Performing Brain Surgery On Yourself

by Caitlyn Martin

Some years ago Linux creator Linus Torvalds famously compared changing operating systems to "performing brain surgery on yourself". I've quoted him often because so many people seem to have unrealistic expectations when they pick up a Linux DVD or CD-ROM. I've recently received a couple of e-mails in response to my articles here on O'Reillynet that illustrate Linus' point beautifully and demonstrate part of the problem Linux has faced in gaining greater acceptance on the desktop. OK, one of the e-mails was addressed to Cathy, whoever that is, but since it came to my inbox I'll assume it was meant for me. Here are some excerpts:


Anonymous Coward
2007-02-06 17:18:35
Looking at the quotes it looks like those protesting that they aren't idiots doth protest too much. Most people seem to have no problem moving from Windows to Linux if they have half a brain in my experience. Considering that the folks who wrote you can't spell, capitalize, use proper grammer, or even punctuate a sentence I'm not surprised they had problems doing anything at all unfamiliar.
2007-02-07 00:14:33
well.. i moved to linux about 5 months ago...all ive been wondering is "Linux where were you all this while?"... all the questons i come up with is already replied to and archived in some forums...just need to google for it...if i can figure out linux...then so can anyone(provided they really want to).
Hans Bezemer
2007-02-07 03:15:02
"Don't assume the rest of us are idiots - I take personal offense to your language asserting in essence that the rest of us are just not illuminated". I don't assume this particular user is an idiot. I know it. That he-or-she takes personal offense is only good - may be the experience is illuminating. In this particular case I'm not sure that "ignorence is a bliss".

I've been working with Linux since the turn of the century. The first day, everything worked except my scanner and my tapedrive. In those days applications weren't half as good as they are now, but fortunately the major ones (LyX, Gimp, Netscape, gcc, xCDRoast) were good enough. The sheer responsiveness, security and reliability were just a breeze of fresh air. I've never looked back.

Those days I still dual-booted, nowadays QEMU, DosBox, Wine and DosEmu fill the gap that legagy applications (MM CD-roms, games) left behind. And my next computer will still run Linux of some sort. I still use Windows at work - but only since I have no choice. I hate it - more and more every single day.

2007-02-07 03:30:46
OK... So I'm a dinasaur when it comes to linux. I have run slackware (no distro wars please) for over 10 years now. (Yes... The old acer dx486 rocked!) And it has happily lived ever after next to whatever OS was previously installed, on whatever machine I had.
As such, I feel that rather than responding to an *in your face* comment by being the same does no one any good.
Caitlyn, please don't be defensive. Please just let people know that there are many more choices to be had. Just think....... How many operating systems go to the time and effort to create live CDs ? (Guess what duud... MS doesn't !!)
Lets just expound about the positive. And if someone has a question, answer it and smile.
2007-02-07 03:44:17
Caitlyn - This is on target and as one might expect, a huge troll target. Congratulations for drawing them out in such numbers. They say sunlight is the best disinfectant...Is that the distinct smell of lysol?

As a hyper-active Linux Advocate, I have found much of the same thing. Two things come into play here. The ones that say "Linux Sux" out of hand, without knowing a flippin' thing about it are members of one camp or another. Either they are too lazy to even bother discovering a better way or they have so much time invested in learning Windows that they cannot afford to discover a better way. It would cost them dearly.

This is the case with most sysadmins I deal with. They know Linux is better...on the server and desktop. They just can't make a living fixing something that will not break. As for the others, I don't fool with them any more. When I received a howling protest from someone not long ago because he had to change his bios to allow booting from CD, I gave up on this sub-catagory.

"Microsoft is easy enough for any idiot". Somehow Ballmer sums it up best.


2007-02-07 04:46:23
Good article, great responses. I am sure that the initial emails that she received were full of the usual drivel that Linux advocates have to deal with on an almost daily basis. Even willing to be there was a bit of language involved.

There is a learning curve with any software. How familiar you are with it beforehand goes a long way.

I do not know about other SysAdmins but I have more things on my plate and the less stuff breaks, the better I look. It is great going to an annual review and having the manager (who is not a techie) gush over the 99% up time. Between slow infrastructure upgrades, meetings, managing the techs, software evaluation, keeping up with the latest security threats, checking logs, and dealing with the Windows desktops (working on getting rid of those) I have plenty to fill 50 hours a week.

sean lynch
2007-02-07 04:53:12

Great article! You really summed up one of the hurdles of moving to Linux in a concise way.

