Is Linux Friendly Enough?

Years ago, the main Linux projects, KDE and GNOME started. Today, they are growing steadily along with the rest of Linux. Linux is growing fast (in development and user amounts), but can it keep up ease of use for the majority of people who know little to nothing about computers?

Personally, I have been with Linux and computers so long that large issues for most people are minute or non-existent issues for me. I haven’t really looked into the topic of ease-of-use for a very long time. Hey, I’m using Gentoo, I don’t care about “easy,” I just want to make it look, run, and perform well, while having fun tweaking, fixing things, and helping the community. Since I have not followed GNOME much, this will be mostly about KDE.

Kicking off with window grouping (when you have many windows open, it groups similar ones). In Windows XP, right-click on the taskbar, click properties, and uncheck window grouping. Simple enough, yet I know quite a few people who can’t even do that. In KDE, you have choice. You can always group, sometimes group, or never group. It is obtained in a similar fashion by right-clicking the taskbar, clicking taskbar properties, and choosing the approporiate option.

At KDE’s first boot (under the username you logged in with), you go through a simple wizard, much like the Windows one, but has more choices and options, such as which style to use, what effects to use, etc. It adequately explains about the styles and you can even preview them and choose one to your liking. With effects, it’s really simple if you don’t have the time or knowlege to choose what you want, as it will automatically adjust based on your system’s specifications, which Windows also incorporates. Both window managers (we are considering the Windows interface a window manager) will ask you about what language and country you wish to use, though KDE has more options, as Microsoft expects you to buy the correct version for your language (not saying that it is impossible to change the language afterwords). For example, KDE will have options for all of the continents (that is, if you have the localization package installed or it came by default), while for me, Windows has only North America.

When arranging icons on your desktop, Windows can be confusing. I have never figured out how it works. I set it to snap to grid, auto arrange, and arrange by name, but I still have “DarkSpace” on the bottom of the first row, then things like “FarCry” and “Mozilla Firefox” on the second row, and then on the third row, “Doom 3 Demo.” In other words, it will not arrange correctly. It’s just plain confusing even to experienced users. KDE, on the other hand, is easy to use in the area, easily arranging icons either vertically or horizontally and sorting by name, size, or other.

Theming in Windows is extremely easy. Simply open up your desktop properties, change to the appearence tab, and change your style. It is customizable, but only to a certain extent. As of now, there are not many Windows themes out that do not require third-party applications. KDE is fairly easy as well, but more thorough. Opening the desktop properties, and changing multiple aspects of the theme. You can enable/disable most options and/or edit most of the schematics as well.

KDE wins hands-down in the area of multiple desktops. That is, where you can select a window and set it to another “desktop,” where you then click on a button in the taskbar to pull it up again (change “desktops”), which also minimizes the current windows in the current “desktop.” You can easily customize almost any features about it that you want. I won’t spend all day on this point, as you cannot even compare the two, as Windows does not have it by default. For Windows, you will need a third-party application.

Installing programs in Windows, generally, is much easier than in Linux. It all depends on your distribution. If you have Gentoo, it is relatively easy, when it works, that is. A simple emerge x. Same goes for Debian. Then you get into what people call the “newbie” distributions. Mandrake, Fedora, and SuSE just to name a few. They use mostly RPMs, which are fairly easy as well, but some Mandrake RPMs are not SuSE compatiable and such. In Windows, most programs have graphical installers, whereas generally, only programs like Firefox or in Linux do. One would guess that the reason for this is that most distributions come with almost all of the packages you will ever need on their installer CD. No need, really. Most programs will be straight-up with you, asking you where to install it and giving you a range of options. There really isn’t too much competition in this area. Hands-down Windows, that is, until Linux developers begin to write more installers.

For users who have more than a minimum amount of knowledge in computers, both control centers are great tools, but for those who have minimum knowledge, they can both become frustrating. Windows has its new menu system in XP, which is nice, but it is still hard to find things. It’s so simplistic that it is not simple at all, if that makes any sense. KDE has nearly the same problem.

Linux has progressed greatly in the years since its beginning, but so has Windows. There is a constant battle for the desktop. Microsoft plans to release its new operating system, Longhorn, in the coming years, but by then, KDE will have QT4 released along with a whole new version. KDE 3.4 has great improvements as well. Is Linux (or should I say KDE) friendly enough? Almost. Is Windows friendly enough? Yes. Should the average user need to learn a little bit more about computers? Yes, but this is debatable (you may find that Linux users will say mostly yes, while Windows users will shout a resounding no).

