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I have a livecd that fires up Sun's Java Desktop. I got it with a copy of Linux user and Developer, a magazine from the UK.
I'm surprised by how nice it is. I'm using it now. The browser is Mozilla, and it has flash and java working out of the box. I have a nice copy of evolution, and star office, all on the cd.
The whole thing is attractive -- it's slick, and looks like it was "designed". It's a morphix cd, and I like it a little better than the normal gnome morphix livecd that I use.
The only problem is that it doesn't have the best hardware support. For some reason it couldn't find the netcard on the mobo of a dell dimension that my mom owns.
In my previous entry, I talked about how my sister was able to sit down at the morphix gnome livecd and use the email program, despite having never seen linux before. This java desktop livecd is slicker and nicer -- I think it would be easier for someone who didn't know what they were doing.
It's just occured to me that for the first time in my life, linux is starting to make sense for ordinary people. I want to try to explain why in this entry.
Like most slashdot readers, I get called to help people I know with their computers. Almost every machine I see now is riddled with malware of some sort -- viruses, spyware, or whatever. My sample is skewed because people with machines that work well don't call and ask for help, typically. But malware is a real problem for windows users.
The average person doesn't do very many odd things with their machine now. They hit the web, they send email. They do their banking through the bank's web site. They use IM software to talk to their friends. They don't want to fight with the machines, or to learn how to do cool new things, for the most part. Most people I know aren't chomping at the bit to learn video editing, or how to use sound samples with a midi sequencer.
The computer is almost like their car. They need it to do specific things that are absolutely necessary, and they need it to work. They don't want to put time and money into it. They want it to be there, and to work.
This is the amazing thing: this livecd, the one that I'm running now, would do all of that for most people. It's very close, in any event (putting aside the obvious problem that it doesn't have any persistent storage).
This web browser is fine -- it works on most pages, you get the flash (evil though it may be) and you get java. It just works. The email program is great -- I love evolution.
I'm not a groupware person, so I don't use a lot of outlook's features, but as a mail client, I like evolution much better than outlook.
Star Office isn't as good as MS office in my opinion, but it's good enough. I think I could do a big writing project with it just as easily as I could with word. It's a little slow, a little bloated, but it works.
And this is the other amazing thing: Microsoft is dropping the ball. Everyone says that linux is "too hard". But it's becoming harder and harder to keep a windows system healthy in the real world. Time and time again, I see people who have perfectly good computers (hardware wise), who can't do anything because the malware is killing the performance.
Now if you ask yourself: What would those people prefer? A linux system, with the good old gnome desktop, open office, and evolution, which they can use more or less intuitively, or the old familiar windows system, with all of the malware problems? The windows system that *doesn't work* for them in the real world?
For the first time in my 12 years of running linux, I really think that a lot of ordinary users that I know would be better off with linux. I'm not saying that as an ideologue. My main desktop computer is a windows machine, and I love it. I was never sympathetic to the people who used to try to push their friends to run linux -- I've never done that in my life, except with a couple of geeks who really needed to see it.
But I think that you can make a real case for linux in some people's homes now. For the first time. It's a new situation that's derived from two new circumstances.
The first is the quality of modern linux desktops. They're good, and they're intuitive. The gui apps that are available (like evolution) are pretty solid.
The second is the massive security meltdown that we're seeing with windows and malware. It's causing a great deal of pain and suffering out in the real world.
*I* don't have a problem with it. I apply patches, don't run suspicious binaries, have anti-virus software, a firewall, and scan regularly with ad-aware and spybot. I suspect that most geeks don't have a problem with it. The guys writing articles in magazines don't have a problem with it, and the people who buy magazines probably don't have many problems with it.
But low end users are getting creamed by this stuff. It's hard to keep your machine clean. It's hard to keep a windows machine healthy in the real world now.
What I think has happened -- although no one has said it -- is that the difficulty of keeping a windows machine clean has started to exceed the diffculty a windows user has coming to terms with the gnome desktop. I think it exceeds it by a wide margin.
My mom has a small travel agency business that she runs out of their house.
When my parents go out of town, I go up and check on the mail, make sure the fax machine has paper, and all of that.
This time, they're gone for ten days, so I booted her machine from a morphix gnome livecd. That way I could set up my own bookmarks and cookes, configure the mail program so I could check my mail, etc., without mucking up my mom's stuff. My mom runs windows 2000.
I have the evolution mailer configured to leave mail on the server, and to BCC me anything I send. This way I'll have copies of whatever emails I've sent to friends from my parents' house.
Last night, I got an email from my sister. It was a BCC to a message she sent to my mom. "Wow, your computer sure looks different, but it's been awhile since I've used it." Then she went into a few practical details about travel bookings.
The point is that my sister, who has never seen a linux desktop, and who was expecting to find a windows desktop, sat down at the machine and figured it out. She didn't even know it wasn't windows -- I think she thought it was some sort of funky windows configuration. She sent email, and she probably used the web, too. (I haven't spoken with her yet.
She did this with no help, and no warning.
I think it's a good sign for the future of the linux desktop. It's a little thing, but it shows that things are becoming a lot more intuitive.