The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
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Monday, January 31, 2011

Why We Insist on Linux on the Desktop

Just a note...when you click the "like" button on the facebook ad on the right, it enters us into a contest where we could receive a ton of help from local businesses. No votes count until 9 AM CST so watch the clock.  The facebook button will appear at 9 AM CST.  Just a click...that's all. Thanks for helping us do what we do. - h

The title to this article could just as easily have been, "Why We Don't Use Windows."

Besides being inflammatory,...well, that's reason enough.

Far be it from me to ever publish anything controversial.

The fact remains, we do insist on installing Linux with every computer we give away.

Sure, there are the philosophical reasons.  As well, there are financial incentives to do so, but in my the world of 1-3 computer installs every day of the week...

I simply don't want to be bothered with those problems associated with the use of a Windows computer.

Now look, there have been computers we've installed sporting Windows.  Some of our kids have Windows-specific application needs.  Giving a child the wrong set of tools is as bad as not giving him any at all.

It doesn't happen often but it does happen.  When this is necessary, I purchase the Windows License out of my pocket.  At the same time, we tell the child and parent that we will not support virus or operating system failures.

We can't...we don't have the resources.  Some of these machines are deployed 75-100 miles away.  We simply cannot support an operating system that will surely develop often and well documented problem-sets.

Those Windows installs have now come to a halt.  Between the ease-of-use of VirtualBox and Codeweaver's generosity, we now have alternatives to installing Windows.

We deploy Crossover judiciously as we don't want to pass around this great program willy-nilly.  While Codeweavers is not in the business of giving their product away, they have granted us permission to install in on our kid's computers when necessary.

Oh and by the way, Codeweavers has released their latest effort, codenamed Impersonator.  The improvements are largely in the way Crossover handles the installation of Windows apps and the "support" for apps that haven't appeared in the "supported" list.  I test drove it the day it came out and I am impressed.  For the price, it delivers way past the initial investment.

The reasons we focus on giving our computers to children should be obvious.  As well, there are reasons we vastly curtailed giving our computers to adults.  Let me 'splain...

For a year, we were listed in the City of Austin's "211" program.  This is basically a telephonic and online database of community services.  We began receiving calls from Veterans Aid groups, among other organizations, asking us for help in providing veterans with computers.

Let me tell you why we are no longer in that database.

We were referred to a lady...let's call her Elaine.  Elaine had completed rehabilitation training and was currently being enrolled in a junior college to gain an associates degree.  We gladly complied with the request and I personally delivered the computer to her and spent over an hour just showing her how to use the system.

All seemed well.  Our 30 day and 60 day check-back calls were met by her answering machine and since we never got a callback, I assumed things were spiffy.

We had also supplied a computer to a veteran in the same complex, in fact, just a few doors down from Elaine.  It was only later that I found that they were friends.

On our 60 day check-back with this other lady, I asked her if she knew how Elaine was doing with her HeliOS Project computer.

She made a disapproving sound into the phone.

"She hated it." The friend stated.  "All she did was bitch about how she couldn't do this or couldn't do that.  Even after I showed her how to transfer her digital photos from her camera to her computer and showed her how to save documents in .doc format, she still complained."

Her basic gripe?

It wasn't Windows.

It didn't matter that she could effortlessly access her college websites.  It didn't matter to her that she could do every function on her Linux machine she could do in Windows.

It wasn't Windows and therefore it sucked.

As soon as Elaine got a settlement check from the VA, she went out and bought a brand new computer, "complete" with Windows.

Fair enough.

I called Elaine and told her that I knew she had bought another computer and that I was authorizing her to release the one we gave her to her friend.  I would pick it up from there.

I got the call from her friend within the hour and had the computer in hand by the end of the day.  And for the record, the machine I gave her was a Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4 GHz Quad Core Processor with 3 gigs of RAM, a 160 gig hard drive, DVD/CD RW+- with a Dell 525 2.1 speaker system.

And to be honest, this was pretty much the last straw.  We had received calls from numerous 211 recipients that they had installed Windows on HeliOS machines and then needed support in getting rid of malware and viruses.

One guy said he was getting a black screen on boot, telling him that child porn was present on his computer and unless he made a payment to "unlock the machine and delete the filth", they would report him to local police.

