The Home Computing Landscape in 2007
Most popular home uses (in rough order of popularity—different age groups shuffle the list a bit)
- Web surfing
- Managing/listening to digital music (the iPod effect)
- Managing/reviewing/forwarding digital images
- Home Finances
- Light word processing
Threats, in order of increasing latency (or of what users are likely to be aware)
- Hostile internet environment
- Complexity of adding peripherals (and getting them to work)
- Escalating hardware requirements from year to year
- File-format lock-in, to preserve vendor market share
- Software house revenue model (In a mature market, the software vendor must find ways to get customers to buy the same software again and again, or it will fold. It's the secret they don't like to talk about.) Has it ever occurred to you that software doesn't spoil? Once working, it will stay working. Why buy it again and again?
Windows Pain Points
- Viruses; spyware; security issues; instability (although that has gotten better in recent years)
- Software downloads can contain security threats
- Machines become slow over time (partially due to fragmentation)
- Expensive to buy additional software
- Official help is either non-existent or based outside the country (of course, there's always your brother-in-law!)
- Frequent reboots for, well, nearly everything
Mac Pain Points
- More expensive, head-to-head with PCs
- Single vendor syndrome
- Not as much available software and hardware (although what is available is pretty good)
Linux advantages (in no particular order)
- Choices. About nearly every aspect of computing.
- Free to try and to keep. No license agreements to sign; no restrictions. And all very legal.
- True multi-user, multi-tasking. (So what, you ask?)
- Fast and rock-solid – reboots are rare. The machines keep going and going and . . .
- Security. Linux security is legendary. Viruses are something we watch others wrestle with, not having much exposure ourselves. No machine is beyond threat; thus, security is a balance between user-friendliness and safeguards. Of that balance, most observers think Linux “got it right.”
- No pop-up advertising – because no one is trying to sell you anything!
- Runs on nearly everything. (375 of the fastest 500 machines on the planet run Linux.) And yet, it will run on that 5-year-old computer you're thinking about replacing.
- Thousands of applications, nearly all free. (Not cheap shareware—robust, well-maintained, applications.)
- Very friendly community
- Ridiculously easy software installation. Nothing anywhere is easier. Period.
- Frequent updates, also extremely easy to manage
- Local, friendly help.
- Choices. About nearly every aspect of computing. This can be intimidating to new users. But we're here to help.
- Most machines come pre-loaded with something else, so getting Linux is not automatic. People have no idea their machines can run something else.
- Vendors generally hate the idea of you not having to buy anything from them. (So they will not be recommending it to you, and may actively try to dissuade you.) Most of us haven't bought software in a while.
- It's got a geek reputation. (This was deserved some years back, but it is as easy to use as Windows for most tasks, and many tasks are considerably easier in Linux.)
- Some hardware will not work. Unfortunately, some hardware manufacturers have not cooperated with the Linux community in producing drivers for their products, even so far as to withhold specifications so that the Linux community could produce its own driver. This is becoming rare though. More hardware now runs on Linux than runs on Windows Vista. Especially older hardware – you know, like what most of us have at home.
- “None of my friends use this; you guys are weird.” Ok, yes and no. It is likely that none of your friends run Linux on their machines. (But we'll be happy to help them as well.) And I'm not weird, but this guy next to me sure is.
Ok, so what's the catch? Free rides are never really free
There is no hidden catch here, except the technical ability to get up and running. (And we're happy to help you with that, even to the point of doing it for you.) The software really is free. It did cost people to develop, of course, but through new ways of collaboration, primarily over the internet, everyone benefited from everyone else's improvements. Thus, instead of a contractor being hired to build a barn, we had something akin to an Amish barn-raising. Either way the job gets done, but the latter method spreads the work among many.
** I would suggest also mentioning that you can re-use existing code, so to keep with the barn-raising metaphor, building a barn for anyone is exactly as much work as building a barn for everyone.
Why are we here today? What's in it for us?
Of course, there always is a hidden agenda, right? Not this time. Most of us are geeks. Ok, so we admit it. We were the people our friends and family turned to when their machines mis-behaved, or when they needed something installed. Guess what we found out: Linux is better for everyone in nearly all cases of general home computing. It is more stable than the competition, it is more friendly, and it is much easier to support. (We like that.) Because we will still get the call when Aunt Lucy's email program won't connect to the internet, or whatever. We hate to see people going through the kinds of pain other operating systems inflict on them. There is a better way. We think for most people Ubuntu Linux is it. We also believe that people should not be forced to pay for expensive software while more affordable -- or even free -- alternatives exist.
When is it NOT right for you?
If you are a hardcore Windows gamer, you will be disappointed. Linux games are not as abundant or as polished as those available for Windows. (Card games, on the other hand, are a completely different story. The variety of card games in a standard Linux installation is measured in the dozens, not the paltry four or five in Windows. Deal me in.)
If you have a particular Windows (or Mac) application that either will not run itself on Linux, or has no Linux equivalent. (This is rare for home users. Most tasks have not one, but a number of free comparable programs. Additionally, because of some wizardry on the part of some Linux software developers, many Windows programs will run in Linux, and not realize they are not on a Windows machine.)
In either of these cases, you will probably be better off staying with Windows, at least part of the time.
Here is the best part (well, aside from taking the plunge completely)
You can try out this idea we've been talking about without affecting your Windows system at all, and for free: simply put the cd in the cd drive, and reboot your machine. Linux will start, and nothing on your hard drive (your Windows installation, in other words) will be touched. Try it out, surf the web, play some card games, write some letters, whatever. When you reboot, remove the cd from the drive, and Windows will return as normal. What's not to like? All you lose is some time.
CDs are on the back table. Enjoy the ride.