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WHY is the transition from Windows to Linux easy for some people?

Date/Time Permalink: 04/30/07 11:05:03 am
Category: General

After I'd closed the lid on the "Ubuntu is not Linux" , uh, mess, Eric over at Binary World has taken up the idea and tried to grapple with it. I don't know, maybe I should dig it up and check for a pulse. But I'm thinking again... (that's always a dangerous sign!)

Here's the nut of the matter: moving from Windows to Linux is easy for some people and hard for others. WHY?

For instance, why, when I first loaded Red Hat (version 5 or 6... memory blurs) did it feel like coming home? I dove right in and loved it. It just... made perfect sense.

For one thing, I'd had experience with a lot of other computer systems before Windows happened. Commodores, TRS-80s, IBM DOS with XTree Pro and Gold, Apple MacIntosh, and OS/2. I'd even spent some time hanging around mainframes! This was all mostly through job experience - I'd already had several jobs before Windows desktops started appearing everywhere.

*My* first reaction to seeing a Windows desktop was "ick! What did you do to this MacIntosh?" Probably Windows 3.1... with the Hot Dog Stand theme.

Gradually, I did begin to use Windows. More often, I only used DOS. I actually spent most of my Windows 3.1 time in DOS 6.22, coding a lot in QBasic (way more than was good for me!) and the full feature set of DOS. Months went by when I didn't even *start* Windows! All the games ran fine from the EGA/VGA console, and I could draw my own windowing system in QBasic, and I also had an alternative desktop shell called "QuickMenu" (a vile piece of nagware, but it was still another option.) Finally, I reluctantly got a new machine with Windows 98 on it.

Windows 98 never felt comfortable to me! Sure, I had the desktop, and I bought and played a lot of games, but this was a time when I wasn't feeding my "geek jones" - I was too busy at work. But even at this point, I was grabbing and using free software. Emacs, the DJGPP compiler, and after a while even Gimp and Mozilla. There was much more besides - I had a console version of Angband and some faux-Unix shell programs. So really, count about a year of exposure to pure Windows 98 - by 1999 it was mostly a GNU user-land built on top of a Windows desktop.

So, in addition to all of that background, by the time I'd installed my first Linux, I had never had less than two computers at any time, and had worked with scads of them in every form. I installed Linux on my own box and left Windows on the family machine for another year, then I added a second hard drive to the family Windows computer and installed a later version of Red Hat as a dual-boot option. So the rest of my family was able to simply stick in a floppy and reboot, Ta-Da! Linux, and then pull out the floppy and reboot again back to Windows.

My kids took to Linux like ants to a donut. My wife had (a) NOT had much exposure to computers prior to Windows, (b) NOT worked at technical jobs like I had, and (c) NOT learned programming. And sure enough, she clung to Windows the longest. The kids were showing her stuff in Linux after the first year. I checked back on the family machine every few months.

When I typed "uptime" on the family box and Linux reported that it had been running continuously for six months, I polled the household and by unanimous decision we wiped the last trace of Microsoft from the last computer. Really, my wife uses a computer mostly for web browsing, text editing, and simple web graphics, so there's little difference to her between Mozilla, Google, Yahoo and Gimp on a Windows box and Mozilla Firefox, Google, Yahoo, and Gimp on a Linux box. It just doesn't crash on her anymore, and she can now smugly inform her online friends that that virus they're all getting in their email doesn't apply to her.

So, that's where we are. Granted, I'm a geek; of course Linux felt like coming home. It's where my heart had always been, even when I didn't know it. recently, I've been picking around at BSD and Solaris as well, and they, too, feel more comfortable than Windows. To me, the idea that Microsoft, not I, owned my computer was alien from the start - Windows was the only system I'd ever had to *fight* with.

But what of other people? There are legions of users out there who have had no choice - it was Windows or nothing. To them, the idea of a computer without Windows is like a house without walls. They've been raised in an information vacuum. What else is there?

How are these people going to be free?

So how about it folks? I'd like to hear from those of you who, like me, found Linux to be EASY to pick up - did you have similar background as I?

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