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Microsoft Plays Linux Games at Work 632

squistle writes I am one of the support technicians for Loki Entertainment Software. This afternoon I received a message on my voicemail to call "Nick"--name changed to protect the victim--who was having trouble starting CivCTP for Linux on his Pentium III RedHat 6.0 system. More Below...

When I called him back, he thanked me for my quick response and said that he was new to Linux and wasn't sure if he'd installed the game right. He then said, "This machine is going to used for... well, I'm a Microsoft employee and my group is doing a usability study on Linux."

As it turned out, he had unpacked the tarball (I had to explain what a tarball was) on the CD by double-clicking its package icon in gmc and then double-clicking the install icon that came up. He had absolutely no idea where the game had been installed, and didn't know how to search for it.

At this point I pointed out to him that CivCTP came with a graphical install script, conveniently labeled "install" and placed in the same directory as the tarball. And in fact, in that same directory was a text file labeled "README" that explained how to run the install program.

I had him pull up a terminal window and run `sh install` (since he had a 4.5 GB drive containing only a fresh install of RH6, he wasn't too concerned with finding his previous installation just yet), and as the graphical install smoothly copied the files into their proper place, we chatted amiably.

Me: "So what kind of system are you using for this?"
Him: "It's a... [pause to read label on the case] HP Vectra."
Me: "Umm, what processor does it use?"
Him: "It's a Pentium III, uh... 450 MHz?"
Me: "Yes, PIIIs do come in 450 MHz."

Eventually, the installation finished. I encouraged him to grab the patch from our website, and he thanked me and hung up.

Ordinarily, I am very respectful to newbies. I don't even laugh at them behind their backs--especially if they have been looking through man pages and reference books trying to figure things out. This time I almost peed my pants.

Then the big question dawned on me:

What does it mean when Big Bill gives brand new P-III 450's running Linux to game-playing newbies who don't read reference books, manuals, How-To's or README's for a usability study?

Can you say "viable desktop environment?"

Note from RM: Yes, we verified the story. All parties are real.

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Microsoft Plays Linux Games at Work

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  • Where do I apply for this job? This would be the coolest job even if Bill is signing my paychecks.
  • well, if you think about it...most of MS's products are geared towards people like this person (we may know them as clueless newbies, lusers, etc). so in a way it makes sense to have those same people trying it out. i can see giving them a fast system as an 'incentive' basically, and id be willing to bet they were told to try more than just games. it just so happened that they wanted to try out Civ first...i dont blame them...


    Keyboard not found.
  • Microsoft's doing a usability study on Linux. Okay.

    I'm going to whack anyone who's asking why they're using clueless newbies. Microsoft is doing it for two reasons; one, a clueless newbie is the typical Microsoft customer. Two, a clueless newbie will easily get frustrated and say that Linux sucks, giving Microsoft more FUD ammunition. Both of those points should be obvious.

    Microsoft is loading for bear with this. They're going to put all these total idiots on overpowered machines. They're going to have them use Linux for a few weeks. Then Windows 2000 for a few weeks. Release the 'study' as 'fact' and genuine 'scientific research' in their battle against all unixes.

    Even Linus says Linux isn't ready or meant for the desktop. *sigh* Oh well. More Microsoft FUD on the way.. excuse me while I put on my PR Flak Jacket.

    -RISCy Business | Rabid unix guy, networking guru
  • by Shoeboy ( 16224 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @07:57PM (#1662800) Homepage
    I used work as a contractor on the microsoft campus in redmond. There are a lot of linux boxen there. The interesting thing is that almost all of them are on the desks of contractors. The deal is that those who are depending on MS stock for their retirement refuse to even think about linux, but a lot of the contractors out there are hedging their bets. There were (best guess) around 12 linux boxen in MS building 11 alone. Which is a lot considering the location.
  • by warmi ( 13527 )
    Microsoft is checking out the competition. I don't see anything unusuall here.. standard business practice.
    BTW .. I am pretty sure they will conclude that as a desktop Linux is way behind Windows and therefore there is nothing to worry about.
    And you know what ? They would be right.
    Linux is NOT ready for the market MS owns now and won't be for some time ( and don't forget,it is unlikely that MS will be waiting for them to catch up.)
  • by the_tsi ( 19767 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:05PM (#1662806)
    As charming and witty as those first couple of posts are, this is a BIG deal. (Okay, everyone else will say this, too.)

    While all the gnome, redhat, etc people involved can pat themselves on the back, this does point out some things that are really small that *NEED* to be done... off the top of my head I can think of:

    1. Autorun.
    2. a dummy-fied RPM/DEB/any other kind of package installer/viewer/uninstaller that can be used cross-distribution and cross-version with similar functionality to the dreaded "add/remove programs" control panel
    3. less jargon. :) (While "tarball" is a great term for geeks to use, it certainly isn't an intuitive word. For that matter, neither are many of the other things unixfolk take for granted. "grep" comes to mind real quick.)

    We're getting there. While things may be in a state now where linux+gnome/kde+icewm/enlightenemnt/* may be "mom friendly". It's certainly not friendly to someone who's going to be installing hundreds of programs cluelessly every day -- like your average computer using teenager.

  • Gee... hate to say it, but under Windows.. I drop the CD in the drive and I am done for the most part unless I want to customize my install...
  • by scumdamn ( 82357 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:06PM (#1662809)
    In fact, who do you think MS would hire to study Linux?

    Developers? No way! Once they got a hold of Linux they'd never go back to Windows.

    Marketing types? Would you even try to sell Windows after using Linux?

    Sales? See marketing.

    FUD slingers? Nope. They couldn't even do their job anymore.

    So who else do you hire other than someone expendable? Someone with absolutely no knowledge whatsoever? They'll probably poke his eyes out and sew his mouth shut after they're done with him.
  • You forget. Office apps, virus checkers, norton utilities have computer science majors to install them, either for Dell's seasonal drive image or at XYZ, Inc.

    Games are installed by users. Only.

  • by mschmitt ( 2947 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:15PM (#1662814)
    Two, a clueless newbie will easily get frustrated and say that Linux sucks, giving Microsoft more FUD ammunition

    Id say: Leave a clueless user (tm) who has no idea about this whole computing thingie and whos not even willing to read any sort of documentation alone with a blank harddisk and a W98 install CD and guess what he will achieve? Yeah nothing. Right.

    Windows has nothing to do with intuition, its only got to do with being used to it since years. Anyone whos grown up on Linux, will consider this an "intuitive" install:

    $ tar zxvf tarball.tar.gz
    $ cd tarball
    $ ./configure
    $ make
    $ su -c "make install"

    Get the point?


