[NEWS] 'Linux is too much like Windows'

Matthew Moyle-Croft mmc at mmc.com.au
Tue Dec 31 23:49:56 CST 2002

Well written.  I think I quite agree.

Happy New Year.


davidn at rebel.net.au wrote:
> I have long observed, and I note that one of my colleagues plagiarised
> me on this, that Windows keeps getting harder the more you use it.
> Unlike unix, most people find that their first experience with Windows
> is painless.  They quickly learn how to point and click and the fact
> that it has a highly consistent user interface makes it easy for them to
> transfer knowledge of one application to another.  Unix shares little of
> these benefits, for example twm is utterly unlike gnome; how better could
> you design confusion for the new user?  However once you move past the
> superficial aspects of Windows and unix you discover that it's actually
> easier to do things in unix than in Windows.
> Windows is very much of the black box mentality, whereby each application
> does what it does and nothing more and you can't see how it does it
> because you don't need to know.  By contrast, unix's tool set mentality
> is entirely different.  Obviously each primitive unix application is
> a black box whereby you don't know how it works, but when it comes to
> actually getting a task done unix permits--even encourages--you to click
> together these primitive applications to create your own bespoke solution
> that solves your own needs.  It is the pipeline, and to a lesser extent
> the scripting languages, that makes unix easier to use than Windows.
> I recently brought a unixphobiac Windowsphile into the fold.  I'd long
> been telling him that unix was the light for server applications while
> admitting that I thought Windows was the best sensible choice for the
> desktop for most users, and he normally responded by saying that he agreed
> in principle but that in practice you could get no unix machine through
> a corporate server-room door, even if you had a seven foot barge pole.
> Last week I loaded RH8.0 on his stinky old Think Pad 600E and it went on
> with only one problem, namely that the audio didn't work out of the box.
> He searched the web and found the solution within a few minutes, and
> so now he has a working Linux machine.  After we had loaded the correct
> modules to make audio work, he said, "I suppose we don't need to reboot,"
> which I almost found funny because it was obvious that cognitively he
> knew we wouldn't, but emotionally he couldn't quite believe it.
> Along the way to solving his audio problem I browsed his system, and he
> was just blown away with how easy it is to do things.  I think he was
> more impressed with /proc than anything else! :-)  He loves the look
> of Gnome and KDE, and is now convinced that we have to collaberate on a
> project using unix for the server and supporting Windows, Mac and unix
> for the client.  I find it interesting that what tipped him to convert
> to the one true light was a mixture of unix's innate superiority, namely
> ease of use, coupled with a Windows-like glitz, namely eye candy.
> Is Linux too much like Windows?  I think in at least one area it is, and
> much to its detriment.  I am annoyed beyond belief at the increasingly
> poor standard of documentation that I see in Linux.  Perhaps it's the
> fault of the distributors and not of the project authors, although
> I cannot really believe that, but the fact is that for decades unix
> had a clear advantage over every other operating system in that it's
> documentation was stored in a single type of repository and it was
> easy to search that repository to answer "how do I" type of questions.
> I'm talking of man pages.  Unfortunately we now have to contend with
> info pages, HTML pages, and I shudder to think what else.  I don't
> dispute that these all provide a nicer user experience is some way or
> other, but they cost us loss of utility.  It's no longer obvious how
> to find documentation, and in many cases documentation is no longer
> being provided.  If the answer is some particular KDE application, just
> what question do you have to ask?  Certainly you can't ask "man -k".
> Neither can you ask "man kview" (or whatever.)  Likewise "kview -?",
> while giving output, actually tells very little.  The result is that
> KDE applications become difficult to integrate into a command pipeline
> because you can't discover that they solve a section of the problem and
> even if you could, you can't discover how to invoke them in a pipeline.
> This growing tendency, which by the way is not directed at KDE in
> specific, approaches the Windows-like black box mentality.
> Microsoft go to much effort to make Windows easy for non-technical users.
> I think that explains much of their black-box mentality.  When they
> say, "you don't need to know how this works," what they really mean is,
> "we don't want you to play with this because you'll break it."  Well of
> course they are right, and the more you coddle your users the less they'll
> truly understand what it is they have and so the less they'll realise
> its true value.  There's a very good reason why RTFM is so often trotted
> out as the answer to most newbie questions, and although this answer
> is often accompanied by a flame, the reason is not because we're bored
> answering the same questions, or that we're annoyed that our time should
> be abused by people who do nothing to find the answer for themselves.
> The very good reason why RTFM is so often trotted out as the answer is
> that when you do RTFM you learn more about the system.  If we just told
> the answer to every newbie-style question then the newbies would remain
> newbies forever, and eventually they'd probably conclude that unix is no
> easier to use than Windows and comes without their favourite applications
> (e.g. Microsoft Office for Windows.)
> I think Linux is in danger of becoming too much like Windows in trying
> to dumb down and glitz up the user experience.  We're trying to convince
> people to switch to unix and we're not primarily arguing our technical
> superiority, rather we're arguing that we're just as pretty, and just as
> feature rich, as Windows.  The user says Quicken and we say GnuCash; or
> they say Office and we say Open Office.  Yes, it is important to point
> out that we have the same breadth of solutions (in fact we probably
> win on that score), but are we pushing good solutions or pretty ones?
> Is Open Office's claim to fame that it is a great word processor?
> Compare it with, say, LaTeX, and I wonder if it doesn't come out poorly.
> It sure is a big program.  It takes for-e-ver to launch!  The all-singing,
> all-dancing applications of Windows are migrating to unix, and that
> might be a good thing but I'm not wholly convinced.

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