Is Linux Only For Techies?

Currently, I’m running a dual boot system – Windows 8 Developer and Ubuntu Linux – so much for the rumor that Microsoft has locked out dual booting Linux on Windows 8.

In fact, I’ve been running dual boot systems for years – various flavors of Windows, and Linux. I wouldn’t, for example, do my online banking in any OS other than Linux. So, I’m comfortable with the idea that I can offer my opinion on how “hard” or how “easy” it is, to run with Linux.

I like to think that my opinion is an “educated” opinion. An opinion based on long term usage and direct observation. So, it definitely burns my ass when I read fluff from Windows bloggers who pass judgment on Linux and who, without the benefit of personal knowledge, go into a “let’s trash Linux” mode.

In 30+ years of real world computing,  I have met only a handful of techies who have an accurate understanding of how a typical user computes – how a typical user experiences computing. An understanding based on – here’s that terrible word again – observation.

Instead, the “I just know” phrase, as to how a typical user computes, is often offered in place of evidence based opinion. A follow up query such as “OK, but HOW do you know?”, invariably leads to a shake of the head and an “I just know that’s all” rapid response.

This throwaway response puts me in mind of the years I spent in management consulting, when a “how would your customers rate your service delivery” query for example, would invariably be met with a “Oh hey – terrific, terrific”, comeback.

We’ll skip ahead to  the inevitable “How do you know?”, and I’m sure you can guess the answer – “we just know”. More often than not, a series of customer centric focus groups would reveal that a company had a massively misplaced perception of how customers really viewed service delivery. I refer to this only to illustrate the point that perception does not always line up with reality – despite the often quoted “perception is reality”.

One particular “I just know” statement, I hear repeatedly from fellow techies is – Linux is only for techies. But, is it? Nor from where I sit it’s not. I suspect that this fallacy is based on (amongst a host of misperceptions), the mistaken view that Linux is primarily a command line driven operating system. Something it decidedly is not.

Sure, if a user is a command line fanatic in Windows (as a DOS 1 veteran, I understand the attraction), then that preference can easily be carried over into Linux. But, that’s not how a typical user interacts with an operating system – not in Windows and not in Linux.

Ubuntu Linux for example, is built around an intuitive point and click user interface which is similar in layout, and function, to Windows – including Windows XP. Certainly more instinctive, and vastly more functional, than the new Windows 8 Metro GUI shown below.

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To be fair – the classic Windows Desktop is accessible through the Metro GUI in Windows 8. Here’s a screenshot of my classic Desktop running in Windows 8.

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Contrast the Windows Desktop shown above, with the following OLD Linux Desktop layout (March 2007). Point and click simple – similar in layout and functionality to the previously shown Windows Desktop.

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Here are a couple of Ubuntu Desktops I currently run. Simple, functional, and efficient.

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Alternative Linux Desktops are readily available, so that a transition to a Linux based operating system can be more or less, a seamless move for an average user. Admittedly, there are some issues new Linux users will encounter in making a change from Windows. But, these are essentially “where do I click” issues – not issues that require techie based skills.

A number of alternative Desktops are shown below.

Enlightenment

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Fluxbox

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KDE

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There’s no doubt Windows and Linux are not the same operating system under the hood. But, average users don’t look under the hood of an OS – not in Windows – not in Linux.

Average users simple want to point and click, and Linux based operating systems, by and large, allow them to do just that. To propose otherwise is disingenuous and suggests an uninformed basis for comparison.

If you’d like to get an handle on just how easy it is to run Ubuntu, you can download Ubuntu and run it alongside your current Windows system – just as if it was a normal Windows application. It’s a fabulous way to get a taste of Linux. Did I mention that it’s free?

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29 Comments

Filed under 64 Bit Software, downloads, Freeware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Ubuntu, Windows 8

29 responses to “Is Linux Only For Techies?

  1. kenneth.lunkins

    hi bill
    will ubuntu run on vista 32 bit, i have notice you hold ubuntu
    in high regards.

  2. Hi Bill,
    I’ve been using Linux for well over a year now, maybe longer.

    I messed up my Windows Vista laptop by downloading infected freeware, and it resulted in me being unable to even reset my laptop back to its factory settings, (which I’d always managed to do before).

    I had previously downloaded Ubuntu but never tried it. I was forced to try it because my laptop wouldn’t work. It worked like a dream after installing Ubuntu. I used that for a while, then moved to Linux Mint. I liked that better.

    However, I was having trouble with both Ubuntu and Mint recognising my Wi-Fi and it just wouldn’t work properly. I’m not tech savvy, just preferring to point and click to get things working. So I thought I’d try another OS. I stumbled across Fedora 15, installed it and my Wi-Fi came back!

    I have been using it for months now, and it’s great. By great, I mean my laptop works properly, with NO crashes, no blue screens, no viruses, nothing. That’s ALL I want from an OS; for it to work properly ALL the time.

    I rarely use the command line. I don’t need to, all the software I need is in the repositories. (If something isn’t in there and I have to use the terminal I follow instructions off the web.) And Linux is FREE! Everything is FREE!