  • My opinion: M$' "usability study" has probably already looked into stuff like StarOffice (we'll just change the file formats again...then Star Division's "Filter Upgrade" will be another 70mb download"), KDE and Gnome. Linus said that Linux isn't ready for the desktop, but, there are many people that use it every day (like me). I'm not a coder, I don't do any package maintenance, and I'm not really a *nix expert. But, Linux provides me a viable alternative to M$' overpriced software. I think M$ is probably looking across the full scope of Linux usability. The 'last frontier' is SVGA games. How many Linux users do you know who say "I have the WinX partition for games"? I sure as heck do.
  • by odaiwai ( 31983 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:17PM (#1662818) Homepage
    It seems to me that the guy from Microsoft could have just as well been testing various support departments to see how much support you could get.

    He may have been clueless or he may have just been acting that way.

    Many people would just put the cd in the drive and *expect* an auto-install to start. If nothing happens, then they'll double click on some likely looking filenames in gmc/whatever.

    Game installation now is a complete no-brainer compared to the bad old days when you had to run install programs from dos, make custom boot disks, maybe find a working video driver, yadda, yadda.

    Win9[58] as a gaming environment is pretty good - most of the time you don't have to worry about stuff.

    As for the 'newbie' not knowing what his pc is: chances are he was given a blank pc and a stack of CDs and told to install them and see how easy it is and if the platform is sensible for a *real* newbie, i.e. the 'foot pedal, cup-holder and monitor-stand' brigade.

  • by IntlHarvester ( 11985 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:20PM (#1662819) Journal
    I know the instinct is to jump on the anti-FUD ramparts as soon as reports like this come out.

    But take a deep breath. Microsoft is in the operating system business. I'm sure they've got legions of people doing "usablity studies" on MacOS 9, BeOS, OS/2 5, Solaris 7 and so on. Eventually reports get written, MS finds a few new features to steal, some contractors get easy money and everyone is happy.

    Also, don't forget these guys are paranoid as hell. Why should they believe either Linus or the trade press when they say "Linux is not ready for the desktop", when they can afford their own usablity lab to make that determination for them.
  • Just in response to the first thing wrt an autorun type thingie... magicdev (located in gnome CVS) does just this. It supports the running of an autorun file on the CD (though I'm not sure what the file needs to be called) as well as autoplaying of music cds.

    Jeremy Katz
  • You shouldn't apologize -- but consider this: the autoinstall, like all Microsoft software, has the ability to blow away anything and everything. If you're lucky, it'll just be a DLL or two that you have sitting around on another disk somewhere; if you aren't it'll be a dodgy entry in the Registry that forces a reinstall.

    People should know and never forget that EVERY SINGLE TIME security and/or stability collide with simplicity and slickness Microsoft opts for the latter. Yes, that means they get "cool stuff" like Autorun. They also get DLL hell and corrupted Registry information.

    If you want to compare Linux's ease of use with Microsoft Windows' ease of use, you would have to have a Linux setup in which every user was UID 0, because that's the fair comparison: the guy in front of the terminal can do _anything_. Many of us find that an unacceptable practice.

  • You know what would be great? To document all the tech calls such as this, so when Micro$oft do release their 'findings', there is an abundance of support issues and follow ups, fully documented and ready for rebuttal in a professional, yet "up ya bum" kinda way.

    It will be, as you said, for a *nix vs. W2k study and there would be nothing better than releasing the rebuttal before the conjured up findings. So...

    All you Linux techies get your facts straight on each of these calls, document them and be prepared for another X vs. M$ fiasco.
  • I don't quite see the relevance of this. Even assuming that the guy on the phone was telling the truth, there's a rather large gulf between some clueless MS contractor playing with CivCTP and to "Bill converting his minions to Linux."

    Furthermore, until you know what group the Linux newbie was from, you'll have a hard time finding the meaning of this (non-)event. And even if you did know, all you could deduce is that some pointy haired manager somewhere got a pawn of his to write him a "report" about Linux.

    In short, if you think this is news, you need your head examined. MS has lots of Linux users on campus, lots of independent groups with their own motivations and interests, lots of competitors and lots of clueless contractors.

    Move along, now.

  • by RickyRay ( 73033 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:28PM (#1662831)
    I agree. While Windows kinda does OK on installs, the only computer that actually does it right is: the Mac. The best installers for the PC still don't match it. It's no wonder it's so popular in schools and such... it's basically zero-admin. I thought it was cool in my school labs how, without doing anything special, they had the machines set up to revert to their correct installed state on each startup, even if a newbie (or a hacker) attempted to break something. Very cool. But yes, I'm a Linux guy (I've been running it since the 0.X.X days, when the best distribution was Slackware!).

    The one thing Microsoft has done right in that regard is the Office2K installer; it sets everyting up for autorepairs (even cooler than the Mandrake self-update, in some regards). We need an installer that's an imitation of it (but better!).

    Off-topic, I know, but only a little bit.
  • by Wah ( 30840 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:31PM (#1662834) Homepage Journal
    Having small programs that do their job well, and can be mixed up with others are the basic philosophy of Unix's.

    Keep 'em. Just associate a new looonngger version (perhaps to give a bit of context) with grammatical (not cryptic) switches.

    Once people learn the long version they can still pick up the short one later.

    The first one to create a very easy Linux will cash in, just watch.

  • Sorry to rain on *your* parade, but GCC can cross compile.

  • I'd be interested to know just how long ago this was. See, several weeks ago, I interviewed for a Summer-Intern Job at Microsoft (in my defense, at 18 years of age that is, however you look at it, good experience and GREAT looking on a resume) and while talking to the recruiter about Linux vs. NT, he mentioned that this past year, they hired a Unix guru who actually started a Linux Special Interests Group at Microsoft, and it has really taken off...
  • Yeah, I like the way that Windows automatically tries to load the program when sometimes it's already loaded. I also like the way the autorun sometimes loads multiple times and effectively locks the machine after a few minutes. Furthermore, I like how the CDRom sometimes just keeps reading and reading and reading and wont stop! These are problems with the autoloader that are part of Windows proper.

    You can think about it this way... the install functions that actually do the install are not really part of Windows proper - but are usually components of a third party program called Install Shield. By the way, there is a version of Install Shield that will run on any operating system that will work with jars and has Java installed; it looks and works great in Linux!

  • I'm not sure games are the best choice to test for usablility sake.

    Yes, they are. Games on Windows are in VERY good shape. Two clicks from CD/Net to action. Most are quite stable. I'm just starting Linux gaming, but already I know it is WAAAY behind. When terms like "Good luck, not for the faint of heart" comes up in the help file, well, it's time to buy more caffeine.

