Getting older, not necessarily wiser!
In this post I will attempt to communicate what I think the average person probably does not want to know about Linux in a Windows world. Most things I read or watch about using Linux don’t seem to have what I would consider the proper focus for this group.
Let me define who I am attempting to reach in this post. The average computer user has almost zero computer skills. If they have a computer, they probably either acquired it for a specific task, or it was given to them. They have no interest in learning how to use it beyond their specific requirements. In fact they would prefer it just work and they would not have to change it in any way ever.
I have several friends who fall into this category. Before I retired, a majority of my coworkers were in this category. Many of these people are experts in one specific application, but totally ignorant of the rest of their computer environment. For example, one of the people sitting next to me could do amazing things with the email client, but went into panic mode every time they had to change one of their passwords. Another friend I know buys a new laptop every time their Operating System (OS) goes out of date, so they don’t have to changing the Operating System.
This post is basically going to be a collection of my opinions on why things are the way they are, and why the desktop market is unlikely to change.
One of the recommendations I see quite often is to test out Linux, try running Linux from a Live USB. There are a few issues with this, especially for the average computer user. The number one problem is the average user probably has no idea how to boot from a USB device. Since there is no standard way to do this, the usual response from the “experts” is to read the manufactures documentation (a lot like “RTFM”). Something most average computer users are not going to do.
Another related issue is if the average user is using a work computer, USB booting might be turned off. Or there might be security protocols in place that prevent the use of unauthorized USB devices. I have had personal experience with this sort of thing (not that this is a bad thing, just that corporate IT, that does not really understand what they are doing, needs to justify their existence so they carry these things to ridiculous extremes, but I digress here).
The other problem with many live distributions is persistence. Every time you reboot you are starting over. How can the average user really test run a Linux distribution unless they can save their changes? Seriously, I have tried a number of Live Distributions, and unless you can save preference changes, install and update software, or save any work, no one, including the average user is going to be convinced to switch.
I got around these limitations by installing a fully functional Arch Linux distribution to a 64 GB USB key instead of an internal drive. While there is a performance hit, this has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. But this type of solution is outside of what the average user can be expected to do.
One of the big problems with Linux is that there are very few platforms that it comes pre installed on. For the general computer, MS Windows is the king of the pre installed. MAC does not really count as it comes on specific Apple Hardware.
What I have observed, on several computers I have worked on, the average computer user does not delete any of the bloat ware. And if there is anything else installed, it has its own share of bloat ware that came with the install. I have spent hours removing this stuff from computers. However some of the stuff you can never truly and totally remove.
This goes to expectation of the average user, they want things to just work with out having to do to much. They tend to click through the MS Windows install as fast as possible. The same applies to any application they need to install, click through as fast as possible accepting all defaults.
This is not an indictment against the computer companies (they are businesses in the business of making money). Rather it is a statement about the expectations of the average computer user.
Even the most friendly Linux installer is not a complete out of box experience and generally require a bit of thought on the users part. For example, on a basic Windows install, everything goes in one partition. In a basic Linux install, you are given a choice about where to install various elements.
Which brings me to my next point.
For the average computer user who just wants stuff to work, choice can be a bad thing. One question I get form people considering the move to Linux, what distribution should I use. If you ask ten different Linux users that question, you will get ten different answers. Currently there are more than 200 different distributions out there. The same thing applies to the Graphical User Interface (GUI). There are currently around 185 window managers/desktops.
Now I will admit that ninety percent of this, no one is going to recommend to a new user. But that still leaves lots of choice that an average computer user is not going to want to deal with.
I do not want to be totally negative, as there are some good reasons for the average user to in some cases switch to Linux. I would like to relate two quick anecdotes.
There are two peopel I know that live close to me with older laptops. Neither person had the budget to purchase a new laptop, and they were concerned about the end of life of Windows 10, and not being able to install Windows 11 due to unsupported hardware (yes I know it can be done but it is not well published through official channels).
I explained their options, and one asked me if I could help him switch to Linux. He was willing to try out Linux replacements for email and word processing. I talked him though backing up his data and installing Debian with the LXQT Desktop. He has come back with a few questions (about installing a printer), but overall is much happier with his laptops performance. In this case there really was no choice, as he was not ready to invest in a new laptop, and did not want to continue using Windows 10.
The other person wanted to install Windows 11 if at all possible. So I explained how to do it. The laptop runs, but it is not what I would call an overall enjoyable experience. I could talk till I was blue in the face but wound not change her mind in this case. Sometimes people are comfortable with something, and will stick with it regardless of anything else.
In this post I have looked at some of the reasons most average computer users are going to resist switching to Linux. And I do not see this changing.
The average computer user does not want choice, does not want to configure anything, and above all wants something that just works out of the box. I do not see Linux ever conforming to these types of needs. And personally I hope it never does.