    I think the Windows people have purposely perpetuated the myth that Linux is somehow harder to use than Windows. Hey, they have deep pockets to spread gossip.

    I know one thing, the banks and stock markets use Linux; everywhere money is concerned. What does that tell us? It’s safer and better?

    • Hi Paul,

      Well, Microsoft has had lots of help in perpetuating “the myth that Linux is somehow harder to use than Windows”. Aided, in part, by the type of bullshit response you got to a comment you made last week on another website. A response from a blogger who frequently hands out advice on issues he would do well to stay away from. But then, the internet is full of advice that doesn’t hold up well under scrutiny.

      To tell you the truth, in writing this article, I was somewhat guided by your excellent experience with Linux. So, it’s particularly satisfying to see your comment.

      BTW, I’m assuming you stayed high and dry through all that recent bad weather on the Rock.

      best,

      Bill

      • Yes Bill, I remember that. I was a little taken aback by the response, but I guess being an ordinary guy with little to no technical expertise I shouldn’t be using Linux. The fact is, if I can use it anyone can. And I don’t get viruses, plain and simple. Although I do have an antivirus program, just in case I have to send an email attachment to another person who would probably be running windows. I’m smart enough to know that although Linux is rarely targeted (because less people use it) by viruses, they can be passed onto the Windows environment.

        I really can’t say anything bad about Linux, Bill. From the standpoint of an ordinary user who just wants things to work, without any bother, my experience with Linux has been better than with Windows. The lack of fear alone, over all the malware out there, and not having to be running three or four anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-spyware, rootkit detectors etc has made the switch worthwhile.

        Like you say in your article, the only real difference between Windows and Linux is what to click and where to click it. Like the difference between driving a car with a manual gearbox and one with an automatic gearbox. They both have a stick, you just move them differently; the result is the same, the car moves.

        My computer does all the same things on Linux that it did on Windows. Only now I don’t have to worry about the driving. I can sit back and enjoy the journey. :-)

        By the way, it’s still raining here. lol Hope it’s better up there.

        Best Wishes,

        Paul

        • Hey Paul,

          Your driving analogy works nicely. Definitely does the job for me.

          I didn’t cover the malware issue here, but I did in – Time To Surf Without Windows? Is Ubuntu The Answer? - about a year ago. Your comment reemphasizes the points made in that article – good to be reminded.

          I’ve been corresponding with you since just shortly after I launched this blog (coming up on 4 years) and, much of our early talks focused on solving issues with Windows. Since you’ve switched to Linux, you’ve not had any reason to seek my advice. That fact alone, speaks volumes on the ease of use with Linux and, its stability. Friends, whom I’ve managed to convince to run with Linux, have had similar results.

          I’ll send you my plans on how to build an Ark. With 20+ temps here (lots of sunny skies), I won’t need them for a while. :)

          Best,

          Bill

  3. …and PinGuyOS is my favorite flavor of Ubunbtu. I’ve had it up and running on an “always-on” system for months without a hiccup. Rock solid and just as responsive as it was at first boot. My only gripe is the lack of a toggle for Conky. (Sort of a super Taskmanager.)

  4. Michael Cole

    Hey Bill:
    Great article!!! I run a Windows 7 x64 fully sandboxed. Also, Linux Mint on a partition from an external hard drive. I am certainly not a computer geek, I press the button and it better work. Those that trash different Linux versions simply have not taken the time to learn. There is a learning curve with Windows when you first start out No different for a different operating system. If you are willing to learn Linux you will find it faster, safer, and not hard. I use Linux Mint for banking, online transactions and anytime I want very secure connection. A user cannot expect to install an OS and in a few minutes expect to understand it. Common Linux complaint: too difficult-no just different.

    Don’t trash what you haven’t taken the time to learn!!

    Regards
    Michael

    • Hi Michael,

      I hear ya – “I press the button and it better work” – minimum expectations from where I’m sitting.

      Your point – “There is a learning curve with Windows when you first start out” deals with the “Linux Question”, head on. A small time commitment, a little bit of practice, and the user is good to go.

      Microsoft, who have revamped the Windows GUI to such an extent, in Windows 8, that it bears no resemblance to the GUI we’re accustomed to, are obviously untroubled by the time commitment users will need to make to adjust. In working with Win 8 over the last few weeks, I can assure you, running Linux (with the small initial differences from Windows) is a snap compared to the effort needed to rethink virtually every move in Win 8.

      As for connecting to financial sites – you and I agree – Linux is the prudent way to do so.

      I appreciate you strong comment on this issue.

      Best,

      Bill

  5. hipockets

    Great Article! I will now have to be brave, install Ubuntu, and see what happens. :>)

    • Hey Hipockets,

      Installing to run side-by-side with Windows (no partitioning required), is dead easy. On Startup, you’ll have a choice as to what OS to boot. I think you’ll find that when you choose Ubuntu, it will launch 2/3 times faster than Windows.

      If you do install Ubuntu – spend some time on the site – you’ll be flabbergasted by the amazing features and benefits that are available. All for free.

      Good to hear from you on this.

