Everybody has a list of reasons to use Linux; I have my own, more or less, spread out over the length and breadth of this blog. Still, aside from the misinformation spewed forth by Redmond, I believe there are “wrong” reasons to use Linux. Which is to say, I think there are things that attract people to trying Linux, but I would not use as a selling point. Up front though, I should say that whatever draws you to Linux is your business, and not my concern at all.
- Compiz. You might read that and feel like you just got hit in the face with a glass of cold water. After all, Compiz is way cool. It’s smooth, clever, innovative, years ahead of the competition and best of all, free-as-in-beer. What’s to dislike?
I don’t dispute any of that. I also think it’s cool and smooth, and even cooler and smoother because you can get a vastly superior desktop experience on hardware so outdated, Vista’s requirements are suddenly a joke. I mean, I even tried to run it on an ancient GeForce2 card with only 16Mb of memory once, and got somewhere near an end result.
No, my concern is simple — Compiz is flair. It’s shiny-glossy-pretty, but doesn’t necessarily make using a computer any more successful. And for as many people as I have seen scrap Linux because they couldn’t get Compiz working … well, again, I just think that’s the wrong reason to switch.
I would much prefer people moved to Linux because they can pick up a window manager that allows them to rearrange and organize multiple desktops and wallpapers by theme, or even better, because they have a need for a desktop that’s lighter and faster than anything Microsoft or Apple sells now.
- Speed. I’m going to split hairs here, and make a few distinctions. It is, after all, a little ironic that I would call out Linux on speed while writing a post on a blog dedicated to eking out the last smidgin of speed from outdated hardware.
And it’s true, yes, that Linux machines can run faster and speedier and more efficiently than most other operating systems. Unfortunately that requires a degree of experience to achieve, and the average first-run-in with Linux is more likely to be with heavier, bulkier distributions.
And judging by the occasional thread on the Ubuntu Forums or the Arch Forums, the speed of the included software is sometimes suspect. Firefox in Linux is regularly lambasted for being a sludge, when an identical system with Windows XP is generally snappier. Who’s at fault? Beats me.
But that’s where I’m coming from when I say speed isn’t a good enough reason to use Linux. Distros like Ubuntu or Fedora and so forth are great introductions, but come with weight problems that don’t reinforce speed as a selling point. Over time and with the right software selections, it’s always possible to carve a system down to a true speed demon. But that usually requires a measure of experience and curiosity, and I think most Linux newcomers might lack one or the other.
- Gaming. A year or so ago, I coached a World of Warcraft player through an Ubuntu-plus-Wine installation, which was a particularly hairy experience. In the end it worked, but not to the satisfaction of the player. Frame rates were lower than a native Windows system, the game felt laggy, and effects didn’t show like they “should have.” As you might imagine, within a week or so, Ubuntu was gone and Windows was back on, and to the best of my knowledge, it will probably never be back.
I think it’s important not to hold out Linux as a solution to Windows gamers who want to get away from Microsoft. But notice that I said solution there. As an option I think it’s fine. But holding out Ubuntu or another distribution as a platform for Wine as a solution to running Windows Game X … is a mistake in my opinion. Invariably the experience falls short of what people want, and if they are gamers already, they’re unlikely to be willing to suffer any performance hit whatsoever, just to assuage their conscience on some other tertiary issue, like licensing.
On the other hand, I heartily endorse Linux as a gaming platform for Linux games — that should go without saying. If you can get someone hooked on Neverwinter Nights or Tremulous or Warzone 2100, that’s a fantastic reason to keep a Linux machine in the house. But trying to shoehorn Linux into a machine and expect a hardcore Windows gamer to be happy … well, I’ll just say I’ve never seen it happen.
- Duress. This is probably the worst possible reason I can think of — using Linux because you’re forced to. Even common-sense psychology dictates that forcing someone to use a tool they don’t know or didn’t elect to use is doomed to breed dissatisfaction. Spoon-feeding Linux to an unwilling user is, in my experience, a guaranteed turnoff.
That might sound a bit hypocritical since one of the things I do in my spare time is polish an IceWM knockoff of Windows 2000, but the two ideas are not necessarily mutually exclusive. If ease-in-transition is an issue, it makes sense to create a desktop as similar as possible to what someone already knows. Transition is already a foregone conclusion.
On the other hand, forcing someone to use Linux — or any operating system, really — is stripping out one of the core principles that Linux stands for: freedom. And in this case, freedom to choose includes the freedom to choose Windows or Mac OS or whatever. I would never allow someone to suffer through using Linux if what they really want is something else. It’s just not good business.
(This is where I tip my hat and acknowlege that in a workplace, the rules are changed. If your job requires you use Linux or another operating system, it’s a different story. But it’s also no longer an issue of free choice, so I suppose I can dodge the bullet that way. )
And that’s where I’ll stop. It’s a delicate situation, trying to convince someone to use a different operating system. Linux and its brethren have a huge list of advantages, but pushing the wrong one on the wrong person is going to backfire catastrophically. Evangelize, by all means, but don’t make the wrong sale. You only get one chance to make a first impression.