Digital World: Linux's big moment

While Linux is an alternative to Windows, it is not cheap Windows. Linux has its own strengths, and users should want it because of those strengths and not because it's a cheap copy of Windows.

By DAVID SHAMAH
May 8, 2007 07:37
linux penguin 88 298

linux penguin 88 298. (photo credit: Courtesy )

 
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While Linux is an alternative to Windows, it is not cheap Windows. Linux has its own strengths, and users should want it because of those strengths and not because it's a cheap copy of Windows." These words, by Ubuntu (and publisher Canonical) CEO Mark Shuttleworth, are definitely a good example of the Linux credo - and an idea promoters of the (re)remerging OS would like current users of Windows to embrace. And Linux fans may just get their chance to push their favorite OS at the expense of Big Blue (as in "blue screen?") later this month. In what may be the first "big break" for the new easier to use and configure Linuxes in the battle for the desktop, it was announced last week that Dell will be equipping at the factory some of its full-size systems and laptops with "Feisty Fawn," aka Ubuntu 7.04. FF is considered by many Linux lovers as the "ready for prime time" Linux desktop distro - the one that will finally put Linux on the map and garner converts from the MS way of life. Now that Dell - a brand name that carries real weight with consumers and businesspeople - is on board, the likelihood that those converts will materialize has increased significantly. And make no mistake - this is a going to be a Linux show, from start to finish. According to Shuttleworth, who spoke to E-Week magazine (http://tinyurl.com/2tssv6), the Dell machines are not going to have a dual boot Windows/Linux setup; they're not even going to even have Wine, the Windows (non) emulator on board. As a certified trend-follower, I decided to see what all the hulabaloo was about, so I downloaded and installed FF onto my trusty Macbook, running under the Parallels virtual machine (http://www.parallels.com). I had actually had an earlier version of Ubuntu installed in order to check out, but I uninstalled it, since it was no longer supported (and thus no longer trendy!). FF, on the other hand, is the new "in" thing, and although it is not directly supported by Parallels, I found a couple of good Web sites that provided useful instructions on how to set up FF on the Macbook (http://tinyurl.com/3bhtsk). Note that this is not Dell's first foray into the world of Linux; the company has embraced RedHat Linux, pre-installing it on a number of lines of PCs several years ago and investing a large sum of money in the company two years ago. I worked with RedHat for several years and found it pretty cool, but Ubuntu Feisty Fawn is an animal of a different stripe. What can I say about the FF experience? If you're into Linux, Feisty Fawn is definitely worth trying; it's certainly the easiest to work with - and thus the most Windows-like - Linux distro I've ever tried. Oops - them's fighting words, aren't they? Though no prophet, I can already see the messages in my e-mailbox: Who said Windows is easier to use than Linux? Why are you feeding into the "myth" that Windows is a"better" OS? What are you, a Microsoft shill? And so on. Sorry to disappoint those who think they've uncovered a bribery scam, but there's no shilling going on here. I'm as big an advocate of free/open source software as anyone else, and I believe that open source apps - like OpenOffice, for example - are every bit as good as the MS offerings. Actually they're better, because they're free. The same goes for operating systems; Linux (and not just Feisty Fawn) is just as useful an OS as Windows. Even with all the advances, though, the perception that Linux is for techies only persists - and you can be sure that Microsoft is going to do all it can to discourage potential customers from going for the Linux OEM edition of the Dell PCs over the Windows versions. So I'm excited that Linux is hitting the big time in the form of the Dell pre-install deal. But I want to make sure that users don't get frustrated that they can't work the way they're used to - and decide that their only real choice is to rush out to buy a copy of Windows. What's the best way to appeal to Windows users? To show them that the adjustments they are going to be making from their former way of getting stuff done are not all that great; that change is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Such an attitude is not contrary to"the spirit of Linux/open source" - it's actually an effective, if subversive, way to get around the social and sales pressures Linux faces. If Dell's salespeople want to sell a lot of product, they might want to demonstrate the power of Wine, for example - and thus show that the "weaning" process from Windows is not going to be strange or painful. The Dell folk might even want to take some tips from a site like http://tinyurl.com/j68mm, which will tell you how to set up Ubuntu so that it looks like Mac OS X. OS X Tiger (10.4), to many people, looks a lot like Windows Vista (actually, it's the other way around, since Tiger came out first). Regardless, OS X looks "enough" like Vista or XP to ease the minds of prospective Dell Linux buyers. Ditto for http://tinyurl.com/2kubxt, which has several links to do the same thing. At http://tinyurl.com/v5vmr, you'll find instructions on setting up a Vista-like experience on Ubuntu. And you can find an overall guide to personalizing Ubuntu here (http://tinyurl.com/2kueqx). You may think that I'm making too much of this. After all, anyone who goes for the Dell Ubuntu models likely knows what they're getting themselves into, and thus should be able to handle themselves when navigating through Linux. And if a guy like Michael Dell - CEO of Dell Computers - decides to use Feisty Fox on his own desktop (http://tinyurl.com/2yjyz3), that in and of itself can be a big selling point. But if Ubuntu really wants to be the Linux desktop breakthrough distro, it's got to go beyond "preaching to the converted," so to say. Microsoft isn't going to try and "educate" Dell Ubuntu customers on the error of their ways - but you can be sure that there's a marketing unit in Redmond that is organizing a campaign that will aim to convince weaker members of the "Windows tribe" who might be in "danger" of "turning." Although Dell says, it is merely responding to tens of thousands of users (http://www.ideastorm.com/article/show/61771) who requested the systems on a Dell user forum, the bottom line is that this is Linux's big chance to make a real big splash in the marketplace where it counts - among diehard Windows home and corporate users. Surely it's worth a little compromise on the Linux ideal now, in order to get even more people to try the OS sooner, and thus widening the circle of people that will (literally) buy into this exciting development? http://digital.newzgeek.com

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