December 24, 2003

Washington Post explains why I give my stepdaughters Linux computers

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

I've written before about why Linux is the best operating system to give on a "gift" computer to a friend or family member who is light on technical expertise. Now Washington Post tech columnist Rob Pegoraro has written a column about poor computer company tech support (warning: taking an annoying survey may be required to read the article) that confirms my opinion.Let's start by noting that I gave stepdaughter Alicia and her children a computer loaded with Mandrake Linux a little over three years ago. I gave Alicia only the most basic instructions, and told her to push keys and see what happened, because that was the best training. And, I said, if things started acting screwy because of her experiments, just restart the thing.

Alicia was not an experienced computer user. At the time, she and her children were living on state assistance, in subsidized housing. She had a GED, not a high school diploma. But she learned enough about her GNU/Linux operating system and the software it ran that she was soon able to write letters and a resume, do rudimentary Web site maintenance tasks (and get paid for them), find and play music by her favorite artists on BET, and after a while she even started to experiment with online dating services (which is how she met her current boyfriend).

Unlike poor Rob Pegoraro, who often acts as tech support for his family when their computers, running high-priced proprietary operating systems, don't behave properly, I have spent hardly any time solving computer problems for Alicia. This is not because Mandrake has given her superior tech support or even because she takes advantage of the many Linux community support Web sites and discussion forums, but because she has needed no support. Her computer simply works. I have upgraded it once, mostly to install some new game and education software for her children, and her only real showstopper problem, ever, turned out to be a bad phone cord.

Now it's time to give stepdaughter Katina and her children a computer; even poverty-ridden Baltimore schools nearly require Internet access to do homework research, and Alicia is tired of Katina calling her all the time for kid homework help. You're crazy if you think I'm giving Katina a computer running Windows or Mac OSX. She, like her sister, is getting good ol' reliable Linux, loaded on proven (AKA "used") hardware. My wife (Alicia's and Katina's mother) and I have moved to Florida, and there is no way I could handle Windows support for the girls from 1000 miles away.

Pegoraro's column was about how the tech support given by most computer and software companies is so poor that informal user-to-user groups (and users' relatives) end up shouldering much of their support burden. Yet, over and over, we hear "lack of corporate support" as a reason not to use Linux.

My stepdaughters, running used hardware and free software with no expectation of corporate support, will probably never have as many problems with their computers as most people who get new computers loaded with highly-marketed commercial operating systems and software.

There's a message here for PC company executives who are watching their sales either stay flat or decline. Do you think any of them will listen?

Category:

  • Linux
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