    Thus, an independant study shows, in 1999 Win98 is a far superior gaming platform. The 1999 part will most likely disappear after 2 years or so. Cynical and Microsoft = Effect and Cause.
  • I'd be interested to know just how long ago this was.
    March of 99 was when I left MS. I have no idea what the current situation wrt linux is.
  • by orabidoo ( 9806 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:41PM (#1662845) Homepage
    autorun is an absolute BAD IDEA from a security point of view. running email attachment programs with a single (or double, for that matter) click is also one of the major reasons why Windows is BAD for the newbie user.

    there is this trend to hide the difference between data and programs, but it's absolutely WRONG. all it achieves is to blur the difference in such a way that you can no longer use your computer SAFELY without actively thinking about safety every five minutes. installing or running a program is supposed to take an actual (even if fairly minimal) effort, if only because it can do "very bad things" (tm) to your computer.

  • by robinjo ( 15698 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:41PM (#1662846)

    Wait a minute. Have you ever noticed how elegant the packet managers are in Linux distributions? You can update a lot of software by just giving one simple command. And if you don't like typing, do it with your mouse. There's no need to answer a lot of questions, shut down other programs or reboot.

    I use NT at work and Linux at home. If I update Netscape on both, my RedHat-box does it in notime with a simple command:"rpm -Uvh nets*.rpm". On NT I have to shut down other software, dblclick on the icon, answer a few sets of questions, wait a longer time, reboot the computer and pray that it boots and doesn't give me a BSOD.

    I used to pretty much trust NT until a simple installation of a sound card and it's driver resulted in constant boot-time-BSODs that required a reinstall from scratch.

  • by memoryhole ( 3233 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:44PM (#1662850) Homepage
    FUD? Rigging results? Please. Microsoft may make common practice of that, but that is NOT what's going on here.

    According to the fellow in question, they were performing a "useability" study. That means just that: useability. How easy is Linux for people who are not already accustomed to it to use?

    So, why are they having people do studies on Linux? It's competition, and anyone who wants to compete will take a gander at the competition.

    Why are they using "newbies"? Think about this. What good would it be to do a "useability" study on WordPerfect 3.1 using people who have already memorized all the fkey combos, or who know to look for fkey combos? NONE! Why? These people have already adjusted to the environment, and so any reports they have on how "useable" that environment are are SKEWED. People who don't know to read the manual, and don't know much about linux (or even computers, for that matter) are PERFECT for a true "usability" study. They allow a clearer look at how obvious and easy it is to do what you want to do. The question of useability attempts to answer the question: what do I have to learn in order to use this? Do you have to learn to install software in at least 5-6 steps (gunzip, untar, cd, ./configure, make, make install)? Or are things as easy as clicking a single icon? Do you have to run applications within a terminal, calling them up by exact capitalization, or do you get a big friendly icon automatically? When something goes wrong, how easy is it to fix? How easy is it to get help? This is useable to people who don't already know all the proper commands, aka. born-and-bred Windows users who might want to stop using Windows for some reason. Microsoft wants to know "how easy is it to switch"? Do they have to worry?

    In this case, the answer is a resounding NO. Linux is complicated. Many if not most applications are distributed primarily in source-code format, which requires compiling, which requires installation of all the development libraries and toolkits, which requires keeping up with the most recent versions of these same libraries, which involves visiting ftp sites, which involves knowing about ftp-commands....and if not that, it requires discovery of rpm and it's man page, which requires discovery of man pages (not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when presented with a command prompt for most people), or it requires the discovery of gnorpm (not advertized as much as it is), which requires knowing why you need to be root for some things, but don't want to be for most things. Even just typing "help" provides you with a bewildering list of commands and a fairly cryptic set of symbols describing their use - BUT NOT WHAT THEY DO! (please, is anyone so deluded as to argue that any os that provides "trap [arg] [signal_spec ...] or tr" when you type "help" is immediately useable?) Is the "/usr/bin" directory the first, most obvious place to look for a new game you just installed?

    Suffice to say, to use Linux pretty much at all, you need to know A LOT about how it works, how computers work, how unixes work - some mixture thereof - to get ANYWHERE.

    And why would they want to find out how "useable" Linux is from someone who already knows all about how to use and configure it? They don't. Because that information would be WRONG. At least, it would be in all areas that they care about.

    Yes, it's funny. No, I don't know why. But it's newbies because that's the only kind of "useable" that counts for the mass market. "Useable" means "really fricking obvious" in the mass market. What's obvious to you and me is quite often nowhere near obvious to anyone else. Microsoft may be all about FUD, but that's not what it's doing here...at least, not yet.
  • http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/jargon/html/entry/grep. html

    [from the qed/ed editor idiom g/re/p, where re stands for a regular expression, to
    Globally search for the Regular Expression and Print the lines containing matches to
    it, via Unix grep(1)]
  • In defense of the Microsoft guy (let the flames begin), installing Linux software is pretty messy if you are used to Mac and Windows software. To install a Windows app, all you do is click setup.exe and agree to the EULA. Everything else is done for you. Nobody reads manuals because they consist of crap like "Now let's learn how to use the mouse."

    Linux users, of course, don't have it so easily. You have to deal with downloading libraries, extracting stuff from tarballs, fooling with gcc, and so on. Reading documentation is a necessary part of the Linux culture, and Linux users have accepted the complications as part of the package.

    Unfortunately, we live in a point-and-click, plug-and-play world, and most people have different expectations of what computers should be like. Most computer users are not programmers, and they don't want to learn how to do anything complicated. The doctors and lawyers and teachers and car mechanics and whoever else demand SIMPLICITY, so they can continue to go about their daily lives.

    You can't even expect programmers to part with this "I don't wanna fool it" mentality. I got my first exposure to UNIX in a CS course, and I got my first Linux CD from a CS professor. However, it's possible to go through college, major in CS, and graduate without having touched UNIX at all. I've taken courses at three colleges, and only one of them used UNIX in CS courses.

    I guess my point is that the guy calling tech support represents most of the computer using public and that Windows 95 and the Mac OS set the standard for ease of use. People are beginning to demand that from Linux, and if it can't deliver, it's the fault of the OS, and not the user.

    Take care,


    DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a supporter of Microsoft and am writing this from my Linux workstation.

  • by Dan B. ( 20610 ) <slashdot@brya[ ]om.au ['r.c' in gap]> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:51PM (#1662859)
    It is a very, very easy to install piece of OS. I had no trouble installing it on my dual PPro200 (OC) but do you know how long it took?

    Three whole bloody hours.

    I don't care what you say, even with all the dicking around it does not take that long to install any other OS, Linux included. The fact that W2k asks about one question and then goes "Please wait" is good, but jeez, I reckon they could warn you that you may as well go and watch "The Matrix" while you wait.