I always use the example of "C" drive and "A" drive vs. hda1 and fd0. I explain that people are not born knowing what an "C" drive is, but their years of working with Windows has made that knowledge second nature. They picked up that kind of knowledge as they went along.

There will be some new things to learn with Linux, but they will pick it up as they go along. Its not rocket science, I explain. If a college drop out like Bill Gates can run a computer, so can anyone.

2007-02-07 06:36:37
The Grandma test

Our Grandmas (and Granddads) are a lot more sophisticated than they used to be. People have to adapt to the technology of the time. Someday, we too, will become Grandmas and Granddads. So will our children.

2007-02-07 07:12:48
Actually, Windows users are idiots. Anyone who uses Windows is in an abusive relationship.
2007-02-07 08:31:48
Great article. My mother also did the grandmother test thing. She normally uses Macs at school and at home has XP. She came to visit last summer. When she wanted to check her email and do a little surfing, I told her to use my Ubuntu computer.

She was singing the praises of Linux until she left. My computer was so attractive and fast compared to hers. I just pointed her to the appropriate locations to open Firefox and later OOo and off she went. She has no idea to this day that she wasn't using Windows, but she'd really like me to configure her computer to work like mine. Oh yeah, she also liked it when I told her that I don't worry about spyware and scan my machine for viruses once a month.

If anything, Linux is far more suitable for grandmothers. It's a nightmare for her having to deal with security, performance issues (such as defragmenting a HD), and software management with Windows.

The only way you could think Linux is hard is if you are just making things up, or if you are thinking of Linux in 1996.

Sum Yung Gai
2007-02-07 10:14:17
Right on. Also check out the April 2006 section of Helios's blog, An 86-year-old great grandmother also learned to use GNU/Linux. Same with the rest of her retirement community; a bunch of them are on it.
2007-02-07 12:09:11
I started with Linux 3 years ago, and I haven't looked back since. To me, it is more than an operating system, but an example of the wonderful things we humans are capable of when we work together. Although I'll happily hand out a Linux Distro to anyone who asks for one, my favorite way of introducing Linux to others is to wait until their Windows goes "Boots Up", then show them how to use a Live Linux Distro to save their data before they reformat and reload. Even those who go back to Windows then at least have a basic understanding and appreciation for Linux, and aren't afraid to use it when they need it. I generally ignore the detractors, and tell them to call Bill Gates when they run into problems and want me to fix their Windows issues for them.
Teach those who are willing to learn, and let the rest of them get it the hard way.
Karl O. Pinc
2007-02-07 15:16:10
Quite right, Linux is not Microsoft Windows. Some major differences for the un-initiated:

Linux has no drivers (at least if you're new to Linux).

If you have to install Linux drivers you're using Linux in Microsoft Windows mode, and will have to suffer accordingly. If the driver does not come with your Linux distro, it's most likely not part of the Linux ecosystem at all. Because it's tacked on, you'll have to worry about version compatibility, support for your distribution, manually obtaining updated drivers, and so forth. Just like MS Windows. You'll particularly suffer when upgrading, which Linux users do constantly because there's no reason not to -- unless you're using Linux like it was MS Windows. Sometimes the pain of installing a 3rd party driver is worthwhile, but don't think that it's part of the Linux experience.

Linux distributions include _everything_ (at least if you're new to Linux).

Installing a program that does not come with your distribution is like installing software written for Microsoft Windows on an Apple Macintosh. You can make it work if you know enough and are willing to spend enough time, but don't think you're having a Linux experience. The experienced Linux user chooses a distribution that comes with the programs he uses.

Different Linux distributions are different operating systems.

Linux is not one thing, especially Linux on the desktop. If you want to know the 'one true way' to accomplish a particular task using Linux, then you'll probably have to use the command line. Do you expect Microsoft Windows XP to work just like Microsoft Windows ME? No. So don't expect different Linuxes to be the same.

Different Linux distributions are all the same operating system.

All Linuxes share a common core, with roots that go back to the original Unix from 1970. A Unix user, or administrator, or programmer, from 20 years ago would feel quite at home on Linux today. If you do decide to learn more about Linux your time investment will be well spent. What you learn today will, for the most part, remain relevant tomorrow. Naturally, it's possible to spend a lot of time learning something used by only one Linux distribution, but after spending a little time it's pretty obvious what's part of the large common core of Linux and what's on the periphery.

