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Making Linux Look Harder Than It Is

chrisd posted more than 12 years ago | from the complicated-makes-us-look-31337 dept.

News 764

drkich writes: "According to an article on The Register (by our very own roblimo). Many 'gurus' teaching new users about Linux make it look harder than it needs to be, and apparently fail to explain that yes, you can make PowerPoint-style presentations in Linux, you can view Web Pages that use Flash animation and other "glitz" features, and that you can manage all your files though simple "point, click, drag and drop" visual interfaces. Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?"

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FIRST (-1, Troll)

CompuBOb (442376) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673711)

WOHOO!, MABY! Damn 20 second delay!

Yes (4, Informative)

global_diffusion (540737) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673714)

I'd say yes. When I first started out, there was a lot of hand waving and "this is too complicated for you." Then I looked at it and said, "this is easy."

Re:Yes (5, Insightful)

global_diffusion (540737) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673799)

As an addendum, I'd like to point out that using linux is extremely easy, especially with KDE or (somewhat) Gnome. It's the install that is tough for a newbie. When I first started using Debian, I was a little intimidated about picking out specific packages to install. I had no idea what was needed for the system I wanted. But nowadays we have Mandrake for the newbies, so even installing isn't a big problem (I tell people looking for linux distros that my mom could install Mandrake if she didn't have to do the partitioning step...).

LISP IS GAY!!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673716)

and shouldn't be used on Linux.

The biggest obstacle (4, Insightful)

Brian Knotts (855) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673730)

The inability for Joe Blow to buy a consumer-y machine preloaded with Linux and everything he needs to do the normal kinda Joe Blow stuff.

It'd be a risk, though...because I don't know if the average person is ready for Linux.

But people are going to be scared until they see Linux boxes for sale at CompUSA and Sears.

Re:The biggest obstacle (2, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673767)

It'd be a risk, though...because I don't know if the average person is ready for Linux.

I don't know if Linux is ready for the average person.

Re:The biggest obstacle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673871)

Linux boxes ARE for sale at CompUSA and Circuit City. Hell, at CC they're right next to Windows 2000 and XP.

Now I know you meant computers, but I must nitpick.

Too smart? (5, Insightful)

Hobobo (231526) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673731)

It might not be too smart as much as too arrogant...

Hit it right on the head (0)

The Turd Report (527733) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673787)

Most linux users 'teach' people by yelling RTFM at them. Newbies need someone to show them some basics and they can usually figure the rest by themselves.

Re:Too smart? (2)

quartz (64169) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673813)

Um, maybe that's because helping users learn how to work with an OS is the job of a company? Windows, MacOS, UNIX and every other OS known to man has a company behind if offering help and support, and many other companies offering training. And more important, for every OS there's a company spending $$ on advertising and marketing to convince users how "efficient and easy to use" is their OS. Linux is perceived as an OS for geeks? Well, duh. That's what you get if you rely on geeks to support new users.

Making Bumsex Look Sicker Than It Is (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673875)

"According to an article on The Buttfucker (by our very own CmdrTaco). Many 'faggots' teaching new fags about Bumsex make it look sicker than it needs to be, and apparently fail to explain that yes, you can have sweet, sweet bumsex with another man and other "gay" actions, and that you can clean up all your cum though simple "unzip, suck, hold, and spit" sexual methods. Could the biggest problem with Bumsex popularity be that most of the faggots teaching newbies to Buttfuck are too gay and fuck too much?"

Linux suxors (n/t) (-1)

The Turd Report (527733) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673733)

no text, fuckchops!

Heh. (0)

Murmer (96505) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673737)

An article from somewhere else, by one of the locals. Talk about slam-dunk Karma whoring.

Much respect, drkich.

i'm new (4, Funny)

mabus (47611) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673740)

I just installed red hat 7.2 and i'm having difficulty learning linux. I have read lots of stuff but maybe I'm not reading the right things. My samba says "unknown error... hmm..." when i try to access my windows machines, and I have no idea how to install programs.... I think the HOWTO's that i read are too complicated. They always mention things that I have no idea how to do. I barely know DOS so I don't know many commands for the shell. LINUX is difficult.

Re:i'm new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673810)

The samba thing that got me confused at first was the user/share settings (so simple with hindsight)... if you are on a non-authenticated network, try just changing security = user to security = share in /etc/samba/smb.conf. I eventually figured out the error after meddling with samba more and googling my way through it. I personally love webmin [] as well for easy set up for trivial system things (changing the clock, etc.) Just install the rpm and then go to http://addressofyourlinuxbox:10000 and you can tweak all manner of things in a nice user friendly web environment.

Re:i'm new (3, Insightful)

betis70 (525817) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673820)

You might try poking around the OS for a little while before you create samba shares. Linux is different for you, so it will seem difficult. Just about anything completely new is difficult.

I still have trouble with some things (configuring new hardware for example), but usually find the answers in a HOW-TO or on a web site.

You might also get a "Learning Linux" type book to give you information about basic features. Once done getting your feet wet, a great book is "Running Linux". Also the "Linux In a Nutshell" has lots of the commands for the shell explained.

Poke around on the Red Hat site. I found lots of useful information there. Don't try to run too fast with this new OS. Pretty soon you will be working in windows and think "Dammit I wish I could just write a BASH script to automate this ..."

Hang in there. Every Linux guru had to start somewhere.

Re:i'm new (3, Insightful)

reaper20 (23396) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673855)

You might try poking around the OS for a little while before you create samba shares.

I agree with this guy .. learn around a bit before you try something like that, learn the filesystem and how linux works. I don't know how many times I've seen "Just booted into Linux for the first time 4 minutes ago, need help setting up firewall/samba/apache/cluster ASAP, HELP!"

But on the other hand... (2, Informative)

sterno (16320) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673831)

While linux can be difficult, if you know how to get support it can be a lot easier. Heck if you want some help on this one, e-mail me, I've beat my head against SAMBA a few times. But look at newsgroups, IRC, and websites and you can find gobs of useful info.

Remember Linux was designed for geeks by geeks and slowly it's working its way back to being usable by normal people. There's still the occasional chink in the armor though.


Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673844)

give me a friggen break. this guy is a troll

Re:i'm new (1)

Osty (16825) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673853)

I have read lots of stuff but maybe I'm not reading the right things.

That would surely be the problem. Every distribution of linux has a manual (whether paper or electronic). As a newbie, it's a very good idea to read that manual. For instance, look here [] for all the redhat manuals. Start there. Read. Read more. If you get confused, try re-reading. If that doesn't help, ask a specific question on a newsgroup, at your local LUG, or on an IRC channel dedicated to this kind of thing (<shameless-plug>#Linux on the EFNet IRC network is pretty good, if you go in there with a specific question in mind</shameless-plug>). Learning to use Linux is 95% finding the right resources and 5% reading. Of course, 95% of the right resources are docs (manuals, books, FAQs, howtos), so you're going to be doing a lot of reading. If you can't bother with that, then don't bother with linux (note: this is not trying to be elitist, just stating the facts. feel free to flame me anyway, as I'm sure you all will).

My theory is . . . (2, Insightful)

Captoo (103399) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673743)

My theory is that a lot of the people teaching Linux classes learned the OS before it had a good GUI. Now they think they need to pass all their knowledge on to the students, regardless of how much the students will use it.

Too knowledgeable?? Hardly. (4, Insightful)

Isldeur (125133) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673745)

Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?

I hardly think it's because they know too much. It's more that they want to show themselves as sauve and intelligent infront of those they're instructing. I think you'll find all the people who deserve the right to brag are generally much more humble because they honestly have nothing to prove.

