Windows has ruled the desktop for more than a decade, actually it is about 15 years. It was 1992 that Microsoft released Windows 3.11, and that very much was the turning point, while 3.11 looked just like its predecessor, under the hood it contained something very unique. For the first time it was cheap and easy to network computers. Businesses flocked to Windows, the ability to network resources was a huge time and money saver. Several computers could now share an expensive resource like a printer, better still, the networked computers could share that most valuable of assets, data.

It was with Windows 3.11 and the subsequent release of Windows 95 that signaled the demise of Novel. Novel had ruled the networking world but came at a steep price, a price that did not work for many smaller organizations, plus it required a good deal of technical ability to maintain it.

Fat, dumb, and happy our friends at Microsoft have continued to release ever ‘better’ versions of Windows. Are they better though? Windows 98 was certainly feature rich and user friendly, but the rest of the releases merely saw the introduction of ‘bloatware’. The most horrific example being Vista. This latest monstrosity requires huge hardware commitments while offering little to the user in return.

Linux, at first glance seems like the knight in shining armor. There are many different varieties, it offers the elegance of Windows, and best of all, many of the distributions are free.

I got extremely frustrated with Windows and decided to move to Linux. My weapon of choice was Linspire, for the most part I am pretty happy with this distribution. Alas Linspire looks like it is going the way of the Dodo bird, the company has essentially liquidated its assets and fired all of the employees.

My wife Jan and I have just relocated from Calgary to the middle of Mississippi, our ‘stuff’ is somewhere in between. Having no computers was not an option, we need some sort of access. My solution, which no doubt most of you will scoff at, was to take two ancient laptops along. Screaming fast 300mhz Toshiba Portege 3110CT’s to be exact. These critters are very lightweight, but the downside is that they have no CD ROM in them, and try as I might, I could not find an external drive that would work with them.

My solution to loading an Operating System was Linux, I found a distribution of Debian that could be loaded over the Internet. Armed with two diskettes (Root and Boot), loading Linux was a cakewalk.

So here we are in the wilds of Mississippi and I am mightily ticked off. I am no neophyte to the world of computers, I have over 30 years of experience in the game. Linux however is getting the better of me. I would really like to install Firefox as my browser, but installing software on Linux seems to require an act of Congress. I hate to praise Windows, but I have to. Installing Firefox, or any other program for that matter involves clicking on the download icon and talking along with the instructions. Generally it involves clicking the ‘yes’ button and rebooting the computer dozens of times, but it is easy and relatively fool proof.

Installing software on Linux is a whole different beast. You have to download some funky file that is Tar’d or Gzipped, that bit is easy. Then the problems start. Problem number one is finding the file. After much aggravation I finally located it. I clicked on it and something called File Roller started up, my guess is that this is some sort of Unzip program. Problem number two was finding where the unzipped version was. After much messing around I found it.

OK, I am off to the races now! Wrong! The unzipped file has no program called Install that you can click on. Oh well, I don’t scare easy, so it was off to Google to find the install instructions. This is where my frustration level went up about 5 gazzilion points. Linux help always assumes that you have a PHD in Linux. Well folks, I do not. After playing ‘Whack the Mole’ on the Firefox site for half an hour I finally found some instructions that I thought I could follow.

It was with great anticipation that I typed in some cryptic command, I sat back and watched the strange messages fly by. My happiness was short lived, apparently I have to install some libraries. Needless to say, I have absolutely no clue how to do this. The whole thing is Greek to me.

This is why Linux is not making inroads into the Windows community. I don’t class myself as being an expert with computers, but on the other hand I do think that I am reasonably intelligent. If I can not install something as fundamental as a browser the average man in the street has no chance.

If the Linux community want to woo the Windows user base they really need to spend some time and effort on the usability aspects.

Simon Barrett – Grumpy In Mississippi

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