“there are two things that would make Linux much more attractive. First, a Linux equivalent to InstallShield, one which detects and installs dependencies, allows configuration customizations, shows you what it's going to do, asks your approval, and then lets you know what it's doing as proceeding and gives you usable error messages. “
Done. And fully mature for many years. One of the nice contributions Ubuntu made was to take the .deb repository system and put a friendly face on it with nice graphical tools (Synaptic) to browse and manage software in the appropriate repositories. One or two clicks (select+install) will check all dependencies for the package you selected, retrieve the most current version, download all dependencies, cryptographically verify the software integrity against the repository’s codesigning, install them in proper order, update any associated config files you may have modified in a previous install (with “usable error messages” and choices to reconcile the conflicts), and record the details of the whole process in the APT database so that you can cleanly uninstall anything in any order you choose. The Mint team made an even simpler version (Software Catalog) that “just works” for the end-user; they just click-to-run and the software magically appears.
BTW, this is the same magic that lets me take a bootable USB drive with Mint, and run the entire install process (full OS, office suite, internet, graphics, media+codecs, etc) from bare metal to fully installed in under 6 minutes, and then to bring the whole system fully up to date over a typical home cable connection in another 8-10. The install process is astonishingly dependable, and literally 10-20x faster than Win8. With a modern Debian-based distro, the entire operating system is one big “InstallShield.”
“The second would be a file manager which gives a new user 1) some idea where is an appropriate location to save user files, and 2) some system that shows users what is an executable file, a config file, a library, etc. as easily as a user can tell from the Windows file extensions.”
Done. Also a long time ago. Grab a live iso image from mint’s website, and boot from that image on a USB stick. Documents, music, videos, pictures, downloads are immediately visible in a simple file manager, organized in a simple folder by username. Of course, you can change the file explorer view to “/home/joebob/Documents” instead of “Home>Documents” but the default is the simple view. It’s far simpler than the alias/link mess that is Windows’ “Explorer>Desktop>Libraries>Documents>MyDocuments” and “Explorer>JoeBob>MyDocuments” and “Explorer>Computer>C:\>Users>JoeBob>MyDocuments” all pointing to the same place while visible at the same time (augh!). It is *far* simpler and more usable than Windows 7 or 8.
“The idea of repositories is nice, but having to figure out what to do with the tarball, rpm, whathaveyou, file, wandering about”
You haven’t had to do any of this for years, or someone gave you ancient distributions to try out. Here’s the deal: The point of a Debian repository is to avoid all the “wandering” and automate the entire process you describe. A typical usage scenario is this: You click on “Software Catalog” or “Synaptic” in the start menu. You browse to the “Graphics” software category and click on “GIMP” (Or type “Photoshop” in the search bar, and it links to GIMP with a short blurb about it’s comparison to Photoshop.) When you click “Install” the Synaptic program on your computer looks up the program on its list of online code-signed repositories, finds an up-to-date precompiled version of the software, checks compatibility, downloads it, autoselects and downloads dependent “dll” libraries, places all the files in standard directories, and adds the appropriate menu item on the start menu. And you’re done. You can click the icon on the menu, and run your program.
Now if you’re a hardcore masochist, you CAN manually browse a repository as if it were a web directory, download code, muck about endlessly, and end up with a mess, but you have to work hard to make that mess.
In this regard, I’m much like you. I use Mint because it just works, and I don’t have time to mess around with weird unsigned drivers from vendors that have compatibility issues with various versions of windows The thing that tipped it over for me about 5 years ago was dealing with a document scanner. After many hours of hassle with Windows drivers to a modern supposedly-twain-compliant scanner, I tried it on Ubuntu (now Mint), and was amazed to have a Matrix-like “there is no spoon” moment. I plugged the USB cable in and it just worked. Seriously, it was a no-click install. SimpleScan and SANE and everything else said “oh, you have scanner available now, what would you like to do” Give it a try.