A quote by jwz, from the Unix haters handbook.

Linux works well, if you understand how it works. If you don't understand how it works, you have to hit the documentation until you do. If you want to do something complex, you can read the documentation for a really long time before you can do something you thought ought to be simple (like configuring PPP, for example).

A great way to burn your weekends, if you're a geek.

There is, certainly, a minimum level of time and effort you must spend in order to do any thing well. It is my belief that, in all cases in this human world, people end up spending far and away more than this minimum, and the problem is especially bad when it comes to learning how to use computers and their software. This is one way in which the designers of computer software have, so far, failed humanity as a whole, in that their work has not been made more accessible to more people.

UNIX is a perfect tool for computer engineers. It is also great for many other uses. I have considerable fondness for Linux, and hope to switch to it completely as soon as my favorite programs get Linux versions. However, my father sees things differently. He has a busy life, he works a 9-to-5 job while I am a lazy college student, and his free time is important to him. He also has a low tolerance for frustration. He is not a lazy or stupid person, but I tell you, if I had to teach him how to use the tools people are expected to use to set up even a relatively user friendly Linux distribution... it would be impossible, let's leave it at that. Hell, he even has trouble with Windows, to the extent that he took a class on it at a community college. He can do some things which are simple by comparison, or rather, have been made simple. He can search for MP3s because Napster is comprehensible to him. He can do his checkbook because Microsoft Money is understandable to him. (He doesn't understand I can't help him much, because I don't use MS Money. To him, "knowing about computers" means knowing everything about computers. How much could there be to understand?)

I'm not saying that all software is as simple as Napster or Money, but most of the stuff that most people need to use in their every day life is not yet easily accessible under UNIX and UNIX-like OSes. I do feel that the problem is not insurmountable, and I see that Linux itself even has some user-friendliness bonuses over Windows. (Oh, how many times I've wished Win98 had a good packaging and maintenance system like RPM or DEB! If only Windows Update worked like MandrakeUpdate! If you could upgrade with something like apt!)

While I am ripping on Linux and friends, a little, I am not trying to defend Microsoft. I think they are as guilty as anyone, maybe even more guilty than the UNIX guys for imposing so many stupid limitations on users because they didn't want to write good software (how long did we have to suffer with 8.3 filenames?) and because it suited the company (like all the obvious features – and sometimes bug fixes – that should be in a program that aren't because otherwise no one would buy the next, advanced, NT, "professional," or "server" version). I do not believe that computer software will ever evolve into its great potential until it mostly becomes open source or of similar status, thus freeing it from the predatory behavior of companies which care more about manipulating the marketplace through proprietary standards rather than making a good tool that many people can use, and until designers, and society as a whole, have come to unlearn their narrow, limiting perspectives on what a program is. (Do not ask me what those might be – I claim no special insight there, for I am affected, too. But the fact that one guy went and wrote a thing like Napster without a great deal of trouble, when the rest of the world continued on blind until shown how, that indicates, to me, that we have had our visions narrowed.)

And yeah, I scrawled this out because I read a writeup, thought black thoughts to myself, then blurted out a response. I think more essays are written like this than most would admit.

I do voluntary tech support for a small community network in Manchester, UK. We have about 100 flats wired together with cat 5 ethernet cable. Many of our users are recent entrants into the IT world, and have cheap, old computers running Windows 95 and 98.

We run the servers on Linux, and we have a few Linux users on the network, too.

My point is a simple one. Windows breaks down more often, has to be re-installed more often, and just basically sucks up more time than Linux. Once installed, and set running, the Linux machines generally stay that way (the last time I had a support issue was over 6 months ago, when one of our Linux-using netizens accidentally moved /usr into /tmp, then couldn't work out what he'd done.)

Support issues with Windows machines are many, varied, often take hours of my time, and arrive in a continuous stream.

My own machine runs Linux exclusively, and the last time I did any serious maintenance on it was over two years ago. It just sits there and works.

In short, the claim that Linux takes more of your time than Windows, over the life of a machine, is just bogus.

You don't have to understand how it works. You have to understand the philosophy behind it. It's the "everything is a file" Unix philosophy, and it's ages old (in computer time, of course).You can have a similar experience just by instaling the Cygnus suite on your Windows machine or something similar to it. You can do wonderful things with something like that, that are very hard to do on a Windows machine or a Mac. And of course, there are many things that become harder to do. But if you don't understand the philosophy behind it, knowing what makes it tick won't help. No amount of time and effort will compensate that.

I wrote my dissertation with LaTeX 6 years ago and it was a joy. All my colleagues used Word and it was a painful experience for all of them (some lost tens of pages at a time). I'm pretty sure that none of them would have benefited from switching over, even if they were graduating in CS, because none of them got the point about it. Not for being stupid, but because they had a different mindset and couldn't grasp the simple concepts behind it, and the best solution was to stick with what they were used to. As for UNIX being a perfect tool for computer enginners, I must disagree. It's the other way around. If you're a computer enginner and you don't grok UNIX, you either are into low level/embedded systems or you choose your career wrong.

I don't say that you "must" have to work on UNIX as a computer engineer, I say you need to have a certain level of proficiency with it. You never know when you need it. And it's frequently better paid than MCSE.

Linux is free only if your time has no value
Linux is free only    your time has no value
              only         time has no value
Linux is      only    your time
         free              time has no value
Linux                           has no value
                      your time
      is
         free

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