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Linux.SYS-CON.com Exclusive: What Would UserLinux Look Like?

Bruce Perens tells LinuxWorld's desktop editor what he has in mind with UserLinux

Last Monday at the Desktop Linux Consortium Conference at Boston University’s Tyngsboro, Massachusetts Campus there was a lot of talk about a “UserLinux” distribution. The topic was sparked by remarks by Bruce Perens who voiced a need for a distribution that was designed to meet community needs for a desktop operating system based on the Linux community favorite Debian distribution.

I contacted Bruce who has been kind enough to interject some comments to my own text. They are marked [thus].

The thought of UserLinux sparked my thinking. The thing I like about Linux is that it’s infinitely customizable to meet the needs of almost any situation. However, for it to be a viable desktop for the masses there seems to me that there has to be some common features that a large number of Linux desktop users would appreciate. I thought about this quite a bit and started my list of what it would take for Linux to be my “ideal” environment rather than my preferred environment. I’d be interested to see what the community considers the most important features.

[Bruce Perens writes: I should point out that UserLinux also has a server mission. Our first customer group has both server and desktop needs. But the server is a solved problem, at least mostly, so we know a lot of work needs to go into the desktop.

Also, the most important thing about UserLinux is that it is an attempt to change the economic paradigm of the Linux distribution. We feel that creating a Linux distribution doesn't work as a profit-center, and that it is better viewed as a cost-sharing exercise. So, the customers involved in UserLinux will be paying for the engineering of creating a Free Software system, rather than for boxes, "seats", or user licenses. The system will be certified to various standards and vendor requirements with their funding, and the result will be given away. The customers get all of the copies they need with no incremental cost per seat added. They will have to pay for service.]

My list has two overwhelming requirements for the Linux desktop. First it has to be easy to use. It should pass the “Grandma test” which is when placed in front of the average grandma she would find it intuitive and easy to use. Second it should include a set of tools that allow the user to accomplish their most important tasks. I generated my list of tools and what I feel are my most important for my needs. I would encourage you the prospective users of such a system to add your feedback.

 

Productivity Tools

Browser ­ I think Mozilla is a great option for browsers. I like the tab-based browsing and pop up blocker. If not Mozilla than maybe some of the projects spawned from Mozilla aimed at speedier performance without the frills like Firebird.

[Bruce Perens writes: I'd like to hear if Konqueror has something to offer that is not matched by these choices.]

Office Suite ­ I use Open Office and Star Office and I think they are good. For some of my more ambitious projects I do use Microsoft Word but I find myself using Microsoft less. I particularly like the ability to export files to PDF format preserving the look and feel of my files across platforms. If these suites could handle better more complex formatting I think they would easily displace their competitors that costs many hundreds of dollars.

[Bruce Perens writes: I like OpenOffice and hope that I can facilitate the creation of a broader development community outside of Sun.]

E-mail/PIM ­ Outlook made the integrated PIM and email client the vogue in business. I like the idea but I think that Microsoft’s implementation is lacking. So far the best Linux solution for me is Ximian Evolution but it lacks some features I like about Outlook. Particularly the ability to drag e-mail messages to a task list or calendar. In Ximian’s favor is the RSS integration into their Summary page to gather my news all in one place. Once again this is a case that I primarily use Outlook running on a virtual Windows environment Win4lin.

[Bruce Perens writes: Well, when there are features lacking in an Open Source program like Evolution, you know what to do, don't you? I think that a solution to the ones you complain about could come from the community.]

Financial Software ­ I use Quicken and TurboTax mainly because I have for years and I think they are both very good products. I know GNU Cash (www.gnucash.org) is an option and I am actually playing around with it right now but it will be a hard move for me. Not only because of differences in features but the learning curve.

[Bruce Perens writes: I haven't looked at these closely yet. I actually still have one Windows machine in my home, and need it for TurboTax. I still have Quicken on it, but think I could move off of Quicken if I had to.]

 

Utilities

Application Installation ­ This is probably my biggest complaint with most Linux distributions. RPM installation often results in dependency problems. Causing me to search for the recommended libraries to fulfill dependencies so that I can install my application. Debian’s apt tools and apt4rpm both work very well making things easier for most users. However, many of the most popular distributions still use plain old RPM warts and all. I think that a good one click install like available through Lindows Click N Run Warehouse would be ideal for ‘User Linux”.

[Bruce Perens writes: The solution here is obviously some front-end on top of apt, and Debian packages. It's really strange that people still

complain about RPM dependencies, I don't understand why Debian was able to solve this so many years ago and Red
Hat still has a problem.]

Docking and Power Management Tools ­ For laptop users like myself I find that most distributions don’t handle hot docking and undocking of laptops well. In my Utopian Linux distribution I would want to see the ability to “hot” dock and undock my laptop by clicking a button.

[Bruce Perens writes: You shouldn't have to push that button. You should just be able to dock and undock. But Linux ACPI is still immature,
and is not going to be in a good state for most laptops with the release of kernel 2.6 . I spoke with Dirk Holmdel of Intel about this, he feels that the present Linux ACPI drivers don't handle all of the start-up and shut-down tasks in the right order. Also, most kernel drivers have not been ported to the new driver model yet, and do not handle power management correctly.
I have a problem with various laptop graphics chips and wireless chips, because their manufacturers are unwilling to document them fully. We might have to start publicizing a "not ready for purchase" list for various hardware manufacturers that can't get with the program. I think that even Windows customers will be reluctant to purchase a laptop that could not ever be switched to Linux.]

Backup Utilities I have the expertise to set up cronjobs that rsynch my desktop to my file server but most people don’t. I would think client-side tools to synch files to file servers of all types would be a welcome inclusion. This tool would be make it easy to schedule backups and choose files for backing up from an intuitive interface.

[Bruce Perens writes: It would be interesting to see if some of the disconnected filesystems like Coda could help with this. Potentially they remove the need to consciously synchronize things. Just dock and it gets done.]

Windows Networking Client ­ The majority of businesses I go to today use Microsoft Windows Server for file and print sharing. Having the ability to browse these networks would make things more convenient for me. I often use LinNeighborhood, which is an easy to use Windows network browser. I think overall platform interoperability is the key to Linux adoption.

[Bruce Perens writes: Yes. Since this is a solved problem in the free software world, it should go into the system.]

I could go on for days about my ideal desktop but what I am curious to know is what’s your ideal incarnation of Linux desktop. Maybe we can point your feedback to Bruce as he works on his proposal to help shape his proposal for UserLinux.

[Bruce Perens writes: I am also interested in knowing what people feel is missing from the server.]

 

More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

More Stories By Bruce Perens

Bruce Perens, a leader in the free software and open source community, is a member of the International Advisory Board of Linux.SYS-CON.com. He is the creator of the Open Source Definition, the manifesto of the open source movement. Bruce is founder or cofounder of the Open Source Initiative, the Linux Standard Base, Software in the Public Interest, and No-Code International. He is the creator of Busybox, which has spawned its own development community and is part of most commercial devices using embedded Linux.

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Most Recent Comments
Charles H. Tankersley 12/19/04 11:01:02 AM EST

This article shows some moves in the right direction for those of us who are simple end users. Yes, we want a secure platform we can use. ALthough many of the userLinux is moving in the right direction with the many desktopLinux operating systems on the market today, they are all falling a bit short. I have been trying to use Linux ever since Purchasing a boxed S.u.S.E. 5.2 years ago. To date, the purchases have included the SuSE 5.2, Redhat 6.0 and 7.1, Mandrake 7.0, 9.1, and 10.0, Lindows 3.0, Fedora, and now am running PCLinuxOS on the Mandrake base. I have ordered the Debian Desktop distro and will try it out.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am using the PCLinuxOS about 90% of the time, but must go to my Win2000pro box to do certain functions such as my, by far, favorite HTML editor HTML-Kit. HTML-Kit is a Windows only applicaiton and Wine and Win4lin (or is that Lin4win?)are not satisfactory. Quanta Plus looks good but it is not quite as mature as HTML-Kit and does not have the convenient built-in ftp. But, the biggest item forcing the use of Win2000pro is that Linux has nothing that can substitute for Autodesk's Autocad LT 97. Qcad is not even close.

