Friday, January 15, 2010

Is Linux a Good Choice, Part 1

I recently read this response to someone advocating Linux in the comments for an article about Microsoft adding a rental option for Office and Windows:

"Linux is good for SOME PEOPLE (mainly extremely literate techies). For everyone else however, which is 90% of the people using computers, Windows is the best choice for them."

I realize many people probably think this, so I felt it a good opportunity to articulate some of my thoughts on this.

First, I am what some may call an 'extremely literate techie', and Linux is very good for me. But what about for those 'other 90%'? Am I being naive to believe that it would work well for many of them as well? Hear me out and let me know what you think.

What many of the arguments I have seen come down to is this: "What is the 'technically illiterate' Linux user going to do when they encounter roadblocks? They will encounter them." Yes, all systems are going to confound their users from time to time, so let's consider what the Windows user does when tackling issues.

1) Google it. They must be somewhat computer and/or Windows literate to perform a good search and wade through the results. There is not that much more to learn to perform similar good searches and wade through the results for Linux. Note that many 'extremely literate techies' do this, they have just gotten really good at it.

2) Ask a friend considered more technically literate. As long as they know one or two that are Linux literate, they should be good-to-go. Without this support, I can appreciate that getting started with Linux could be a little nerve-racking for some people.

3) Contact tech support. First, there are some companies that provide paid tech support for Linux. There are also many message boards that provide very helpful volunteer tech support, many of which are frequented by true Linux experts. Probably the biggest hurdle here is identifying the good message boards (refer to 1-2 for help with that).

4) Contact IT (if this is a computer used for work). Sometimes IT policy will not allow Linux, ergo Linux is not an option. Sometimes policy allows Linux, but the IT folks will not support it. In this case, refer to options 1-3. While there is almost always a way to make it work, sometimes the difficulty in making Linux work in these settings really can make it not worth the effort. You do still have a job to perform.

So the major issues we arrive at with this train of thought are social. They boil down to having an adequate support system, whether it be friends and/or an IT department. Soon I plan to post about some of the more technical issues that a Linux user may encounter.

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