Re:Too knowledgeable?? Hardly. (5, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673883)

Well, I'm not going to say I'm humble, but I will say that I already have everyone I'm teaching linux too impressed enough where I don't need to show off. ;)

Anyway, I actually have found myself having problems helping people with linux because I really can't see the problem from their point of view. It's hard for me to recognize what they will or won't know, and I tend to make assumptions, completely unintentionaly, about their knowledge base such that I end up just confusing them.

It also doesn't help that I have never wanted my Linux box to be "easy to use" (as defined by those who say Linux needs to be more so), and thus have a hard time trying to make it so for others.

All in all, I'm just not that great a teacher, but I do think that the difference in technical knowledge is part of the problem.

Not that roblimo isn't still an ass.

Right ON! (5, Insightful)

lysurgon (126252) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673748)

The biggest obstable to widespread Linux adoption is not its actual difficulty to use, but perception that it's for geeks only. An idiot proof installer would be good, but evangelests and PR that speaks to average users is perhaps the single most important thing standing in the way of more pervasive acceptance.

I understand how the general attitude that "you've got to know how to use a computer to use a computer" gets bred. I used to work 1-800-support. But that won't cut it on the public image tip.

GNU/Linux needs salespeople. Jeez, I can't believe I just wrote that, but it's true. The barriers are 90% cultural at this point....

Re:Right ON! -- addendum (5, Insightful)

lysurgon (126252) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673793)

I should add a big "USER FRIENDLY DOCUMENTATION" to my previous post.

I started geeting into this stuff about 2 years ago, and I'm naturally a technical guy. The documentation currently has a terrible 80/20 problem: 80% of it is...
  • Poorly written
  • Assumes you know things without telling you it assumes you know them
  • Was written by academics for academics (little practical value)
  • Or all of the above

Most often, documentation is an afterthought to a coding project. This is not a good way to get novice users to get to use the software, because those writing the docs are too intimately involved with the project and usually burnt out to the max.

Its not us. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673749)

I dont think that is actually us being too smart or arrogant, I think that it's some of the people that try to learn thinking that they are too smart, and not actually wanting to RTFM, and try to learn, they want to learn from osmosis, and magically be able to do anything in linux because its the "cool" thing to do.

too smart? (-1)

robsmama (416178) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673751)

"Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?"

what a hoot. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
arrogant pukes..


Don't forget--Unix isn't straightforward! (3, Insightful)

Ludwig668 (469536) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673752)

Don't forget that for people who don't understand how computing tools work, Unix kinda doesn't make much sense regardless of how it's taught. Pipes and filters really only make sense when you're filtering down large lists of information... and this kind of information pretty much only happens in system administrative contexts.

Just ask my roomate... (0)

DNAspark99 (218197) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673754)

As I just installed mandrake 8.1 for him last night, and began explaining the basic commands such as 'ls, cd, mv, rm, mkdir...etc' to which he said, "yeah, but can't I just click around and do the same stuff', to which I could only reply: "ummm, yes, I guess so, if you wanna do it that way".

cli joy (0)

terrynt (304377) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673755)

Its not the we know too much. We just want other to feel the same joy and sense of control we feel by using the command line.
I'd rather be able to type the command to get the information I need rather than clicking through endless dialog boxes and menus to get at the same information.

GUI joy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673800)

How about the simple joy I feel when I click a couple of simple buttons to do something it took you two weeks of learning arcane grammars to accomplish?

We should learn our own tools... (2, Insightful)

sultanoslack (320583) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673758)

I think it's hard for some of us to sit down and and learn our own GUI tools. I've actually had my boss (who I convinced to switch from Windows to Linux about 3 months ago) show me a couple of things in KDE that I wasn't aware of because the thing I use most in KDE is Konsole.

His eyes get generally glazed over when I do something like:

$> rpm -e `rpm -qa | grep -i ^xf`

...which actually came up today in reinstalling X. And I've done quite a few nastier things.

I think that it would do Linux users--especially Linux evangelists--well to learn our own GUI tools so that when our non-geek friends ask us for help we can give them something that's meaningful to them.

reinstalling X? (-1)

ArchieBunker (132337) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673894)

Whats that you say? Your superb never crash foolproof OS thats supposed to solve every problem needed X reinstalled? Well whats up with that?

The O'Rielly book made the same point. (3, Interesting)

Glowing Fish (155236) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673761)

In the basic O'Rielly book on Linux, it makes a point that most textbooks on Linux go into detail about such topics as how to use the ed command and other things that most people never use.

There are some conceptual points about Linux that even a newbie needs to know...such as permission and the file tree, but there is a lot of stuff that you really can just open it up and click around on stuff.

I think the problem is that a lot of Unix work in general has been going on in academia, and so that a lot of books are written with a lot of traditional complicated busywork in them. Students now are learning about the vi editor for the same reason that students for a long time had to learn Latin, because it is a tradition.

Re:The O'Rielly book made the same point. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673794)

Students now are learning about the vi editor for the same reason that students for a long time had to learn Latin, because it is a tradition.

so true, so true.

Re:The O'Rielly book made the same point. (2, Interesting)

johndan (223877) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673873)

Absolutely right, to some extent (how's that for hedging?). This isn't just a textbook problem: type "man whatever" and tell me that the OS accomodates novice users.

Not that there shouldn't be access to expert materials like man pages in linux, but that the man page still constitutes the norm rather than the exception to designing linux help. I can't tell you the number of times I've watched a linux expert try to explain something to a novice in a discussion like this:

E: You just need to chmod the files.

N: I need to what?

E: Chmod the files.

N: Ch... Mod?

E: Yeah. (Begins drumming fingers on desktop because he's anxious to change the permissions on the files.)

N: What files?

E: Here. (Grabs keyboard, whacks thirty keys in eight seconds, types ls and eighty files whip by on the display while E turns white.) Yeah! You're on the Web! Let's light that candle, Mr. B!

N: (whimper)

You get the picture. Getting linux to the mainstream is going to require both a reconfiguration of how the OS treats users, one that doesn't dismiss or ignore experts, but that offers multiple paths for experts, intermediates, and novices in the same space. How many linux developers usability test their apps or docs? How many force themselves to sit back and take a deep breath while their novice friend thinks for a second?

@johndan (whose hyphen and tilde keys are broken)

Disclaimer: I'm an academic and I've written several textbooks (although none about linux). On the other hand, I also run a usability lab.

Re:The O'Rielly book made the same point. (1)

Telastyn (206146) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673913)

except of course that 'power users' will need to learn vi, at least enough to know i makes stuff, and wq saves and quits.

I don't think the Latin relation is accurate... learning vi is like learning to multiply large numbers on paper, yeah you should always use a calculator or a computer, but you never know when one might not be available...

not really.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673762)

I would say that the main reason new linux users have problems learning the system is that it requires the use of cryptic, command-line commands and extensive knowledge of technical concepts and protocols. Lets face it.. linux is a hacker OS that normal lusers will never be able to learn. Most computer users just want an operating system that works, and that is why they use Microsoft Windows XP Professional.

probably (1)

PiGuy (531424) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673764)

I think part of the problem is that gurus tend not to use the 'easy-to-use' features. I'm not a guru (only been using Linux for ~8 months), but when I finally convinced my band teacher to install Linux (Mandrake, specifically) and he wanted to know how he could best use his old Office databases, my best answer was 'use Wine'. I've never had to do any database stuff before, but I know if I had to, I'd probably rig up a Perl interface and use TAB-delimited text files.

Agreed (5, Insightful)

LinuxGeek8 (184023) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673768)

I can only agree with it.
Part of the problem is that most "guru's" know how to use a commandline, but not how to use a GUI.
When I install software, I use the commandline, not Kpackage, Gnorpm or Rpmdrake.
So when someone asks me how to use such a program, he mostly knows more about it then I do, I just know more about the underlying architecture.

Though I do think the users are coming along.
Recently I heard about people who were using Linux, because they liked Tux, and were collecting pictures of him. Sure.

