Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Linux in the Real World

Day 70

Is the world ready for Linux?

Sunday night I found myself kneeling in the driveway with my ear to a hissing rear-passenger tire. I had an appointment scheduled for the next day to renew my inspection, so I figured the tire could be fixed as well. The repairs would take some time, and auto repair joints aren't usually the Hilton, so I toted my Eee in with me to catch up on some blogs and hopefully snag an Internet signal (no such luck, though).

When I got there I dropped off my keys at the front desk, fired up my Eee, and got comfy next to the rack of greasy car magazines and a sad looking hanging plant. I was hardly a full paragraph into my work when I noticed the woman behind the desk glancing over at my laptop.

“Is that one of them teeny computers,” she asked? Her name was Barb, or at least it said so on her overalls. She looked to be in her mid 40s, and apparently was not awarded any luxuries because she was a woman - her hands were as black as those of the other mechanics.

Since there were no other patrons in the lobby, Barb and I struck up a conversation about the Eee. She told me her current desktop was outdated and she was looking for something that could handle basic word processing and office tasks like creating and printing labels. She also wanted to know how difficult it was to read words on a smaller screen. I opened a blank OpenOffice Writer document, and handed the computer over the desk to her.

She didn't seem to notice that she wasn't using Microsoft Word, but I figured that a win for OpenOffice. She said the screen was easy to read, and she didn't have a problem typing on the smaller keyboard (she was surprisingly good at touch-typing), then she asked where I got it. She wanted to know “how many programs it could hold,” but I wasn't sure how to answer that question. Regardless, she seemed impressed by my little Eee. I may have hooked another person on the Asus Eee.

But would it be a wise choice for Barb? Would she be able to handle the transition from Windows to Linux? On one hand, she didn't flinch at OpenOffice, but this is also the woman who seemed to confuse programs with memory.

If our conversation had ended here, the answer to the question at the top of this post would be easy. Basic users with little to no experience should probably not but jumping headfirst into a Linux system they know nothing about. But I stereotyped Barb, and I was wrong.

When she minimized OpenOffice, she looked at the desktop and said “This isn't Windows, is it?”

I feared making her head explode by explaining the ins and outs of gOS, so I fumbled through a reply about how it wasn't Windows but another kind of operating system that works in sort of the same way.

“I think it's called Linux,” she explained to me, and then continued to click around my laptop.

I had Barb pegged all wrong. Turns out she was a computer science major in college before deciding to follow a career in music. She worked at the shop during the day for extra money. During our conversation, another mechanic came out of the pit and joined in. He too knew what Linux was – he said one of his friends uses it. There I was, discussion netbooks and Linux with two mechanics.

So back to my original question – Is the world ready for Linux? My answer – beats the hell outta me. What do you think?

4 thoughts :

  1. John MacGibbon said...

    Hi I'm enjoying your blog about the eee. I haven't tried any other Linux distribution on it yet, but I have played around with other distributions on a couple of desktops.

    Last week I wrote a post for my own blog about my experience of the eee and Linux, who could use it etc. It's here if you want to read it: http://jmacg.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/linux-now-halfway-useable-but-linux-geeks-are-a-pain/

    As an additional comment, my brother is currently setting up an old laptop with Ubuntu for a 96-year old family friend to use for just basic stuff like the web and internet. He reckons it will be the simplest thing for her, and she's not likely to explore too far on the system and get confused. Not that she doesn't have all her marbles, but she's never owned a computer.

    Incidentally I don't consider you to be in the tiresome geek category (see my blog re that!).

  2. John MacGibbon said...

    I see the end of the URL of my own blog's comment about eee/Linux got lopped off. Here it is again: http://jmacg.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/linux-now-halfway-useable-but-linux-geeks-are-a-pain/

    In case it gets lopped off again, go to http://jmacg.wordpress.com and search for 'eee'.

  3. Nathan said...

    In my opinion, the world is ready for anything, they just have to be willing to accept it.

    Since Linux is different to most people and requires more tinkering than Windows or OSX, most people would not want to use it. But once it establishes a main operating environment (AKA one distro to rule them all...and I hate Lord of the rings) and ease of use (things are kinda all over the place), then it would be much more easily accepted.

    Dell is taking one of the first steps to integrating Linux into the public by offering it on preconfigured machines for a discount.

  4. MSP said...

    I imagine the thinking behind the question "how many programs can it hold?" is along the same lines as mp3 player advertising that talks about how many songs a device can hold. I don't think it's confusing programs with memory... but yes it is a question based in ignorance. What has me even more confused is that you say she was a comp sci major... that doesn't sound like the sort of thing a comp sci major should be asking. Very odd.

    It's nice to know there are more apparently "average people" out there getting more familiar, and comfortable, with the idea of a unix on personal hardware.