8 Responses to “Is Linux Friendly Enough?”

  1. Tim Says:

    I’d give Linux a hands-down win when it comes to installing software. Click through install wizards are actually a terrible way to install software - they’re slow, inefficient and completely unnecessary if you have proper package management and at least a roughly defined filesystem structure in your OS (ie Linux).

    Its much quicker and more user friendly to have non-interactive installs like with RPMs or Debs. The desktop focused distros such as Suse, Mdk and Fedora all have nice graphical package management programs so new users don’t have to resort to a command line to install stuff. I really don’t see how the slow and error prone (most users have no idea the correct folder to install apps in windows - if there is such a thing) install wizard way is better than Linux distro’s fast and easy package management.

  2. Matthew C. Tedder Says:

    In the Cyber Cafe I ran for one year, we never had one single usability question pertaining to how to use the desktop (KDE). People browsed the web, played games, and did word processing and spreadsheets constantly. Our number 1 problem was printer jams. Second, was Mozilla crashing a user session (but was eventually made reasonably less fequent with Mozilla thunderbird (and firefox is even better). Konqueror is best of all, but it takes a bit of tweaking before it can be used as a full drop-in replacement web browser, and only the latest versions render some sites properly.

    Most usability questions were (1) how to use a web site; (2) how to do something in OpenOffice.

    The one application we couldn’t get working reasonably well that users commonly requested were instant messenger clients. The Linux replacements for AOL and MSN instant messengers just don’t support all the features people are used to in Windows.

    Otherwise and overall, our surveys indicate that regular customers prefer the Linux/KDE environment over Windows. Although more people do prefer MS Office over OpenOffice… They are evenly divided over mozilla Firefox…

    With OpenOffice, some reject it at first site and do not even want to try it. But those who try initially ask where to find things/how to do things only to soon feel just as comfortable as with MS Office.

    The KDE desktop… they seem to enjoy it at first site… exploring and finding things with no more difficulties than Windows. They often comment on things it allows them to do that Windows does not.

  3. Marius Says:

    By fat the biggest Linux usability problem is hardware support and configuartion. There is still a lot of hardware from big name manufacturers, that is either not supported, or not supported well. It is usually difficult to change the setup for hardware that is not set properly out of the box. I used Linux for 10 years now, but I can still not recommend a newbie to try Linux. Until hardware support is fixed, it will remain an OS for the computer-savvy.

  4. Uno Engborg Says:

    Why do everybody seam to think that windows intallers are so simple. You have to answer this and that, While in linux you just get the added functionality no questions asked. With modern install systems like yum and aptget all dependency problems are fixed automagically, and once installed you can ask what package a file belongs to. The only reason Linux doesnt win in on usability is that it is not windows.

  5. Greg Says:

    Linux desktops have a long way to go before they are as bullet proof as Windows or Mac. Try right clicking on the panel and choose “Delete” now set any user, no matter how skilled with computers, down and see if they can use the computer. Windows and Mac have a base level of functionality that can’t be changed which provedes a foundation of basic features that can’t be messed up by the user.

  6. Jayan Says:

    but can it keep up ease of use for the majority of people who know little to nothing about computers?
    People who know nothing about computers will find GNU/Linux much easy to use. They don’t have to compare every step they do on Linux against what people do in MS windows..

  7. ammoQ Says:

    Greg: “Windows and Mac have a base level of functionality that can’t be changed which provedes a foundation of basic features that can’t be messed up by the user.” Is this a troll or do you really mean it? Most Windows users (at least at home) have Admin privileges and can destroy pretty everything.

  8. Ookaze Says:

    This blog entry shows a degraded view of the KDE desktop experience.
    With default configuration, KDE wins hands down on Windows :
    - Saved sessions (that alone skyrockets the gap)
    - Stability (KDE desktops will go for months without crashing)
    - Organized menu by default
    - i18n features and integration. Most english speaking people overlook this, but it is actually a BIG win for Linux desktops, as most Windows apps are only english.
    - same for a11y.

    Most of my newbie users are afraid of Windows installers, with english EULAS they do not understand, asking them yes or no (I’m french) for things they do not understand. Thay WAY prefer Mandrake installer.

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