Pondering Linux and Usability

I may slightly alter my stance on the true usability of Linux for the "average Joe."

As you might know, I tend think GNU/Linux has reached a point in its development where it is currently a great solution for anyone who needs standard desktop software; in some cases it's superior to other operating systems, depending on the individual user's needs. But I've started to wonder -- is it really the great solution I've made it out to be?

I started thinking about this a few days ago when a friend asked me why I use Linux, and then I thought a little more just a few hours ago when my hard drive light was on, solid, and I was (incredibly slowly, because my computer's performance had dropped with the constant hard drive access) trying to figure out how to get it to stop doing that.

I realized that for me, Linux is great. Not so much because it's "usable" -- it's great because I love to tinker with things. Linux allows me to tinker and tweak all day if I so choose. I have access to gigantic repositories filled with thousands of free software programs (and some of them are actually useful to me).

I often compare computers to cars because I know little about cars except how to use them, but I know a whole lot about using and maintaining computers. I find it to be an apt analog for most of the scenarios I discuss.

If computers were cars, I think I'd be the kind of car owner who is a "gear head." I'd have built my own hot rod. I'd be messing around with all of the parts on a regular basis. Maybe I'd "break" it once in a while in an effort to make it cooler or squeeze a little more power out of it. I'd be that guy who could have the coolest car on the block if only he knew when to call it quits on the modifications.

I'd be the guy telling everyone else how they could make their cars more useful, more powerful, and more efficient.
(It is likely that much of this advice would be unwarranted.)
In telling people how to make their cars better, I might actually be giving them more trouble than they needed. I might recommend modifications that aren't entirely stable, and that really require the car owner to have a desire to tinker just like me.

Let's come back to computer land: this analogy is pretty apt, isn't it? Well here's the beauty of Linux: in this day and age, Linux is so much easier than it used to be, but the user still has the option of making it more complicated (with added benefits for those who truly enjoy it).

Basically, what I'm saying is that Linux gives you a choice. If you're looking for a great FREE operating system, you don't have to run your computer like I do. It won't be as cool, but it'll work. It'll probably "work" better than mine because it won't break as often.

My new, slightly altered stance on Linux: it's remarkably usable for the "average Joe" if he doesn't get ahead of himself. It is likely to be remarkably frustrating for the same person if he decides he wants everything his geeky/gearhead friend has, though. Joe might want to ignore his friend's higher level advice until he's good and ready to dive into something different.


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