This is not a common malware occurrence.  I've only seen it once in the wild but does exist.  Regardless...I wasn't touching it.

The fact remains, at least in my mind...Linux is a wasted effort on most adult computer users.  Our efforts are best spent in providing for and educating kids in Linux and technology.  Between the little snits and the landslide of virus complaints from users of Windows, it's gotten pretty discouraging.

Kids don't have any philosophical or political concerns when they sit at a keyboard.  They still have open minds and are able to assimilate different ideas and use them.

To my eye?  Adults not so much....with a few exceptions

All-Righty then


gagy said...

You are so right!
Kids, thats's where it really counts. One must look towards to the future. Furthermore these kids are so smart. It would be a shame not to give them the best possible chance in this hard world. Given limited resources, one has to make a choice. Yours is an excellent one, as far as I am concerned.
Your efforts should be financially supported by all of us.


Anonymous said...

And for the record, the machine I gave her was a Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4 GHz Quad Core Processor with 3 gigs of RAM, a 160 gig hard drive, DVD/CD RW+- with a Dell 525 2.1 speaker system.

holy crap. How do I sign up for your program. Is this consistently the level of computer you give away?

PV said...

That's what I like telling other people, such as my cousin and her family (whom I have mentioned here before more than once). I installed Ubuntu on my cousin's laptop not just so she could get the cool Mac-like look but so that I didn't have to deal with Microsoft Windows headaches. Sadly, she's gone back to that other OS, just because she "needs" iTunes (even though Amarok or Banshee would work just fine with her iPod Touch) and because she somehow thinks that Ubuntu has made her system cluttered. (There's also the legitimate complaint of the printer not working with Ubuntu, and that's because Lexmark works as well with Linux printer drivers as Broadcom did (until recently) with Linux wireless drivers.) Other than that, most of my other friends on whose computers I have installed Linux have taken to it quite well. Also, I agree with your assertions that adults who are locked into their ways aren't worth it. Let them continue spending out of pocket for toys that break easily. But finally, I don't think that the statement about giving a child "the wrong set of tools" is true all the time (but it is most of the time). Look at TurboTax (for adults, admittedly), many games (not educational, admittedly), Adobe programs like Dreamweaver, and stuff like that. Sometimes, unfortunately, there just aren't any [suitable] alternatives. I love Linux as much as you, and while it's made huge strides recently, there is still more work that can be done. Of course, one way to help this is by introducing open-source applications on Microsoft Windows (e.g. Mozilla Firefox,, Pidgin, and even KDE).
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

John Hardin said...

How do I sign up for your program.

Get wounded in A'stan?

Unknown said...

I used to say it's not "rocket science", but perhaps it might as well be. It's different, but people are, sadly, unwilling to learn something new.

I did some 15+ years ago and I've not regretted it and I've pretty much not looked back some three years after I got started. I find it amazing, but unsurprising, that people can't do the same thing.

Do I blame you, Ken? Hardly.

kdr323 said...

I don't mean to be mean to Mr. Bill Gates and microsoft. However if it wasn't for Bill Gates and Microsoft indoctorinating the computer industry. In the United States and possibly the world more adults would be open to linux OS's.

Having said that in the last year or 2 I have been tinkering with Ubuntu and Linux Mint.. I havent completely gone away from windows yet as I got programs I use that dont work on Linux right now,and of course hard to get away from what is familiar due to i deal with the family's pc issues.

Anonymous said...

I was 44 years old when I first tried Ubuntu. I am now 48 and I use it almost exclusively. Maybe I am just a big kid.

Anonymous said...

It depends on the person and their willingness to be open-minded. I've converted both of my parents and my sister-in-law to Linux, but everyone else has one reason or another to stay with Windows (my wife needs Adobe CS and has a Mac).

I think think you're right that it's best to start with kids, who haven't been taught for decades that a PC is something that has a "start" button at the bottom-left. After all, that's why Microsoft pushes their crap into schools at firesale rates, and Apple used to back when I was a kid. However, I'd say it's a mistake to write off adults in general. Give them an opportunity, and, if that fails, leave them on their own with the viruses and awfulness.