It is not that they are too smart... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673771)

it is that they are fucking dorks!

Nope. (5, Insightful)

FFFish (7567) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673772)

Biggest problem with Linux usability is a lack of applications to use with it.

WAAAAIT! Hold off on that flame-thrower!

I'm talking serious productivity applications.

There is no Linux equivalent to MSWord. Yes, yes, yes: I *know* there is StarOffice and others. But they aren't MSWord.

There is no Linux equivalent to AccPac. Yes, yes, yes: I *know* there are other accounting packages. But AccPac is the defacto standard.

There is no Linux equivalent to Photoshop. Yes, yes, yes: I *know* there's Gimp. But it's not Photoshop.

WAIT! Hold off on that flame-thrower!

I know it's unreasonable to expect Linux apps to be identical in functionality -- and misfunctionality! -- and appearance to the big-time, deeply-entrenched "standards."

But that's not the point. The point is: the problem with Linux usability is that its lacks applications that are direct clones of the standards.

That's unreasonable, illogical, stupid, and every other abusive word you can toss at the idea...

...but it's the truth. The PHBs see it that way, and countless users who've spent years learning the ins and outs of the standard apps see it that way.

It takes years of invested time and experience to become at all proficient at any comprehensive productivity application. No one wants to throw that investment away, just to move to Linux.

And that is, I think, at the very core of it all, a usability problem. If it isn't exactly like the original, it is less usable for many folk.

And now you can flame. Ouch.

Re:Nope. (2, Interesting)

slamb (119285) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673826)

It takes years of invested time and experience to become at all proficient at any comprehensive productivity application. No one wants to throw that investment away, just to move to Linux. And that is, I think, at the very core of it all, a usability problem. If it isn't exactly like the original, it is less usable for many folk.

Then there's no point in ever creating anything different. I think a better goal is to make it so much more efficient/friendlier/whatever than the original that it's worth the initial loss in productivity.

Re:Nope. (1)

lysurgon (126252) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673838)

I'm talking serious productivity applications.

I have to say, in spite of a slight learning curve, the GIMP and AbiWord are almost as good as Photoshop and MSWord.

In fact, I'll promote AbiWord over MSWord becasue it doesn't do a kazillion things for me that I don't want it to do (e.g. making lists, capitalizing words, etc) and does correct the usual bonehead errors (e.g. 'teh' instead of 'the').

In any event, I don't think this is actually as big a -real- problem as it is a perceved problem. If someone got started using the GIMP, I think they'd find that photoshop is counter-intuative and lacking in certain features (e.g. easy to modify script-fu).

This kind of argument has a lot more to do with user's prior experience (cultural barriers) than actual feature sets (technical barriers).

Better than you credit (2, Insightful)

Weasel Boy (13855) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673859)

Your point is well taken. But have you used StarOffice or the GIMP? These applications are about as close to a feature-for-feature clone of the original as they can legally be. As an experienced user of Office 95, I felt right at home in StarOffice 5.1 the first time I tried it. I can't wait to try v6. It took me a bit to learn to use the GIMP, but again the fit is very good. I didn't feel like I was in a foreign country.

I would go beyond your statement and say that what Linux really needs to be accepted is not clones, but *the real thing*. Which is unlikely to happen any time soon.

But you said we don't have any functional clones of the leading productivity apps. In the cases discussed above, I say we do.

By Far, I agree with the claim (2, Funny)

Ieshan (409693) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673778)

You know, there was a kid who sat at my lunchtable and babbled incessantly about Linux and his "Linux box". I think he sat home all day and hacked it, which, in laymans terms, means he tried to break into his own system and failed. Sounds poor, if you ask me.

No, but really. Anyone who's tried to teach me the larger part of linux commands has taught me in "code form". In other words, they've tried to teach me how to do everything through the console, and what's worse, they try to add their own, new "terms" for them. A "Flood Ping" is suddenly a "Hurricane River Overflowing of Packets", and you casually ask them what EITHER of them are, and the kid tells you that he's talking about sending large amounts of binary data through his umbilical cord into an unsuspecting system. Right.

I think that schools should consider hiring IT professionals who can teach as well as do IT. It might open up a whole new market of jobs. Open Source software would be a great class, if anyone ever got around to TEACHING it.

hahaha, wrong heading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673780)

this was supposed to be under: Its funny, laugh!

anway, I really think that the last part about the people being 'too smart' and all that is really a hoot. I mean, I am not acually questioning the raw intelligence or logic or anyone out there, but that qualification has got to be so far away from anything accurate in trying to explain a communication and teaching problem... hehehe, this just floors me.

Hey, maybe next someone will explain microsoft's crappy products as a result of the genious minds behind it.

I couldn't agree more (1)

_Marvin_ (114749) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673781)

I've also recently noticed it when reading LUG mailing lists and articles on the internet: Some linux non-guru describes how configuring xy is not so hard after all... and then starts off with a long list of bash commands.
And I always think "who the hell told him to do it that way? It can be done so much easier using the tools his distribution offers. And he's not the kind of user who wants to do it "the hard way", otherwise he'd be using debian or slackware (as I do, btw)."
This even starts scaring me, as I want linux to succeed, however this kind of "propaganda" rather scares people off.

100% agree (5, Insightful)

reaper20 (23396) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673782)

Newbie - "How do I use my dial up modem in linux, using redhat 7.2?"

Expert - "First of all, you need to make sure ppp is compiled into your kernel, then recompile, RTFM."

Newbie - "Is there an easier way?"

Expert - "Yes, but first, lets's get you all the kernel patches, since you're using 2.4.9, which has some known VM problems under high loads, then, we'll need to gut your X server, then, you might as well recompile/build KDE, since the one in Red Hat sucks, which comes with GNOME, but I think it sucks, so I'll make sure that you think it sucks too ... you know, if you used Debian, this wouldn't be a problem...."

Newbie - "What's a Debian?"

... and so on and so forth ....

I've never heard that question (1)

_iris (92554) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673917)

"How do I use my dial up modem in linux, using redhat 7.2?"

Please tell me where you have heard a newbie ask that question. I would seriously like to see/hear it.

Many variations are heard throughout the lands, but not that question. I hear "How do I connect to the Internet?" and "How do I use my modem under Linux?". The confusion comes when all the gurus ask all the right questions in slightly different words. This is what HOWTOs are for and also why I have stopped interactively helping newbies. I give them about 5 URLs on the subject and tell them to ask me after they read the web pages if they still don't get it.

it's all what you are used to (2)

vscjoe (537452) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673784)

I have seen many secretaries, writers, and scientists getting started with UNIX. Most people have no problems with command line tools and get proficient at them faster than at GUI tools. Among many other advantages, command line tools and text-based tools are much easier to document and explain.

The main reason Windows seems so "usable" is because people already spent years learning it. And, pictures and graphics engage people (just like television), whether they actually help or not. Of course, people coming from Windows expect the same interface on Linux, just like UNIX users have tools like Cygwin on Windows. But there is little that's intrinsically intuitive about the way Windows handles files, applications, and all that.

If my mom can explain it to my dad... (5, Insightful)

nsample (261457) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673786)

I think there's a lot of truth to this, but not just with linux. It seems to be a phenomenon at all increasing levels of sophistication, in many different fields.

In my own example, I taught an advanced database course at Stanford, and how no trouble connecting with upper division CS majors and industry professionals in the course. Two quarters later, I taught "CS01i: Introduction to the Internet." I found myself at a loss sometimes trying to relate to the uninitiated Internet user. I had become detached.

It seems that the same thing is true of linux. We get ingrained in an OS/culture that requires a certain level of sophistication to succeed. Then (for better or for worse) we often become trapped in that paradigm.

I've found that with Linux education (and CS01i), that an old maxim holds true: "If I can tell my mom how to do it, and she can then successfully explain it to my dad, my job is done."