      Best,

      Bill

  6. Anson

    Hi Bill,

    I used to install dual boot (Windows 7 & Ubuntu 10.04 (Wubi) together with Splashtop OS(is it known as tri-boot??), but when I send in my compaq laptop to HP service centre, the HP engineer say that dual boot on a laptop especially my case (ubuntu n splashtop are both installed on windows 7, not on separate partition) is not encouraged to do so. After I get back my laptop, I have uninstalled both of them.

    Is it correct as what the HP engineer say?

    Regards,
    Anson

    • Hey Anson,

      I reviewed Splashtop in Feb/2011 – Run Splashtop, A Free Web Centric OS To Reduce Your Exposure To Malware. During the test period I encountered no problems with a dual boot configuration. However, I did not test a triple boot configuration. Still, triple boot configuration are more common than you might think, and I have yet to hear of an issue with this type of setup. If problems do occur with this type of setup, they are generally related to BIOS issues.

      It’s important to remember that “help desk” people are super-cautious. That doesn’t mean that they’re correct. If you had no issues with the triple boot, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t reinstall.

      Bill

  7. Pingback: Is Linux Only For Techies? | Bill Mullins' Weblog – Tech Thoughts | F1 Help

  8. Some people may think I’m evil for doing so, but I make my kids use Ubuntu. I think they’re better people for it. Besides, there’s a ton of free software! How can you beat free? The only problem is, I don’t use it much myself, so when they want to know how to do something and they can’t figure it out, I end up having to research it. I should probably dual boot as well, but usually I’m creating content using apps like Framemaker.

    • Hey Writerdood,

      OK, you’re evil – but, VERY smart. :)

      Given what you do in your job, I see your need to be Windows focused. To a lessor extent, I have the same issue.

      Thanks for weighing in.

      Bill

  9. Hi Bill,
    Once upon a time, Linux was crazy difficult to attempt to install and run on a PC. I believe it actually involved hardware modification to get it to work. Those days are long gone though, running Linux couldn’t get much easier. While I did have a WUBI install once brick a PC. I was already dual booting XP and Vista.
    Once you are running Linux, it’s all as easy as can be. When I set up someone new to Linux I just use desktop icons for their browser, word processor and photo management and they often can’t tell the difference.
    Mark

    • Hi Mark,

      Yes, I remember the old days as well – limited hardware drivers, and the like. Definitely made life difficult. But, as you say, “those days are long gone”. Hooray for that. :)

      Great to get your experience on this. Much appreciated.

      Best,

      Bill

  10. Mal

    Hey Bill,
    I did try out Linux around six months ago, and I found it easy to use, full of great features, and everything else that others have commented on. I guess I just stick with Windows because I don’t like changing unless I have to. I know Windows inside out too. But Linux is definitely not hard to get your head around.
    Cheers

    • Hey Mal,

      Change. What a horrible word. :) But, I hear ya – I subscribe to the “If it ain’t broke…” philosophy, as well.

      What drove me to Linux, above all, was my concern for safe and secure financials transactions online. Over time, it just grew on me for all the right reasons – including those you have pointed out.

      I find it interesting that many of the positive comments here are from techies like you. That’s very encouraging.

      Thanks for the support.

      Best,

      Bill

  11. Hey Bill!

    I love Ubuntu, but was kinda shocked recently when I ran some common attacks against it. I found that Windows 7 with AVG free is actually more secure in some instances than the latest version of Ubuntu with AVG.

    Because Linux flavors are becoming so popular, attackers are porting some attacks over to target Linux systems. Surprisingly, browser and scripting based malware work rather well against Linux.

    Also, AVG free for Ubuntu allowed attacks through that the Windows based version blocked. Kinda crazy…

    I have only tried AVG for Ubuntu, is there another free Linux based AV that you recommend?

    Thanks Bill,

    Dan

    • Hey Dan,

      Nice one – good to see the “Linux is impervious to malware” myth bite the dust, at a personal level. I’m assuming that these malware samples were capable of escalating privileges.

      To tell you the truth, I don’t use any AVs on my Linux systems – nor do I on one of my XP systems which has been exposed to the Internet 24/7 for years without compromise. In both these cases, I rely only on common sense computing techniques.

      I hear from my associates, that generally speaking, they are satisfied with the protection offered by ClamAV. I don’t however, have personal experience with this AV and, the people I refer to are expert users.

      Best,

      Bill

  12. John

    Hi Bill,

    I’m curious. I have Ubuntu installed as a virtual machine in the VMWare Player. I launch the player from within Windows. In that environment, would I still be subject to the security threats as Windows?

    In other words, is a separate boot into Linux the only way to enjoy it’s security benefits?

    • Hi John,

      Researchers will tell you, that an OS running within a virtual system can be successfully attacked. But, there is a caveat – the virtual system itself, must be specifically targeted. In other words, it’s more a question of the susceptibility of the VM to compromise, than it is a question of the OS running on top. So yes, theoretically, Ubuntu could be infected in these circumstances.

      Is it a real concern? I doubt it – research results don’t always translate well in the real world. Nevertheless, from a personal perspective, I only run Linux either from a Live CD, or a direct boot into the OS. But, that’s a paranoid personal habit.

      Best,

      Bill

  13. billy roy

    tried it Bill, works a treat