Anonymous said...

Last fall, I forced my 80 yr old mother to Lubuntu 10.04 after she got lots of viruses, spyware, and at least 1 rootkit.

Besides replacing her crap Canon printer and not being able to run TurboTax, she's been happy. I even got Quicken 2011 Premium running well under WINE.

Oh, she's on a 1GB Pentium4.

With NX, my remote support has been fantastic compared with previous MS-Windows attempts.

I'm much happier too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

I was 44 and a Linux greenhorn (no experience whatsoever) when I first began using Ubuntu. For this reason, some have called me an anomaly (this means you :) ). I had been using a Windows computer at home and didn't have a clue how to operate it, other than the different security software programs I had to use (antivirus, firewall, spyware) to keep it malware-free. I have learned a fair bit about Linux (including how to gnash my teeth when trying to get the 3D graphics on my video card working - never worked in Ubuntu 6.06, sometimes in 8.04 and always in 10.04). I had help from an instructor at a computer store who taught DIY courses on how to put a computer together, who also showed us how to install both Windows and a Linux OS (Fedora). I am no longer afraid to do fresh installs of Ubuntu (takes so little time to install the basic OS that it is faster than trying to figure out what I screwed up on the machine!). It has been a lot of fun, even though the learning curve has been rather painful. Never ever will I go back to Windows. I also love the open source philosophy, especially when compared to the rather bizarre business tactics of companies like that one in Redmond.

Dorothy the Canuck

Unknown said...


Email me helios att fixedbylinux dott komm if you see this. Your old email is bouncing.

Anonymous said...

A long time ago, I had heard about Unix. Later, at a library, I borrowed a book about Unix. From that, I heard about Unix concepts like multitasking, terseness, portability and its cryptic syntax. What stood out for me was MULTITASKING and POWER. I wanted those features, so I stuck around Unix. I also heard about how expensive a Unix license was. Then, I heard about Linux and the work of the FSF to "modernize" Unix. I found out that Linux, a Unix-like OS was free for the download. That was in 1995, with the Slackware 95 distribution.

Anonymous said...

The way I see it, Linux is ideally suited to teaching children about computers. When you think about it, it's glaringly obvious! What other OS allows and, what's more, encourages users to experiment and learn? Certainly not locked down proprietary systems which treat users like idiots in order to 'protect' them but then can't even accomplish that much! By the same token, Linux is also ideal for any adults who really want to learn how to USE their computer rather than just learn to use MS Office.

Sum Yung Gai said...

It's as true in schools as it was for those adults you spoke of here. Kids, no problem. Adults, prejudiced. You did the right thing.

Dewi said...

Great to hear that you insist on Linux on the Desktop. Keep up the good work.
I started using Linux in 2003 and have never looked backed.
I only started enjoying using computers when i stopped using microsoft.
I only wish that more schools would use Linux.

Anonymous said...

I gave up on Windows support years ago. I had mercy on one lady about 3 months ago, she uses her computer for online classes. She had classic ransomware installed and all attempts to access the wed resulted in redirection to a scam scan site. Nothing else worked on her computer. I re-installed the OS from scratch using the restore partition (Vista, long long long boring but easy process). I set her up with Windows security essentials, tweaked it a little bit and returned it. Less than 2 hours later I got a call, the computer was "doing it again". You can't fix dense. Despite telling her she was secure (relatively, since this is Windows), she went and downloaded the same fake AVG from the same site.

"Could you fix it again?". No, I wasted 14 hours the first time, either Geek squad or Linux. I never heard back from her. I assume I am the bad guy in all this.


Unknown said...

I assume I am the bad guy in all this.

I'd rather be the bad guy than the patsy that is expected to pour hours into a repair that's going to be broken again...and again and again...

Anonymous said...

not surprising. Both of my kids are running linux on their laptops full time. Their friends have installed linux because they want to be cool as well. The kids are where to invest time and efforts in.

zingyyellow said...


I mailed you some time ago with a video that you had to watch, it was on google video just as it shut it's doors.
So it's now on youtube. You do some incredible work and I know you believe in the work you do. My kids use Linux on their laptops, though M$ at school.