It may sound like an elementary test of fitness, but it works as a good filter for teaching the uninitiated.

(please note, this only works if your mom isn't a kernel contributor...):)

Why gurus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673792)

Any one of us (that being kernel hackers, current competent Linux users, sysadmins, etc.) knows that the HOWTOs in the LDP are beautifully straightforward and easy enough for most John. L. User types to understand. Heck, even my little brother (13) has managed to get his Linux system up and running in less than 2 hours. Up and running and configured, w/o my help. It really isn't that difficult to use, I've been doing it since I was 9 (9 years now). What's really needed is some good marketing for these documentation projects, they're friendly, they're easy, and they aren't arrogant snots like some of our fellow "gurus." Even with my major communication issues, I've managed to explain Linux to Normal People (tm), and the people submitting to the LDP are the real user gurus. See if Google will advertise the sites, suggest links, etc.

Sadly, often true. (2, Insightful)

RavenDarkholme (27245) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673795)

I'm somewhat ashamed to say that it's often easy to forget that everyone hasn't been using Linux, vi, and command-line tools as I have. I do a lot of work with public school teachers and other "non-computer-literate" people, and while I do try to remember what it was like to start out, sometimes I forget that what I think is obvious, other people have just never had the chance to learn. In fact, I'm often shocked by the fact that many people have "grown up" with Windows or Mac and don't even know that a command prompt exists.

Still, while some people aren't good at explaining things in terms that a newbie can understand, others are. It's the same way with teachers of anything, though, so let's not lump this in with Linux/Unix/BSD* etc. I had many math teachers who made things sound so horribly complicated and uninteresting I just couldn't get it. Then I had one teach me enough Algebra/Trig to get an A in Calculus and 1st year Physics in about 3 hours. I remember thinking, "That's it? Why the hell didn't they say so???"

Partly, too, there is a prestige aspect to this. Sadly, some people's teaching style is all about showing off how wonderfully smart they are and showing how woefully stupid the student is. No, this isn't everyone, but I do seem to encounter a lot of people who feel that if you can't use vi, then you are just hopelessly dumb.

Maybe the gurus need to think more about what the goal is. Is the goal to make it so that other "ordinary" people can use Linux, or so that we can all be some kind of honored clique who, together, are just so much cooler than everyone else? Once the goal is declared, act accordingly: simple as that. :-)

Usability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673797)

Maybe it is, but if you're going to use linux you at least need to know how to USE the system without your GUI. Usually when things don't go as expected (happens a lot with linux even now) you need to be able to know how to fix it. Besides, who runs linux for their primary desktop when they're a total newbie anyway?
IMHO Linux isn't supposed to a desktop OS. But, if you know how to use the system *shrug* i guess X is ok.
It seems to me that most people don't want to spend their time reading or trying to fix problems, they are impacient. that is the problem. not that linux is hard.

Just my 2 cents

man pages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673803)

It would go along way towards helping newbies if all man pages were re-written in plain english with clear examples of common real world uses.


Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673806)

XML-DEV was hacked and the client database was deleted. That is fantastic news. Some generous and helpful hacker has shown the importance of his right to exploit... er, point out possible exploits. Plus, this will show everyone to be 'more careful'. Go get em kid! You are a hero to the community

making it look harder? (2, Interesting)

tourettes (97445) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673811)

I, like a lot of others, learned how to use linux from the many many howto's and guides on the internet. I didn't have anyone to teach me, because no one i knew ran Linux. The only real help i got when starting was from a kind soul on IRC, who spent a few hours with me, to teach me the basics, and what packages to download for slackware 3.5.

But i find the bigest problem I have with trying to teach someone else how to use it, is the nice graphical user interfaces. A lot of people think of this as a great teaching tool, to make linux "look" like windows translates into the user being able to "use" linux but not "work" with linux. For example, my ex-girlfriend runs Mandrake 8.0 , and has been since early summer, but ask her something about linux and you can literally see the question marks floating above her head, she has no clue about it, she doesn't even know how to install an RPM (not that it's a bad thing).

I believe the only way that someone can really learn how to use linux, is to do it themselves, and only seek help if they are really stuck, that way, what they learn will stick with them, like anything else. My ex-girlfriend can call me up and say "hey, i want to install napster, how do i do it?" i could easily tell her to go to the gnapster website, download the file, open up the terminal, type "rpm -Uvh filename.rpm" but she will only remember that for 33 seconds it takes for her to type it, after that, it's gone, and she'll be calling me up again in a few more days asking how to install another program.

Note: If you go out with a girl, do not introduce her to Linux, because when you break up, she will still be calling you for months and months.

Newbies think computers are "magic" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673812)

I tell newbies that when they move their mouse around, the arrow is moving because pixels are turned off and on individually, and they don't believe it. Are we going to let them live in a dream world forever? Someone needs to teach them about OR, AND, and NOT gates now!

Take A+ for example (5, Interesting)

The Ape With No Name (213531) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673814)

As a *nix person who has had to pick up Winders skills, I will be the first to admit that all the Windows training I have taken has had the tone "This isn't really that hard."

In contrast, I went to a LUG meeting where a workshop was held for Newbies and I distinctly remember someone saying "Look, mounting a share with NFS is hard." You would never hear this at a Windows workshop.

Take my example:

C:\net use p: \\foo\bar

hookado@monkeyfudge ~$ mount -t nfs gorilla:/export /mnt/disk

Why is one "easier" than the other? Is it just cultural?

A question of social skills (0, Troll)

Walter Bell (535520) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673815)

Most computer-savvy people I know display a horrific lack of the most basic social skills. More comfortable interacting with the machine than the person they are helping, they do things in the most efficient way for themselves, rather than teaching the user the simplest way to do things or explaining as they go on.

I know that I was just like that until I taught CS 101 for two years in graduate school. That changed my entire outlook and made me a much more patient, helpful individual. I would strongly encourage that every computer geek take the time to teach others in a professional capacity, as this would give our profession a better name and gain us more respect from our users.


Perhaps... (1)

10 Speed (519184) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673816)

linux just isnt as user friendly as some other OS's....

Sure you can do all of these things (flash etc) under linux but is sure isnt as simple...Compare the flash plugin installation process of ie with any linux browser...

Windows hits the os for the masses target reasonably well, Linux hits the os for tech's reasonably well

It is moving towards being more friendly but at the moment it is just not intutative enough...When I first started using windows (95 after finally discarding my Amiga) I could install apps so much easier than I could when I started using Mandrake 7....

I hope linux carries on its path and I hope that it will become easier to use but its been my experience that is simply not there yet...

It's ment to be hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673817)

That way the people what want their mail attachments to automatically open and run will stay in Windows. *nix, and has always been IQ safe guarded and should remain so.

I'll admit to that crime (4, Insightful)

sterno (16320) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673818)

I have been using Linux routinely since like 1995 and so of course I've learned the hard way to do everything. Today, when I'm dealing with friends and colleagues who have a problem with Linux I start spouting off command lines and obscure file paths. The fact of the matter is that I have no idea how to do a lot of these things the easy way. When I tell them I can sense their dread.

As an excercise in trying to be more helpful I've been trying to learn the easy way to do things. I did an out-of-the-box install of Redhat 7.2, and I'm trying very hard not to touch the command line. As it turns out I can do an amazing amount of stuff without touching a command line. The stuff I do have to do is usually obscure power user stuff that normal humans don't have to mess with.

File System (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673821)

When I first started using linux, the biggest road block was the file system. It is a lot different that the DOS system most winlosers are used to. And the whole /mnt/ thing threw me off. Its pretty easy once you use it for a week.