    Easy installation is one thing, but trying to detect over a thousand devices over a two hour period is another.
  • by InfiniterX ( 12749 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:52PM (#1662860) Homepage
    Seems to me that this person at MS called the Loki tech support line, and who was on the other end? Someone who (as best as I can tell) courteously and helpfully told the person how to install the software, and had a friendly chat with them while the install was going. If someone calls MS for support, all they'll be talking to is an automated voice prompt, at least until they hand over their charge card number. And I'm pretty sure you can bet that there probably won't be a friendly tech support person on the other end of the line, should you choose to pay for support. Seems like MS should be studying the usability of their own stuff first....
  • although this may seem funny to giggling linuxers, it's not very nice to the newbie who's probably not even a microsoft engineer, but someone hired to test out linux as a newbie.
  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @08:56PM (#1662862) Homepage Journal
    As an ex-Microsoftie, this quote hit me differently.

    Then the big question dawned on me: What does it mean when Big Bill gives brand new P-III 450's running Linux to game-playing newbies who don't read reference books, manuals, How-To's or README's for a usability study? Can you say "viable desktop environment?"

    So, Microsoft's been touted for years for hiring smart cookies. Even with the degradation of its standards and practices, and the complacency of being the largest corporation with an enviable bottom line, it's not easy to walk in and get a Microsoft job.

    I still expect that the guy who called up wasn't an idiot. Sure, hadn't yet looked at the machine that Bill bought him, sure, hadn't used Linux before very much. Isn't that the perfect useability test case ? And given that... how did Linux perform? The out-of-box experience seems to have failed.

    I was on the team when Windows 95 was still called Windows 93, before it even grew the codename Chicago. At that time, the general manager of the desktop Windows Business Unit, Brad Silverberg, coined a mantra of the ideal in useability. He said that his [nontechnical] mother should be able to use Windows. Personally, I think we failed at reaching that ideal, but we made the right evolutionary step from Windows 3.1.

    Now, how well can your mom use Linux?
  • What does this tell us? First of all, Microsoft has already beaten Linux in the newbie market. This clueless Microsoft employee obviously didn't have any trouble using Windows. But Linux isn't at all newbie-friendly. When one considers that the vast majority of computer-users are newbies, the truth becomes painfully clear: Linux won't take over any markets until it's as easy to use as Windows (props to Corel).

    On another note: regarding the kick-arse computer this clueless user had, it's pitiful, but another painful truth is that the newbies, for some reason, always get the best boxen. I'm a developer for Intel (yes, spawn of Satan), and I work on a Pentium Pro 200. Meanwhile, the marketing guy next to me who has to call tech support and pay someone to come out and install his shareware for him, has a PIII-550 with gobs of RAM and a monitor the size of my cubicle wall. Go figure. And you'd think Intel wouldn't have any problem supplying the cool chips to its employees...heh, yeah, right. I'm sure Microsoft is much the same way...

  • This will be doable in Linux very soon. Automounting support is already in place, and tools such as magicdev (Gnome CVS) are coming onto the scene to handle automatically putting an icon on the desktop and optionally running a program in a manner strikingly similar to Win9x's autorun.exe

    I expect once features like this become more common in Linux, game vendors will want to take advantage of them.
  • It's exactly what I would do if I were them and it has nothing to do with FUD. Indeed: "a clueless newbie is the typical Microsoft customer". From MICROS~1's point of view that's just a fact. Their $$ spends just as well as that of a "guru" customer. What do you think they are going to do?

    In this one example they seem to be looking at
    games. A game that can't be installed easily by a 10 year old with 6 months experience pointing and clicking on things is not a market threat to them. That's all they care about. The fact that it's "obvious" to you or me or anyone else how to install it does not matter. That's not the target market.

    Put it this way: Have you ever been asked to do QA on or write docs for code that you've written? For real end users I mean here, not man pages or READMEs or comments in the Makefile. I have and I've seen the results of these attempts many times. IT DOES NOT WORK. you are too close to it. You don't know to explain the parts that the end user will find confusing because it's not confusing to you. You don't know to test a part of the program in a way you didn't think of because... well you didn't think of it.

    Same goes for usability. You bring in the intelligent but ignorant. If they can't make it work it doesn't work - because they are the customers. After your ignorant pawn has done this
    for a while they lose their usefullness because they also know it too well and are too close to it. And LO! a tech support rep is created! Been there, done that. Eventually the smart ones understand it too well and become terrible tech support reps because they can't explain it to the end user in tiny words that they understand.

    MICROS~1, and any other company that actually delivers products to "normal people", understands this early on or they go out of business. This is often a blind spot for OSS advocates but ICROS~1 has always understood it quite well. Technology, Quality, Stability - these may be their blind spot but this isn't.

  • by vectro ( 54263 ) <vectro@pipeline.com> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @09:10PM (#1662873)
    I think that one of the real important features of linux is that it is easy to use. Typing ntsysv is _so_ much easier than going start...setting...control panel...services. The problem is that many confuse "easy to use" with "easy to learn". In my experience, they are generally (but not always) inversely correlated -- the harder something is to learn, the easier it is to do something once you've learned it. Conversely, the easier something is to learn, the longer it takes to accomplish something once you've learned it.

    This is actually an idea that I've stolen from Jurassic Park, but I think that there is a real (and bad!) movement in the US to make everything brain-dead. We try to minimize the amount of knowledge that you need to start doing something, at expense of how well or fast it can be done.

    Oh well, I'm probably the only one who thinks this. :\ I can't wait for someone to jump out and give the "everybody can drive a car" example.
  • Personally, I think this is tasteless to put something like this on Slashdot. I mean, it is bad enough that we bash Microsoft as an entity, but now we have taken to bashing individual employees? Yea, sure, his name was changed, big deal. It just seems profoundly tasteless for a Loki employee to write an article on an incident which amounts to "look how dumb Microsoft employees are". The poor guy, I feel bad for him. Let's hope he doesn't read Slashdot and feel worse about it.
  • by sinator ( 7980 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @09:15PM (#1662876)
    If there was one thing I could tell MS for their feasibility studies:

    Use tcp_wrappers. The security benefits of tcp_wrappers have been proven by Wietse Venema; the rest comes only from my own meandering experience.

    Run /sbin/lilo -U before you replace one linux distribution with another. It helps get rid of the LI... freeze in your MBR.

    If you're going to be paranoid and deny telnet and ftp in favor of SSH, don't send your mail passwords plaintext with POP3.

    Maybe Linux will take over the desktop, maybe it won't. Maybe InstallShield for tarballs will be created; maybe it won't. Either way, your Mindcraft scores are half chance -- and so are everyone else's.

    Be kind to your root partition. You'll miss it when it's gone.

    If you don't know which direction your favorite window manager will go, don't worry. A lot of the greatest programmers I know had no idea what they were doing at version 2.2 ... or even at 4.0.