Perhaps the biggest problems, aside from the above mentioned applications, is the lack of mature documentation with Linux. We simple end users do NOT want to learn Linux, we want to use our applications to do our work. We are rather good at following directions if they are written in a language we can understand. We have a major problem with geek and the use of acronyms. We see terms like PIM and are turned off completely. With todays large storage, there is no reason not to spill it out and it is the height of laziness to use these shortcuts any longer. Gosh guys, what novel would you read if it were written that way?

What I want, is clear directions for my LAN, for my apps, for my system and 100% cross platfrom functionality. Open Office is actually better than M$ Office and a whale of a lot cheaper. To top it off, it is cross platform, same for Mozilla, Chatzilla, and XChat. Kopete is outstanding for running ICQ on Linux, actually even better than ICQ. the PHP forums work great cross platform, too. E-mail is a pain but not if it can be filtered to remove spam and HTML. E-mail is NOT for advertising, period.

Now, you have heard from the one simple end user and his desires for a Linux Desktop. I am not a grandma, but I am a great grandpa who was called a dinosaur and forced to learn to use the computer. This dinosaur might now be called tyrannosaurus. I have dedicated my retirement to finding an easy way for the simple user to learn this contraption for his/her work and enjoyment.

Zoue 12/19/04 09:35:07 AM EST

Great!
Best Wishes.

Charles H. Tankersley 05/06/04 02:29:23 PM EDT

ron, in one area, I msut disagree with you:
"But in reality, the entire English language is dying, from some unknown, unidentified, incurable virus." Perhaps King Geoarge's English is dying, but here in Texas, English is alive and well, in fact, it is one of the fastest growing languages on earth. Actually, the language is changing fast, faster than we old folk can keep up.

I see I have repeated myself several times on this list, so for want of not driving the nail beyond the board, I shall let this line drop. But I do hope and pray that Linux does, one day, become the OS of choice world wide, until then Happy Computing! May God defend you from the viruses, worms, and the Greek gifts of cyberspace.

Yours,
CHTANK,
Retired Dinosaur

ron gorthuis 05/06/04 11:24:43 AM EDT

Dear Charles:

You aint kidding when you say techies lack language skills.

But in reality, the entire English language is dying, from some unknown, unidentified, incurable virus. No where is this illness more acute and epidemic than in the USA. The adverb has surely died, and the strange use of words increases daily. Simply listen to your leaders, especially Bush. He speaks constantly about how the lack of intelligence led to misjudegements about Iraq. Never was a truer word spoken: surely he has no intelligence. I suppose what he means is the lack of reliable, pertinent information for decisions.

Here's more proof. Everybody now speaks in terms of "on a daily basis" Can anyone explain this to me? I brush my teeth daily. The basis for my habit is oral hygiene. But, what is a daily basis? How did adverbs become adjectives?

Anyway, I hope Linux can someday grow into an alternative to Windows.

And, dear Charles, though I'm not a grannie, I agree with your comments about this segment, and its needs.

Cheers.

Charles H. Tankersley 05/06/04 09:12:35 AM EDT

uniform use of language and syntax is a must for most of us, especially older folks. We elarn differently than you young whipper-snappers, and when you use package in place of application or program we become confused with meaning. As for RPM and installation, we can figure it out IF clear step by step instructions were given in the language we learned back in school, even it it was a one room school with all grades together. It seems today's tech writers did not attend school or were not taught how to write properly. Also, there is no longer a need for acronyms, especially when giving instructions. IF one uses HTML, one should at least spell it out HyperText Markup Language (HTML) once per chapter or section, regardless of how common it is in everyday usages. There is at least one person somewhere who does not know what HTML means.

The other main ploblem, and is was passed over in the article, is cross platform interoperability and accessibility. Soap and XML is moving in this direction, however, we grandma's and grandpa's are aslo amoung the handicapped and impaired users which accounts for at leart one third of the population and growing. Many of us use "readers" and enlarged font or have problems with the sounds produced by the computer. Would you believe that many websites still use flashy graphics and rock music to sell to us and we are actually caused physical pain by this? What ever happened to the W3C Accessibility Standards when it comes to the new "inovations" in programming and operating systems. Yes, gamers and kids want this sort of graphics and noise until such time as they are weaned and forced to work for a living.

There, you have my comments! Two major faults with userlinux or desktop linux:
1. Syntax, acronyms, and the proper use of the written language.
2. Improper use of Microsoft's "creativity" and "inovation", and refusal to be truely "inovative" with cross platform and interactive. Hopefully, Linux will learn to overcome this problem, maybe VMWare can help, WINE does not at all and is worthless to those of us who are dinosaurs.

ron gorthuis 05/06/04 12:45:45 AM EDT

I want to switch to Linux, as I am totally fed up with MS.

But, I am totally confused and need help to select software and hardware. So, where to go for advice and to buy?

Jim Norman 03/22/04 02:16:34 PM EST

I believe there is a place in the open source community for a "user focus group" which is open to all. The UL project could be such a place.

I would be more than glad to contribute to usability issues.

I finally found userlinux.com (funny me, I was looking for userlinux.org), but it doesn't seem to address usability issues as strongly as it does a distribution model.

Do you know of any organizations which address themselves to Linux usability?

Milja 12/09/03 05:10:53 AM EST

There seem to be very different views on for whom the User Linux should be targeted. In my opinion it should not just concentrate on those Raymond Wilson wrote about - those who use computer mainly at home and for whom doing spreadsheets is already adventurous. In my opinion it should also serve people like me and my friends. We are still students and thus really work on the computer - spredsheets are basic stuff for us. Still none of us thinks of computers as a hobby. We don't enjoy programming etc. Probably I know computers better than the others, but still I definitely want to things work easily.

Here are some requirements or wishes - some that I think should work as in Windows, some that should work better. Most of it is probably alreay done somewhere. The main point is that they should ALL be found in the same distro.

- As many have already said, the installation should be very, very easy. None of my friends has installed Windows, so it's not enough being easier than that - switching to Linux means having to do the install, often without help. After the install everything should work properly without any configuring. Well, perhaps some simple details told before the first network connection, but that is about all. Unlike Kaptain Kernel said, installation wasn't easy enough with Suse - not for me or my friend (but luckily easy enough for my boyfriend). If you can honestly say to a newbie that it doesn't really matter what kind of hardware (s)he has, good. (Note: None of my non-geek friends has any need to have a server.)

- No need to go command-line. We don't have the time and will to learn that.

- It must be easy to make the system look "mine". This is fairly well done right now, at least in KDE. I don't like finding out what's wrong, but I DO like playing with different looks, feels etc. In addition, you cannot make it look and feel perfect for everyone (but you should make it good for everyone).

- Like Yair Carel, I think laptop support is important. Many of use have laptops. (They are handy in small student appartments.) Perhaps a special install mode would be good, having things like APM as default. And, unlike Raymond Wilson writes, moving between networks is important for some of us. In the students houses there is a broadband network, and to the campus we are getting a wireless network. Those who play may also take their laptop to a friend somewhere else, I am already working and would like to easily connect my laptop to the network here sometimes.

- Matthew Lowrance made an important note concerning the security. User Linux should be secure by default, the user should not have to think about security AT ALL. I have argued with several people about the need to have a firewall without any progress... When Linux becomes more popular, there will also be more people willing to use the holes.

- Installing new programs (and hardware too) should be peace of cake - even I should be able to explain to my Grandma in the phone. Mitchells suggestion about "Add/Remove programs" sounds nice. No searching for libraries, drivers etc. No matter how you do it, as long as it works.