Maybe too stuck in their ways... (5, Insightful)

Gen-GNU (36980) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673823)

I recently had this problem. My roommate was using my computer to burn some CD's. He had mp3's that he wanted in cd audio format. I tried to show him how to do what he needed...starting with command line ftp, to command line file management, to command line cd recording.

He looked at me like I was from mars.

Then he said, "Don't you have explorer like in windows?"

I was stunned. Of course I did. I was running KDE for Crissakes. I never use it, so it just didn't occur to me. Then I showed him again, using konqueror for ftp, and file management. (He was impressed that you could use the same program to get files from other computers, and file management.) He did have to do command line cd recording, since I didn't have a gui, but he was ok with moving files to the right directory, and hitting up-arrow, enter.

When he was done, using almost all GUI tools, he came in and said something about Linux not being as tough as everyone said. If he hadn't hit me over the head with the obvious, though, he would have given up in frustration at the command line.

I beg to differ... (2, Interesting)

O2n (325189) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673825)

From the article:
and apparently fail to explain that yes, you can make PowerPoint-style presentations in Linux,

The keyword here is "style". PowerPoint-style. My boss wants to create .ppt documents to send to his boss, the clients, and to intoxicate us. PowerPoint-style just doesn't cut it.

you can view Web Pages that use Flash animation and other "glitz" features,

Ha! You're joking, right? All those sites "enhanced" for "best experience" with IE... maybe if you have Mozilla, Konqueror, Galleon, Opera and Netscape 6.2 and you them one-by-one, on each website!

and that you can manage all your files though simple "point, click, drag and drop" visual interfaces.

Well, no details about this in the article. Personally, I dislike the "graphical, point, click, drag and drop" interfaces - call me old-fashioned... I would use mc, but nothing more.

So... I use linux both at work and at home for 99% of the time; but it's not ready for my mom (or the other way around... hmmm... :)

it's a two way street.... (1)

reaper20 (23396) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673827)

One on side, you've got people telling newbie's that vi is the only word processor you'll ever need, and on the other, you have people insisting that linux lacks an install shield because they're too ignorant to click on the rpm icon in konqueror/nautilus and have it work properly.

No matter what the truth is, people will always think that Linux is hard to use because it's not Windows. Today, a guy at work told me that Linux will never catch on because there is a lack of virus software for it. I had to explain it to him, he still didn't believe me!

Re:it's a two way street.... (5, Insightful)

Osty (16825) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673920)

Today, a guy at work told me that Linux will never catch on because there is a lack of virus software for it. I had to explain it to him, he still didn't believe me!

Did he not believe you when you said, "Linux doesn't have any anti-virus software because Linux is not popular enough yet to be the target of viruses"? Or was it because you told him that Linux is intrinsically safe from viruses. That's not true, and here's why:

Right now, most people running Linux know better than to do everything as root. As such, there is a logical separation between what the user can do, and what can damage the system (in that, little of what the user can do can damage the system). Also, right now, there aren't any e-mail apps that are as featureful (bugful, if you must) as Outlook, in that they won't automatically handle whatever attachments you get (you have to download the attachment and then load it up with whatever tool you use to view it). This is a bane when it comes to executable code (already been fixed in Outlook for some time -- people just don't patch), but it's a boon for everything else. It exemplifies a fundamental design difference between the Windows experience and most Linux GUI experiences -- being that Windows is very much "Document-centric". You don't open Word and then open a document. You don't open Excel and then open a spreadsheet. You just double-click on the document or spreadsheet, and Word (or WordPerfect, or Star Office, even, if that's how you have things set up) fires up and loads that document for you. Now, to get off of that tangent and back on to the original point -- as Linux grows in the desktop market (if Linux grows in the desktop market), more and more and more people will be running as root 24/7/365. What that means is that suddenly, viruses are very much dangerous. Or, users start clamoring for an e-mail app that has the same power as Outlook, at which point we get mail virii spread through Linux. Oh, sure, it won't affect you, but what about that guy at work?

The point? Linux is not intrinisically safe from viruses. It's "safe enough" right now, through a combination of obscurity (it's not worth the time to write a virus for it, as it'll see little spread) and security (though a virus could still trash a user's $HOME just fine, even if it's not running as root). Expect to see that change if Linux does penetrate further into the desktop market (this will take some time -- the Macintosh is fairly free from virii mainly due to the obscurity argument, so Linux would have to substantially overtake Apple's marketshare to make itself a target).

The problem is... (5, Insightful)

gillbates (106458) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673828)

Most casual users don't want all of this complexity - heck, to most the idea that they need to login to their home system seems absurd.

Linux was written by geeks, for geeks, and it shows. Most Linux users (myself included) would not give up the security and reliability of Linux for the sake of using something simpler.

And from a user design standpoint, the system fails - unlike windows, 3 different Linux boxes can have 3 different interfaces - each of which confusing to the new user.

Linux will be ready for the clueless masses when:

  • Users can use the machine without logging in. (perhaps under some restrictive user account...)
  • Users never have to manually configure hardware - the kernel detects the hardware and compiles and loads the requisite modules automatically
  • There is one standard GUI interface across all distrubutions; even though GNOME and KDE are remarkably similar in function, the different appearance of windows will confuse the average user.
  • The user can install or upgrade any system with a single click of the mouse.
Granted, this is an OS that not many geeks would like. However, there is a tradeoff involved - one can run a good, but obscure OS, or use a popular, but buggy and restrictive OS. If Linux is changed to suit the average desktop user, most technically astute users wouldn't use it; the old adage holds - make something that even an idiot can use, and only an idiot will use it.

How good are Linux GUIs? (1)

brett42 (79648) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673829)

I'm not a Linux user, but from what i've read, the appeal Linux has is a powerful command line. I've also read numerous complaints about the GUIs. When doing typical multiple window tasks, say web browsing, IRC, downloading mp3s, and writing a report in a word processor at the same time, is Linux still more stable and faster than Windows?

Sort of true. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673833)

While I do think that people tend to overcomplicate things when teaching about Linux (I had one guy include piping var/log stuff into a transparent command prompt as part of a "how do I set up BlackBox properly" question someone posed), I think it's probably safe to say that most Linux gurus are a little bit more keen on system setup than someone you would consider a Windows guru (not at all intended to be a flame, I've seen people do some pretty complicated things with Windows). The questions that a Linux guru faces are bound to be more complicated anyway; most questions that people in Windows have is "why does this crash," or "where can I find this," whereas most Linux-related questions are akin to "does my DSL modem work," or "what /etc file do I edit to get my smtp server working properly?"

biggest problem? (1)

xipho (193257) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673835)

Is that beyond academia and geeks hidden in dark rooms nobody knows Linux exists. Its not apps or anything beyond that....M$ spends billions on advertising that it exists as an option for your everday flying-happy-ray-o-light type person....Linux spends nothing. Poll 100 average Americans (ok maybe a bad example), I bet on average maybe 5% have even heard of linux...

You have to *get* it working first... (3, Insightful)

Slarty (11126) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673837)

It's not necessarily that you *can't* surf the web, make PowerPoint presentations, etc... obviously, you can. It's just that in many cases it seems pretty darned hard to get a system to a configuration where you can. Pre-installing stuff would probably help, because if a PowerPoint clone isn't installed, how is the average uninformed user going to figure out how to make a pretty presentation?

On a Windows box, if PowerPoint wasn't already preinstalled, then most people at least know that they need to get PowerPoint somehow... MS has at least done their job in getting mindshare. Love it or hate it, everybody's heard of Office.

But will they know what to use on Linux? Will they know what to download, whether they need KDE or GNOME or whatnot? And where to find it if they do? How to build an app from source, or how to use a package management system to install it? Probably not, and there is a lot to learn there...