I think you should watch this, perhaps you've already seen it, but it will make sense of the task that you have set yourself, in fact anyone who reads this and believes in the future Linux should watch it... it inspires if nothing else!!

Valdis said...

Seniors are not wasted effort if they haven't used computer before. I have set up Linux for all my uncles and aunt without complaints.

Anonymous said...

I have been using personal computers since 1989. Started on Windows and switched over to Apple in 1998. However just like with Microsoft I grew tired of Apple's BS and switched to Linux in 2007. I am now 40 years old, so I would say you can teach an old dog new tricks.

To the anonymous poster who says he will no longer support windows, I completely agree with you. I fail to see why I should fix for free what someone else paid good money for. Does not MS stand behind there product?? Silly question I know.

Anonymous said...

"Kids don't have any philosophical or political concerns when they sit at a keyboard. They still have open minds and are able to assimilate different ideas and use them."

Guess that describes me,...I can't stand using that Other OS...dealing with its makes my blood pressure go up just dealing with all its crap and instability. Yeah I am biased to the penguin all the way, to the point of peeling those stupid little stickers of of the machines and scuffing those win keys....

Anonymous said...

"Kids don't have any philosophical or political concerns when they sit at a keyboard. They still have open minds and are able to assimilate different ideas and use them."

Guess that describes me,...I can't stand using that Other OS...dealing with its makes my blood pressure go up just dealing with all its crap and instability. Yeah I am biased to the penguin all the way, to the point of peeling those stupid little stickers of of the machines and scuffing those win keys....

Anonymous said...

You talk about the kids, but the business people in the real world have lots of custom applications written for Windows exclusively. Off the shelve software, but many more custom made for the business needs that they have. It is just impossible for linux to take over in the business world until they can run those apps. Wine is just not doing it. So as long as linux people can't address this fact, forget about it, it won't happen. Sad but true. Instead of bitching about Windows, work to beat it.

Unknown said...

It is just impossible for linux to take over in the business world until they can run those apps.

In the first place, I can understand why you posted anonymously. You create an argument completely foreign to the post.

No one is talking about Microsoft's place in the software market. The point was made that many adults are either too computer-inept to do but a few tasks or they simply rather suffer the slings and arrows of Windows viruses and malware than try something new.

You miss the point completely with your rant. Kids can learn at the speed of thought. Many adults are simply not open or willing to learn another concept in operating the computer.

I won't waste our time or resources on them anymore...but maybe with an occasional exception.


Not Anonymous said...

In response to "Blog of helios said... ...I won't waste our time or resources on them anymore...but maybe with an occasional exception."

Point being here is that I also use Ubuntu for personal things, but as I was saying for work I need Windows software. Somehow, I don't really have any nightmare with Windows. It just runs. You watch where you go and you avoid lots of virus. So again, I can't use it for the software I need and can't recommend it for the same reasons. Do I like Ubuntu?, very much, but again.

Is this correct for you now?

Unknown said...

Somehow, I don't really have any nightmare with Windows. need to come hear some of the calls I get...I mean, it's the same problems from the same people over and over and over. And what chaps me is that it isn't only a's probably 70 percent of the Windows computers we've given out. It's madness.

Still, My life is much easier teaching these kids Linux. It gives them balance and way more to do on our custom install. It would take me hours to include the stuff we put in our Linux distro into a Windows install.

Besides, it's the whole freedom thing...Have you read the EULA MS wants you to agree to? Personally, I cannot abide by it.

Unknown said...

Great article. You'r written about a sad truth. I've had the same sorts of problems with my linux give-aways.

Michelle Minkin said...

Have you read the EULA MS wants you to agree to?

Helios, that was the last straw for me. Once I became aware of what I was being asked to agree to, I couldn't begin the migration to Linux fast enough. Before that, Linux had been a curiosity. Since 2006, it has been my mainstay. Sure the world runs on MS Windows but the anonymous comment that MS apps won't work in Linux is silly. Sure there are a few but I've used equal amounts of Wine and Crossover and even some of the latest MS crapware runs flawlessly.

I would be curious to know how many people actually read the MS EULA and still use it. I don't know how I would feel about people like that.


aikiwolfie said...