Because Unix has been around so long, there's plenty of documentation freely available. The hard part will be un-learning the Microsoft vocabulary because they've tended to borrow and distort pre-existing terminology. Do not assume that because you know the meaning of a word in Microsoft Land that you know what the word means. Because the Unix vocabulary is closely tied to specific concepts you will certainly find yourself learning more than you had previously about the underlying operation of the computer.

Linux comes with instructions, but it also comes with people.

You know those README files? Remarkably, README files on Linux contain useful information. The bad part is that you may not have the vocabulary to really understand them. Fortunately, there are Linux people who will help. They will even come to your house. You can find these real, live, human beings at your local Linux user's group. One list of the Linux users' groups can be found at

Linux lets you make notes to yourself as you learn.

If you do decide to delve into the innards of Linux, you'll be able to leave yourself notes on what you're learning and why you've made particular decisions in your computer's configuration. This is because Linux keeps all of it's "settings" in plain old text files. Files that you can read. Files that you can leave little notes to yourself in. Very likely these configuration files contain notes that somebody else has left for you to read.

Leon Brooks
2007-02-07 16:09:10
Nice, accurate, not always as patient as it might be but much more patient than it could have been.

I switched from Windows for Workgroups 3.11 to Linux and would find returning to 'Doze very difficult. One of the first things I'd do would be install a lot of the FOSS software (like OpneOffice, PuTTY, XMing, GIMP etc) to try to win back some of the missing functionality.

Fine last words, too.

2007-02-07 17:15:49
2007-02-07 22:04:42
You get offended when people call you Cathy? Maybe you should send Linus an email addresses to "Linux Torvalds" and see if he likes it.
2007-02-07 22:05:18


I can not believe no one has noticed this. Shame...

Lord Floppy
2007-02-07 22:17:36
Good article. Im a Mac OS and Linux user. So far really only dabbling with Ubuntu and a few distro live cds that were recommended (Saboyan, Knoppix, and Slax) Im having issues with the whole install thing outside of synaptic, and figuring what themes are compatible with my sytem, but I press on. I think desktop linux has a lot of potential in the immediate future. The software is well written and the developers are constantly pushing the envelope. I love what Beryl can do. I see FOSS as the choice for more people, Mozilla has done an amazing job and openoffice is getting better recognition. Im just hoping that government at all levels from local to national start migrating to Linux and FOSS and stop buying MS with tax dollars.
2007-02-07 22:20:38
That's an excellent and well written article, Caitlyn. Great job.
Malav Dhalgara
2007-02-07 22:23:24
First of all, great article and thanks for pointing out the old quote made by Linus! I truely agree with your points, users who are new to Linux environment often suffer great pain because they tend to think linux=windows and they make themselves stubborn by claiming that it should be.

Tell you the truth, when I switched to linux (dual-boot), my sister started booting into linux rather than windows! She felt it was more stable and felt more welcoming than using windows. I was quite surprised to hear that from her due to the fact that she is a complete novice. I think it doesn't matter what OS you are running, what matters is you have the guts to welcome different platforms and accept the fact that it IS different! And it should be, just like multicultural community.

Malav Dhalgara

Mike A.
2007-02-07 22:46:34
Caitlyn... Wow! I am impressed. I teach computer courses in both Windows and Linux at a local technical college, and am very impressed with your patience and objectivity in responding to this person's email. From the sound of it, I doubt that the person who wrote it will ever understand what you are saying, or give Linux another try (frankly, I'm afraid I smell an alternative agenda on their part). But as for the hundreds or thousands of other newbies and wannabe's who read your response, I believe you gave a most compelling and respectful explanation of the community of users that stand behind Linux. Everybody has to be a beginner once, and we all remember what it was like. ESPECIALLY those of us who started in Windows! Perhaps others who read this will appreciate your efforts, heed your encouragement, and give Linux an HONEST evaluation.


Mike A. in Austin, TX.

Anonymous Blowhard
2007-02-07 23:04:58
>There are no .dll or .inf files. Those are exclusively Microsoft concepts.

There are, however, shared librares and configuration files. Those are not exclusively Microsoft concepts.

A very poorly phrased statement that makes the author sound ignorant.

2007-02-07 23:14:12
I've run Ataris, Macs, Amigas, Windows, and now I'm solidly Linux at home.

Each time I've made a platform change, I've had to find a way to move the data that was important to the new platform, get the baseline functions going on the new platform then walk away from the old and look towards what the new system can offer me. So far, the few things I've given up are well worth the headaches I've also left behind each time I changed platforms.

