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Linux Usability... Err Linux what?

Written by on June 14, 2004

From time to time I end up discussing Linux's ease of use (like this evening). On the "Linux is the best" side I often see a Linux advocate. This is typically a person with above average computer skills and one who likes to fiddle around with server settings using strange command-line interface.

The conversation usually goes like this:

Linux Dude
We should put Linux on every computer in the company.
Me:
Why?
Linux Dude
It would solve all our security problems
Me:
What security problems?
Linux Dude
Like the one last week - the one Microsoft patched
Me:
Did our firewall not block that?
Linux Dude
Well, yes - but what if it didn't
Me:
Shouldn't we get another firewall then?
Linux Dude
It would not be the same.
Me:
...
Linux Dude
But, it would also be cheaper
Me:
What - In what way?
Linux Dude
It's free - you know that
Me:
True, but what about the added support cost - user training, ease of use and lack of consistency?
Linux Dude
What do you mean?
Me:
Usability
Linux Dude
Linux is usable - The latest [inset Linux variation here] looks almost the same as Windows, but with a ton of extra features.
Me:
Features usually make a system harder to use. But I will admit that Linux is getting better, but Microsoft and Apple are still way ahead.
Linux Dude
Yeah, but Linux is at least 95% as usable as Windows
Me:
You know, you just proved my point...
Linux Dude
What?
Me:
If a product is 5% less usable than another it will mean loss of efficiency. This alone would easily cover the cost of Windows XP/Mac OS X. It would also mean that you have increased need for user-support.
But the most important thing is that it can lower the motivation level. You know how that is. If I send you a task that you do not like it will take you a week to do it. If I instead send you a fun task, you will finish it instantly - even do it in your spare time.

(At this point the discussion breaks down...)

I do think that Linux is an interesting product. It is usable as a server tool - where usability is secondary to technology - but not for people, where usability is paramount.

To give an example, something I noticed a few hours ago. FireFox 0.9 is out and in order to install it you have to do this:

Windows:

Double click the FirefoxSetup-0.9.exe to start the installer.

Linux:

Extract the tarball and run the installer like so:

tar -xzvf firefox-0.9-i686-linux-gtk2+xft.tar.gz cd firefox-0.9-i686-linux-gtk2+xft/ ./firefox-installer

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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