otherwise the laptop would stuff up on its next reboot. Subsequent releases didn't require this switch though.

    The BIGGEST fix they've provided (and I'm sure everyone agrees with me on this) is the failsafe mode if X screws up. Who remembers about a year ago when XServer was updated and it killed the desktop? They quickly remedied the situation but for a lot of people I imagine that it either made them reinstall or switch back to Windows. Luckily I managed to downgrade my version because I hadn't cleaned out my archives in a while.

    It's taken a while, but Ubuntu's getting there.
  • by kylehase ( 982334 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:25PM (#23096594)

    To make an OS available to the 'casual user' you have to make some decisions for them.

    Linus hates this and has sworn off Gnome because he feels Gnome makes too many decisions for the user. He feels that the Gnome project is taking the stance that the users are stupid [] but unfortunately this may be just the thing to get Linux desktops into the public mainstream and is part of why Ubuntu is so successful.

    Users need a machine that just works out of the box and since Vista doesn't this is a great opportunity for Linux.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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.
  • 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.

  • by CSMatt ( 1175471 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:34PM (#23096728)
    1. - "Why install Ubuntu when I can just use Windows for free?"
    Note that by "free," I'm referring to the presumption that it was free with the purchase of a PC, not infringing copies.

    This is why IE won the browser wars. Before the integration of IE4, Web browsers either had to be installed manually or were provided by the OEM. The OEMs usually bundled Netscape. Microsoft integrated IE into Windows and changed the OEM licensing so that Netscape-bundling OEMs were punished. You could still download Netscape manually, but why would you want to? Most non-nerds don't care about the browser but rather whether or not it is there at all. It is nothing short of a miracle that Firefox campaigns have been succeeding in getting ordinary folk to install and use Firefox over IE, especially after IE7 came out.

    2. - "Windows is just fine. Why bother switching?"
    This one is all too familiar to Mac evangelists as well as free OS advocates. This, along with ridiculous prices, is what keeps Apple in the minority. My statement about browsers applies equally to operating systems: people just don't care. They will most likely choose whatever runs what they need at the cheapest price. Ubuntu and other distributions have gone a long way in fixing this, but in order to "convert" someone you would not only need to get them to install Ubuntu but also get them to use Firefox instead of IE, instead of Microsoft Office, GIMP instead of Photoshop, Thunderbird instead of Outlook, etc. Yes, you can run most of this stuff in WINE, but the experience is so much smoother with native apps, and users will notice this quickly. Additionally, if everything they run is just run in WINE, there isn't really much of a point, from their perspective, of running Ubuntu over Windows. Windows gives them better compatibility than WINE and is already bundled by almost all OEMs. Might as well stay with Windows.
  • by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @06:56PM (#23097078)
    >Hardy Heron Making Linux Ready for the Masses?

    Yes, but no more so than Mandriva 2008.1. I installed it this past weekend and it is about as slick as I have seen any Linux installation thus far. Everything just "works", and works well. It is gorgeous, fast, easy to use, seamlessly knit together, simple to update, loaded with helpful admin tools, and full of packages.

    It is nice to know there are many decent choices for a high quality Linux desktop experience!
  • the eeePC is (Score:5, Insightful)

    by trawg ( 308495 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:38PM (#23097668) Homepage
    In no way do I want to disparage the efforts of all people working on various Linux distributions - especially not Ubuntu, who have probably put in more than anyone in recent times - but it seems to me that the mob that has done the most to bring Linux to the masses is Asus with their eeePC laptop.

    1) They've put it on a desirable, useful, practical, cheap ultra-portable laptop that people want for its size and neat-ness (and low cost)

    2) They've made it simple to use and focused on the core applications and best parts of Linux

    3) They've made it open source (well, maybe not by choice) and accessible for developers

    4) They've solid millions of them, in a single stroke bringing Linux-to-the-desktop to more users than (I would guess?) ever before.

    5) Probably most importantly, they've scared the living SHIT out of Microsoft who are now scurrying around trying to get a lightweight version of XP together to match it, which is almost 100% the opposite of what they're trying to do everywhere else (ie, make people buy Vista).
  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @07:53PM (#23097872) Journal
    "Of course, many of those criticisms date back to the bad old days"

    This is a very telling remark, mostly because it's been around for a decade.

    When Linux kernel 2.0 came out, it was "ready for primetime," and the only people who said otherwise were trotting out complaints that were fixed in the bad old days.
    2.2 kernel, same thing. 2.4, again. People who might be half-interested in trying Linux are more than a little leery partly because the community has been saying "it's finally ready for you now--we've fixed all of those bad things you've heard" for half a generation!

    Is Ubuntu ready for the consumer? Yep, I'd say so--I installed it for a friend, and he loves it. That doesn't change the fact that people are suspicious of apologies about "previous" problems.
  • Too complicated? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bogtha ( 906264 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @08:59PM (#23098532)

    You can't ask newbies to install device drivers or recompile the kernel

    You know, I remember a time when casual computer users used to make special boot floppies with special memory configurations just to play games. End-users can cope just fine with complexity. Linux hasn't been too complicated for at least a decade.

    Now you can argue that Linux is more complicated than the competition, and that users prefer the least complicated options, but that's not the same thing as saying that Linux is too complicated. "Too complicated" means that end-users would be unable to use Linux even if it were the only option. That hasn't been true for a very long time.

    And come on, average end-users don't have to recompile the kernel anyway. That's a stupid stereotype that brainless pundits say reflexively. Installing device drivers? Last time I checked, other systems need users to install drivers too.

  • my suggestion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by British ( 51765 ) <> on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:45PM (#23099426) Homepage Journal
    I'm typing this on an ASUS EEE PC and loving it. All my linux-centric frustrations seems to be unable to happen on this tiny machine. Guess it doesn't support it. :)

    Want my suggestion? Go for more generic names in the apps. In Windows, it's "add/remove programs". In Linux, the closest thing I can think of is the oddly-named "synaptic". If you tell grandma to run "synaptic" to install something, it just creates more confusion.

    Stop prefixing things with "K" just because it's for KDE or whatever. Stop with the ultra-shortened names for full-blown applications, with 3-4 decimal points for versions.

    Don't tread into copyright infringement with exact names for things, but moreso something a bit more streamlined. "GIMP" is guilty of over-acronymizing(with a recursive acronym in the acronym), and just sounds goofy. Perhaps a tiny bit of marketing at least on the app names will help things a bit.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.