- We are still forced to use Windows at the university (school for younger ones) or at work, and exchange documents with people who do. That mustn't be a problem. E.g. connections to a Windows-based network should be so easy and without problems, that we don't need any help, because the the guy at the helpdesk probably doesn't know anything about Linux. Also most people I know don't give a second for the possibility that others perhaps don't have MS Word, for example. It shouldn't matter at all whether I use Windows or Linux. (Other shouldn't even notice it, except perhaps in the form of some little adverticing ;) This is major issue. If this is fixed, then people can switch to Linux one by one. Lukes idea of Wine recognicing Windows programs automatically when doing setup sounds like being part of the solution, as there still are some programs that either don't exist for Linux or that people want to stick to.

- Things John M wrote about (easy mounting/unmounting of dongles USB etc.) are important. If something, this should be made for the braindead...

- General usability. Somebody wrote about opening Opera by clicling a link etc. That is one part of it. Also, there should be very little need to look for the Help system, and when there is, it should contain the answers for the right questions. I think you need newbies to test this :) Usability also includes using other languages than English, especially for the Grandma (for her it is a foreign, not-spoken language) and understandable program names.

- Probably other people take care of making the point that games are important to many, though not to me. Mahjongg is enough for me :)

- If User Linux could be used to keep old computers usable, great. (A special install option for that, for example.) Many could reconsider buying a new one, if switching to Linux would easily do the thing. In my opinion the big distros dont' really do this now. It should still be graphical and be able to do most of the things, especially it should be able to handle documents written with better or Windows machines (but no heavy games). I guess this would mean a lighter desktop.

In short, we should be able to do many things without having to know and think about how the computer really works. We are not brainless, but the main use of our brains is definitely something else.We don't have time to keep up to date with the technical stuff. As long as it works, we are not interested how it does. (But those who then help us with more specialised things probably do.) We sould be able to do 95% of everything we want to without help - and that means a lot!

Perhaps it would be a good idea to have one group of people thinking about the needs, separate from the group of developers fulfilling them. There are many people capable of doing both, but you easily become blind for something you have be doing yourself, and also developers are not on the "same line" with "normal" users anymore. People have taken up many things up here, that are actually part of the technical stuff, that doesn't interest the intended end user.

I would also like to comment about the vast amount of different programs vs. simplicity. I'd say that it is better to leave the developers stuff avay from the User Linux or the default installation. It can of course be there as an option. Also some other programs made for the more experienced user (let alone geeks) should be left out of the default installation (this includes also many text editors). The same line goes for the programs in the background to make the things faster. Then again, what comes to the programs we use, I like the possibility of choice. There are only so many choices that I would indeed like a table where to look for the major features and differencies of the different programs, because it would take too much time to try them all. Or something alike. You cannot just take one word processor etc, because I for example use one editor for normal writing and another for fast opening of little text documents etc. Of course there could be also an install option with only one of each type. Probably different ready install options would help here a lot.

I really wish something comes out of this. If I had time, I would indeed like to help by testing.

Don 12/06/03 02:55:31 AM EST

"Window management is probably going to spark some form of pseudo-religious debate. The neophyte won't care if the window manager is FVWM, KDE or Gnome or even all three as long as the look and feel is completely consistent. Inconsistency isn't so much a hallmark of something being broken so much as it is an indicator of sloppiness, whether it is real or perceived. Further, inconsistent presentation makes learning a thing more difficult, and when you are experienced, learning more about familaiar things slower and annoying."

If all the window managers had the same look and feel it would defeat half the purpose of their existence, which is to give the user a choice.

The user is free to choose whether they want use an application based on it being percieved as the best choice or whether they want to limit themselves to applications that are programed for a particular environment.

Some things are being worked on to make the overall situation better and some others have to wait for the dust from the first wave of things to settle.

One area where I think work could be done that I have not seen anything about is in the font and color settings. It would be nice to be able to set the font, forground color, background color, etc... and have all the applications honour that whether they are GTK, Gnome, KDE, GNUstep, or whatever.

Later, Don

Sean Slattery 12/03/03 09:24:53 PM EST

From the perspective of an OS dabbler and longtime Mac user:

There are two big questions that should be asked about any of the proprietary operating environments:
1. What did they get right? (Or what ideas should we integrate?)
2. What did they screw up royally? (Or, what ideas should we avoid or work away from?)

But, onto Linux:
The core problem with GNU/Linux is not the availability of programs or utilities. They are there, and I hazard that once a market is established, others would be ported. Even Microsoft applications have made it to a BSD variation via MacOS X.

Linux is far more mature than proprietary operating environments like Windows 3.11, 95, 98 or ME. Applications are generally stable and usable. Intuitively approachable, now that's a different story...

Application, command and utility names have to be degeeked. Very basic (usually robustly implemented) functionality is hidden behind a curtain of strange names which any self respecting geek will get, but Grandma won't. If, for example you say to Grandma "Just use guiFdisk to resolve that" she'll probably hear "Just goo on the F disk" and wonder where you learned your manners... Consider if you said instead "Use the Linux Disk Utility"...

Window management is probably going to spark some form of pseudo-religious debate. The neophyte won't care if the window manager is FVWM, KDE or Gnome or even all three as long as the look and feel is completely consistent. Inconsistency isn't so much a hallmark of something being broken so much as it is an indicator of sloppiness, whether it is real or perceived. Further, inconsistent presentation makes learning a thing more difficult, and when you are experienced, learning more about familaiar things slower and annoying.

The idea that the average user is going to use their computer for a limited set of basic things is completely valid. Writing letters & managing correspondence, surfing the web, instant messaging, pulling photos off a digital camera, balancing a checkbook, or drafting legal documents is the stuff of everyman. If you don't think so, look at information that people kept and generated without computers. With that in mind, a basic set of applications that will fulfill those needs is in order.

A good old fashioned consumer study, with placed hardware & software, and an easy way of logging user experiences may be necessary to make a "Linux User" distribution a success. Don't rule out even *gasp* hardcopy for feedback from older, less experienced computer users. ...Or perhaps we only need to look to Brazil...

-S

Pete Rowley 12/03/03 06:28:16 PM EST

One thing I think is critical is the help system. Currently the help system is command based (man), so if you already know what command you need, you can find out how to use it. What is missing is a task based interface to help, like the Linux cookbook on the commandline/gui. A user should be able to type:

helpme format a hard disk
helpme change graphics resolution
helpme make the internet work
helpme install a new graphics card

and get reasonable responses. This is at the core of what I believe makes users shy away: things do not all automatically work when you install linux, and once they are not working there is no easy way to find out how to make them work.

Obviously, there is a lot of work hiding behind this innocent request. In the end however, I think that work would pay off.

gd2shoe 12/03/03 02:18:18 AM EST

Here's one idea...

I don't know much about the inner workings of drivers, Windows or otherwise. I do see drivers as being a bit of a problem. I've heard that the widows api is somewhat complex in this regard. It might be difficult, but worthwhile to have a wrapper for widows drivers; or better yet (though harder) a program that analizes a driver, and if it recognizes all the system calls (and such), decompiles it and recompiles it. If it did not recogize something it could simply say so and exit (with a "details" button for those who would care to know exactly why).

This might seem a daunting task, and the drivers code would not be well optimized, but if it worked it would help fill that niche left open by hardware manufacturers who can't stand to give up any details on how to talk to their device. A list of uncompliant manufacturers would be nice (as suggested).

Other comments:

* GUI everything: If it's not a system crash, the desktop PC should be able to handle everything in GUI. Perhaps console programs that have a GUI counterpart (you run guiFdisk and you get a pretty "partition magic" type interface, but the real work is done by fdisk). Both parts would probably need to be written together for this to work seemlessly.

* Look to Windows. I hate to use them as a Linux standard, but seriously! If Microsofts 'Distribution' can do it, UserLinux needs to at least take note of it. Where Microsoft is criticized, Linux in general needs to be careful. I'm not just talking about critisism FROM the Linux comunity, but major distributions need to keep tabs on what excites/displeases regular win23 users.

