Linux 'desktop' still too geeky for mainstream users?

If an Ubuntu geek can't make Ubuntu work, what chance does the average user have? Linux enthusiasts need to start focusing on ease of use, at the expense of choice, if they want to make the Linux 'desktop' widely relevant.

There are companies like Intel, Canonical, Novell, etc., that are desperately trying to make Linux-based personal computers easier to use. Unfortunately, as Ubuntu fan Steven Rosenberg points out, there are often far too many decisions a lay user must make to make Linux just work for the average user.

Rosenberg was struggling to play music on his Ubuntu machine (you know, one of those obscure activities that only the geek elite do ;-), and struggled because of Canonical's efforts to balance ease of use with free-software purists' desire to have no proprietary codecs. The result is a mess:

But for a project/distro/movement that wants to preach not to the choir but instead to the unwashed, Windows-using masses, either let 'em play MP3s out of the box, make it easy to add that functionality (i.e. don't make 'em Google it, for heaven's sake) while at the same time educate them as to why MP3s, MOVs, Flash and all that other royalty-carrying, proprietary crap is bad, or just say right out front: "If you're geeky enough to figure out how to play multimedia, go ahead. But otherwise, re-install Windows and everything will be fine."

Amen. Using one's computer shouldn't be a religious experience. A computer is a tool, and it should just work. Mixing ideology with a utilitarian tool like the personal computer is an exercise in futility...for the developer and for the average end user.

This isn't to suggest that the Linux "desktop" can't work. It can, as the Linux Foundation's Moblin distribution proves: it's the most Mac-like Linux experience yet. It doesn't require me to resort to a command line to make Linux work for me. It recognizes that I have better things to do.

So, the Linux "desktop" can work. But to do so, I think we need companies involved, companies that are trying to scratch a very different itch than the one developers may be inclined to scratch themselves. That itch is usability for average end users. It's an experience that is high on ease of use and trades away choice. This is not a bad thing.

Indeed, it's the start of giving Linux a fighting chance against Windows and Mac OS X on the "desktop."


Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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