I failed the Linux Community

Last night I’m afraid to say I failed the LINUX community.

My wife’s Aunty and Uncle came up from Glasgow to Aberdeenshire to visit my mother in law for a few nights and en route stayed at our house for a meal.

After the meal my wife’s Uncle asked whether he could use our PC to check his emails etc. My wife asked my son to give the Uncle his laptop to use which is running Windows 7 but I saw the instant opportunity to demonstrate the power of LINUX by letting him loose on my laptop running Mageia 2.

Now the reason I am running Mageia 2 is that I had an unfortunate incident last weekend whilst playing with the partitions on my laptop whereby I accidentally destroyed the version of Zorin I was running previously. This however was not I thought an issue because I had set up Mageia meticulously with the KDE 4 plasma desktop and I think it looks really impressive. I have even installed Compiz to add some whizzy effects. Add to this the Chromium browser and you would think you have a really good setup to demonstrate to a non Linux user.

Why did it all go so wrong?

What I initially failed to appreciate is that in Central Glasgow they have pretty decent broadband all the time running at around 8mb. Here in Aberdeenshire they have only just discovered colour television so our home broadband speed with Orange is under 2mb. I normally counteract this by using the 3 mobile broadband which can at times give you around 7mb but occasionally in bad weather and peak times it drops to about 2mb.

For those of you unaware of this fact the weather in Scotland has been shockingly dull and dreary for the past month and there is a lot of fog in our area. I don’t know if that affects mobile broadband signals but needless to say the 3 mobile broadband last night was running at around 2mb.

Instantly my wife’s uncle’s first response was “I don’t know if the laptop is old or it is the software but the internet is very slow compared to my Macbook”. When he said this a few things went through my head including “you stupid  [insert expletive here] Apple fanboy” and “blast you Three mobile broadband”. The problem was not the laptop at all. The laptop was responding perfectly fine to every request but it can do nothing at all about the broadband signal.

The second reason why my demonstration failed was because of Chromium. The uncle is an Apple user. He is used to Safari. When there was an address in the toolbar he could not work out how to clear the address to type in a new one and so frequently placed the cursor at the end of the address bar and pressed the backspace key. I explained that you can just press CTRL and A to select the whole address and just press the delete key at which point he said “It is much easier in Safari”. I fail to see what is so difficult in pressing CTRL and A and then the delete key.

My wife’s uncle is a professional artist (Which goes someway to explaining his love of everything Apple) and he was demonstrating his work to me. Unfortunately the third thing went wrong at this point. One of the files he wanted to show me was a flash video and unfortunately due to the reinstall last weekend I had not got to the point of reinstalling Flash. Doh!!!

Compiz to the rescue

The one thing the Uncle did really like was the little effects Compiz gave when closing windows and navigating around web pages. Frequently he said things like “wow that is weird” and “that is really amazing”. All this goes to prove is that it doesn’t really matter to an Apple fanboy how good something is as long as it looks amazing. (I’ll await the flames in the comment area for that statement).


I tried to demonstrate the power of LINUX to a non LINUX user and I failed. I failed because I failed to appreciate that normal users do not care what is to blame for the internet going slowly. As far as they are concerned it is the machine they are using that is to blame.

I failed to appreciate that even Chromium can be tricky to get used to even though I use it daily without any issues.

Finally I failed to set up my laptop properly in the first place to play Flash videos.


  1. Flash, may Adobe burn in heck forever, really is pivotal.

    And not installing Flash before showing off the install is, in my opinion, the only thing that "you did wrong". And even that is not wrong, you didn't know ahead of time you would be using this laptop as a demonstrator.

  2. Nothing to see here. Basically the only thing you failed to install is clunky, slow, unsecured,and out of date flash. I never hated flash but for whatever reason companies are weaning their products off of it. Its not going to disappear but it will be rather rare in anything new. Being able to highlight / delete is not that "complicated"

  3. The failure was indeed not the hardware. Even if you take weather and unfamiliarity out of the equation Linux is not for the non-technical. No-matter how many try to shoehorn it into that category with easy-to-use.

    The irony here is that had Your Uncle been already familiar with Chrome, and the weather been good, this stumbling block would likely have been mitigated, but simply stumble into one of the many other irregularities of Linux later down the line. Remember there's no such thing as Linux as an OS.

    People who barely grasp what an 'On' button is, and loosely know the difference between a hand written letter and email, who don't care, nor posses the prowess to understand even the basic differences in one OS to another will be your hardest target to win-over.

    A better tactic is to win a select few over slowly, start with people that have a brain. Give them FireFox, Libre-Office etc. Once people see that Linux is a viable alternative, the transition is much easier. However they will ultimately have to be able to perform some basic tasks outside the comfort of Windows and Apple.

    Also, you can't show the Power of Linux in a web Browser, even if you succeeded, how would your Uncle differentiate between Linux Power and Apple? There's nothing one can do over the other in this regard. Indeed Apple's latest offering being based on a flavour of Unix still has much 'power.'

    The only places Linux wins in the desktop market is Price, and Philosophy. We Linux geeks know and embrace them. If a discussion and full understanding of both of those simple points goes sour before a practical demonstration, you'll lose.