* I don't know enough to comment on how the system should keep tabs on packages, but it would be nice to be able to make sense of dependancies. This isn't a specific recomendation, just a general thought: remember the "device manager" tree in Windows, something like that with at least two tabs. One would have at the top level only packages that have no dependancies. The next level would be packages that directly rely on them, and then the packeges that rely on them, and so on. The other tab would work the opposite direction, starting with a list of all packages and branching into the packages that they rely on. Perhaps the user would even be able to click on a package and get more detail. Something of this nature would allow users to get a sense of 'whos who' among their packages.

* Shoot for the next generation Linux, but do it while aiming at a more distant target. It would be very nice if 20 years from now UserLinux was not a hack upon a hack to keep it up to date (not suggesting that anyone else is).

* Don't lose track of all the user input. This is probably reduntant for me to say, but I'll say it anyway. Michael Collins who rode Apollo 11 wrote in his book "Carrying the Fire" that he kept a notebook and everytime something ocurred to him about the mission he would write it down. If he was in a resturaunt, he would write it down on a napkin, take it home, and copy it into his notebook. He refuse to launch until every concern in his notebook was checked off. Keep track of all good user input in one place.

Finally,

GOOD LUCK!!!
("You're going to need it.")

Jason U 11/27/03 09:34:46 PM EST

I'd like to see something like Knoppix with an install button on the desktop when you boot from CD. Since the user obviously likes what they see and everything works well, otherwise they wouldn't be using the install button, don't ask what kind of keyboard, language, mouse, etc they want... just ask what you have to, like if they want to replace the OS on the hard-drive, before copying the CD image to the hard disk and removing the install button from the hard disk copy.

Also, making the app launching menu to be based off a directory tree, instead of some (obscurely?) formatted file, would make manipulation of that menu and its contents dreadfully easy and intuitive. And to allow for more information than a symbolic link can afford, use an XML file whose contents are easily readable and modifiable by a simple utility or by hand (with vi, gedit, etc).

Charles H Tankersley 11/25/03 06:19:03 PM EST

I still maintain that all the applicaions to replace Windwows applications is missing the point. I run Win2000pro because I like some of the third party applicaions that run on WIndows, only. If they ran on Linux, too, then I would be more incline to run Linux. What would be ideal is if we had something affordable, like VMWare, which would let us run our favorite applications cross platform. The DoJ was wrong to not split M$ into an OS and a separate Applicaions company. Perhaps that fight is not over yet. And perhaps they could split them into three, with games being a good profit center, too.

I see the prblem being about the same for Linux, too. It is operating system that gives many of us problems, not the applications. Jim is looking for Genealogy software, but named several good ones. IF he could run those on Linux the same as on WIndows, I bet he would be happy. Star Office is as good as M$ Office, if nto better, and it is cross platform, same with Open Office. I use all three and also wordpad and notepad but I edit their Output with HTML-Kit. I can use both Star Office and Open Office on linux and Windows, so moving files for those is no problem at all. But HTML-Kit is windows ONLY. I wish I could use it in Linux, I do not need a WYSIWYG editor, I need correctly written html code, period. And HTML-Kit gives me that easily, plus TIDY and a very good ftp client for uploading my files once I know they are right. All I ask is for Linux to be as EASY to use and learn as WIndows and that the applicaions are cross platform just as XHTML/XML is talking about.

Jim 11/25/03 03:48:34 PM EST

Some thing I find lacking is a Genealogy software package that could compete with Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic.

Richard Stonehouse 11/25/03 02:52:35 PM EST

I write as a user who moved to GNU/Linux from Windows in February 2002, first installing Red Hat 7.2 and later upgrading to Red Hat 8.0. Initial usage was very much pure "user mode" but I've since got a bit more adventurous, downloading and installing extra bits and pieces, building kernels and getting into the insides of the configuration files etc.

Linux defeated me many times in the early days. This was in spite of having software experience dating back to 1967, that included a period of systems programming in the 1970s - though, sadly, no recent technical experience or any Linux/Unix or high-level language experience at all.

My reasons for buying Red Hat were:

- it was the only Linux distro I'd heard of (hint -
if "User Linux" is ever going to take off, it needs
to be marketed); and

- it was available on CDs, in a box, via high-street
computer dealers.

This latter point is important. The vast majority of potential users (like me) are on pay-by-the-second dial-up connections and are not going to download ISOs. In my case this would take about 3 days and nights solid per image. Even if it worked, the phone bill would be phenomenal.

The distro must come with enough documentation (on paper) to get the user started. I found the Red Hat Installation Guide and Getting Started Guide excellent. With these, installation and familiarisation with the user interface (both GUI and command-line) were little problem.

Most of my headaches were with post-installation configuration. It is not easy to generalise about these, as they amount to a mass of detail. But this is perhaps the point; to make a distro that is really usable by newbie users, it will be necessary to put a lot of work into getting all the details right and, above all, mutually consistent.

To my mind, this points very strongly to the need to provide just *one* way of doing each thing. Linux is about choice, true - but that can come later. If you provide one of everything you may, with a great effort, manage to get them consistent - provide multiple choices and you've no chance.

For the record, some of the things that caused me problems:

- finding documentation. There's lots of it,
but scattered in many different places, in
many different formats and much of it either
out-of-date or applying to different
situations from my own. The distro should
come with a complete, well-structured
set of documents covering everything in it,
or at least pointers to /relevant/ external
documents. Another thing that I would have
found *extremely* useful is an introduction
to GNU/Linux concepts (e.g. the file system
structure), which may superficially resemble
the Windows equivalents but differ from them
in subtle and confusing ways;

- finding out what software is included in the
distro and what it's good for. I still don't
know what several of the programs on my
system are. Could be covered by documentation
as above;

- the longest-running saga of all - getting Internet
access. OK, now I can happily grub about in
/etc/ppp/options and understand what's going on,
but then I was floundering in a sea of scripts,
front end programs, config files etc with no clue
as to how they fitted together or (more important)
how to get the modem to talk to anything. Much of
the available software seems to make inaccurate
assumptions such as:

* the user wants to dial up as 'root' (on a
single user system, the user will want to
dial up under their own username);

* the user knows the IP addresses for his/her
own machine, the ISP and the DNS servers
(these are usually assigned dynamically
so the necessary entries must be made
in /etc/resolv.conf and, possibly, the
firewall may need some adjustment - a
cause of much grief to me in the early
days);

* the user's username for logging in to the
ISP happens to be the same as the their
machine's host name (the host name will
probably have been set up by the installer
and the username will have been assigned
by the ISP so the chances of them matching
are slim).

- getting dual-boot set up properly. I spent a long
time booting off floppy before summoning up the
courage to let GRUB overwrite the MBR. There should
be *one* recommended way of dual-booting and the
installer should set it up automatically - without
asking questions that may have no meaning, or be
alarming, to the newbie;

- finding out what fonts were available from the system,
getting access to them from applications, getting anti-
aliasing to work. Font handling is much improved
with Xft but still needs tidying up. The old system
and the "core fonts" should be phased out, because
having two rival font-handling systems is a potential
source of great confusion;

- handling floppies. Yes! the 'mount' command is
a big hurdle for ex-Windows users - should either
mount automatically or explain better, for the
newbie, why mount is needed and what it does;

- getting things like sound, or the scroll wheel on
the mouse, to work. The system should detect all
hardware and automatically set up the right
configuration settings. This could also apply to
the more common varieties of 'winmodem' for which
Linux drivers exist;

- moving on a bit - downloading and installing, or
building, extra software from external sources.
Would be useful to have documents on:

* where to find stuff (sourceforge etc);

* a general guide to the build process,
i.e. configure/make/make install; and

* hints and tips as to what configuration
changes etc you need to make to your system
when you install external software - as
different distros keep stuff in different
places and have different config settings.

