How Non-Geeks and Technophobes See Linux

In a Linux forum I read but haven’t joined, a “typical” desktop user replied to a geek who hoped to shame us “typical” users of “easy” desktop Linux. The reply to his point is classic! Too right-to-the-point not to share here, on behalf of us “typical” users and technophobes. Here is the original post and reply on Linux Mint forums:

“Typical users” don’t expect to type commands. Too complicated, that’s for experts, I’m no geek, I just want to use my computer the easy way so I can get in touch with Susan. And then Mr. Typical User will click (or — God forbid — “touch”) his way into Facebook somehow, and once there, he will type, he will type away all day long and make Susan happy. Go figure.

I am one of those “typical” users who doesn’t expect to type commands, but expects to use the keyboard for applications rather than for maintaining, tweaking, or fixing the OS. The times that I have used the dreaded terminal have been very few and far between. If not for Linux Mint’s simple GUI, I would have run right back to Windows!

But I don’t think it’s just us “typical” users that benefit from the GUI. I have read these forums enough to know that there are plenty of very tech-savvy geeks who prefer to click their way through things instead of using the terminal. I respect the power of the mysterious, foreboding terminal too much to mess around with it without knowing exactly what I’m doing! When I first learned to use a gun I felt exactly the same way. A gun is too powerful to use without knowing what you’re doing, potentially lethal to you and to others!

Overcoming my dread of guns took a lot of gentle coaching and patience. I’m glad I did though, and now I’m a pretty good shot with both my pistol and my shotgun. But without the gentle, patient, compassionate coaching of my dad and the instructor, I would have walked away from shooting even knowing that without those skills I would be more vulnerable to “bad guys.” The thing for us “typical users” is the lack of gentle, kind, patient coaching and instruction in the use of such a powerful tool as the terminal. OMG, even the name of it is scary: Terminal. As in “The End.” “That’s All, Folks.” “Game Over.” The Linux community – and Debian’s in particular – is famous for chasing away people who are scared of the terminal. In fact I wonder if we respect it’s power more than some geeky people do!

I can use the keyboard to “make Susan happy,” but you just have to forgive me if I don’t use a “GUN” to make you happy.

Linux Snobs

I didn’t actually get rapped on the knuckles for this post, but I expected it and was surprised that it never came. It restored my hopes that Linux snobbery was on the wane – except perhaps in some corners of the Debian / Arch / Gentoo communities, perhaps. I am really bothered by Linux snobbery, probably more than normal. Perhaps because:

  • I was an adult, a husband, career firefighter, and father of two before I overcame my own technophobia enough to even try Linux, just to avoid buying a new computer to replace an aging heap that I couldn’t afford to throw away.
  • When I finally got up the courage and installed my first Linux distro, I was feeling not only accomplished and exhilarated, but also proud that I had given new life to my computer. Even my family was impressed, and that ain’t easy!
  • So when I mentioned it on a Linux forum I had joined just because it seemed like a sensible precaution to take being a novice, imagine my surprise to find arrogant hostility! Not from Windows users who thought I had lost my mind, but from arrogant, snobby, jerkweed Linux users who chided me for using “a kiddie distro,” Ubuntu. Apparently a few other Ubuntu users had been chased away by the same elitist attitude.

But Linux elitism is ultimately self-defeating if you think about it. Microsoft knows it. Apple knows it. That’s why they market their products to kids. They know kids love gadgets. They don’t care if kids learn the inner workings of those gadgets, they just exploit kids for their interest in having the coolest and most fun gadgets. But GNU/Linux and open-source software and hardware depends on future coders, engineers, and geeks that are not driven just to be cool, but to be geeky and creative. Don’t put down their mom and dad for using a “kiddie distro.” Instead help their parents pique their kids’ interest in contributing to something with more noble and global impact potential. And let the kids play.

So here’s a grownup’s really fun-looking eye candy on a “kiddie distro” that I think can encourages the next generation of wonderful geeks and coders that can keep open-source alive and competing with it’s proprietary rivals.

That’s a custom Conky display going on in the upper right part of the screen. And while “wobbly windows” is nothing new, it’s no less cool. That silly stuff could keep me in front of the computer longer than the tedium of just doing work. Even grownups gotta play sometimes. And if kids know their mom or dad made such cool stuff all by themselves, they’ll want to learn it too.

So, Linux snobs, consider what you do when you see “kid stuff” on “kiddie distros.” And shut up.