On Linux, the software is there for the most part, and some of it finally doesn't suck (not just a Linux issue; most software sucks, although at least on Windows it's a form of suck people are familiar with). It's just a question of familiarity with it, I guess. Things in the Un*x world are sufficiently different from the norm that people just aren't comfortable with it yet. The only way to fix this is lots of exposure, which is tricky to get sometimes.

But to get back on topic, knowing a lot of geeks, my guess isn't that they're too smart to teach "normal" people but just tend to focus on what they deal with, which is the technical details which tend to intimidate everyone else. Geeks are tinkerers, "normal" people like to get things working and leave it that way. So when systems running Linux that have all this stuff, and work fine without any tinkering, become widely available the problem might go away somewhat.

YES (5, Interesting)

MongooseCN (139203) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673841)

Most of the people who know Linux well assume that everyone else can learn Linux just as easily as them. I think that's about all that needs to be said because that is all I have ever seen.

These are some of the major points I've seen guru's forget about "average" computer users.

1. Average computer users are afraid they will break their computer. Example: Many think if they mess up setting up a drive in the BIOS, the drive will physically break.

2. Average computers users need to get their information visualy. Just look at all the Visual MS products. People don't know where to look for information so they need all the info laid out in front of them. They need menus and GUI's that can show them all the options they have to use. They don't have the time or ability to hunt out where the information is they need.

3. Average computer users have a very short time span for learning something on a computer. A computer is just another utiliy they need to use. They don't learn how it works for the same reason they don't learn how their TV, VCR, microwave, refrigerator, cellphone, etc works, they don't have the time. They expect someone else to do all the detailed work for them.

4. It takes logic to understand a computer, and most people just can't grasp the concept of logical thinking. "The computer shouldn't do that when I click there!" "Why?" "Because.. that's a stupid thing to do!"

I saw some spam in my in-box with a similar title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673842)

...but it was about making my *ahem* look harder than it actually is, but I digress.

The reason Linux looks hard to use is due to the fact that it is simply different from Windows. Ask a Windows user to use a Mac and he'll quickly become frustrated at the subtle differences in the way the UI functions.

If Linux is ever to be seen as easy-to-use by the Windows-using masses, it needs to have a braindead-easy installer, a UI that works exactly like Window's, and plug-and-play hardware configuration. Sure most of these things can be found and added, but is there a single distribution that defaults to these settings? If there was, it would be suitable.

99% of what? (2, Funny)

huckamania (533052) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673846)

I guess all the time I've been spending playing Civ III accounts for the last 1%. I remember when all I did on my computer was write and print letters, oh wait, that was a typewriter.

Too smart? (1, Troll)

neema (170845) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673850)

"Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?

The truly smart can explain the very complicated in simple terms.

Having Worked Tech Support... (4, Insightful)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673851)

You learn the trick of coming down to the user's level. Yes, you know EVERYTHING about the product you're supporting (Actually MOST tech support people don't and the ones who do move on quickly, but that's another story) but they don't.

I see a lot of people intentionally going over the user's head and the vibe I get from the people who do that is "See how leet I am?" Those people need to grow up. Of course, when you get free support you often get what you pay for. If you get that attitude from someone paid to provide end user support, you should ask to speak to their manager immediately and complain.

Some of us can't help but go over the user's heads. I'll do it if I start focussing on the issue at hand but I've learned to pick up on that blank look and pause at that point and say "Ah, you don't care about that!"

Part of the problem too is that some of us are just unfamiliar with the tools. I haven't used StarOffice in ages and get better results with LaTeX. I'm a programmer so I never need to do Powerpoint presentations. I _like_ mucking around behind the scenes to see how things work, and I've become used to working behind the scenes as well.

The best way to approach someone you want to help is to view it as a learning experience for you both. You have to learn to put your personal preferences aside and look at what is best for the user you're working with. You can actually expand your horizons that way.

Now if only... (2)

Greg Lindahl (37568) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673857)

Now if only Roblimo could try to make the point without overgeneralizing. I know quite a few old time Unix/Linux users who happen to agree with Roblimo. But his writing sure doesn't seem to leave that option open. Lots of flame wars in our community get started in this fashion; too bad Roblimo hasn't learned how to avoid the problem.

No, the problem is not that it looks too hard (5, Informative)

Monkeyman334 (205694) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673863)

It is too hard. Okay, maybe not too hard, but definitely a bit harder than Windows or Mac. After the wu-ftpd warning I decided to update all my RedHat 6.2 servers to the latest version. What do you know, the RPM doesn't work. Why? Because it wants RPM version 4. So I go to install RPM 4, it wants glibc. Surprise surprise, glibc wants RPM 4. And when I got my RedHat user friend of many years, he managed to get glibc installed using force or nodeps, but RPM version 4 and wu-ftpd also wanted xinetd, and for some reason we couldn't get it installed. So we had to resort to getting the latest 7.2 CDs and taking the server down for a while for an upgrade. Windows on the other hand, will tell you when updates are there. It installs them automagically and one reboot is all that's needed. I hear people claim that Windows Update can make it unbootable, I've never seen it happen.

Now, installing something like flash under Mozilla/Linux. I managed to install it fairly easily. But at our crowded computer lab at school, where the only box left was a linux one (we usually use mac), a student couldn't quite figure it out. He downloaded the file, and that was the end of his knowledge. He doesn't know how to use tar. And I'm sure he didn't know what root was or where mozilla was installed. I even had to start X for him. In Windows/IE it's auto install. You click "Yes" on a prompt and it's installed.

When I was first running Debian I wanted to get my sound card running to play some music. I went into modconf and I just couldn't get it installed, even though a pnpdump seemed to find it. So a friend suggested ALSA, which I tried to install. What do ya know, I need to do a kernel upgrade. It still doesn't work. In Windows its found, you put in the driver CD or floppy, don't have to worry about mounting, and a reboot. Maybe it's just my crappy hardware, or I'm just stupid, but with 6 billion people on this planet, I'm sure more than one person has the same problem as I do. The worst part is I got smart people with their degrees to try and help me out, who have been using linux for years. Like the sysadmin for our school district, someone else who just got their CS degree and is a debian package maintainer, someone who is in college learning the kernel. They couldn't get it installed as fast I could, someone who has taken zero (0) college courses in Windows.

the core of the problem is... (4, Funny)

Sanity (1431) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673865)

...that the skills required to be a "guru" in Linux or anything else, are not nescessary the skills required to explain that knowledge to others, and unfortunately, they are often mutually exclusive.

I know many people who are very smart, yet I cringe when I hear them try to explain things to non-experts in the field. It is not that they aren't trying, just that they lack the ability to put themselves in the shoes of someone who doesn't have their level of knowledge.

No, the real problem is the users. (2)

oGMo (379) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673867)

The real problem is the users themselves who are migrating from another operating system (typically an MS OS, although I'm sure this would apply to any other). While taking a Human Computer Interaction course not very long ago (early this year), the project we chose was to create a simple interface for the Linux lab, for new users.

Now, most users are familiar with buttons, right? Everyone who has used a modern GUI has seen and used and is familiar with buttons. So, we made a little app in QT 2.x [] that would have a screen with a few rows of labelled buttons. There would be categories (office apps, math and science apps, development apps, etc.), and the user could select a category and click the button of the app they wanted. You don't really get any easier than this.

The results were disturbing. Our team (made of mostly windows users) had little problem, since they had seen it in development. But almost no one else could use it! We tested on a decent number of people in the NT lab (since this was our target audience), gave them a few simple tasks (like "start a word processor"), and only a very small percentage could complete these tasks. They just couldn't handle something different.

This is the problem I see with making it "OK to be ignorant (about computers)". People can't really use a computer at all, they can only repeat a set of rote tasks to do what they want.

