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May 04, 2005


Tom Bridge

I'm a bit curious how computers are still "too difficult to use." What, right now, is too difficult?


First, I need to comment on the comment: "What, right now, is too difficult?"

The most difficult thing to do is move your data from one
computer to the next. You want to switch from Windows XP to Mac OS and all your email is in Outlook Express...
Hire a consultant.

You want to change blogging services and
all your archives are in Hire a consultant.
Microsoft and Apple still levearge data capture as a business strategy... the weaker of the two seems to spend more effort on interoperability and mobility of
files... and historically they have been up or down in the hierarchy with respect to networking strength.

It's worth understanding that MS tends to get fat, dumb and lazy when they aren't chasing something.
Netscape fostered the intense investments in Internet Explorer... bye, bye netscape and IE just stopped improving (Hello Firefox...) hello IE 7.

OS X will push Longhorn to be better... There IS a reason why public policy folsk believe in the benefits
of antitrust laws. Consumers get better products when the incentive to compete exists.

Linux will give both MS and Apple significant incentive to keep at it... and that's the real benefit
of Linux. There just might be an option that doesn't lock up your email or document data. Wouldn't that be nice? Shouldn't that be public policy... no closed
data formats except for privacy reasons and then only
to encrypt... not to control users.


Practically everything is too difficult. I know where you're coming from on this, Tom. You're looking for examples of things that are insurmountably difficult. You won't find many.

But practically everything is more difficult than it has to be. Practically everything could be easier.

I don't know what Dan was saying, but that's how I'd answer the question.

Simon Pole

I don't think this statement is accurate:

Linux ... It’s not yet up to the proprietary competition for use by average folks, especially home users who want to do anything beyond basic computing applications.

I suppose this hinges on what is considered a "basic computing" application, and what is not. Even if there is such a distinction, there are open source, Linux versions for all proprietary applications (I can't think of any that are missing). Examples:

Photoshop Grahics: The Gimp
Office/Powerpoint: Open Office, Abiword
Spreadsheet: Gnumeric
Browser: Firefox
E-Mail: Thunderbird/Kmail
Database: MySQL
WinAMP: xmms
Video player: Xine, MPlayer

(These, are all user-friendly GUI applications as well, suitable for home users).

The one area where there might be a deficiency is in the Outlook-calender sync area (though this is recognized and being worked on, and I think Evolution is almost there). However, PIMs are more a business application than one needed by home users.

The conclusion, Linux has reached the level of the proprietary competition for home users.

Dan Gillmor

Simon, here's a case in point to suggest this is wrong. To make my laptop go into standby mode, I had to edit a file by hand. No typical home user would have figured it out.

Simon Pole

Configuring by hand is a different issue than the availability of applications. Linux, I believe, has mature replacements for all the major applications.

Power managment, however, is an issue that is still needs tweaking under Linux. No doubt about it. Usability is certainly the next stage in moving Linux to the desktop for average users.

Dan Gillmor

There are quite a few apps I use routinely (such as my blog posting app) that have no comparable Linux equivalents, at least not that I know of. I do think (and said) it's coming along, though...

Ran Talbott

This is just a repeat of the predatory pre-announcement strategy MS has been using for over 15 years: "We swear we've learned how to Do It Right, so pleasepleaseple-e-ese put your plans to switch on hold, and just hang on until the next version. We promise it won't suck like the current one".

And, indeed, it doesn't: instead, it sucks in new and amazing ways that require users to learn/invent entirely new strategies to protect themselves from the effects of Microsoft's screw-ups.

If this continues, some crazed administrator, driven mad by years of endless patching that never quite makes his users' PCs safe to let loose on the net, will shoot Gates at one of his keynote speaker apperances, and make history as the first successful non-spousal use of the "Battered Wife Syndrome" defense...

Ran Talbott

"Linux has reached the level of the proprietary competition for home users."

For the "basics", yes. Indeed, Linux has been far superior to Windoze for the basic home emailing/netsurfing/term-paper-editing system for a while now.

But Dan was talking about use "beyond basic computing applications", and there are large areas where the equivalent Linux apps are inferior, more difficult to use, or even non-existent.

In many cases, they're still "good enough". Or cheap enough that lots of people would be willing to put up with their limitations/foibles.

But there are lots of "home users" with wants/needs that aren't met well, or at all, by the available Linux apps. It's true that Linux is fine for millions of home users, but it's questionable whether it's sufficient for "most", and "all" is still well into the future.