Charles H Tankersley 11/21/03 09:16:48 AM EST

Thank you, Olivier Barthelemy, for echoing my earlier comments for me. I am sorry for my haste in not editing my earlier comments and hope my typos were not too overwhelming, but like many of us, I do have finger dyslexia.

I had no problem getting my Mandrake 9.1 to install, whether properly or not is not the question here. THe problem I have is that I do not have a burner, so I cannot download the isos that would allow me to upgrade or obtain the newest. Redhat did upgrade my 7.1 installation but not to 8.0. And how do I get star office 7 upgrade to my star office 5 or 6?
I cannot fugure out RPM's and hacking into dependancies is hard for even the experienced, so I hear.

As for productivity, as I said before, I am editor of a major fraternity alumni newsletter which I publish in html. The requirements is that it is universally available and 100% printable in whole or part. Thus, it is html 4.01 transitional so as to be readable with most any browser. Although I learned my html on notepad, the editor of choice is HTML-Kit which is Windows only. WINE does not work well for anything but mIRC and this is slowed considerablely. Thus, so far, the only thing I can use my Mandrake box for is Xchat and sometimes Mozilla or Koffice when I am doing my Win2000pro repair/defrag/virus scan/critical updates, which is often. If I receive any important material while on linux box, I e-mail it to my second windows only mail client so I can store/work on the material.

All of us who are grandpa's or as in my case, great grandpa's, who learned to do out life's work the old fashioned manual way, do not have time to learn the syntax of linux, or dos for that matter. We were, for the most part, forced to use Windows back in the win 3.1/win 95 era and do not have time for ls or vi or any commandline garbage the linux zealots want us to learn. We simply want to do our thing and, believe it or not, we would love to be able to do it using Linux, too. Actually, it should be cross platform, just as is the big rage that Bill Gates, SUN, IBM, and others are yelling about now. That is why I mentioned before that I am getting some of IBM's Starter stuff, to see if I can get to be cross platform. XML might be the way, but who knows, it is still not there, yet.

All of the above is what we, the casual user is watching and hoping for, in this userlinux effort. We are wanting to be able to use it all. I hope, too, that the linux community will stop fighting among themselves and give us one user distrobution, regardless of whether is has redhat, suse, mandrake, or whomever on the box. They should all be the same inside.

Olivier Barthelemy 11/21/03 02:57:49 AM EST

Clarifications on my first comment

My reasons for wanting to run Linux are
- I think closed-source software rises a long-term issue about controlling work tools and personnal info/content, since IOT is becoming so central to everything. The best analogy I can come up with is Antiquity, when only a few scribes could read/write...
- Also, I do like to save money by using a free OS and free apps.

I am not lying about Linux failing to install properly almost always, but your response is quite typical of one of the problem of some of the Linux community. I AM using old/cheap machines, usually non-intel, so that does make it harder to config I guess.

I don't want everything to run like Windows and I don't think Windows' way is the best BUT I want to be productive quickly and Windows I already know.

Very interesting discussion and insights.

David L 11/20/03 09:49:44 PM EST

So The best is to build : Base/Simple Desktop and allow users to put in their need and custom it. There acn suit for almost 99% users.

Everything keep it simple by default and allow application put in easily with Application list. This is choice by user. Everyone happy. If someone don't wnat to choice that just give the application by specific profile.

Everyone happy.

Robert Brklje 11/20/03 09:14:00 PM EST

A single desk top will never suit everyone what is really needed are multiple desktops to suit the capabilities of the user and what the user is going to do, be it an office desktop, multimedia desktop, professional desktop, home user desktop and childrens desktop etc.

BSD 11/20/03 05:20:16 PM EST

>(who says linux is free?).

Wrong use of the word "Free". You assUmed it means free cost; "free GNU/Linux" means Free from distribution encumbrances. So, you just need to adjust your expectations.

>and I can't find my LAN

Try ping.

> I have requested started level evaluation disks
What's a started level?

>However, I am forced to use the small business partnership
>since ON ONE cares
Who's "on one", and why did you shout it?

>A little time is all I have left give, brians and income
>are now only memories.
I hate it when I lose my brians.

>Plus, I do NOT speak much geek, just Texan.
Or English?

Charles H Tankersley 11/20/03 09:33:25 AM EST

I have been trying, since I PURCHASED SuSE 5.2 way back when, to run linux. I have been through SuSE 5.2 ($40), Slackware (installed by a LUG), Redhat 6.0 (given by RH at User Group meeting), Redhat 6.1 (unknown source), Mandrake 7.0 ($40), Redhat 7.1 ($40), Lindows 3.0 with CNR ($60) and am running Mandrake 9.1 (who says linux is free?). I still cannot install or upgrade any of my tools, WINE is worthless for transporting using Win Apps, and I can't find my LAN nor printer. In otherwords, I am still stuck with Win2000pro for most my computer activities (writing html newsletter and irc administration).

I hope you guys can do something to help. I have requested started level evaluation disks for both Win and Linux from IBM's developerWorks. However, I am forced to use the small business partnership since ON ONE cares about helping those of us who are volunteers for non-profit and/or charity. I am retired (from engineering, btw) on a very limited fixed income and still volunteer to help the handicapped. A little time is all I have left give, brians and income are now only memories. Plus, I do NOT speak much geek, just Texan.

Frank Townsend 11/20/03 09:01:43 AM EST

The comments are great but there is a job to be done soon if we are to make usefull decisions from all this input. A voting system of all the do this and don't do this input is a must. I understand that often it will not reach the unconverted masses, but the Knoppix/Gnoppix bottable cd with a prepaired for in a browser tab could help this.
I tried looking at the comments thus far to see if Synaptic was mentioned. I had to resort to a browser search to find it at all. OK for a single item, but no way to get a picture of what others really want.
The linx in schools people need to be consulted also. Another very important idea is that we do not all use US English as a first language, run only X86 systems, and send only email. This was emphasized while working with the IBM AIX translation team some years ago and reemphasized now with the Cyber Center at SunCity Georgetown in Texas.
I very much liked the idea of having different setups depending on mood or type of work to be done. This should be easy to do with menus and multiple desktops although here a way to select more than desktop 3 or desktop 8 would be usefull--a better nameing method please.

Lars 11/20/03 03:06:47 AM EST

ctrl+alt+delete on "professional" versions of Windows is very slick:

ctrl+alt+delete to log in
ctrl+alt+delete then return to lock workstation - I do that every time I leave my desk

The ability to have this on Linux would be great. At the moment it's a bit messy if I have two X sessions (X + VMware full screen) and maybe a console.

A lot of Linux distros still reboot by default if you ctr+alt+delete at the console; and it would be nice if X was more reliable, so as not to need that ctrl+alt+backspace.

In fact, Linux can be as reliable as it wants, on the desktop an X crash is almost as good as a full system crash. Especially when vmware goes down!

Alex Beels 11/20/03 02:55:33 AM EST

David Durst -- I am afraid you didn't understand a couple of my points...

Drivers: I can't use the latest Redhat or Suse because I am on PPC these days, but I use Yellowdog, which is pretty much Redhat 9, as I understand it, and I agree installing the correct drivers at initial setup is not a problem like it used to be in the old days. I did my install with anaconda and everything worked like a dream. That is not my concern. What concerns me is what happens when you need to install a new driver, for something not included in the kernel distribution (like the modem in my iBook) or for an update to an old driver. In order to install the driver for my modem I had to recompile my kernel. There was no way to install that driver just by compiling it on its own. Now this was a driver with completely separate distribution from the kernel. I shouldn't have had to touch the kernel in order to install it. Now, I have only been using Linux for about four years, and since my harware doesn't change much I only rarely do a kernel, so it's possible that I just haven't found the obvious and well documented way to compile and install drivers without having to install and compile the whole kernel source. If so, this would be really great opportunity for me to learn: does anyone out there know how to add module X without having to compile anything else?

