October 19, 2002

Commentary: On whether it takes a geek to love Linux

- By An Anonymous Guest Author
There is an idea going around that Linux is not just for geeks ... some say that a good distro, like Mandrake, is easy enough for most ordinary PC users to adopt. I want to tell you my experience...

(Note: The author of this article asked us to publish this story about his Linux experiment anonymously. I know him know him well enough to tell you that what he's saying here is the truth, based on his own experience, and that he is not connected in any way to Microsoft, Lindows or any other company he mentions. -- Robin "Roblimo" Miller)

I've been sitting at a SGI box for many years. And I'm a PC user since the Comm64 days. I think I played with my first Fortran programs in the mid-'60s. So I have had one foot in both camps for a long time. I tended to use a PC at home, the SGI box at the office, delighted not to depend on the mainframe. I was very frustrated at trying to run emulation software on the SGI box, so I gave up and have a PC sitting next to it, for writing the important things, like proposals and manuscripts.

But I have had one luxury; I'm supposed to "do science," so I have had one or more programmers working for me for a long, long time. They have "protected me" from having to know the real stuff about Unix. Over the past year, however, I have tried to move over to being a much more competent Unix user. I adopted OpenOffice software, Mozilla, and as many cross platform programs as possible. Those are a piece of cake.

I think I'm pretty good on the PC side, with Windows of many flavors. So, with great enthusiasm, I downloaded Mandrake 8.2, burned the installation CDs, and installed it on my primary home machine. I set up the machine to dual boot, but used Linux almost exclusively for two weeks or more. So I can tell you that I am _able_ to do it. I could connect via modem or the cable. I really could make it work. I installed and configured my primary working software (Matlab) from Unix, and it worked (most of the time).

Perhaps I was just not far enough along on the learning curve ... but I realized I was spending most of my time trying to make things work. Finding where some obscure file would be; and people on the boards would tell me, very helpfully, to look in /etc/XR16/whatever (this is on the Mandrake boards, mind) but the file would not be there ... it would be over in /usr/magic/whatever ...; I'm sure you know what I mean. One must do this tweaking, it seems, for every program. And there are hundreds of programs we use routinely.

And finally I decided, I am spending all my time trying to make the friggin computer _work_ and precious little time doing anything useful with the #%&* thing.

And so I gave up. I am a pretty ornery fellow, and I rarely give up on _anything_. Tail dragging between my legs, I shifted back over to Win2000. And surprise! I felt as if I had come home again. A teenie bit guilty, and yes I got my butt kicked, but happy to be home. Maybe you have to be an undergrad when you start Unix for the neurons to get used to it. I thought of myself as a "true believer," but the price was too high.
As long as I am able to support a good programmer to protect me from the "good stuff" of Unix I am once again very happy to leave it to her.

I would suggest to you that, for all our deep seated dislike of Gates, the Evil Empire has made it possible for us to click on a program, download it, and install it easily as part of our windoze system. I get utilities from PC Mag on a regular basis; new anti-virus files almost weekly ...

And all of these work -- just like Lindows claims Click and Run Warehouse works. I know it sounds traitorous, but until every normal Linux Distro works as easily as the "normal" PC downloads, it seems most unlikely that Linux can make a serious intrusion into the standard office or desktop environment.

Keep up your good work, and thanks.

- (name removed) -

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