Stop being afraid of change and give Linux a shot. Otherwise you might as well just keep sitting around banging rocks together. (Ok, I'll admit, I do still enjoy going out to the back yard and bang rocks together.)

2007-02-07 23:16:41
I first got into Linux with Red Hat 7.1 a few years ago, on the advice of a friend at the time. It was fascinating to me, but Linux simply couldn't do all the multimedia stuff I knew how to do with Windows.

After a false start with Red Hat, I later tried SuSE 8.1, then the very advanced and alien (to me) Solaris 8. Solaris scared me off for awhile, but I came back and played with Xandros 3.01, Linspire 5 and Ubuntu.

So, after years of toying about with different flavors of Linux and one UNIX, I eventually settled on Kubuntu Edgy, which is what I run on my desktop today. The migration was HARD for me, I admit, but I really love running Kubuntu now. It's fast, stable and appears to handle graphics more fluidly than WinXP did for me.

In the end, of course, if Windows or MacOS is working fine for you, then by all means use it. I still use WinXP on my laptop, in fact. But Linux really is a nice alternative to consider for a lot of situations.

Howlin' Hobbit
2007-02-07 23:50:12
helios said: "This is the case with most sysadmins I deal with. They know Linux is better...on the server and desktop. They just can't make a living fixing something that will not break."

I switched to Ubuntu Linux on my laptop about 5 months ago and I do love it however, saying that it "will not break" is a bit much.

After some futzing (learning curve, after all) I finally got it networked with the Windows boxes in the house. Shortly thereafter another little automatic update came through and broke that. I can no longer "browse the network" (though I can still hook up with the other machines via bookmarks I've set). The Windows boxes, on the other hand, can still just double-click their network neighborhood icons and rock on.

When I asked for help instead of getting a fix for it I was told that "this way is better" and was pointed to a huge series of commands, the upshot being I had to set things up to mount each and every share on the network either manually or automatically on bootup. I then had my intelligence insulted for thinking something that once worked and now didn't was broken.

Me, I still think that the Windows way is better. Click the icon, choose which share you want to access, use it, close it and go on to the next thing.

I'm not switching back from Linux and have even gotten the landlady here setup on her laptop, but painting the rosy picture of all the helpful comrades marching arm-in-arm to a brighter future with their unbreakable system is maybe a trifle overstated.

2007-02-08 00:15:45
I think the main reason a lot of people find linux/unix so daunting is because they see the CLI and freak out. I've seen many a person switch happily between OSX and Windows* but you offer them the use of a Linux box and suddenly they panic however 9 times out of 10 if some sort of GUI is running they find the experience enjoyable - some even decide to make the switch.

... (phone) I think it's time for a deap breath and to borrow some of Caitlyn's simple calm for dealing with newbies as it is time to go and support some newbies of my own.

Static Link
2007-02-08 00:19:19
this is a great post. i have been wanting to instal linux for a while.
2007-02-08 00:37:10
Moving from Windows to Linux was quite easy for me as I am coder + sys admin and use stuff like notepad anyway. Also i had a linux guru in the next office who helped me out. I tried everything from BSD redhat suse gentoo to ubuntu (which is my preferred flavor) with xfce, gnome (I use this) and kde (too fat). Linux offers me so much more than windows could in terms of tools.
Another anonymous coward
2007-02-08 01:33:43
I guess Caitlyn's mother wouldn't find it so easy to install a tarball. It's true that the tarball can be regarded as software for a different OS, but here we see another problem with Linux which is balkanization. With so many distros out there developers can't afford the time required to create packages that will work for many people. You are on your own struggling with abstruse command lines, and there aren't too many people who can handle that. I am a software veteran (not in Unix) and I find tarballs daunting.

I have installed my first Linux system just a few weeks ago, and I find Ubuntu excellent when I use the software which came with it. I am not sure I can recommend it to my mother.

2007-02-08 02:56:11
Brain surgery is a good analogy as is different languages with different grammar & vocabulary.

Apart from using Linux for Windows data rescue, all my attempts to use Linux day-to-day have been abortive. For Linux to become mainstream domestic player, a number of things are needed:

- Easily accessible 'translators' - perhaps labelling at the UI level.