    Each day, activate a compiler flag that warns you.

    Do not read Slate Magazine -- It will only make you feel ugly.

    Accept certain truths as inevitable: USB support is dodgy, "stable" kernels will crash, and you too will lose your CHANGELOG -- at which point you will fantasize that when you were at version 2.2.x, USB suited your purposes, kernels never crashed, and people read their source code.

    Read your source code. Source code is a form of nostalgia... it lets you pick it up, parse through the comments, and audit it to make better code in the future.

    But trust me on the tcp_wrappers.

    /* thanks to Baz Luhrmann */

  • by coaxial ( 28297 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @09:19PM (#1662879) Homepage
    Those are the words, new users have to learn it. Whenever you start something new, there's a learning curve. New terminology is part of it. UNIX is designed by a fundamentally different philosophy. If you want the M$-suck way, then stick with M$. (I really hate the concept behind fvwm95. The best way I've heard it described is as "methadone for windows users".)

    Hell, even if you replaced "tarball" with "thingy" and "keyboard" with "doodad" you'd still have people saying "Ehhhh! That's too hard! `Thingy?' Why don't you just speak English!". ("tarball" is a perfect word. It's a ball of files and it ends in ".tar" what's so wrong with that?)

    I've said it many times before (and people don't like it), but I don't think "Linux For The Masses" is a good idea. Does the person thinks "me too!" is being insightful really need (or should even have) a UNIX box sitting in their home? One of the major things that makes Linux great is the community, and the fact that the community as a whole doesn't just whine and complain, but is actually useful. Why is this? There's an entrance fee to be paid to get into the community, and you pay it by critticaly thinking. The Unwashed would do nothing but drown out the original community members with, "This is too hard!" (Don't believe me? Right now there's a Visa radio commercial running talking about online shopping that says, "Clicking is hard work." (And no, the don't say it in jest.)) These are the people I'm talking about. Give them a dreamcast-esqe device with email, a web browser, and a wordprocessor that's they all they need and really want. (I'm distinguishing between the "ignorant" and those that don't even try. It's the second group I don't think Linux should be marketed to.)

    Personally I think the the people that spout that are either
    1. Those that believe that Linux is the Be All and End All of OSs (Do you really need to be running Linux on your PalmPilot? I mean PalmOS doesn't seem that bad. (The need for an Free RTOS for embeded systems is different issue. Which I can see the need for. Personaly I'd like to see a comprable Free alternative in every important software catagory.))
    2. People parrotting the zealots
    3. Those motivated solely by the All-Mighty-Dollar. Linux is hip right now, and thus you can market it to the ignorant masses
    4. The good intentioned, but misguided.

    5. People ask now, "Yeah but can my mom use it?", but a more question would be, "Yeah but does my mom need this?" (You don't see particle accelerators being sold at Sears now do you?)

      This is probably going to get moderated down as "flamebait" because it's a rant (and I don't deny that there's a viable reason for moderating it down), but Mr. Moderator, before you hit "Moderate" just think about what I'm saying. Which is basically this, "Linux is more OS than most people can handle. Sure they need something, just not this."
  • by jfunk ( 33224 ) <jfunk@roadrunner.nf.net> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @09:20PM (#1662882) Homepage
    I have Civ:CTP. I like it, I liked it's install. However, it wasn't perfect (from my ever-ongoing useablility test mindset :-)* ).

    The newbie doesn't understand mounting. That's step one. You can't even *read* the README on the CD until you do that. When you explain mounting, they usually say something like, "that's pretty stupid."

    But that's not so much of a problem. The biggest problem, as I see it is the variable filesystem structure among distributions. There's tons of work being done on useability, etc, but it is pretty much in the context of one distribution at a time (SuSE installs KDE in /opt, Mandrake installs it in, well, everywhere, etc).

    What is needed is an agreement on a filesystem structure, first and foremost. There was work being done on that, but where is it now??

    How come I haven't heard a thing about it in *months*? I've heard so much news about new releases of XX distrib, XX desktop, etc. LSB? nothing.

    I think that the importance of GUI install work should be downgraded to make room for this. When a developer can release a package and not have to supply different binaries for different distributions, we'll all be happier.

    Ok, for small packages, ./configure && make && make install is nice and quick, and works quite well on different distribs, but get a new user to install GNOME or KDE from sources and watch them cry.

    The worst thing is that this is an aspect of open-source that "low-ranking" people like me and many others cannot really make an impact in. This has to be done by Red Hat, Caldera, SuSE, Debian, Corel, among others.
  • by SEAL ( 88488 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @09:25PM (#1662884)
    I worked as a dev on Visual Studio...

    This is a little bit off topic, but here goes...

    For just everyday use (and not this usability study) - Microsoft doesn't really care what OS their employees use as long as they can perform their job functions. You can get quite a bit of functionality on their network with a Linux machine, especially with Samba.

    The only thorn in its side that I heard of was that Linux didn't have an equivalent to the MS Proxy Client. I'm not sure if that has changed these days (someone chime in here?). So you couldn't really access the internet, except when web browsing.

    But you could still use Netscape of course, and anything else provided it was not illegal software. Microsoft certainly endorses their own products, but if an employee feels more comfortable using Linux, and is still productive, then Microsoft doesn't care.

    Just don't try calling their support desk for help ;)
  • by the_tsi ( 19767 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @09:32PM (#1662886)
    I love the cars and computers comparison, because this is where it comes in. :)

    I don't CARE what the difference is between 10W30 and 10W40 motor oil is. I don't care what my "CV joint" is. I don't have to know the difference between shocks and struts to drive my car. I never want to have to do more than put gas and windshield wiper fluid in my car in order to drive it. When I use my car, I want to get in, turn the key and go somewhere. Yes, I *do* have to know about the steering wheel, turn signal, gas and break pedals, but I don't have to know anything technical about the vehicle to use it properly.

    That's how computers *HAVE* to be. Slashdotters and geeks in general have to get over this elitist view that newbies (and the general public) must learn how to do X, Y, and Z just to get their brand spanking new Linux install to a usable level and then do A, B, and C to get Whizz-Bang New Game(tm) working. Linux CAN fulfil this role, much better than Windows (or BeOS at this point). From a technical point, it's better than MacOS, so us geeks like it, but that has to be the target for a UI. Not just a GUI... the ENTIRE USER INTERFACE. Macs don't have ejects on the floppy drives for a purpose; it simplifies things. Yeah, us PC geeks get pissed off when we can't get our disk out when we want to, but that's life.

    In order to win in the Real World, you have to cater to the masses -- NOT MAKE THE MASSES CATER TO YOU. Granted, many companies have made the public bend over backwards in the past (utilities come to mind real fast), but if it isn't easy to use, do what users need, or doesn't work, then they will move on to something else.

