Saturday, June 2, 2012

GNU/Linux and the Average User

Previously when someone said to me, "Oh, Linux isn't popular because it's not user friendly enough," my eyes would naturally widen in surprise and I would babble something about, "Well, if that was the case, don't you think a GNU/Linux-specific computer vendor such as my company, ZaReason, would notice that?" along with several other (usually ineffective) comments.

But I'm at my limit. If I hear one more person say, "Oh, Linux isn't popular because it's not user friendly enough," my eyes will pop out, roll down the sidewalk, and never come back.
Ubuntu, Mint, and many others are more than friendly enough for the average user. It's even friendly enough for little kids (see The Unscary Screwdriver) and for seniors (see my keynote at Ohio LinuxFest starting at 2:47 you hear two examples of the philanthropic of aspects of FLOSS for seniors in particular, sorry for the low quality of video). If it wasn't easy enough then ZaReason would be having problems shipping computers to newbies. But that "problem" just isn't on our radar. We're shipping out computers to people who call us to ask, "I've never used Linux before but I've heard it can do ___." Really. It's finally stable enough.
(photo by Porchcorpter, Creative Commons)

The second (bizarre, frustrating, nonsensical) reason is because of security. I have never effectively answered this one because it simply makes no sense. Note that I'm referring to how both sides use the word "security". Their definitions do not necessary match up.

People using Linux for the first time:
"I'm getting a Linux desktop for my ___ (family or friend) because s/he gets viruses all the time and I'm tired of cleaning up the mess.... need a computer with the security built in."

Devs, FLOSS advocates, GNU/Linux supporters:
"Average people can't use Linux because it's too open. It needs to be more secure so the average user can't access things by mistake that they shouldn't access."

Newbs want the security but experienced people say newbs shouldn't have access because they would break it.

I once heard a well-known person -- who shall not be named -- say this and he has devoted his life to building FLOSS. My response was an eloquent, "Wha?"

I understand what this looks like from his point of view. He sees things that he could do to help people avoid problems. And assuming the average user is going to do stupid things on a regular basis, this is a good idea. It makes sense.

Isn't that the reasoning people gave for not letting peasants learn to read? They won't know what to do with the information, so don't let them see the source code?

Furthermore, it's dangerous. They will break the world if they access this valuable precious information that they couldn't possibly know how to use.

But that's how literacy is built. By making mistakes, making messes.

In the early days of ZaReason Len at All About Ubuntu interviewed me (here), asking:

Len: How would you describe your customer base?

Cathy: Intelligent people.

And I'd like to keep it that way. It's ok if those soon-to-be intelligent people make a few mistakes along the way. So what. We'll deal with it.
(photo by Ryan Franklin, Creative Commons)

At the end of the day you have to choose:

1. Do you want a messy kid who knows how to make his own peanut butter sandwich or

2. Do you want a neat, clean kid who is incapable of getting his own food?

Give me the messy kid any day.

Isn't that the purpose of freedom?

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