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Forget Linux, We Need Fisher-Price Computers

Linux is for Grownups

  • August 5, 2009
  • By Carla Schroder
"Users are not the lusers you think they are" disputes the cherished belief that most folks are just too stupid to learn to use a computer competently:

"I think that it is not the users fault but how we, as so called geeks, treat those people. It is our attitude and mind set that casual users of computers are dumber than a pile of bricks. As we treat those people in such a manner then in like manner they will react."

The author, Locutus, goes on to say that being supportive and helpful, and showing people tips and shortcuts to get their work done more efficiently is more productive, and he's probably right.

What piqued my interest the most was some of the reader comments. Gary O'Connor writes:

"People, rightly, expect that a computer in 2009 should be able to work with mouse clicks and, if you can't get it to work with a mouse click, you hire a geek to fix it.

To their minds, asking them to learn that stuff is asking them to regress, after all, the mouse was invented so that ordinary people could use a computer without having to think about it...

I'm not saying that WE (geeks) shouldn't be able to use the CLI but it's just crazy to expect the average desktop user to use it or even know about it..."

I don't know if Mr. O'Connor is serious or just having some fun. He does have some weird ideas about the purpose of the command line and computers in general. A lot of people make the exact same sweeping claims in all seriousness, as though they were spokespeople for a Silent and Dimwitted Computing Majority, and insist that until Linux is so easy that an unconscious person can use it it will never succeed. In my opinion it's a matter of how willing a particular individual is to learn; some folks just plain don't want to try. Which is their privilege, but as long as they're using a computer for any reason it makes no sense to resist learning how to use it efficiently. But then, trying to make sense of human behavior is a futile task, so I'm not going to think about it too much.

Meanwhile, back at the reader comments Benfrank chimes in with a perfectly splendid retort:

"OMG a knife, a spoon, AND a fork?? **nervous breakdown**"

He makes a good point-- until all food can be prepared and eaten with a single intuitive dead-simple perfect implement, then by gosh nobody should even try to eat.

Meanwhile back in the real world, it is silly to go on strike and refuse to invest any effort in learning to use a computer competently because it has not yet attained some weird ideal state of effortless perfection. Windows is not easier than Linux. Mac OS X is not easier than Linux. Both Mac and Windows are considerably more limited in what they allow you to do than Linux, not only *technically but legally as well. Point and click as a standard of usability? What is this, pre-school? It seems what these folks really want are Fisher-Price computers. Maybe Linux is for grownups, and we should be satisfied with that.

Except when it's for 5-year olds.

*A reader kindly pointed out that Mac OS X offers a lot of polished, high- and professional-quality applications that Linux does not on top of a stable, efficient Unix core, and that it also supports X and Linux applications. So claiming Linux superiority in all arenas is not correct. He is right; I apologize for the error.

Carla Schroder is the author of the Linux Cookbook and the Linux Networking Cookbook (O'Reilly Media), the upcoming "Building a Digital Sound Studio with Audacity" (NoStarch Press), a lifelong book lover, and the managing editor of LinuxPlanet and Linux Today.

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