On May 15th Mark Golden wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal titled Out The Window where he posed the question: “Can the ordinary user ditch Windows for Linux?” His conclusion, in most cases, is a resounding no. Sadly Mr. Golden’s methodology in trying out Linux for his article bears little resemblance to what an ordinary user trying out Linux would likely do. Indeed, his approach almost guaranteed his results.
Mr. Golden purchased a copy of Linux for Dummies, an excellent book which, as Mr. Golden correctly points out, included a DVD with six outdated versions of Linux distributions. Mr. Golden actually claims these are different “operating systems built around Linux technology” which is incorrect. Linux is Linux. The presentation and tools of different distributions may vary but the same underlying code is in all of them and the same software will work on all. Further, Mr. Golden correctly points out that he could have freely downloaded a current version of five of the included distributions but chose not to do so. Linux development proceeds at a much faster pace than Windows development. If Mr. Golden had worked with current versions some of the issues he ran into might have been avoided, particularly hardware detection of graphics and sound cards.
Mr. Golden asserts that “…getting some of the systems to work required more time and effort than I was willing to exert.” This is perfectly reasonable and is an attitude that would be shared by ordinary users. However the ordinary user would likely pick one distribution that was recommended to them rather than divide their time between six. I suspect had Mr. Golden chosen one popular distribution and stuck with it he could have had everything working. He himself conceded that solutions exist for virtually every problem he encountered.
The other flaw with Mr. Golden’s methodology was picking up a book and pretty much going it alone. When he did ask for help he called software manufacturers. That’s perhaps the correct way to do things in the Windows world and it might also make sense for a newcomer to Linux in a very rural part of Montana or Wyoming. For most of us who live in small, medium, and large cities there are a plethora of Linux Users Groups, or LUGs, that encourage and assist newcomers. Many have “install parties” where an ordinary user could have brought a laptop like the one Mr. Golden used and received knowledgeable assistance that would have gotten everything working in short order.
The multimedia issues Mr. Golden raised can be largely overcome. I have no problem watching Windows Media Player video or Quicktime video or watching DVDs on my Toshiba laptop running Fedora Core 5. Granted, I had to add on software that didn’t come with the distribution. This is no different than Windows where many applications, such as an office suite, have to be added. Is multimedia 100% under Linux? No, it’s probably only 95% due to the very legal hurdles Mr. Golden mentions and the ever changing array of proprietary formats out there.
In regard to Mr. Golden’s complaints about OpenOffice’s inability to handle complex Excel files absolutely perfectly this is no different that what Lotus 1-2-3 users ran into when transitioning to Excel, as many did. Mr. Golden himself pointed out that Crossover Office would allow him to use his Microsoft Office applications while running Linux, a very workable and inexpensive solution.
In conclusion, had Mr. Golden simply stuck with reviewing one popular distribution and used the freely available support in his community I suspect his conclusions would have been quite different. I am not saying Linux is for everyone. I am saying that the picture that Mr. Golden paints is not entirely accurate and that Linux would satisfy far more people that Mr. Golden suspects.