    Here's the back-on-topic part:

    Linux MAY be more than Mom needs right now, but she certainly doesn't need $400 worth of Microsoft OS and programs just to email Junior, surf the web, and type up her resume. As in the Dvorak article yesterday, when PCs get to be sub-$300 items, the OS and basic set of utilities and programs better clock in at free or darn close or it will completely screw the vendor. If we want Linux to be on there instead of WindowsCE, we better get a UI For Dummies on there. And fast.

  • I don't care what you say, even with all the dicking around it does not take that long to install any other OS, Linux included.

    Well, it can take longer if you do an FTP install. However, it blows people away when you tell them that you can install 5.5GB of software from a single floppy disk.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I am currently a pond scum contractor at Microsoft and you better believe it that MS keeps a very close eye on the linux market. There are two public email groups regarding linux. One is called like linux discussion and the other is linux competitive discussion. A recent thread on the linux competitive discussion was real concern about a new distro called someting like winlinux? Don't remember the exact name. As soon as I converted on of boxes to redhat6 I was asked to make copies for 2 contractors and a full timer. There seems to be alot of employees, (mostly contractors) that have a dislike for microsoft. There are also those who wave the BillG flag openly and proudly. I got into a pretty heated argument the other day with one about NT w/IIS vs *nix w/apache and the whole Mindcraft fiasco.
  • [from the qed/ed editor idiom g/re/p, where re stands for a regular expression, to Globally search for the Regular Expression and Print the lines containing matches to it, via Unix grep(1)]

    Correct. The other answers aren't correct (especially not the one that mentioned "Gnu", given that grep existed long before the GNU project ever existed...).

  • The other answers aren't correct

    Well, the other guy who said Global Regular Expression Print was right as well.

  • Perhaps Microsoft's "usability study" wasn't of Linux or Linux games per se, but actually checking to see the quality of Linux tech support operations.

    They get some guys who pretend to be clueless, make some calls and some mail list posts and see what kind of response they get. They can then tally up all of the RTFM responses, the support engineers who "almost peed my pants" with laughter (and then promptly posted to a Linux advocacy board), and compare those with the quality responses.

    Unlike some hypothetical desktop-battle, this information can be effectively used by Microsoft in FUD tactics. "Our informal studies show that if you aren't proficient in Unix, the Linux tech support companies will just ignore you or laugh at you." This can go along way in scaring managers that are (rightfully) worried about the skill gap of their staff when it comes to Linux.
  • I seriously doubt this was posted to bash anybody.

    It seems to me (any many others) that this is a wakeup call regarding how easy Linux (or any UNIX, for that matter) really is to a new user.

    I want to see Linux flourish as a desktop environment. In many ways it has surpassed Windows. However, the battle isn't over yet. There are many issues that still have to be solved. The problem is that us "advanced users" don't think about them enough.
  • by Wakko Warner ( 324 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @09:52PM (#1662905) Homepage Journal
    My brother's on the beta testers list for some reason. I brought it into work and installed it on my (expendable) PII-333 NT 4.0 Compaq box.

    Or I tried to.

    Easy to install? Not really. RC1 took two hour-long installs to actually get to the point where it would boot. When it did boot, the high-end video card in the machine (An Elsa GLoria) didn't work in anything other than 640x480 in 16 vibrant colors. There were no drivers for the card on Elsa's site, but I managed to convince the NT 4 drivers to work, after a fashion.

    Easy to use? I guess, if you don't mind waiting. The default install came with all the needless crap turned on -- menus that fade into existance, all the ugly extras in Explorer that seemed to chew up CPU time rather than offer any useful features, even a cute little shadow under the mouse pointer that probably took up its fair share of processor cycles. Even after turning all the cruft off, the machine still ran like a three-legged horse. It felt _much_ slower than NT 4, which really is saying something. The video was unbearably slow, though using NT 4 drivers might have been the cause of that. Programs loaded slower. The machine took longer to boot and longer to shut down (which needed to be done often, even moreso than NT 4). Although it had a later version of DirectX than NT 4 SP3 did, none of the games I tried to use worked with it. (A few of them did in NT 4.) Internet Explorer kept forgetting that I'd told it to use a proxy server. Eventually I got sick of it and reinstalled NT 4.

    The SP2 CDs just arrived yesterday. I'm very afraid.

    - A.P.

    "One World, one Web, one Program" - Microsoft promotional ad

  • This is all very true. I've been through it myself. However, I would like to state that it is possible for the smart ones to remain good tech supports, but only if they've got the talent. By this, I mean that even though they thouroughly understand the system, they can still get that understanding across to the newbie. Unfortunatly, this requires extreme talent and such people are vary rare, and I'm certainly not one of them as I have problems explaining things myself. I just grok whatever it is; puting it into words is sometimes very difficult if not impossible.

    I agree, a newbie is the best possible person to use for usability studies. That is actually one thing MS got right: pop in the cd, wait, press the install button, fill in a few fields, (usually) reboot and off you go. Anoying for the advanced user, but extremly easy for the newbie (this is after my recent experiences of installing both NT and 95). However, anything more complicated (eg downloaded drivers), their model just doesn't work as well, nor for installing the os.

  • As others have noted, this is showing very poor taste on the part of Loki in sharing this kind of customer information in a public forum. Especially since the obvious intent is to ridicule this customer. I sure hope I never have a reason to call Loki tech support.
  • See, it even makes your jaw drop. 5.5GB is about the size of a SuSE install if you install absolutely everything. I suspect Debian would be just as big or bigger, but you need 7 disks to do an FTP install. SuSE will install from an FTP server with a single floppy disk (or 2 if you use a NIC that doesn't have a driver on the first disk).
  • Now, how well can your mom use Linux?

    She manages quite well, thank you very much. Seriously, I set up a dual-boot for her a couple of months ago since she was curious about it because to all the recent hype. Now she uses Linux for some things and seems quite pleased that it never crashes. Surprised, even. She said one of the things she liked about it the most was the feeling of being "in control".

    I think a lot of non-geek people will gladly learn a few more commands and what-not in order to have a PC that doesn't BSOD on them every time they turn around. Not all of them, but a lot of them.
  • by emerson ( 419 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @10:20PM (#1662920)
    _I_ hope it's dry humor because it's exactly wrong.

    For a first-time experience, for the 'usability tests' that we're talking about, if you're looking to change something in the way your computer behaves, Windows gives you some clues from the get-go that the command line simply doesn't: try the big friendly button with the bouncing arrow saying "Start Here."

    Inside there, a clearly-marked "Settings" menu, and inside there, Control Panels, Printers, so forth. Clearly-labeled hierarchical menus that lead you to figuring out where you're going, even if you're not sure. Once you get "Control Panels" open, there's a mess of nicely labeled icons to poke at and try to figure things out. From context, you know that everything in there is going to change some setting on the computer, and can poke around inside that context for a while until you get what you want.