Actually I say you're wrong to write off all adults because of some stupid people. "Elaine's" friend is proof there are adults out there worth investing in.

She clearly got it. Her Linux machine could do anything she wanted to do and didn't need anything else.

I think what you guys have to do is be more discriminating about who you give computers to. Perhaps when dealing with adults, focus on helping other charities setup computer rooms for their clients. And strike up a written agreement that you will only provide support for the original operating system installed on the PC at the point of delivery.

Writing people off is never a good move for a charity. You just need to find a better way to educate adults.

Unknown said...

While I agree with you on a practical and philosophical level, the reality of logistics and availability rule here. We've decided that the kids are who we need to concentrate on and IF we have any left over...yeah, then maybe a more discriminating look at some adults can take place. It just chaps my a$$ that we gave a computer to someone who let it sit for months when it could have been used by a child who could grow from the experience.

Anonymous said...

I was scanning Indeed a while back, exploring Linux jobs and on a humorous note, there was a Geek Squad technician job that listed, as a requirement, experience with Live Linux CDs that are used to extract data and troubleshoot Windows PCs. Really, I think that requirement states it all. Going on a tangent, the lucrative "Windows PC" marketplace is based entirely on it NOT being reliable. Ole Balmer said it himself, for ever $ spent on Windows, $10 is spent in the Windows enabled ecosystem. Heck, without the "optimization" hard sells, Best Buy might already have followed Circuit City.


Anonymous said...

I've been in the computer business for longer than I'd care to say. Windows didn't exist (neither did MS-DOS) when I started. I've worked with Apple, DEC, DG, HP, IBM, SGI and Sun OSs over the years. I currently work full time on Linux systems for a living. My daily-use desktops are Windows because I don't want to be bothered getting the tools I need to do my job to run. They just work on Windows. All of them. Not all but a few, but all of them. That's sufficient reason to avoid Linux desktops. The UI is better on better on a couple of other platforms, but since I can't do everything from those platforms, Windows is the platform that gets used.

Dennis Kittinger said...

That's sufficient reason to avoid Linux desktops

No, that's sufficient reason for you to avoid Linux desktops.

And yea for you. So what about projects like HeliOS? Would it be better if they put Windows on these computers? Maybe so, maybe not. The fact remains that this organization gives away hundreds of computers a year. I might suggest that if you think these kids would be better off using Windows, you might spring for 50 licensed copies for them.

So good for you. the HeliOS kids are going to grow up knowing more than one way to use their computer...chances are that by the time they hit the workforce, the skills they learn as they grew up using Linux will pay off.

And besides, I just purchased the latest version of Crossover. I am an architectural engineer by trade and my AutoCad runs fine within Linux. My guess is that this quantum leap with Crossover will run other previously-unsupported apps as well.

So you can defend your need for using Windows all you want. In my profession, the only thing I bother to fire up Windows for is Netflix...and I do that via VirtualBox.

NotZed said...

Actually you're somewhat selling your child short if you don't expose them to multiple systems. I grew up with C=64 and Amiga at home, and apple, dos and later windows, sunos and macos at university and work - and all the different applications that existed on those systems.

And now i'm probably what you'd call a 'computer whizz' - I can work with anything if I need to.

If i'd only known windows and word i'd be next to useless.

simfield said...

Hmm, I see the point of elderly people wanting to use Windows, if they've "grown up" with it, but eliminating all adults as untrusted to be given a Linux machine, well that's your call, your project, your money, etc. There are very many Linux users as the GUI has become more prominent in the use of, mostly adults I would say.
There is also the problem that Kids at school generally, (here in Australia) use Windows OS's. They would never get any home work done if they were forced to undertake the tough learning curve Linux Distros require. Plus they would be incompatible with there school mates, and more importantly, the school's curriculum, which in my children's case requires Windows based programmes.
I use PCLinuxOS, my kids are aware it exists, and one day will probably give it a try, however we have to be compliant with our peers, and Education system. Don't get me wrong, I've spent hundred's of hours fixing Windows OS problems. Enjoy Linux, forget political, consumerism, it's here and will take quite awhile to overcome. A heck of a lot of people believe Windows is the only Operating System available, keep up the great work with the Helios project !