- A way to try safely before 'buying-in' and also revert if desired.
Live CDs go a long way but if they:
- had one click access to existing WinXp documents to do day-to-day work on, safe RW on NTFS.
- and a way to install Linux to existing HDD, dual boot, RW existing docs, uninstall Linux revert to WinXp.
- plus transparent installation of drivers.
That distro would be a killer app.

Mozilla Firefox on WinXp has been successful because it allowed try before you buy, can comtinue with IE, import favorites/bookmarks, easy and safe uninstall.

2007-02-08 03:30:46
Great article :)
However, i do see it as a problem, than it is mostly
people like me (linux users) that read these articles..
Still, keep up the hope :)
2007-02-08 04:39:09
The problem is that people WANT an OS which is LOGICAL and intuitive.

Linux is not this, hence why the market share is so low.
In Ubuntu, you can't configure monitor spanning without going to the Konsole.

The grandma-esque users who don't want to do anything complex are fine in GUI based distros of linux: they only want applications.

Power-Users forced to switch have to put up with a UI with a lot of the more powerful features removed and need to resort to doing everything in the Terminal.

That in itself is painful.

It's also why I got sick of Linux and got a Macintosh instead.

Power Users don't mind being babied if they don't need to think to achieve their goal.

2007-02-08 04:53:16
Concerning the original email: if Linux is hard to use, and brings no additional benefits, then fine: that person does not need it. Linux advocacy is useful when people are complaining about the problems in Windows, but not when the user clearly has no need for a new OS.
2007-02-08 05:06:35
I do have some sympathy for the poster that had problems moving from Windows to Linux. I had the same problem trying Windows.

I decided to try it after some friends who use it all the time told me it was great.

I went to the MS site to download it but it wasn't available. I got really frustrated as I couldn't work out how to download it. In the end I had to ask a friend who told me I had to buy it.

I got in my car, drove to PC World and asked one of the sales guys for a copy of Windows. He asked me which one, I said I want the most complete one please and he said that's £149.99 please.....I said a rude word then I drove home empty handed.

One of my friends gave me a copy of Windows XP but said I had to be very quiet about it. I thought that was odd because I always burn copies of Ubuntu for anyone that asks me and tell them to pass it on to anyone interested when they've finished. Anyway, I popped it in my CD tray and waited for it to boot into the 'live' CD desktop. It didn't work. It just kept asking me if I wanted to install it. I got on the phone to one of my friends in case I was doing something stupid but he told me, XP cannot run a 'live' desktop from the CD.

I thought I would try installing it. I followed the prompts but got nervous when it didn't ask me about other operating systems. When I installed Ubuntu it recognized I had Windows on my machine and asked me if I wanted to create then install Ubuntu on another partition. Back on the phone my friend told me that Windows will overwrite any other OS it finds when it installs.

I backed up all my stuff then took the plunge and installed it. The install was pretty straightforward apart from when I had to enter some letters for a serial code. I had to call my friend again but he got quite flustered came over and entered it himself. He told me to keep quiet again??

After I powered it up I had a look around.

I was shocked when it let me changed system configurations without asking for root access. My friend was getting a bit p**sed off when I called him again but came over. He told me that root access was given as default. I immediately made another account as a user and used that. I started getting confused when I tried to make changes but it didn't ask for access but he told me I had to log out as user then log back in as administrator. I started to understand why so many people run as root all the time and it made me shiver.

Enough of the playing. I had some work to do. I went to start > programs so I could open a spreadsheet I needed to complete but couldn't find any spreadsheet software. My friend told me Windows didn't come with any and I would have to download some. Oh I thought, a barebones distro. I went to add/remove programs in the control panel, (just like Ubuntu) but it didn't have any programs to add. It would only let me remove programs. I couldn't find the button to add applications. My friend told me I had to go and find the applications myself. After much googling I figured it out, downloaded and installed Open Office.

To be honest I had a torrid time with Windows. I didn't understand a lot of the terminology...why do they have an A drive, then a C drive, where is the B drive? I thought the distro is way too barebones, it ships with no real productive applications and it is very confusing to find any. My friend told me I needed anti-virus and anti-adware software but Windows didn't come with any.

I think it is difficult, confusing and too much hard work for me. It might be OK if you are a techie like my friend but I'll stick to Ubuntu thanks

2007-02-08 06:04:09
Brian: Great response :D

For many years I wrote software for Windows and then one day I was introduced to Linux. My First distro was Red Hat 6 and it was fun to play with. I never made the switch to Linux for Desktop because I feared there wouldn't be enough software for me to use. I did switch my server to Linux, because all the software (Apache etc.) was originally written for linux/bsd systems.

