The Mis-Adventures in Technology of an Old Dog Learning New Tricks…

Anyone who is 40 or under and raised as a user, rather than an expert, is unlikely to even remember MS-DOS. Let alone command-driven Unix.

The point-and-click interface of Windows 3.0 dropped 20 years ago, and the mass market no longer knows any other way. (The picture is from CNET Crave UK, a story about monitoring power on Windows using DOS commands.)

Users (as opposed to experts) expect that if a point-and-click solution doesn’t exist on their hard drive, or can’t be readily downloaded, that there will be an online service that can diagnose and fix the problem somewhere. That’s how they roll.

Ubuntu has never had the financial scale to provide this. GUIs like KDE and GNOME are great while you’re in them, but way too often you’re not in them, and when that happens you’re lost.

Let me illustrate with the example of a friend who recently bricked a netbook.

The unit originally ran Windows. He downloaded Ubuntu to a stick, but tired of Windows’ insatiable demands for space on his c: drive, which “only” had 8 GBytes.

When loaded from the stick, Ubuntu told him his Broadcom WiFi chip set needed an outside module, which was not open source. It found it, and loaded it, then told him to reboot. When rebooting from the stick did not work immediately (Windows got in the way),  my friend tried again, and learned his hard drive was now completely full.

So in frustration, but confident of success (he listened to me unfortunately), he followed the stick’s instructions and loaded Ubuntu directly, erasing his Windows machine. When he tried to reboot, the WiFi was not found. A check of the Web found a solution, but that solution led directly to command line hell.

Yes, there were solutions. Yes, my friend made mistakes. Maybe you think he’s an idiot. But he’s a mainstream user, and mainstream users demand a more forgiving environment.

True, Linux is strong and getting stronger. But if your desktop users have to boot to the equivalent of an old blinking c:/ prompt, and then face the horrors of creating and running a make file, those who succeed will no longer be users. They will be experts.

Thus systems like Ubuntu will remain education and hobbyist environments. Until you can deliver the applications people need and use (a changing landscape) without leaving the GUI, users who buy your line will just be making bricks.

The great hope of Android and Chromium, of Meego and Symbian, is that they can deliver a user experience just like this. By breaking down functions into apps, which are simply downloaded, run, and work, these Linux distros could finally enter the 1990s and compete with Windows and Apple on equal terms.

A boot to the equivalent of DOS frustrates mainstream users. Fewer-and-fewer can tolerate it. If you can’t avoid it you can’t compete.

from ZDNet http://blogs.zdnet.com/open-source/?p=6270&tag=wrapper;col1

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist for 30 years, a tech freelancer since 1983. You can follow Dana on Twitter. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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