Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Adaptation is Hard, Power is Hard

by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Difficult it sure can be to become a high-speed racing/Formula 1 driver. Arduous it is to become an advanced computer user. Virtual desktops are hard to grasp conceptually or practically for those who never saw them in a Microsoft-dominant computer lab, so how can one expect to popularise multiple desktop activities the way KDE does?

The concept of extreme abstraction and removal of features has been popularised more recently by the advancement of smartphones and tablets (I write many of my posts while walking in the streets with my tablet). The general philosophy is that users are dumb and they should be treated as such. The problem with this is not that it's insulting (in disguise) but that it discourages learning and self improvement.

In the past decade, with the hype of 'i' things gaining a foothold, the class of 'simplicity elitists' got a lot of mindshare. The idea of excessive simplification was famously chastised by Linus Torvalds who used the "Nazi" word to call attention to the reason he was leaving GNOME. Sometimes more is less, but it has become a stubborn cliché which is hard to leave behind.

When I was a teenager and used KDE the environment was still a tad cluttered and many of the presented settings I could not make sense of. KDE had already gained a reputation as desktop made by geeks, for geeks. By the time KDE3 was out and more so in KDE4 (once many bugs were out of the way) most of the daunting settings had already been 'shelved' in Advanced menus and the GUI laid out more intuititively. But the stereotype never died. To this date, one of the prominent patterns of Linux FUD is that it's hard. Well, the kernel sure is hard, but the user barely ever interacts with it. A command-line user interacts a lot with GNU and GUI users often prefer GNOME or KDE.

When people tell you that "Linux is hard" ask them, "which desktop?"

My father had no issues when I switched him from Windows XP to KDE and he is not even so technical; he is a store manager who likes sports. Since the real barrier is that Linux desktops are different we should ask ourselves not how we make GNU/Linux easier but how to make people easier to change. It's not about coercion but about diplomacy. People need to be patient when they adapt. Is GNU/Linux hard? It's hard for impatient people to adapt to.

- Dr. Roy Schestowitz
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  1. I do not see making products be more accessible as an assumption that users are dumb - if anything the assumption is that users are smart enough to want to use their tool to get work done (or play) and to not feel the need to have to fiddle with the tool itself.

    This does not mean I think it would be bad to have "advanced" options for users - and both MS and Apple limit this more than I think they should (especially Apple... they do a lot of this and take it to an extreme). But your assumption that this is done because users are seen as "dumb" is one I disagree with.

    "When people tell you that "Linux is hard" ask them, 'which desktop?'"

    The fact you have to ask such a question is supportive of the idea that using desktop Linux is not as easy as using the competition. And no matter what desktop you select, their is always the question of how to make sure the software used on that DE is designed for that DE. If it is not then you have added complexity - complexity that is not done in a way that helps any users, but instead is detrimental.

    This does not mean there are not times when other factors override these challenges - there most certainly *are*. No doubt. It is not an argument against using Linux on the desktop (and certainly not against using it elsewhere!). But I think for good Linux / open source advocacy we need to be honest about the pros *and* cons of using such solutions.

  2. My 84-years old mother has used 3 years Linux Mint in her machine with no problems at all. My son, his wife, my youngest daughter are also using Mint or Ubuntu as their default OS. Not long time ago i installed Mint to machine of my brother-in-law. During the last few months quite a many owners of Vista/Win 7-machines has complained their OS and been interesting to try Linux. It's no uncommon that every new Linux-user is potential to spread its recognizability to his environment.

    Most famous Linux distributions are so easy to install, to use, so stable, so secure that it is becoming even little bit boring. Perhaps life in a Windows-malware BSOD is much more fascinating? Especially when one have to paid for it.