Simon Pole

I'm not sure what blog app you use. But two of the leading Linux kind are Word Press (for straight blogging -- and is currently giving Movable Type a run for its money) and Drupal, which is a full content management system (with blogs, forums, front pages -- used by Our Media). A third similar to Drupal is Geeklog (used by Groklaw).

Three vibrant open source choices. At this point in time, just as long as you know how to use a text editor, you can live in open source. (The future may already be here...)

Simon Pole

Ran wrote:

there are large areas where the equivalent Linux apps are inferior, more difficult to use, or even non-existent.

I don't believe this is true anymore. Just what areas are you talking about? You concede Linux is better in the basics (i.e. desktop apps). What else is there? Backroom server stuff? Linux has dominated this area for several years now.

Point out one area where Linux is not comprable to a proprietary app.


Mac OS X Tiger is a significant improvement on the already best OS out.

I have installed a lot of OSs, from Dos on, including some more exotics like NeXTSTEP, BeOS, several version of Linux. I've used more, including Solaris and others.

Linux is too hard to install for anyone but savvy computer users. Mac OS X by comparison can be insatlled by just about anyone. Windows is getting there, but you better hope they don't have a home network or wireless.

Gimp is no match for Photoshop - especially the just-released CS2. Its good for prepping images for the web, but if you're a professional, GIMP can not come close to supplanting Photoshop and it's integration with the other Adobe Apps.

Keynote is the best presentation app out, hands-down. Only on OS X. PowerPoint can't touch it for sophisticated graphics, use of alpha channels and the benefits of OS X's graphics.

There is no Acrobat Pro for Linux. And Acrobat is fast becoming the Postscript standard a lot of print shops prefer. (Acrobat IS Postscript.)

Windows has caught up in some important ways to Mac. Color calibration is finally there. But it's ugly, and it's interface is just horrendous.

It would be nice if Linux were actually able to take on Mac OS X and Windows. It simply can't for anyone other than highly skilled computer users when they have to support themselves.

Del Miller

I'm not sure I really understand how competition is supposed to make computers easier to use. I think that just the opposite is true.

If, say, Apple, could develop its OS without the pressure of including every compatibility in the world with Windows, then MacOS would be about half the size and contain about 10% the bugs (I estimate wildly here.)

Likewise, the metaphors of the major OSes are similar, as are the usage problem inherent, for the very same reasons. Microsoft's Longhorn UI looks like MacOS X because of competitive pressure. If there were less competition, perhaps Microsoft would feel more free to create an original--and more useable-- interface.

I'm not suggesting that a monopoly would somehow bring about a better computing experience, only that seeing competition as the engine driving computer simplicity seems to be off target.

If computers are going to become easier to use, then the OS manufacturers are going to have to generate some true innovation, rather than the copycat antithesis of innovation we see today. That isn't a function of external competition, but rather a problem related to the lack of vision and poor management within the companies.


As I recall from the Win 95 transition, the major reason for it's success over all others was that almost by default 80% of MS. DOS users when upgrading their computer at the time would chose to upgrade it to Win 95 without even considering other options. The remaining 20% were open to other options like OS/2 and Mac but wouldn't generally take them. And computers running DOS at the time were by far the most popular.

Personally, I think the most interesting developments recently are things like the google desktop search and web accelerator which create a new functionality layer of sorts... if they continue with that trend we'll end up with 'google services' that are a must have and innovate faster than redmond... I don't work for google, btw, I'm just watching all these developments with some appreciation and humor.

Simon Willison

"Point out one area where Linux is not comprable to a proprietary app."

Consumer level video editing. Show me a Linux app that compares with the iMovie/iDVD combination. It's not even on the horizon yet.

For basic email/browsing/word processing though Linux (and Ubuntu in particular) is finally becoming a viable option for regular users.

Nollind Whachell

competition = change = improvements (hopefully!)

Linux, while definitely a viable alternative, has a ways to go before it will get accepted by the mainstream average user. Who knows what the next year or so will bring though.

People are getting sick of technology plain and simple. While people are definitely getting empowered by machines they are also becoming slaves to them. Technology needs to work for the user and not the other way around. As Del remarked, "true innovation" is what we need. Unfortunately, in these troubled times, many companies are afraid of taking risks when, in fact, these are the perfect times to be taking them.