    • Hmmm, whenever I see someone knew to computers, they generally seem really confused no matter what OS they're using. To me, windows never felt natural, it was simply all I knew so I thought there was no other way than to get used to it. It could have been any OS, really..

    • If my non-technical Mother is any indication, Linux based systems are perfectly ready to be used by the non-technical.

      However, she gave me her list of requirements first, I then made sure that those requirements were met before handing her the system.

      That same demonstration above with Windows would have failed, if Flash had not been installed first. Is that the fault of Windows?

    • I installed Ubuntu on my non-technical dads PC and he's had far fewer problems with it than he had with Windows. The problem highlighted here is not that Linux was in inadequate or that the blogger failed in any way. It's simply that his wife's uncle as a Mac user was unfamiliar with a different GUI. Which is a source of frustration virtually every computer user has found thenselves in when installing new software, switching to a new OS or upgrading an OS.

      Many Linux users were furious when KDE 4.x was released because it was different and unfamiliar. The same thing happened when Gnome Shell was released. And it happened when Canonical switched Ubuntu to Unity.

      The same thing will happen again to Windows users when they upgrade to Windows 8. Does this mean Windows 8 is not to be used by non-technical people? Or does it mean people simply need time to adjust to new working environments?

    • That can be said of windows too. I fix my families computers when they screw them up, which they always do. Why do you have 5 tool bars on your browser? "Gee, we don't know where they come from."

      Yes, sometimes it takes someone to set thing up and fix them, but from there the average user is okay. Really they can be better off with Linux, if they don't understand the dangers or viruses and adware. I recommend Zorin for those people.

  4. Right…like using Windows or Apple is without its issues. Please give it a rest. You could have demonstrated Windows and experienced a BSOD. Then what???

  5. The problem is what os someone becomes comfortable with first! Here, most schools teach windows, therefore more kids are using windows. If schools would teach, windows, Linux and Mac side by side we would probably have many more Linux users. Most people I demonstrate Linux to are very impressed but are still too intimidated to use it, and are unwilling to spend any time learning it.

  6. Demonstrating Linux to an professional artists that already use Apple. I think you would have better luck convincing the Pope that atheism was the future.

  7. "Demonstrating Linux to an professional artists that already use Apple. I think you would have better luck convincing the Pope that atheism was the future."

    I agree. What's in Linux for the artist? As if they're going to choose GIMP over Photoshop! Don't get me wrong, I love GIMP, but it's still behind Photoshop by a long shot. Not to mention Photoshop (and Apple) is the industry standard for artists.

    Next time try someone a little easier. Preferably someone that uses their OS for little more than entertainment (except gaming).

    • In what manner can not Photoshop be beat? I know the available plugins is awesome, but the standard app is not that great. Or is it? Habit… that is unbeatable ofcourse, but what does the other software suites lack and have to do to be "as good as" in your mind? I can do everything i can do in photoshop cs4 on the 11 year old BeOS 5.0.1, with the "refraction" suite. Ok without the plugins it might be a bit slower, but a good artist takes the longest in planning not executing.

  8. My thoughts by paragraphs.

    1.8mbit is not broadband anymore in most of the western world, and especially not in mainland europe or korea.
    2.The weather is never bad in scotland, it is just about perfect or "just a little bit wet"
    3.Chromium does not stack up well after you have a real gecko browser up and running to compare with.
    4.Professional designer still using flash? He/She will be an developer without a job very soon.
    5.So your audience liked "bling bling" like all apple users do.. What a shocker! =O

    Show them the power of CLI and how much faster an operation can be done that takes an enormous amount of clicks with the mouse.
    Then say, do apple or microsoft give you those options, even though they have cli (of sorts in ms case with cmd emulation)

    Another thing that impresses non-x11 users is usually when you use a proper tiling window manger properly. Mostly they just look at you in awe, and think you can hack their bank.. =P

  9. I guess I'm lucky. Here, internet connection are about 512 kb at best, so whenever I show people to Linux, they never complain about internet speed, simply because their Windows box can't perform better on internet connection.

    • I recently became appalled when my cable internet provider's "introductory price" expired and the cost per month doubled. So I called and downgraded my service, so I was paying only $15 more each month than before.

      Obviously they hate that, so it has never come close to what they advertise for their downgraded rate. I think they're punishing me.

  10. You failed because he already has something that does the job for him and he probably doesn't give a rats ass about your omg cubez!!1 So, don't bother him again.

  11. Look on the bright side! I would say you only failed your uncle, not the entire Linux community. He will have to continue computing within the limitations of Apple's world. Others have already noted that a professional artist who is accustomed to Apple is a very hard sell, and I imagine he's happy in the walled garden.