User Interface -- Unified themes like those provided by MetaCity are great, and make *most* apps look pretty much the same. I have a syncronized KDE/Gnome theme on my machine, and it is hard to see the difference between the two types of apps. But what I was worried about was *operability* more than looks. Some programs will allow me to drag icons to the KDE desktop I am using, some won't. The open-file dialogs are different in every different type of program (and the old-style non-resizable double-pane dialogs which list all of the hidden files are a *pain* to use). Xaw-based programs like xterm have scrollbars which work differently from other programs. Every type of text editor widget has slightly a different way of handling select-by word, drag selection, wordwrap and so on. These little inconsistencies in the way that things *work* make Linux look 'broken' to skeptical newbies.

Ben Russo 11/20/03 01:20:42 AM EST

I love Linux, use it every day, been using it for about 8 years, on scores of servers, dozens of desktops and a handfull of different laptops. But the rock solid stability of the core server apps (apache, ftp, imap, sendmail, samba, gcc, mysql, postgres, etc.) simply isn't matched by the Linux desktop. The equivalent desktop apps {except mozilla}, evolution, gimp, xffm/nautilus/konqueror, gaim, open-office,gift, xmule, & pgAdmin, are just not as stable as their WindowsXP counterparts. They are not as snappy/responsive or smooth, consistent, pretty, fast, full-featured. Most of these problems seem to be library toolkit or window manager problems, not app problems. Metacity REALLY NEEDS the do-not show contents while resizing or moving option. Rdesktop under WindowsXP and Terminal Services (with sound export, disk sharing, serial and printer sharing) makes X-windows look like a joke. Rdesktop is faster and snappier, even over a WAN connection.

Even on 8 month old mainstream hardware, my Video had no acceleration under RedHat 9 or even under Fedora. (I was able to get it to work with very small changes to config files, but it should have been autoconfigured). The sound card was autodetected and worked OK, but multiplexing of application sound events doesn't work. and the results are amusing and annoying. My laptop overheats, the fans run to noisily & frequently, the battery runs down to fast, docking and un-docking the system causes the box to crash. The configuration of wireless networking (wep, preferred ESSID's) is WAY TOO COMPLEX.

Also, I have 3 NIC's, docked, wireless PCMCIA, and undocked. Windows seems to be able to use any of them automatically upping them and downing them as needed. Trying to get all the Linux software to play nicely with changing IP addresses midstream and switch interfaces back and forth is not easy (possible yes, but very tricky, and this is coming from a guy who is a professional UNIX sys-admin!)

Getting the touchpad/touchpoint/PS-2/USB mice to work interchangeably on the fly (like it does under windows) with the correct resolution and speed and features (wheels and buttons) on each is beyond me.

Sleeping and Suspend doesn't seem to work well with Linux ext3fs. The applications take 3-4 times as long to start under Linux as their couterparts do under windows on the same hardware (dual boot).

Getting essential things (like java applets, flash, shockwave, adobe acrobat, mp3, DVD) to work is way to hard. Under windows I can litterally just go to shareware.com and find the most popular app and "click-n-run" it just works.

Now, the fact that getting a decent DELL/Hpaq/IBM/Gateway desktop or laptop system that doesn't have windows is hard. Even if you do manage to get it the cost of WINDOWS is likely not to be truly discounted. You might save only $20-50, and then you will (likely) have to install and configure Linux yourself. This means that the real cost of Windows XP (for your average SOHO user) is hardly anything. Especially when you consider that you can fetch and install (very easily) mozilla/openoffice/trillian/putty/winscp3/zonealarm on your windows box. I don't think that I would be recommending Linux to my Grandmother, or my Mother, or even my Sister at this point. Yes, they will have to buy a virus scanner and pay for the auto update service, but they could trade that $50 cost for the several hours they will save getting their peripherals to work properly.

Linux makes a great kiosk, or a limited use workstation (for a helpdesk or receptionist for example) it is excellent for re-deploying recycled hardware for schools and charity organizations. Linux is an AWESOME server platform. It is amazing.

But for the SOHO user who can spare $20/week to save an hour a week, unless you are a computer hacker who enjoys computer syntax in text config files and learning to program your own system, or you are a developer/programmer who needs a UNIX workstation, Linux simply isn't a wise choice at this point. I don't think it will be for at least a year or two.

I will diligently be using Linux every day anyway, and I will be contributing to the mailing lists and the bugzilla's as I find time. If I ever get my lazy ass to study programming things well enough to fix these problems, I will jump right on it!

John A. 11/20/03 01:13:50 AM EST

When confronting a choice between similar apps (Mozilla vs. Konq.) I prefer cross-platform apps. For enterprises that roll out new desktops in phases, this may also be beneficial. Thus Mozilla, OO.o, Gaim, are preferable to Konq. KOffice, gnumeric, ...
If any of these were ported to win32 and/or OSX the preference might change.
That said, integration, and consistency within a platform are still very important.

Manoj 11/20/03 12:43:46 AM EST

Mouse !!!

I totally agree with Aaron about his comments on mouse. I tried both GNOME and KDE. There are too many parameters to control the mouse movement. But whatever combination of values I use, the mouse cursor just doesn't move as comfortably as it moves in my windows machine ! I used to think that Its just a problem with me... But happy to know that others are noticing this too. I dont understand why even such a simple thing as the mouse cursor movement not perfect in linux. Now don't even talk about the crappy fonts. And installing an application in Linux ? That is everyone's nightmare.

Bob Crawford 11/20/03 12:15:45 AM EST

The 1 reason I MOST prefer Konq to Moz is the ability to TURN OFF PLUG-INS!! (haven't used Firebird yet, so sorry if it allows that)
In a multi-tab browse-session (10+ tabs) ads using Shockwave really dog my system out. Being able to selectively turn it on/off is MOST HANDY.

I Find Mozilla cuts text from pages better than Konq, though.
Currently, both are necessary...
( plus, I can't get Roadrunner webmail to work with Konq - same with some [most likely mis-adminstered] Win-servers at my place of work -- and Moz handles them just fine )

Marques, Mario 11/19/03 08:55:25 PM EST

Thounsand things came to my mind...

But one that has always strick me, as general computers (PCs) are evolving more to be "The" communications platform and not only a editing platform, is the lack of proper driver support, and specialy in 3D graphic acceleration, that is one big layer of impact in my line of work.

So, standards are the most single important field, right now, in Linux computing, because you can ask for a particular application or application feature today, and there are none, and next year you'll have several...

And in those standards fields, that take years to evolve sometimes, it strikes me that, UserLinux could functioning without being a reserch project, like a "proxy" standard body, with real code, for some of the best freedesktop.org projects, specialy those that concern the implementation a "Graphic Layer" for Xdesktop.

It seems to me that Cairo, D-BUS, fontconfig, etc... are very close to stable, and that X extensions, X server and Xlibrarys have enough merits and need a little more push, to be considered fit to inclusion in "The" Desktop platform of Linux.

Jim Ward 11/19/03 08:53:59 PM EST

UserLinux Desktop:

1) GnuCash is okay, but not your Grannies accounting. There probably still needs to be a solution here. I would also agree there should be a GnuTax or some such product as well.
2) A web interface to select available applications that weren't part of the standard OS, which would be nothing more than a connection to running apt-get.
3) Auto-update for security patches, some simple applet on the taskbar to turn this on or off.
4) Some development tool like GAMBAS, KBASIC or GNOME BASIC. Great learning tools for learning programmers, grandkids. Also would help foster new innovative applications, possibly even more easy to use for users.
5) Easy installable browser plug-ins. I personally have scripts to do all the installs, but that's not for poor Granny's eyes.
6) Remote Desktop support should be easy to setup, locate and use, as every one knows how Granny could always use help from time to time when she deletes the wrong thing. :)

Bruce Ingalls 11/19/03 08:28:14 PM EST

Harry LeBlanc-
Take a look at phpMyAdmin. Many beginning access users surprised me, when they said they liked it better. I'm not sure how hard it is to *install*.