Nollind is absolutely right...users are tired of having to go hat in hand to an IT'er for help every time something in the information environment changes. They want their tools to accommodate their work preferences, not the other way 'round. The Mac goes a long way towards achieving the goal of the empowered user, but the mainstream is still stuck in the mid-20th century, and even Apple in its arrogance sometimes forgets the customer.

The key to a world that is truly technology-enabled is having a package - hardware, software, interfaces, the whole shebang - that is secure, stable, economical and doesn't require a technically oriented user to handle minor problems and changes. As it is, we too often serve the machines at least as much as they serve us. They may never reach the level of convenience, simplicity and reliability of an electric toaster, but so long as computers are designed by EEs for maintenance by techies, we'll continue to have a gap between potential and actual value added.


> Personal computers are cheaper than ever, but they remain too unreliable and difficult to use.>

He must be using a windows thingy.

Jeff Harrell

At the risk of propagating the air of Linux-related defensiveness that's seeped into this discussion, a challenge was thrown down. The question was raised about applications — common, every-day applications — without Linux equivalents.

Please allow me to run through my dock from left to right.

1. iCal
2. iChat (note particularly the audio and video aspects of this)
3. Address Book (with interoperability with iCal, Mail and iChat)
3a. iSync (I don't actually have this in my dock; it runs on a schedule to sync my Address Book and iCal data everywhere, particularly my Bluetooth phone)
4. NetNewsWire
5. MarsEdit
6. iTunes
7. iPhoto
8. Photoshop (please don't say "Gimp"; it would just embarrass us both)
9. InDesign
10. InCopy (probably my most important application)
11. iMovie
12. iDVD
13. QuickTime Player Pro

These are just the applications I use regularly, or even every day. And frankly, I think I should throw the Finder in there, particularly now that it has really powerful features like Spotlight and smart folders and burn folders.

To my knowledge, there are no Linux equivalents out there for any of these. Hell, for a lot of them, there are no Windows equivalents! And these aren't highly specialized applications. They're general-use tools that I use all the time.

The gap between Linux and everything else is pretty shocking when you really think about it.


Having come from the Mac world to the Windows world this past fall, and to the Linux world one month later, I would agree that aside from video editing, there is nothing that I'm not comfortable doing in Linux. I have used both SUSE and Xandros. I found Xandros an easier install than Tiger which I have had to install on one machine twice already since my quit working on me. SUSE 9.3 with GNOME, the Open Office suite along with the Evolution e-mail package, all together make a very productive environment. The other nice thing about Linux is that I have done some really dumb things, and the systems that I am using seem to have been able to fix things without starting from scratch. When something goes wrong with a Mac, there is little you can do but start over. Of course a real problem on Windows would completely sink me. Having something like Firefox as a consistent platform on all of the operating systems that I am using is a real help as is all the work being done to make certain environments like Flickr and Typepad work well together. As things get better in better in the browser world, I don't really care what OS I'm using. Just think how far we have come, you can now take a picture, write and article to include with the picture and post it all to the web with no html skills and certainly no requirement for an expensive proprietary software package that would tie me to particularl company. I think we have come a long way.

Simon Pole

Jeff, I'm not trying to embarrass anyone. Just pointing out there are Linux replacements for all proprietary apps.

I wouldn't put down the GIMP. At this point it is a replacement for photoshop for the home user. It might not satisfy pros like you, but it does everything a home user would want it to do.

I believe almost all the apps you list are covered in my list of Linux equivalents in the above post. You should really take the time to explore the Linux apps out there. You don't state the functions of the apps you list, so I'm no sure exactly what they do. But from what I can tell, Linux does have mature replacemnts for all. They appear to be all point-and-click desktop functions such as CD burning, calenders, syncing etc. All of these have their equivalents in the KDE Linux desktop.

Someone above mentioned consumer level video editing. This exists in Linux as well. Check out Cinelerra.

Again, Linux has mature replacements for all important applications. So a statement like this just isn't true:

The gap between Linux and everything else is pretty shocking when you really think about it.

Jeff, you should explore Linux -- both it and the Apple OS share the same codebase -- Unix. You might find something you like.


It's an interesting time because it is now clear that MS is vulnerable. Linux more than Apple is causing this shift (thanks to a lot of open source developers and IBM's support).

