Why Linux was a consumer disaster ten years ago and why it's still a disaster

OK, I'm bound to annoy a few Linux fans with this, but hey, I need to vent. After having numerous frustrations with Windows Vista (perhaps exacerbated by a failing hard disk, admittedly) and a frustrating lack of speed, I borrowed an Apple MacBook for a while. Very pretty, fabulous hardware and terrific for most ordinary people. Except that I'm not ordinary, wanting to manage lots of files in lots of projects, use FTP and advanced image editing and much more. I found ways to do everything on the MacBook but it wasn't all plain sailing. And Apple's hardware costs a fortune.

So I turned, out of curiosity, to the Asus Eee PC, picking a 701 up from eBay. Great little toy, I thought. Except that with Firefox, Skype and OpenOffice pre-installed, it was quite a bit more than a toy. Maybe Linux really can start to get more into people's homes, I thought....

The trouble is that as soon as something goes wrong, in my case a 'broken' pre-installed game and needing to install a FTP client, neither of which seemed too outrageous to need to get working, you're required to leave the cosy 'Easy desktop' and get down and dirty with the most obtuse and terse command lines I've ever used.

Bear in mind that I've used DOS, VAX/VMS, HP1000 and more computers that you've had hot dinners. So I don't mind the odd vaguely intuitive command line. But being told, on an obscure forum post that you need to type:

# dd if=all.img of=/dev/sdx
(modify sdx to suit)
# sudo apt-get -jvdg tel.deb

is just plain silly. At least DOS and VAX/VMS had proper English commands - you could abbreviate them if you wanted, but when explaining something you usually put in the full version, e.g. $print job1/exclude=contents/route_printer=LN04 - that sort of thing. You could see (and remember) what you were doing.

So Linux requiring users to occasionally dip into a command line interface (terminal) is not in itself a showstopper - but the sheer inaccessibility of the language/commands used certainly is.

I consider myself a bit of a geek and can muddle through on almost any computer. But the Eee game still doesn't run and I still haven't got FTP working on the Eee 701.

If I can't do it, the man in the High Street doesn't stand a chance. The Eee has sold well and my daughter loves it, for example. But there's no way in hell that a Linux-based device like this can replace a Windows PC or Mac for most households.


kozmcrae said…
Just some observations:

You're comparing an Apple MacBook to a EeePC?

You "manage a lot of files" and you plan on doing this on an EeePC?

Unix/Linux commands are designed to be concatenated, sometimes in very long strings. That's why they are so short and "cryptic".

The GUI on any computer is the middle man. Only on Windows computers he's been largely eliminated. If you want to talk directly to the man in charge then you need a decent shell with a healthy command set. That's just what you get with Linux, a GUI middle man and a direct link to everything. Complaining about the difficulty learning the command set is like an American complaining that Japanese is so much harder than English. Not to someone born in Japan it isn't. I started with CP/M then to DOS and then VAX CLI. Believe it or not I am loath the learn anything new on computers. That's why I was wary of Windows. Great, redefine your knowledge base with every new version. No thanks. I use Linux now and everything I grudgingly learn will not have to be relearned, ever.
No, I didn't seriously expect the Eee to be my only computer - it was more in curiosity to try the different OS.

The Macbook was a more serious test - that DID have the oomph to take over if I'd wanted it to.

Still not convinced by the CLI thing - in 2008, there shouldn't be any need whatsoever for any general computer USER to need to do ANYTHING that's not intuitive, logical and relatively easy. Linux seems to delight in making simply things hard.

For example, rather than apt-get, why not have a command 'install' or similar? It's just crazy syntax. And I don't care about the history...
kozmcrae said…
"For example, rather than apt-get..." You've never heard of Synaptic or any of the other 100% GUI Program Managers? There is no need to use the command line to have access to the 1000's of programs, applications, utilities and libraries. I've installed PCLinuxOS on over a half dozen computers and I only use the command line once to activate the sensors. It's not necessary but I like to have them. The command line is not any more of an issue for Joe Sixpack than editing the Registry is on Windows.
Yes, I tried Synaptic (no thanks to the Eee documentation) - in an effort to try and solve my game problem. All it seemed to do was kick off the same command line stuff in the background and the error messages that came up were identical 8-(

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