Using a computer isn't difficult. Understanding what is happening isn't difficult. Which OS you use, whether you have a GUI or a command line, is irrelevant. Most of the problem people have with "Linux is Difficult" stems from the fact that they only know a series of rote tasks on one platform, and these rote tasks don't work on Linux. (Even if they do, there is mental confusion simply because it isn't the platform they're used to... we tried this with GNOME and KDE as well, which are quite similar to what people here do, which is use the Start menu.) I have set up a Linux computer for my mom and sister, both of whom had no previous computer experience, and they had absolutely zero trouble using it. My dad, however, who had a deal of Windows experience, just couldn't handle it. (In fact, I had my sister edit a LaTeX document one time, just for kicks, and she picked up on the formatting codes without any explanation. She didn't get them all right, but she came very close.)

People don't like to change. They don't like to learn and adapt. But they should, even though they will make a fuss. We know they should. We are experienced, and we do know better than they. This is not an elitist attitude: we want them to learn too. (An elitist attitude would be that they are inferior and cannot, or should not, learn.) Making it OK to be ignorant is merely harmful for them and ourselves, as well.

Yes... and no. (1)

_iris (92554) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673874)

Newbies ask too broad of questions while learning GNU Linux. The most correct answer for most of the questions I am asked is either "sort of" or "yes, and no".

For instance the other night my rommmate sat down at my box and started poking around, as he does sometimes. He said "so to browse the web, I just open Konqueror, right?". I said "well... uhm.. kinda.". I opened Netscape 4, whatever Mozilla nightly build is installed, lynx and Konqueror and said "These are the *ways* to browse the web on *this* box".

My point? My point is that most aspects of GNU Linux is not complicated, but answering most newbie questions in complete correctness is that complicated.

um... (1, Offtopic)

talks_to_birds (2488) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673878)


The Reg®?

C'mon, guys, ya gotta get out more.


It's not that they know too much (1)

Minstrel78 (28344) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673886)

It's not that the teachers know too much, it's that those teaching for the most part are not very good teachers. It is not easy to teach, and indeed it is very difficult to teach well.

Teaching effectively means being not only very knowledgable in the subject being taught, but also being very aware of the student and his or her own level of knowledge and ability, and be able to be patient, willing to repeat, and friendly.

For most typically antisocial linux nerds, this can be a tall order ;)

A bad teacher is a bad teacher. (1)

Pyromage (19360) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673887)

Do you really expect someone to be a good teacher just because they posess knowledge? There is a vast canyon between knowing the material and being to instill that knowledge into others. I'm in school now, so I see plenty of horrible teachers. Most of them know the material. However, the bad ones are disorganized and/or skip things because "I thought you knew that" or "it was in the book".
Interestingly enough the best teachers I've had have not meen the most intelligent, or the most knowledgable. Teaching is a quality on its own: Good coders are not good teachers. Good teachers are good teachers.

Too smart? (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673889)

Could the biggest problem with Linux usability be that most of the people teaching newbies to use Linux are too smart and know too much?

If this is so, then the secret to Microsoft's success with usable operating systems must be that Microsoft people aren't very smart or knowledgable. That implies that Apple people must be totally ignorant morons. A description of Amiga poeple would be unprintable on this public forum.

I agree (0, Interesting)

Cryptopotamus (460702) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673891)

Amen brother. This is so true. I installed Linux on my iMac a couple of years ago and it really woulda ruled if I knew what I was doing. I ended up abandoning it because it was just too tuff.

Roblimo has shown me the light... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673895)

"If you have an exotic disease no one else can cure, then all those Hopkins specialists are great, but for something simple, we don't need all that expertise, so we might as well use the little place close to home where the nurses will know you by name instead of as a six-digit patient number."

I'm here, so I obviously survived the operation. And I'm typing this on a laptop running Linux that I set up with GUI "point and click" administrative tools, so obviously the "keep it simple and close to home" approach works as well with Linux as with surgery.

I was going to recommend to our IT staff that we scale up our parallel development by installing sourceforge (with an almost 100 developer userbase) but after reading the article I realize that we can just keep everyone using CVS, rsync, & bugzilla.

KISS rules; thanks Roblimo!

This is Truth. But... (1)

grendelkhan (168481) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673897)

People like Ximian and Mandrake are doing a DAMN GOOD JOB of fixing it. I don't run GNOME/Sawfish, I like WindowMaker (it appeals to my minimalist nature), but having forced myself to make the switch from Win2k to Linux (Mandrake 8.0) about five months ago, I have to say it isn't as hard as people make it out to be.

Most of what I've learned, I've done on my own, Google is my friend, but I have to say that I was amazed when I drug an MP3 out of Nautilus and dropped it onto xmms and it fired right up! Today, reading the States proposal against Microsoft, I clicked on the link, without realizing that it's a PDF, and WHAMMO! Galeon fired Acrobat Reader right up in the same damn window, just like I was using IE on Windows!

That seemless interoperability is right there, and it's just not publicized enough. So much of what users like my wife need is already there, someone just needs to show them. Granted, I've spent way too much time fscking around with rpm and change file permissions quickly on share through my trust Eterm, but with a little more work, I probably wouldn't have to. Hell, Red-Carpet does a great job of sliding in updates to my system, and I don't have to do anything except click "OK" when it's done.

People do make it out to be harder than it really is.

Joe Blow User (1)

jimlintott (317783) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673900)

Let's try to see this from Joe Blow user's perspective. He already thinks that his computer is hard to use, so if he hears that Linux is harder to use than Windows he will view learning Linux as an insurmountable task and will surely be disinclined to pursue such an endeavour.
I have introduced many of these users to Linux by telling them after that they weren't using Windows. They almost never notice. Unless I'm running Black Box which gets them all excited and they want to know how to make their desktop look like that.
The reality is that Joe Blow user just wants to use his computer. He doesn't care about Operating Systems. He doesn't even know what it is. He is usually lucky to know what a file is. (Hands up, everyone who knows a Windows user that can't do anything unless you make them a desktop shortcut.)
These same people have no problem using Linux once they learn how to log on. I had one of these users tell me that he thought my computer worked exactly how people expect their computer to work. It just works.
It is easy for some of us to get carried away about the finer points of Linux, like file permissions, or powerful command line utilities, but that just confuses them. Just boot it up, log them on and leave them alone. They will figure it out.

Easy to use, hard to administrate. (1)

Eneff (96967) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673901)

Anyone can use KDE and Gnome, especially if it's not their computer. As a trainer, I would estimate the transfer time to semi-proficency as 3-5 hours.

However, I would not want to have to teach them what to do if something goes wrong on the System level. That is what makes Linux complicated. In many ways, it's what makes Windows complicated as well.

When Windows is messed up beyond all repair, however, they call Dell or Gateway technical support and are told it's too bad they didn't make backups and the system is reinstalled. (Alternatively, they pay 50 bucks for someone to retreive their information for them.) Often, it's quicker to reinstall Windows 9x than to diagnose the real problem and fix it.

The other problem is installing and upgrading software. Someone like Cheapbytes could go far in making CDs with CD install scripts (and RPMs/DEBs) with the latest software that can upgrade a stock system. Perhaps there is some money to be made for a service that sends out a CD a quarter with new applications that are easily installed. Rpmfind and even apt-get are daunting. I haven't seen a web interface that has been successful. (Mandrake's is a miserable failure)

In the end, a well-setup Mandrake system is not much more difficult to use on a daily basis than a well-setup Windows machine. However, this does not say that Linux is ready for the average user.

Dumb teachers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673904)


No, the original poster basically is stating that
the teachers aren't very smart or have decided that "it was hard for me, it must be hard for

The former is poor instructional discipline,
the latter is called hazing.

Remember that just because one is instinctively
smart at a discipline does not imply they can
teach it. Ty Cobb, one of the best baseball
players ever, was a terrible coach. (There is
a closeted truth to the notion that "those who
cannot DO, teach - they are discrete disciplines.")