MS still has a strong hold in the business world, but it's declining, thanks to Linux. In the consumer market "Bubba & Emmy Lou" go into Best Buy or CompUSA (or online to Dell) for a computer and they generally only see boxes with Windows installed. Even in CompUSA the Apple Section is hidden in the back corner.

Linux, and to a small degree Apple, will eat into the business section. Apple will grow in both the business sections because of the higher visibility it now has thanks to iPods (of all things) and Tiger. The ability of Linux to increase market share in the home, however, will be based on the ability to deliver a consumer level computer that is as easy & safe to use as a Mac - that should be the target. I believe that, at some point in the future, Linux will reach this target and also that China will play a part, especially when they flood the market with Linux computers that make Dell look expensive. You'll know when that happens as MS will deliver a Linux version of Office.

As for me, I'll stick with Macs. I'm too old to learn another OS and old memories of Windows are (fortunately) fading away.


Sorry for repeating myself, but for most USERS...those who think kernels are found on cobs and stacks are in libraries. Arcane details about fixes and distinctions -- so beloved and fervently debated by the cognoscenti -- are alien to their underlying desire. They don't want patches and tweaks...they just want the damn things to work and help them with their real life tasks.


I totally agree with the Mac89 = Mac95. As an owner of three macs previous to my current Powerbook, all of which ran the current OS's of that time, they all seemed very much the same.

I would also say that Apple's reputation has been on the rise lately on other software/hardware. Apart from the iPod, which of course has been a HUGE boost not only for Apple's shareholders, marketshare, and reputation, but for the overall image of the brand.

Please excuse the shameless plug for my blog above. As their resident tech guru, I track many blogs...Dan's is one of the best out there. Here's to my appreciation.

Jeff Harrell

Simon, I'm sorry, but if you think Gimp can do what Photoshop does, then you must not know very much about what Photoshop does.

But let's not focus on that. Let's run down the list again.

1. What's the Linux equivalent of iCal? It has to support calendar sharing via the Internet, and integrate with an address book utility.

2. Where's the video- and audio-communication tool for Linux that can replace iChat?

3. Where's the system-wide address book utility? It has to support vCard input and LDAP servers, and it has to work seamlessly with my mail, chat and calendar programs.

3a. I've never heard of anything like a sync solution for Linux. Here's how it works: Every so often (I have it set to do it daily) my computer syncs my address book and calendar with my mobile phone over Bluetooth, entirely without my involvement.

4. NetNewsWire is a feed reader. It includes smart feeds so I can group feed data by content, and it allows me to automatically download podcasts into iTunes for syncing to my iPod.

5. MarsEdit is my blog-posting application.

6. Everybody knows what iTunes is. The only equivalent on Windows is iTunes for Windows. There is, as far as I know, no equivalent on Linux.

7. iPhoto is for organizing and storing photos. When I plug a camera in, the contents are automatically downloaded to iPhoto and put in a set called a "film roll." I can use the roll as a contact sheet to select and annotate pictures, which store themselves in smart albums.

8. We've covered this one already.

9. InDesign is a document-creation application. If you know what QuarkXPress is, it's like QuarkXPress, only it doesn't suck.

10. InCopy is a writer's tool. It's kind of like a word processor, only without all the formatting nonsense. It outputs XML and a format that can be placed directly into InDesign.

11. iMovie is a video editing tool. It works with all kinds of compressed video, from stuff for mobile phones to HDTV, because it's based on QuickTime. Cinelerra isn't in the same world, because it's bewilderingly hard to use. It might compare to Final Cut Express, were it not for the fact that it lacks basic features that Final Cut Express users take for granted. (Yes, guys, DVE is a pretty important tool.)

12. iDVD is a DVD-authoring tool.

13. QuickTime Player Pro is a movie encoder that supports any codec with a QuickTime component, which is every useful codec in the world.

Not only are there no Linux equivalents for these tools; there aren't even Linux approximations for most of them.

And I'm sorry, Simon, but although Mac OS X evolved from Unix, it's got about as much in common with Unix as Windows XP has with VMS. I would sooner chew off my arm than go back to the Bad Old Days of Unix, and that's coming from a former SGI consultant who used an IRIX workstation every day for five years between 1997 and 2002.

I find it interesting that so many Linux adherents have immersed themselves so deeply in that culture that they've completely lost sight of the actual current state of the art. They're not shocked by the gap between Linux and the Mac because they're not even aware of it. I find that very interesting.

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