For my desktop I switch to the Mac and OSX. The switch was seemless and for the most part painless. I don't miss working on Windows at all. I still have a couple Windows machines, but don't use them on a daily basis.

I still like to download and play with the latest distros of Linux and there are getting better and better. I can see the lure of these distros pulling users away from Windows just like OS X did for me. Familiarity will do it. I know quite a few friends using Firefox and Open Office on Windows already and are pleased with both apps. I don't think it would take much for them to transition to Linux.

2007-02-08 06:05:22
Caitlyn Martin
2007-02-08 07:08:31
First, yes, I've corrected the typo and, yes, that one was embarrassing. I do know that it's Linus Torvalds, not Linux. I even remember how to pronounce his first name from the sound sample that was included with Red Hat Linux for testing a sound card back in the '90s.

The first Rich is correct about grandmothers. (Heck, I'm old enough to be one now.) I used a stereotype that was, at least at one level, rather unfortunate. Rich was absolutely right to call me on this. My point, of course, is that my mother is anything but a computer geek.

I think Katie makes a good point about the command line. The point that my mother amply proved is that a Linux newbie can mostly start just with the GUI and then, as they become more comfortable, they can migrate to the command line if they need to. While many of us who are experienced with Linux would hate to work this way (the CLI is often the faster and more efficient way of doing things, after all) the fact is that most of the major distros have done a great job making it possible for text phobic newcomers to live entirely in GUI mode.

For the second Anonymous Coward, I honestly think my mother wouldn't be daunted at all installing and compiling a piece of software if I was on the phone walking her through it. The fact is that most everything that she will ever need is either included in the distro by default of else is packaged for most if not all distros. I don't think she'd be phased in the least by a GUI package manager once she understood what it does. Also, in most distros you can download a new piece of software and install it with one click provided there are no dependencies.

Sean: Nothing wrong with Slackware other than the lack of sane package management and version tracking. The folks at Tuukani Linux have that solved and the folks at Vector Linux have taken what Tuukani has done and run with it beautifully. Slack and Red Hat were where I started back in 1995. Now a Slackware derivative (Vector Linux) is probably my favorite distro though it's still not the best for newcomers.

helios: The trolls are disappointing us. That's a good thing. I'm actually very impressed with the level of the comments, even those who clearly disagree with me. With only a couple of exceptions this has been a very good discussion with some points very well made. I was afraid this would be one of the article which would have me shopping for asbestos clothing. Thankfully the level of the readers here on O'Reillynet is mostly above that level.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-02-08 07:24:14
A couple of additional responses:

First, my compliments to Brian. While I've read things like his response before his description of migrating to Windows is well written, very accurate, and totally apropos.

Moot: I find the KDE and Xfce desktops logical and intuitive and GNOME only slightly less so. Again, I think that when people don't it's because they are very used to something else (generally Windows) and anything that is significantly different can't seem intuitive to them. Once again, it's "performing brain surgery on yourself" for a reason. Mr. Torvalds is a pretty smart guy, after all, and I think that one line hits the nail on the head in so very many ways.

Hagen: I think most people underestimate just how many amazing apps are available for Linux. I know I do. I keep discovering new ones all the time and wonder how I missed them for so long.

Again, great comments. Keep them coming.

Old Computing Nut
2007-02-08 07:55:41
So I started with a TI-99/4a and a 300 baud modem. Wow -- have we ever come a long way!
Caitlin -- thanks for this article! Like this brain surgery thing, I used to smack myself on the thumb with a hammer because it felt so good when I quit!
Sure, we can have our momentary frustrations using Linux; but once certain things are figured out, such a 3D graphic acceleration and such, how sweet it is!
Funny -- I have a few friends who run Windows exclusively. How many times have they called me asking me to help them solve their problems.
If I (politely) ask them to click that cute little "help" button on the top of their display, they tend to get a bit out of sorts. Apparently, that's too much to ask. It's far easier to just pick up the phone, eh?
Same in Linux. There's help -- galore! I'm currently using PCLinuxOS and have to say that Forum support and such is excellent, as it is with the other Linux distros I have tested. Yes, it's okay to ask for help and the various Forums are the way to go.
Some people just want things the easy way and, for them, there'll always be Redmond, happy to take their money... idiots or not, I do believe that some people really shouldn't own computers in the first place.
2007-02-08 08:06:06
I think the howlin hobbit proves one of the points of the article. This individual apparently had one problem so Linux is junk and unsuitable for anyone other than the nerdery to use.