    My understanding is that when you click in the address bar in ANY Linux browser you must do Crtl-A to select the old content and then Del to delete it. In Windows (and I assume in Mac), ANY browser will automatically select the entire contents of the address bar when you click in it. I regularly use both Linux and Windows and I have always found that both Firefox and Chromium have one behavior in Linux and the other in Windows. I demonstrated Linux to a friend quite a few years ago, and he was unhappy about the need to select the contents in the address bar. So I have paid attention to this quirk for a long time. My impression is that's it's a difference in Linux, not in how browsers are designed for Linux. Similarly, the "Cancel" and "OK" choices in many dialog boxes are usually in the opposite left-right order in Linux from Windows, and a lot of new users don't like that either.

  12. I think the main mistake you made was to assume that you wife's ubcle is as IT literate as you are.

    My in-laws are both Mac users but when they visit and ask to use a computer, I put them in front of my spare laptop. It's running OpenSuse, Gnome 3 and uses firefox as the browser. They're not doing anything clever (just checking email and a bit of surfing) but have no problem finding their way around the system with no intervention from me.

    My point, therefore, is that before you start trying to show off the power and flexibility of Linux to a new user, you first need to ensure that the setup you have will do everything faultlessly that a new, non-technical user wants to do.

    Obviously, that doesn't help with your broadband woes – but plenty of people have encountered ISP issues and explaining where that specific problem lies shouldn't be too hard.

  13. You haven't failed anyone. Similar things have happened to me in my own family. Generally, if a user wants to get away from Windows or a Mac and knows up front that they will have to put up with a learning curve then Linux can work for them. If they have no motivation to get off Windows or Mac, if they like what they have, this is a preordained fail. Nothing you might have done would have made them think Linux is a choice for them.

    Once you get someone to try Linux if they stick with it for a few months they generally wonder how they ever managed with something else. This seems to mainly be true for Windows users. The ones who decide Linux is garbage, or at least not for them, are the ones who give up quickly. In the situation described by the author there was no interest in learning something new so of course they gave up right away.

    I really don't see how you could have succeeded.

  14. I noticed you mentioned that you installed chromium but forgot to install Flash. If you would have installed Google Chrome (official download) then it includes the latest version of Flash and thus you don't have to worry about installing a separate plugin.

  15. Clearing the address bar in Chrome on KDE is the same in Safari according to ehow – right click, select all and hit del, back or an alphanumeric key.

    On the comment that "Linux is not for the non-technical"… That's a common but unfortunate belief. Because what exactly is it that require more tech skills with Linux than with Windows? Does KDE take more tech skills? In fact, KDE has sometimes been accused of looking a little too much like Windows. Is the commandline easier in Windows? Is the install procedure? Or is it just a relic?

    Linux has not made it to the desktop of the masses yet because OEMs do not offer it. You can't buy a PC with Linux preinstalled. It doesn't exist. And why install Linux on the PC at home now that it works pretty well without it? And if you could buy without Windows preinstalled it might just not be enough less to make it worthwhile because the Windows license is probably not that much to the OEMs. And all the bloatware pays part of it.

    The only way Linux will get into the home of the masses is by trojan horse. That's how Windows got in. For Linux it’ll just be a mule: the Chromebook. And only if desktops are not out of fashion in favor of tablets by the time it's grown up. Besides, Linux already runs all Android devices but from out of sight under the java app and UI layer on top.

    There is one area where Linux doesn't work as well as Windows: gaming. Because of the overhead involved with separate X server, client and window manager process. Similar to how Windows NT started out before its graphics was moved into the kernel to avoid the overhead. But there are ongoing efforts (wayland) to improve on this.

  16. Apple is at war with Adobe over Flash, and some Apple devices do not run Flash either, so I don't think there is any failure there. MasUsers are used to that.
    Fear not, the seed has been planted. Sometime in the next 5-6 years the target individual will be using Linux, probably on a device that Apple is not yet in the market with (such as a 7-inch tablet, etc), or on his Mac hardware when Apple stops supporting it after a few years.

  17. Hey look don't be so hard on your self! Next time you can try using OPERA web browser and use the "turbo feature". Here are some quotes from "www.opera.com/browser/turbo/"about there turbo feature that may help enplane.
    "Great speed wherever you go"

    You cannot always get fast web access. Perhaps you have to connect with Wi-Fi in a busy cafe or use a laptop connected to a mobile phone.

    In these situations, surfing the Web can be frustratingly slow. That is why the Opera browser includes the unique Opera Turbo mode that can load webpages up to FIVE TIMES faster than other browsers.
    "No privacy worries"

    Even while using Opera Turbo, secured connections do not go through Opera's servers. This means that when you are using your bank or transmitting sensitive data, you are talking directly with the website. "Like when on Face book"

    "How we squeeze out all that speed"

    When Opera Turbo is enabled, webpages are compressed via Opera's servers so that they use much less data than the originals. This means that there is less to download, so you can see your webpages more quickly.

    Enabling Opera Turbo is as simple as clicking the Opera Turbo icon at the bottom-left of the Opera browser window. When you are on a fast connection again and Opera Turbo is not needed, the Opera browser will automatically disable it.

  18. When I wrote this article it was intended as a small story/conversational type piece.

    I don't really feel like I have failed the community. This article was written to show just what can happen when demonstrating something to someone. It doesn't always have the desired effects.

    Thankyou everyone for your comments on this subject.

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