Mike E-
You might want to check out http://TKman.sf.net/ combined with semi-proprietary Glimpse, as a start, to migrating legacy man & info pages. Perhaps Glimpse is the reason distros don't bundle it. There's always Namazu and other search engines.

Also-
Accpac may be the best Linux accounting pkg affordable to small business, but it is not the only one.

Finally-
It might be nice to have links from about boxes to project web pages, that mention updates or security notices.
Perhaps there is a nice way to rank applications, by how secure, or how easy they are?
I reckon that segregating tools into /usr/sbin/ shows this in one fashion.

Does it make sense to seperate packages into Cooker directories, to make uninstalling easier? Perhaps reference count shared libraries?

Even if this is a user distribution, you'll reach your destination faster, with polished development tools. I'm re-emphasizing scriptability. Linux can put off that killer app, if it is just easier to connect to everything, and get your job done. Linux's strength in adaptability / Configurability does not have to mean giving up ease of use.
As a shameless self promo, I offer http://emacro.sourceforge.net/ as proof.

I'd like to see all config files, such as *.conf, /etc/* standardized on a fast subset of xml.

Anacron jobs, that scan the logs, and other system health checks, such as top, fragmentation, etc, which set off a biff-like icon alarm, for lazy admins.

There are now package selections for workstation, server, etc.
Does it make sense to have setups for embedded / mobile user, secure, high availability, web developer, high performance, etc?

Richard (a software developer too) 11/19/03 08:27:45 PM EST

Very interesting article.

In our Democratic Anarchy (Anarchistic Democracy?), who will finally decide the larger issues? Single-mindedness (sometimes autocratic) does have its advantages. Anyways, I count myself as part of the problem and (hopefully) part of the solutions.

The only emulator that I use is DOSBOX for my old games. My personal wish list:

(1) OpenOffice integrated with our choice of several PDA desktops, our choice of several mail clients, and our choice of several browsers. All reliably integrated with a SINGLE database, regardless of which desktop (Gnome, KDE, whatever) is used.

(2) Browsers that can install plugins as easy as the "other" operating system. I love Mozilla but I detest integrating it with Java, web multimedia, PDF readers, etc.

(3) A Mail Client that can RELIABLE replace Microsft Outlook 2000 in an interface to a given Exchange Server and RELIABLY import address books, calendards, mail folders, notes, etc. in such a way that the Exchange server has no idea that I am not using Windoze! I want to stop using Windoze at work.

(4) A clone of TurboTax (or another?) for 'nixes .. at least the same or better functionality with on-line automatic connectionz to the IRS and the various state tax boards. Once I have this, THEN it is time to reformat my wife's hard drive when she isn't looking. (-;

Don 11/19/03 08:23:22 PM EST

Hardware detection is something that will always need work, but LindowsOS and Fedora Core both handle it reasonably well. I have a hard disk installed in a caddy so I can take it back and forth from home to work and both of these distrobutions handle the change reasonably well. Of the two I prefer the Fedora Core method, because it will tell you that old hardware is not detected or new hardware is detected and ask if you want to install/remove it.

For a fully automatic no intervention hardware detection Knoppix is probably better suited and as good or better than LindowsOS, but when you install Knoppix on a hard drive it reverts to a more Debain like approach.

Later, Don

Tom Condit 11/19/03 07:13:19 PM EST

The main thing which keeps me from moving over to Linux is lack of cross-platform compatibility with PageMaker. I do a lot of desktop publishing work, some of which needs to exported to an imagesetting firm.

Since I already use Opera, I don't see any browser problems with crossover to Linux.

Ken Poole 11/19/03 06:50:28 PM EST

I need an easy to use Novell Netware Client. Not all environments run Microsoft

As asked for in numerous posts, GUI Config tools that work properly.

Mike E 11/19/03 06:16:52 PM EST

Linux needs a helpful help system.

The "man" system does what it does just fine: providing documentation for programs. But you have to know the name of the program before you can get help using it. Linux's configurability and the wide selection of available programs makes this a real problem for new users and an annoyance even for seasoned users on a new system.

For example, the man system cannot answer, "How do I check my email?" Wrong question. First you must ask, "Which email client is installed on this system?" I'm no expert but I'm not exactly a novice either and I don't know any easy way to find the answer to that. I could ls /usr/bin and look for program names that sound helpful. But that wouldn't tell me that "pine" and "mutt" are email clients. The only sure thing is word of mouth. I'd have to ask another user on the system or the admin.

If Linux is going to exist as a consumer desktop product, it needs a help system into which a user can type "email" and get a list of related topics and utilities.

The help system should also provide new users with some pedagogic information. The help system will have to contain articles stating things which are "obvious" to current Linux users who are, by necessity, technically inclined people who know a lot about the system behind their desktop. For example, instructions on changing IP addresses without rebooting using ifconfig and /etc/network/interfaces.

Granted a graphical utility will probably replace manual editing of files in most cases, but that sort of information has to be available for users who need more from a system than a graphical config utilities can provide and for those happy occassions when X, for whatever reason, just up and fails.

-MSE

michael 11/19/03 06:04:38 PM EST

how about a working plug in that can handle wmv that has the address hid by a java script call. go to launch.com and play a video with a linux machine and you will see what i mean.

Joe Borsits 11/19/03 05:47:10 PM EST

I am primarily a windows tech who has for financial reasons and idealistic reasons finally made the switch to Linux. I am currently using SUSE 8.2. I have played with Red Hat and mandrake off and one for a couple of years now but always found my self getting a bit lazy and running back to Windows until recently. SUSE 8.2 installed and was ready to go from the get.

What I do find a bit frustrating is the software installation process as relates to RPMS. This was mentioned in the article. SUSE does a good job letting you know if you are missing anything and warns of possible conflicts but does not give you an easy avenue to resolve such issues. Being a newbie this can get frustrating given the learning curve (damn I hate MS for allowing me to be so lazy). It is often a difficult to tell what needs to be upgraded in what order, and what files can be omitted. Let alone trying to track down missing libraries that are required.

I have fallen in love with linux though I am frustrated, and realize that most of this is do to the learning curve. But in order to pass the "Grandma test", this is something that I think would need to be addressed. I am not familiar enough with the OS to say whether this has already been implemented or not but some sort of registration DB for currently installed Libraries including version tracking sounds like it is in order. While I know that the RPM database keeps track of things like this to a certain degree. The question is what about things that are not installed via RPM?

I know I am showing my ignorance here, but the only stupid question is the one never asked and I really would like to understand the OS more.

abdn 11/19/03 04:19:41 PM EST

unless i am missinformed i have the impression that a new distro is about to initiate called userlinux...

there is no one out there to unite and guide the whole open source community towards a single distro with many flavours, towards a unique goal, outcome? how many variations are out there of implementations of the same idea with the greatest example of all the redhat mandrake distros. i do agree that both offer unique services but there power wouldnt be greater if they simply merge?! And not to mention about all these copies of applications which are build for different window managers... they all are great implementations and have their own unique features to make their programmers proud but the basic idea behind them is still the same (ex. k3b-eroaster-xcdroast). come on !! the open source community counts the greatest number of members and instead of taking advantage of that and produce killer apps, has everybody forked into different projects...

great ideas are never lost, but they become much stronger if they are combined into a sound outcome.

Chuck W. 11/19/03 03:43:05 PM EST

Maybe there's something I don't know, but I'm surprised that it hasn't been mentioned that one of the things that Konqueror does vs. Mozilla/Firebird is preserve context between sessions/reboots - any tabs you have open when shutting down come up again when you restart.

Bob Rea 11/19/03 03:21:38 PM EST

[Bruce Perens writes: I'd like to hear if Konqueror has something to offer that is not matched by these choices.]

