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Re: [vox] Survey: What do YOU use Linux for?
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Re: [vox] Survey: What do YOU use Linux for?

On Wed, Jul 06, 2005 at 12:37:44PM -0700, Norm Matloff wrote:
> On Wed, Jul 06, 2005 at 12:17:23PM -0700, Bill Kendrick wrote:
> > There's a demo this Sunday at the Davis Food Co-Op, and I thought it'd be
> > neat to have a list of "things LUGOD members use Linux for" available
> > for when people ask.
> FWIW, I believe that such a list would be counterproductive for those of
> us (this possibly may not include some people reading this message) who
> would like to promote Linux as a general-purpose OS.  Such a list would
> imply (even with a disclaimer to the contrary) that Linux is only useful
> for special-purpose apps.

I disagree. I believe the intended purpose of such a list is probably to
bring to light many of the uses which would not spring readily to one's
mind or may not have occurred to some people, and that such an intention
could easily be filled.

> To give an example of the mentality we're fighting:  I am often asked to
> address groups of high school seniors and their parents concerning our
> CS program here at UCD.  I always mention that UCD and most other
> PhD-granting universities use Unix (these days, typically Linux) as
> their main platform.  The way I introduce that point is to have a
> sequence of slide overlays in my presentation that says, "Guess
> what...This isn't Powerpoint...We use Linux."  That remark is always
> well-received, and a surprising number of the high school kids actually
> turn out to know about Linux.  They know about the different distros,
> etc.  One of them recently reacted to the slide by saying, "Ah, if it's
> not Powerpoint, it must be OpenOffice."  (It's actually Prosper, a
> slide-making package for LaTeX.  See my mini-tutorial at
> http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/~matloff/prosper.html) 
> But often they just don't get it.  One parent once said, "Is it true
> that there is software that allows you to use Windows apps under Linux,
> so that you can run Linux but still use those Windows apps?" I had to
> patiently explain, "Yes, but I'm not interested in using Windows apps.
> I do ALL of my computer work--word processing, e-mail, programming, Web
> work, etc.--using open source tools on Linux."

I don't feel that you have succeeded in describing a mentality that
backs up your assertion above (that a list of Linux uses would be viewed
as restrictive). More than that, I don't believe that the question you
used as an illustration in the paragraph immediately above indicates
someone who "just doesn't get it". Like it or not, there are very valid
reasons why one should wish to run Windows apps under Linux (or to run
Windows alongside Linux). These include:

  - OpenOffice compatibility with MS products is still abysmal in many
respects, and like it or not, many people currently have no real choice
as to whether they care about MS compatibility.

  - There are solid applications in the MS world which have no real, and
accessible OSS alternative. Flash comes immediately to mind; and I would
also include FrameMaker (TeX, along with my own deep love/hate
relationship with it, aside).

  - For PC gaming addicts like me, there is no room for debate.

> I then explain what I
> consider to be the advantages of open source tools:
>   * they free
>   * they often have better documentation

I am surprised at this one: except for the most polished packages, my
experience has often been the opposite. Also note that, while in many
cases, technical reference documentation is provided, it is frequently
incomplete; and the very important novice-user-oriented documentation is
often non-existant. From most Windows users' POV, I don't think the case
that "they often have better documentation" can be made.

>   * there is a friendlier user community to which one can turn for help

I'm also unsure about this one. Some of them are quite friendly; many of
them are not. There is no shortage of forums which the uninitiated would
tend to find unwelcoming. 

There frequently tends to be friendly user communities for
Windows-oriented applications as well, so I'm not sure you can claim
this one as a win for us.

>   * even though they are typically not as flashy as commercial Windows
>     apps in terms of GUIs, they are often more powerful

This one I agree with absolutely. However, the flip of the coin is that,
because their GUIs are frequently not well-designed, there is usually a
very steep learning curve. As a hacker, that's sometimes actually a plus
for me (lust for learning); but for most folks it's a major setback.

BTW, I've never believed that just because something has an accessible,
easy-to-learn GUI does not mean that you must sacrifice power: it is
simply that most app designers do so.

>   * they are generally not subject to the coerced-update situation that
>     Microsoft puts people in

Amen! Microsoft sucks.
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