Thursday, September 28, 2006

Windows, Linux, Cars and Lego's (Part 2 of 5)

Problem #2: Linux is too different from Windows

This next issue arises when people do expect Linux to be different, but find that some differences are just too radical for their liking. Probably the biggest example of this is the sheer amount of choice available to Linux users. Whereas an out-of-the-box-Windows user has the Classic or XP desktop with Wordpad, Internet Explorer, and Outlook Express installed, an out-of-the-box-Linux user has hundreds of distributions to choose from, then Gnome or KDE or Fluxbox or whatever, with vi or emacs or kate, Konqueror or Opera or Firefox or Mozilla, and so on and so forth.

A Windows user isn't used to making so many choices just to get up & running. Exasperated "Does there have to be so much choice?" This question is very common.

Does Linux really have to be so different from Windows? After all, they're both operating systems. They both do the same job: Power your computer & give you something to run applications on. Surely they should be more or less identical?

Look at it this way: Step outside and take a look at all the different vehicles driving along the road. These are all vehicles designed with more or less the same purpose: To get you from A to B via the roads. Note the variety in designs.

But, you may be thinking, car differences are really quite minor: they all have steering wheels, gas-pedals, a manual or automatic transmission, brakes, windows & doors, a gas tank. . . If you can drive one car, you can drive any car, although, to some manual transmissions are a bear.

Quite true. But did you not see that some people weren't driving cars, but were driving motorcycles (yeah baby) instead. . ?

Switching from one version of Windows to another is like switching from one car to another. Win95 to Win98 to WinMe (of which sucked), I honestly couldn't tell the difference. Win98 to WinXP, now that was a bigger change but really nothing major.

But switching from Windows to Linux is like switching from a car to a motorcycle. They may both be operating systems (OSes)/road vehicles. They may both use the same hardware/roads. They may both provide an environment for you to run applications/transport you from A to B. But they use fundamentally different approaches to do so.

Windows/cars are not safe from viruses/theft unless you install an anti virus/lock the doors. Linux/motorcycles don't have viruses/doors, so are perfectly safe without you having to install an anti virus/lock any doors.

Or look at it the other way round:

Linux/cars were designed from the ground up for multiple users/passengers. Windows/motorcycles were designed for one user/passenger. Every Windows user/motorcycle driver (Biker) is used to being in full control of his computer/vehicle at all times. A Linux user/car passenger is used to only being in control of his computer/vehicle when logged in as root/sitting in the driver's seat.

Two different approaches to fulfilling the same goal. They differ in fundamental ways. They have different strengths and weaknesses: A car is the clear winner at transporting a family & a lot of cargo from A to B: More seats & more storage space. A motorcycle is the clear winner at getting one person from A to B: Less affected by congestion and uses less gas.

There are many things that don't change when you switch between cars and motorcycles, You still have to put gas in the tank, you still have to drive on the same roads, you still have to obey the traffic lights and Stop signs, you still have to indicate before turning, you still have to obey the same speed limits.

But there are also many things that do change: Car drivers don't have to wear helmets, motorcycle drivers (Bikers) don't have to put on a seatbelt. Car drivers have to turn the steering wheel to get around a corner, Bikers have to lean over. Car drivers accelerate by pushing the gas pedal, Bikers accelerate by twisting a hand control(Throttle).

A Biker who tries to corner a car by leaning over is going to run into problems very quickly. And Windows users who try to use their existing skills and habits generally also find themselves having many issues. In fact, Windows "Power Users" frequently have more problems with Linux than people with little or no computer experience at all, for this very reason. Typically, the most vehement "Linux is not ready for the desktop yet" arguments come from ingrained Windows users who reason that if they couldn't make the switch, a less-experienced user has no chance. But this is the exact opposite of the truth.

So, to avoid problem #2: Don't assume that being a knowledgeable Windows user means you're a knowledgeable Linux user: When you first start with Linux, you are a novice.

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