Excellent teachers interested in their students'
achieving excellence know their subject matter,
sure, but they know their audience. They know
what their audience expects. They design
instruction around that audience and ensure that
the particular set of students have the range of
skills and expecations correllate to their
It sounds to me like there is either a genuine
opportunity to uncover or create courses focused
on keeping the command line, the plumbing, and
the knobs, dials and switches firmly in the
background while teaching, or someone's doing a
bad job of hiring education.

Whether that natural focus would presume Windows
knowledge or a ground-up teaching of what it is
to use a desktop metaphor spun specifically to
the Linux tools at hand is a side note.

Overwhelmingly YES (2, Interesting)

Uncle Gropey (542219) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673906)

I am a Linux newb and every time I go to #linux on Dalnet or similar IRC hangouts, I am confronted with "You aren't good enough to use Linux" elitists. They do nothing but hinder the spread of free OS's and apps.

Teaching good habits (1)

Demonicbunny (145834) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673908)

If Im teaching some one how to use a *nix, im not going to show them how to use linuxconf, or /stand/sysinstall to do things. Im going to assume they need to do real work, and may some time have to use the machine with out /usr mounted. If they just want to word proccess, or surf the web, I'd say use OSX.

Why would my mom run FreeBSD, or Linux? Because they are free is not a good answer. An hour of my time is worth the price of any consumer OS, not to mention the agrivation of trying to explain to my dad how to fsck the disk manualy, because the dog kicked the power cable out.

You can't convince anyone that it's hard. (5, Insightful)

jchristopher (198929) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673915)

My main frustration with Linux is not only that it's hard, but that you can't even convince anyone that it's hard! There is a big "can't see the forest for the trees" problem.

Example: "How do I use a USB hard drive under Linux?" Answer: "modprobe usb-mass storage, and use the mount command (man mount)"

And no one sees why there is a problem with such a statement.

Loonix Users (1)

WndrBr3d (219963) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673916)

I find that with some linux users (not as much with FreeBSD users, they're real men) that they started using it in the first place to take advantage of others (packeting, hacking, and whatnot).

I find this falls under "Teach a man to fish" saying. Nobody wants to loose the one skill which puts them a cut above the rest.

I honestly think the article should be called, "Do script kiddies make teaching linux harder than it really is", because I know true linux users wouldn't have this problem, and if they did it would only be because they dont have the correct skills needed to properly teach.

Thats just my opinion of course, I could be wrong.

No just Linux (1)

pagercam2 (533686) | more than 12 years ago | (#2673918)

I have seen this in all forms of engineering and education, this idea that people have to specialize and put many years before they could possibly contribute, the old master and apprentice work idea. My education is in Mechanical Engineering, which was a great education but about the worst degree to get a job with in the mid 80's so I moved to software, first mechanical simulations but eventually into signal processing, compared to EE's and CS majors I pick this stuff up easier than many of the others, and even spent a good portion of my time fixing other "real programmers" code. I got bored with software and moved to systems engineering and then hardware and now ASIC design, haven't been in a classroom in years just pick things up as I go. I am always suprised that what looked so complex at the start is really quite simple after a couple of weeks. I decided a while back that this is true, as nobody is really two times smarter than everyone else and at least one person has to understand the whole problem, so no solution can be more than lets say two weeks study. Maybe I pick things up easier than others but often the real ideas are hidden behind lots of proofs that don't matter to understanding the solution. My best example is a newish field of signal processing/mathamatics called wavelet, there are dozens of math books on the topic, I can't understand a single one of them, even after a few pages my eyes gloss over and I give up. But the concept of wavelets and how they are used and why they work is extremely simple and was explained to me in 5 minutes, and I can explain to others in 5 minutes. Now I can't derive the math behind the theory but I don't need to. But none of the avaiable books takes the time to explain the usage they only derive the theory, which needs to be done once, but once done the application is easy, but none of the books discussed the usage only the theory. It all seems to come down to the "cover your ass" idea, PhD's want to prove how smart they are rather than share knowledge, Guru's are often the same way. Experience is important and especially with computers there are often more work arrounds that real code, to get things working. Remeber that there are only 31 keywords in 'C' code, and Linux is build from 'C' so how hard can it possibly be.

Debian (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2673927)

My first time installing Debian 2.2_rev4

I have been a Linux user for a number of
years now, I started with Slackware 3.2.
I remember how difficult Slackware was to
install, but eventually I got it working.
After using Slackware exclusively for a
few years I took the plunge and decided
to install other distros. I tried Redhat
6.2, and Mandrake (cant remember the
version number, it was whatever was
available around the time of redhat 6.2).
I *tried* to get debian, but failed
miserably. For the past couple of years
now I have been a diehard Redhat user on
my desktop machine, but still use slack
on all of my server machines.

A few days ago I decided I would try
debian. I have recently gotten fed up
with Redhat's distribution, having to
pare down all the fluff. So I go to
debian's site, I read about the psudo
image kit... sounds cool, good concept
in theory. I download the psudo image
kit, and connect to an ftp to start the
process... it was a little bumpy getting
to understand this thing at first, but
hey, this is the 'real' linux distro right?

I let my computer chug away at downloading
for a couple of hours, come back to see it
has only downloaded a small portion of the
stuff it was supposed to, it had a bunch
of errors. I try the psudo image kit with
another ftp, and it goes. Eventually it
finishes, now on to rsync. That was easy
enough. I would definately not recomend
trying to download debian's cdimage if
you are a newbie.

Ok, so now I have the ISO, great. Time
to install. Boot off of the CD, start
the install process. Wooh, wait a minute
this looks a little like slackware... I
have the hang of this. Ok I chose the
simple method instead of the expert method.
Partitioning went good.... and so did
the package install (I admit I was doing
other things at the time so I did not
pay close attention to it). I had to
answer a few simple questions, but that
was about it.

Ok, now it is trying to set up X. Trying
to detect my video card. It goes for a
long time trying to load a driver (the
screen flickers many many times (trying to
start X I assume)) and had me press enter
a ton of times. It always comes up with
an error. Eventually this stupidity stops
and the install finishes.

I reboot, and I start to config X by hand,
Wait a minute, that is 3.3.6, this isn't
4.x. What the heck, 4.1 has been out for
a good long time, why have they not included
it? Isn't this the most recent distribution
released about a month ago? Ok ok, enough
complaining about X, lets just download
the sources and install by hand... I've done
that before.

Crap, make fails when trying to make Xfree86.
Well thats not debian's fault. I really dont
feel like mucking with imake and such. Oh
well, lets get something else working. Wait a
minute, this is kernel 2.2 what the heck, hasn't
2.4 been out for a LONG time? Isn't it stable?
It sure as hell was on my redhat system, my
computer had been running a 2.4 kernel for weeks
with no reboot (had to reboot for new hardware).

Ok, now, something else, the module for my NIC was
not loaded upon installation. How crappy. The
drivers for my nic card (an Etherexpress 10/100)
are not obsecure... fuck. More work I have to
do to get this thing running. Oh well. Fuck
debian. Fuck debian in the ass. I am going
back to Redhat so that I dont have to deal with
all of this crap. Its not that I don't know
how to do this stuff, I can do it, I have done
much of this in the past, but geez... give me
a break, I dont have hours to spend fixing all
this crap, then upgrading everything to a relatively
normal level.... get rid of the 2 year old kernel,
get rid of the ancient release of X and replace
it with the much better new one.

Ok, flame me if you want, but come on. Who
in the 'real' world wants to muck with this
kind of stuff all of the time? I sure as
heck don't. I used to like to do this stuff
when I had lots of time (high school, and summers
in college), but now I have other more important
stuff to do.

Make it easier, make it up to date, there does
not need to be a gui install or anything. The
autodetection of my NIC is of little consequence,
just for the love of god have the software a
but more up to date

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