    The original poster's 'easier' alternative, the command prompt, offers no such context. Finding out that 'ntsysv' can change around certain settings is nice to know, but offers no context in finding out how to change _other_ settings -- commands starting with 'nt'? command ending in 'sysv'? Nope. No rhyme or reason. Or clues. Or hints. Or help. You just scratch around until you stumble across what you're looking for, and slowly accumulate knowledge. Maybe you find 'man,' maybe you figure out how the GNU info viewer works, maybe you have Gnome or KDE installed and can use THEIR visual context.

    But if you plunk down newbies to a Win32 desktop and to a command-line Unix environment and just say 'go' with no further instructions, I think you know where my money'd be.

    Now, me, I'm a command-line junkie. I _love_ it. I live at the bash or tcsh prompt all day, even on Windows boxes I administer (Cygwin's getting pretty cool these days). But to say that command line is '_so_ much easier' is simply wrong, and so I, too, hope the original poster was being tongue-in-cheek.

  • by Ageless ( 10680 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @10:23PM (#1662921) Homepage
    Can you say "viable desktop environment?"
    Personally, I don't really think this is a good thing to point out at the end of a tech support call that outlines several of Linux's and it's various desktop systems weaknesses. Also, this should have never been made public. It gives Linux (and Loki) a bad image.
    Employee: I can't get Oracle for Linux installed.
    Boss: Call tech support.
    Employee: But what if I ask something dumb and my call shows up on Slashdot and I have to quit my job and become a hermit?
    Boss: Hmm.. good point. Let's use Solaris.
  • by ben_ ( 30741 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @10:25PM (#1662922)
    yeah, there is a Linux proxy server that can speak to the MS Proxy Client; I *think* it's Dante, from a Scandinavian company? I'm at home and don't have the references to hand...
  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @10:34PM (#1662928)
    Anyone whos grown up on Linux
    will consider this an "intuitive" install:

    ...but perhaps also an irritating one; much nicer might be:

    install_source tarball

    where install_source is a script to do all of the above.

    Yeah, I do that stuff by hand, but that's at least in part because I read the README and/or INSTALL first - which raises the point that it's not necessarily as simple as you describe.

    Then again, a fair number of Windows programs installed with those Wonderful User-Friendly GUI Auto-Install Tools pester me with a bunch of questions about what directory I want to install the program in, blah blah blah, although at least there it offers me a default that's usually what I end up picking anyway.

    Some of them also offer me different types of installs - Basic, Full, or Custom, and stuff such as that.

    So not all Windows software is trivial to install, either, even with autoplay, etc.. (That stuff might, to some extent, be the equivalent of the details in a README or INSTALL file.)


    1. I think even *nix wizards might prefer a simplified installation process for software (cf. my comment about an N-step installation process that could perhaps be better automated);
    2. Windows applications don't necessarily get it "right", either - their installation processes may have their own complications.

    A better installation process than either the traditional UNIX one or the one I've seen with some Windows applications might be interesting. Is there any OS out there that's done it "right" or, at least, closer to "right"? Have some Windows applications managed to avoid an installation process that asks you lots of questions to which the answers might not be obvious? (Applications, that is, that aren't so simple as not to have to ask you questions. Or is that, perhaps, the way to simplify the installation process - Keep It [i.e, the product] Simple, Stupid?)

  • Linux MAY be more than Mom needs right now, but she certainly doesn't need $400 worth of Microsoft OS and programs just to email Junior, surf the web, and type up her resume.

    I agree. Personally I don't see anything close to the Holy Grail of an "Information Appliance" yet. (Which is basically what we're talking about here.) Everything seems to be cheap PCs, or something that doesn't even come close to the versitility one needs. There doesn't seem to be a happy middle yet. You don't necessarily need majorly upgradeable hardware. (These things should be cheap enough for you not even really have to think about just going out and buying a new one.)

    There needs to be the right kind of software too.
    I agree it needs to be inexpensive, but by the same token it doesn't really need to be "full featured" either. Just all the common stuff. (Gimp is good example of this. It's powerful enough for you use without feeling tied and gaged (i.e. Paintbrush or xpaint) but it's not something the CIA would use to doctor photos either.) And of course the Interface needs to be clean. Personally I like the PalmOS UI. (Except for the dedicated writing area. I like WinCE's way better.)

    Of course any IA is doomed to fail if you can't share files with the rest of the world, but again this is a software issue.
  • by cjsnell ( 5825 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @10:54PM (#1662940) Journal
    I'm disgusted with the hordes of slashdot readers that are ranting against Microsoft and overlooking the fact that Loki, hungry for publicity, has revealed the details of a private tech support call made by one of their users.

    I'm even more disgusted with the ./ editors for posting this crap. It saddens me to see that Slashdot, who supposedly is a defender of citzens' privacy, has shown complete disregard for this person's private matters. Are you guys really this desperate for ad banner impressions that you have to stoop to these levels? If Microsoft or some other "evil" had posted this tech support call, I'm sure it would get an article on /. and at least 300 flaming comments. Instead, a linux company does the same thing and suddenly it's "Microsoft is hiring idiots and trying to spread FUD, blah blah blah".

    Please join me in boycotting Loki. I'm not about to trust these clowns with a tech support call, much less my credit card number.

  • That's nice, but your simple command there doesn't give you any choice as to where Netscape is installed on your Linux box.

    Just out of curiosity, what are the circumstances under which you wouldn't just hit the "Next" button on the install "wizard" at that point, and would, instead, specify a place to install it other than the default? I've always found that particular part of the installation process for Windows to be an irritant, but there're presumably users for whom it's a necessity (installing on a file server? Or something else?).

    (The stuff that offers you various types of installations, including "Custom", is also sometimes a pain; I seem to remember not always getting a good idea from it of what the consequences of choosing different types of installations, or of choosing to or not to install some particular piece in a custom install, would be, other than "it'll take up this much disk space" - but I think I've seen the same thing installing, say, various UNIX-flavored OSes, so that's not unique to Windows.)

    The debaters here have largely talked aboot software installation on Linux (as a proxy for UNIX-flavored systems in general, although others may do things differently) and Windows; how does, say, the MacOS software installation process differ?

