GNU/Linux is too hard for the regular user... It doesn't give me the applications I need... Linux won't allow me to network with my Windows machines...
These are all things repeated to me in the last month. Sure, we've all heard them in different ways and at different times. I think we all have. I believe what troubled me the most about these statements is that they came out of the mouths of "technology professionals"...not one of them making less than 150K a year, guessing from their positions.
One of them was a systems administrator for a global shipping and receiving hub right here in Austin. It took me one Mint Linux live cd and about 5 minutes to prove him wrong.
So while some of the" professionals" insist on repeating the party line, everyday people are discovering the choices they have in how they operate their computer. I find it just a bit amusing that people who wouldn't know a parser from a parsnip are doing the precise things their tech brethren say cannot be done. To be fair, most people making their living in the tech industry are agnostic and will use the tool that works and won't make a religious issue out of it.
Some are outright just protecting their jobs and justifying their certs.
We thought this would be a good time to take a snapshot of what's going on "out there" and show that handful of pro's that Linux on the desktop isn't the boat anchor they believe it to be....or maybe secretly want it to be.
New York Calling...Can You Hear Me?
She is a medical professional, working for Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, NY. She had a nasty case of viral infection to deal with but it didn't have anything to do with the human body...it was viruses of the computer type. When Mark Van Kingsley answered her call for help, he did the regular diagnosing and delivered the bad news. Sure, he could stave off the blue screen of death, the memory core dumps and the machine-gun pop ups once the computer booted, but it would be just a matter of time before he was back fixing it again.
And don't be fooled for a moment...
When a tech comes out to the house or business to "fix" virus issues, the customer expects it to stay fixed. When they come back in 4-6 months, in the back of their minds, you didn't do your job right.
Mark knows that and is honest in his report to us:
"I'd rather deal with a customer one time and get her referrals than deal with her three or four times a year and have her think I'm incompetent. After a while, it's inevitable that they think that."
And there it is still again...the public idea that a computer is an appliance, not a maintainable machine.
So Mark pitched her on Linux and demonstrated a live cd. She was excited about the prospect of not having to deal with these viruses and malware issues again. She fell in love with the smooth, clean lines of the system and the snappy response of the mouse and keyboard.
There was one stipulation though...she needed to use her Linux machine to connect to her server and login page at the hospital.
With the tools at his disposal, it was a no brainer and Mark told her that with all liklihood, he could do that. It was a good thing he left himself a little room to work here. It wasn't pretty.
After Wine and virtualiztion failed, the closest he came to success was IE4Linux. Here's the deal. She had to log in, but once she did, there was a proprietary bit of software that demanded to be executed to finish the procedure. Try as he could, the very best he could achieve was a blank page where the patients names should have been. He could almost get her there but Wine or Windows under virtualization just would not make the connection. It installed correctly but something just didn't quite work.
Yeah I said we. "We" spend so much time amidst and among ourselves, telling ourselves how much progress we've made that we are blind to our failures. Now, the failures are not in the code, the code is brilliant. It's in the social aspect of what we do and who we are. In the aspect of what we don't do and who we are not.
We don't do anything to market ourselves on a grand scale to the general public. Where are the validating TV and Radio commercials? Where are the ads in mainstream publications? These are the things that make what we offer "real" to a consuming public. Having the neighbor kid down the street install GNU/Linux on a machine or two isn't exactly shouting our success from the rooftops. We need tens of thousands knowing about us in a day's time...not a decade. We have the answer to most of the computing problems known at this time, yet we remain a "secret".
And while we're talking weakness here, let's talk about the gee-whiz factor. Walk into any big box store and buzz the computer section. You will see LCD after LCD with the Windows bubbles screensaver...you know, the colored bubbles that float around the desktop, the translucent ones that almost look 3d?
Can you imagine a line of computers with the Linux 3D desktop set on autopilot, running a cube and all the compiz effects via script? It would gather crowds not before seen...Even people seeing Linux think it's a new "Windows Feature". But it's ok...no, don't get up...someone else will fix this.
Yeah, I know...when there is no measurable return on investment, no one is going to spend the money to do this. That's understood.
Having an apathetic user base that won't take on the responsibility of doing it themselves doesn't help matters any. We could do it...this forum has developed strategies to do just that. We spend months planning it out. But instead of fine tuning it, we spent more time arguing minutia and distros instead of forging ahead. Like most else that takes more than a few hours of effort, we lose interest and just don't do anything.
That's why the tech admin at the hospital told the Medical Professional to just relax and go back to Windows. Linux just wasn't ready for mainstream use.
It's in that statement alone that we must claim responsibility for failure...had we done what we know needs to be done, he could never make that statement aloud.
In this case, it didn't matter. She told him to go PUAR.
She told him that she refused to go back to a buggy, insecure system that enslaved her to maintenance and worry. She had been a GNU/Linux user for a week and refused to "downgrade to Windows". They would indeed GIVE her a laptop with the required wireless and closed software she needed to connect for work. She refused to put Windows back on her computer at home. Mint Linux had spoiled her. But it gets better.
When she discovered that she could have a pristine desktop and everything she needed with a right click, she fell in love. No more icons to shove around and out of the way, no more confusing menus...just straight computing the way it was meant to be.
Here we KDE and Gnome users are, slugging it out on the side and the new user walks away with Fluxbox. Go figure. And yes, she feels it is straight computing the way it is supposed to be.
A way to get things done.
So Bassett capitulated and gave her a laptop. When she does need to connect to the network, she uses that. Mark Van Kingsley did a great job with her and others like her. He did the job that we all could be doing...but we're busy. We don't have time. Even in what we thought was a small victory for us, we get this shoved in our face.
It's our own fault. Don't for the briefest of moments blame it on anyone else but ourselves.
But despite our best efforts to just lay in the quicksand and be absorbed, there are efforts being made out there that are making a difference. A huge difference.
We are going to look at the next victory on Thursday. It'll make you just wanna go hug someone.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
blather and mumbling provided by Ken Starks at 9:40 AM