Excuse me?

I have *never* met anyone who has used Windows on a regular basis and not had any problems. Ever hear of viruses? Ever hear of spyware? Try explaining to your grandmother how to clean spyware out of the registry!

You know why I gave up on Windows? Because the security issues were way too complicated for me. Sure, I could have imposed rules on all users of the machine to only visit half a dozen websites, but that doesn't sound intelligent or practical. You should have heard my mother screaming at a granddaughter for using IE. The granddaughter's response? This is the only way I can get certain websites to run. That's because they were installing spyware. Then every time she had to pay someone to fix the machine and hoped everything was cleaned out. It was getting expensive.

How about my wife's machine, where there is a problem (who knows what problem) with Norton Antivirus. The old version won't uninstall, the new antivirus won't install if it's not uninstalled, and Symantec's answer is to reinstall the OS. Great solution if you are using only open source software, not such a good solution if you're using proprietary software and don't keep all the 823-digit codes for ten years.

This is hardly what I would call a user-friendly system no matter how many Ph.D.'s you have in computer science.

As for the command line and tarball installations, I used Ubuntu for two years before moving to Debian, and never had to use the command line for anything, at least not to get the computer to work. I did use the command line by choice, but that's because I started with computers in the days of DOS. I did not configure anything from the command line. All hardware was recognized and properly configured. Changing the basic settings can be done using the menu items. I've also never installed from tarball. I've been using Linux only for more than two years, and on-and-off since 1999 or 2000, and I don't even know what tarball installation means.

Anonymous Coward
2007-02-08 10:24:49
I have used Linux since 1998.
My wife and teenage son asked to switch over a year ago, not once have they asked to go back to the other way of using a computer! They had to rethink some ways of doing things though!
(The advantage of me setting up their systems is probably why it has been trouble free.)
2007-02-08 14:51:20
I like Caitlyn Martin's article a lot. I can see where some overly sensitive people might be «offended» by what at first looks like a breezy style; it doesn't take much for some people. Being a Swede, I won't take offense that some might have «bad English,» and as for Yiddish, some of my best friends are not Jewish.

The opening paragraph tells us this is just as much a literary piece as a technical one, and I think it succeeds on both counts. The tip-off for a literary reading is a [probably] fictitious e-mail addressed to a «Cathy, whoever that is.» By «literary,» I mean conversational and autobiographical. You want to keep reading, and there are some nice nuggets here. I for one didn't know that «Most drivers are kernel modules [which] are loaded into the kernel.»

I'd also never thought about the «glass half full» view she takes on what at first sounds like a measly 4% of users worldwide: that it translates into «tens of millions of people.»

She also gives us a handy tip about choosing a Linux (or BSD) distribution: do answers to questions amount to «RT_M ?» If yes, look elsewhere.

And it's hilarious to read that «People who first try Linux hate it.» It might be true; but not for Caitlyn's mother: which points out that the best programmers etc. are liberal arts majors who, like Professor Granny, learned how to learn.

One literary reference in her piece is, however, unforgiveable: «What little shell?» she exclaims. -- I think we'd all like to know: Csh, Korn, Bash or Zsh? Since «the pun is the lowest form of humour,» I fault the article on this single point.

Happy days und mit herzlichem Gruß,



Carla Schroder
2007-02-08 15:27:15
Nice article, Caitlyn. Great use of a (poorly written, incredibly ignorant) troll to illustrate some important and valuable points- or of turning a sow's ear into a silk purse, for you old-fashioned folks who read actual non-computer actual books. :)
G Fernandes
2007-02-09 02:19:24
Great article!

Only people who don't want to learn GNU/Linux complain like that. My father - who is completely non-tech - was "brought-up" on a diet of OS/2 and GNU/Linux. He find Windows silly and hard to use.

The minute people realise that it's not difficult, it's different, they'll be doing themselves a favor. Until then though, they're likely to be talking crap.