One small thing in Konqi is the ability to put the names of Personal toolbar links beneath as well as beside the icon. That means I can fit more into that bar. I did that recently in Konqi, which I use at home on Linux, but couldn't find a way in Netscape 7, which I use at work on Windows.

adam 11/19/03 02:40:09 PM EST

fix all the users and linux will handle itself

Peter L 11/19/03 02:21:31 PM EST

Let me also reply to Bruce's request for advice on servers. I've run various versions of RedHat since 4.1, and if it were up to me, I'd just like to see a solid, stable and secure version of RH 7.3 or thereabouts for servers. If I could be guaranteed that security updates were available for this platform over the next few years, I wouldn't have any reason to change distributions. I haven't tried many other distributions lately because I have a big intellectual investment in RH. I did load a version of Mandrake a year or so ago and saw no compelling reasons to switch to it as a server distribution. (In addition, my clients have heard of RedHat, but probably few have heard of SuSE or debian.)

However what I'd like to see is a better interface for managing servers and services than we have now. I spend a lot of my time at the command line, editing configuration files like httpd.conf by hand. Some major improvements in the user interface for server management could make Linux a much more appealing platform for adminstrators used to managing services via the Windows GUI.

A good start would be to focus on the relatively short list of services that are commonly used. I'd bet 80% of the sysadmins out there run some or all of these applications on most Linux servers:

-- a DHCP server, usually ISC dhcpd
-- a DNS server, usually ISC bind
-- a mail exchanger, usually sendmail
-- a mail server, usually UW imapd/ipopd
-- an httpd server, usually apache
-- SMB file sharing with Samba
-- NFS file sharing
-- a database server, usually MySQL, PostgreSQL, or in
high-end shops, Oracle
-- a network time server, usually ntpd
-- some kind of backup, usually home-grown scripts
or perhaps amanda

In addition, I'd recommend including MailScanner, ClamAV, and SpamAssassin for mail scanning and filtering, and SquirrelMail for web mail services.

What would be especially nice would be a graphical "wizard" that you could run after install to configure the services you need. In some cases the wizard would help you configure a particular type of function that may include multiple components. For instance, the "mail server" wizard would configure sendmail, MailScanner, and SpamAssassin in one shot. Other services depend on a single daemon like dhcpd or ntpd. You'd just check off the things you want the server to do, and it asks you to supply the requisite information. Something like Webmin only with more structure.

I've left authentication off the list because it can vary so much from installation to installation. I agree with the poster who suggested LDAP if you are starting from scratch. Anything you can do to simplify setting up LDAP services would be greatly appreciated. All that stuff about schemas and X.400 addressing makes my head spin!

Some random closing thoughts...

The wizard approach should be applied to firewalling as well.

Make sure dhcpd and bind work together "out-of-the-box" so that DNS forward and reverse lookup tables are updated whenever a new address is leased.

Make printing work more reliably and transparently. I'm hoping that the spate of recent innovations in this area like CUPS, LPRng and Omni/foomatic will ultimately make things much easier to manage, but for now I have more persistent issues with printing in large networked environments than I do with things like e-mail or web serving.

Paulo Eduardo Neves 11/19/03 01:41:29 PM EST

In the war between Mozilla X Konqueror, I feel that Mozilla/Firebird is a better browser (quickier, great plugins, google toolbar etc), but I still use Konqueror due to its integration with kde (e.g., can drag'n drop links from/to other applications) and the more sofisticated open/save file widget.

DaveW 11/19/03 01:25:04 PM EST

Forgot a biggie above. Fonts in Linux are a real pain in the ass, despite recent improvements. Establish a single standard fonts directory preloaded with truetype and PS fonts that look professional on screen and on paper. Make adding fonts from online and CD sources a one-click process. Make all fonts available to all apps and to the desktop. If apps want to use their own fonts, make them add them to the standard font directory and use them from there. No more separate font directories tied to particular apps.

NickG 11/19/03 01:21:40 PM EST

I'm not sure if this has been posted or not, but the two biggest things that feel like they are missing in current distributions are an easily scalable main menu system, and a comprehensive control panel.

The menu system works fairly well for me, but in many cases, it feels difficult to reconfigure them to match a users needs. Additionally, items are replicated throughout the menus, sometimes in locations that don't make sense, like one program may have its icon in the "Networking" submenu, and another might be under "Applications\Utilities\Networking". Or they may be under both. This tends to get annoying.

As for a control panel, I have yet to figure out how to change my desktop resolution. Other issues like a softwrae updater, driver updater, program installer, etc. There are multitudes of utilities that can perform these tasks, and some distrubutions have included utilities for this, but this sort of thing shouldn't HAVE to be distribution-based, and there's no reason to have to search through several different system configurators to find exactly the right setting. It should be a part of the windowing environment, and it should be in one single location/application.

DaveW 11/19/03 01:20:10 PM EST

As a fairly new user who's committed to Linux but frustrated all the time by its deficiencies, I think there are some very basic problems that HAVE to be fixed before Linux is ready for the desktop:

--Permissions. Forbid all messages like "you do not have permission/permission denied to open/read/use this file/application/etc". Keeping SU access separate is a strength of Linux, but every app, every file, should be available to the user by way of a popup that replaces the above text and requests the root password. There should also be a checkbox in said popup that says "Let me open this file/[or whatever] from now on" (assuming the root password is given). The reality is that any given file in Linux has permissions assigned at random for all practical purposes, which is a major source of frustration for the user who just wants the thing to work. Messing with permissions is poison for everyone but Unix geeks.

--Multimedia still sucks, at least in Debian. There should be one player autoconfigured and ready to go with all the codecs and necessary apps.

--Drivers are still hit or miss. Great idea above: if hardware makers won't open their drivers, "adopt" one of the smaller suppliers who will, and promote them as the preferred choice for Linux.

--Package management: not a big problem with Debian and Synaptic, in my experience. In an ideal system, though, the user would rightclick on an app icon or menu item, then click "update this program" in the menu that pops up. A central Net repository would be transparently accessed, the user would be informed that either he has the latest version or that "you have version 1.2 and version 1.3 is available. The update will take about 20 minutes online. Update now?" Upon which the app is updated and installed. For new apps, that same right click would also offer "browse other programs like this one?" which would go to an online list of apps in the same category with links to descriptions and reviews of similar programs. (I guess there would have to be an "other program types" option in the main menu to account for breakthroughs.)

In general, forget about attitudes like "Idiots who can't use the CLI" and being true to the Unix spirit. If you want users, build the system around their need for an easy, versatile, responsive system, period.

Make the basics work, and the applications will follow. Linux apps of course could get better, but there's nothing I miss from Windows. I write for a living and don't have any problem depending on OOo, and probably would be just as happy with AbiWord or the other choices. It would be nice to have a real professional level page layout program, but Scribus is getting there.

UserLinux sound like it could be the answer. Let us (developers and others) know how we can help, including with money.

Peter L 11/19/03 01:14:10 PM EST

While this might seem trivial to some folks here, I think we could use some improvements in fonts and graphical objects like icons. I haven't seen the most recent releases of the current distributions, but the appearance of the desktop just looked too amateurish in earlier releases. Things like ugly fonts probably influence people's initial opinions of Linux as much as, if not more than, whether or not Linux supports application X or hardware component Y.

To achieve widespread popularity, a Linux distribution needs to look just as good as Windows or MacOS, because that's the standard to which it will be compared.

mitchell 11/19/03 12:51:14 PM EST

A working 'Add/Remove Programs' utility would be wonderful. It would be too much to expect non-expert linux users to figure out how to remove a program and all of its extensions.

Getting flash and .avi to work in linux is a hassle. This should be easier.

The Java JRE should be included and already set up.

Windows Expoler is the prime navigational utility. All the distrobutions file navigators have been crap compared to Explorer. It's true, an expert will use only the shell, but we're working on a user friendly application. And we all know how long it takes to learn how to use the shell.

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