2007-02-09 02:21:00
I dink dat teh windoz is teh pwnage kas itso efffing goood wit gaimz and stuf leik wen i turn on teh comp its got leik teh shiiit!!!111!!! dat lunix dontdo dat shit atall its leik wen it dont instal cs i get madnstuf
slack user
2007-02-09 07:03:50
I've been using Linux for quite some time now (servers at work, and on my home desktop, all on Slackware). I recently bought my wife a portable and I installed Kubuntu on it. I was amazed at how everything simply worked out of the box. Linux has certainly come a long way to make it easier for non technical users to even install it. Plus of course, the LiveCD is a terrific, try at no risk proposition. Thank you for writing this article. I'm forwarding the link to some friends who have been getting more and more curious about this little free OS that could.
2007-02-09 11:18:06
On December 29, 1997 I purchased a new Sony VAIO that came with Win95 preinstalled. It also included "Medi-Kit", which was supposed to reside between the hardware and Win95 and trap crashes. Between that day in December and May 5, 1998 I had to reinstall Win95 FIVE times. I grew sick of that exercise and decided to seek another OS, perhaps OS/2, which I was running before Win95.

While browsing through the computer books in my local B&N I saw a book called "Learn Linux in 24 Hours", by Bill Brush (IIRC). It took my about 30 hours, but I was 56 at the time. In the back was a copy of RH 5.0 on a CD. I thought to my self, "How good can an OS be if they give it away with a cheap book?". But, I bought the book and installed RH5.0 Suddenly my Sony was fast, snappy and STABLE as a ROCK. It NEVER crashed! And, while viruses weren't a really big thing in 1998, it never got infected. In the fall of 1998 I switched to SuSE 5.3 and stayed with it for 22 releases, purchasing each as a boxed set, the cost of which ranged between $15 and $50, depending on the number of CDs and if you wanted documentation.

On January 1, 2000 I scrubbed Win95 off my Sony and gave it over entirely to Linux. Since then Linux has been the only OS on every computer I've purchased.

I left SuSE when Novell purchased it and switched to Mandrake for a couple of releases, but left it when management problems started showing up in the quality of the second version I installed. From Mandrake I tried a series of Debian based distros, and Debian itself, before settling on Simply MEPIS, which is built on Ubuntu.

Last night I downloaded MEPS-32 Beta4 and burned it on a CD. Booting it as a LiveCD on my Gateway m675prr laptop I found that it detected and configured my display in accelerated mode, installed sound, installed the Broadcom 4306 wireless chip,... well... it detected, configured and installed everything on that box. No need for a "driver hunt".

A year ago my wife decided she needed a computer to complete her family history book because I was using my laptop too much... she couldn't get a keystroke in edgewise. We went to Circuit City and found an Acer 3403Li laptop on sale for $699, naked, or $1299 with Windows and "all the necessary security software". As soon as I got home that naked laptop was clothed with SimplyMEPIS 3.4.3, which it has been running every since. My wife uses OpenOffice and her geneology work is about done. She didn't have a "learning curve" switching to Linux. After all, it's just point&click. What's to learn? She browsed menus to find apps on Windows, how is that any different in Linux? It's not.


2007-02-09 12:21:54
I started using Linux in 1995, but have used computer since about 1978, saying changing operating system is like brain surgery on yourself is an odd statement to say.

Either Torvalds things brain surgery is very easy or changing OS's is hard, IMO, he's wrong on both counts.
when i first installed Linux, i have NO problems, didnt even hurt !!!.
Linux is good for limited things, windows is good for everything else ! seems that linux is good for 4 to 6% of things, and windows basically the other 95%. (well thats what the statistics show).

its simply not possible for me to work and use all the apps i need, as they are not available in Linux, and also having to work in a business environment, i need to actually DO THINGS, and not spend all my time, playing Sys admin on Linux.

but if you want a server, web server, router, linux is great.
there are areas linux is good, (historically what UNIX used to do). which is understandable as Linux is basically UNIX by another name.

what is odd is to have Torvalds make such as statement as its counter to his goal of promoting Linux for general purpose use.

if someone, told me "i want you to change your operating system" and "oh yea, its like doing brain surgery on yourself"

what conclusions can you draw.
its **JUST and operating system after all**, its **NOT THAT HARD**

(well not for me anyway, might be for Linus, but if so,, WHY ?)

2007-02-09 12:47:17
It seems to me that the people building the new Linux distros apply themselves to the things that interest them in particular(naturally). There is a distro out there for everyone. Ubuntu is hard to network for a newbie. However Xandros is not, nor is Knoppix. The trick is to find the one that is easy for you to do the things you enjoy.
2007-02-09 21:09:49

Once you're past the learning curve the advantages of Linux become pretty darned obvious.

Instead of waiting for us to get past the learning curve, why don't you share the advantages of Linux up front? Maybe that will motivate us to try getting past the learning curve.