  • by MartyJG ( 41978 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @10:58PM (#1662944) Homepage
    From my own personal experience, if they're trying out Civ first, they won't get onto trying out anything else.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Weel I've been using RH for about 16 months, and I have never used netsysv and didn't even know it existed really. I just ran netsysv --which shouldn't have been possible since I am not logged in as root but there u go-- and i do recognize it from the RH install. And I do recognize the comamnd name as something I have pulled up the man page on since i saw it on my system and was curious aboout it. But like I say, seeing netsysv in action was news to me. I have used linuxconf to configure services. There are many ways to get something done on a Linux system, starting services up from /etc/rc.d/init.d/ or from rc.local or even inittab for example, and this is symptomatic of the confusing environment newbies are in once they step out from the "planned communities" of Windows and MacOS. To take another example from service configuration, I have only recently become aware of command line utility chkconfig to do what 8 months ago I learned to do with linuxconf and before that did by manually ripping out and repasting link entries from rc.d/init.d runlevels. There are always more than one approach to doing something with the Linux system and while that has many upsides, it also has one major downside in that the raw newbie frequently --almost always-- sees several strands of mutually incompatible documentation and howto's together with friendly usenet advice while trying to solve what on other systems is an extremely simple matter because there is bascially one way to do it. Lookup the confusion in Usenet over how to use trutype fonts in sytems with xfs --people tied up in knots trying to make instructions for xfstt work because of the name similarity. (are you talking about Inet or identd and its spawn in.identd and why are these installed by a package called pidentd? Unix naming conventions are endlessly confusing to newbies and these conventions are so strongly part of UNIX culture and filesystem standards that either the newbie must bow his head and say I will learn this shit even if it kills me or someone comes up with a distro that is at least as functional as Windows while completely hiding the UNIXishness from their innocent eyes. Also the way in to documenation is obscure as The Poop on Unix system administration (not how to use KDE) just is not a popup window on the desktop --and can never be! Add to this the fact that many centrally important tools from a desktop users POV are projects being run very much in the sidestreets of the linux sceen. How many clewbies know what diald is and where to get it and how to install it? This example will make many people snicker but to a non-technical home user diald is extremely valuable software. Having it preinstalled or easily install itself would be even more valuable. How many would know that they can get all official updates to their RPM based system downloaded and installed as they hit the ftp servers every 24 hours without lifting a finger? They generally don't, as there is no one place to get this info. Yes I know a huge amount of documentation is right there in /usr/doc /usr/man and ready to be downloaded from linuxdoc.org or Sunsite in html, sgml, ascii-text, or .ps but it is just too much for a NORMAL person who just wants to do the basic stuff to wade through in search of answers to basic questions --not to mention that a good deal of it is out of date. And why isn't man the last word--why do we have to have man and info? thats retarded Info requires its own manual to use which says plenty about how userfriendly it is. Yup yup yup many things are very easy to do with Linux once you know the system, not just a part or a few parts in isolation but for the average person of average PC skills, Linux is a baptism in fire. you will come out "the other end" of your novitiate a changed person or you will run away screaming.
  • Yeah, Debian installs quite nicely when you have a FAT partition. If you want to do an FTP install on a clear box you gotta have those seven disks (or a CD, but then you wouldn't really care about FTP installing).

    Nothing beats NFS installs though. At my last school we had a 100MBit network. I stuck Slack on a box and everybody installed from that. The teacher's jaw dropped, being used to the 10 MBit network at the university.

    Yes, everybody in the class were Slackers (the teacher, too). I had a SuSE system for myself, though. I installed PHP and Apache on a Slackware box before, and it just took up a lot of time. SuSE can just make it work at installation.

    Don't get me started on Win installs. I buy all "name-brand" components and still it crashes over and over on install. I think it averages about 5 during the install alone, in my experience.

    Then, I have to, ugh, install all of those damn drivers and then apps. It takes about a week (a conservative estimate) to get to where a big distrib like SuSE or Debian gets in a day (including apps).

    Anybody who thinks Linux is hard to install is living in a dream world. It's after the install where everybody should be working on useability now.
  • While this story isn't anything more than yet another anti-luser screed from a tech with probably too much (and misplaced) self-esteem, and re: mIgrowsoft tells us only that, yes - oh the humanity - they're checking out Linux-as-OS-for-people-with-suntans to see if they should be worried about a (highly unlikely) migration away from Windows, the comments reveal Linux's weakest feature: developers are directing its development. That's why Corel (argh!) is pretty much alone in making a simplified distro (there's YDL for PPC, too, but I haven't seen a release date for their Gone Home version); Corel is just like the world - full of lusers who, when a /.er says quote [sigh/chuckle] All you have to do is

    $ tar zxvf tarball.tar.gz
    $ cd tarball
    $ ./configure
    $ make
    $ su -c "make install"

    - what are you, retarded? unquote, will say "No, *that's* retarded. The mouse has been around for 15 years. Why can't I just poke the file with it?" And so Corel tries to make it happen, while RHAT makes its manual a hundred pages longer.

    Now, before you get all worked up and start goin' root-this and null-that, you should know that I *want* to use a *nix, because I know what's good about all of 'em: they work right. That's why I don't use WinAnything, even though I "should," being a luser. I've got a relatively useless iMac staring at me right now that I want to run YDL on once the G4 arrives, because I figure a Linux OS will make better use of the little girl's limited memory while doing silly crap like slashdotting and visiting alt.fan.traci-lords. For me (non-sysadmin, non-dev), that's about all Linux offers right now. But to do work, I need two things (aside from Photoshop; don't get me started about GIMP (argh!)): solid uptime (which *nix has) and a GUI for every occasion. Mac OS 8.6, though it chews through memory like mad, almost has the second. There are Windows-style pop-up menus down in the left corner, GNOME-type open-app buttons in the right, a bunch of specialized 3rd-party menu-bar pulldowns and "virtual desktops," and, as a plus, the native scripting language is ridiculously simple (and works with almost every application). I use all of these, all the time. What I want is a command line. I know how much faster it is to grep than it is to use the Finder, and I'd like to be able to do more while keeping all my windows open (script-on-the-fly, for example). A real "EasyLinux" would be perfect. But there isn't one. Not even close. I don't wanna *make* nothin' but pretty pictures and invoices.

    And unfortunately for The Movement (which I truly do love), Mac OSX Client, a prettied-up and expensive BSD, probably will be exactly what I (and most everyone I know, almost uniformly Mac- and Be-using graphics/publishing/music pros) need. We don't like that it's not really Free(TM) and isn't particularly anti-MS, but so what? Got work to do (if I ever shut up).

    And if Linux can't even convince a super-luser like me, it's valid to ask what my mom (whose computer is so damn nice I pray for her death daily) and some doofus trying to play CivIII and listen to Korn mp3s are going to think of it. The word "retarded" springs to mind.

  • by thekla ( 86369 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @11:37PM (#1662958)
    You make a very fine point about the concept of an intuitive interface. Microsoft is trying to persuade everyone in the world that just because many people are mildly familiar with their interface, this makes it intuitive.

    My father has spent some 20 years working with computers, most of them in a DOS environment. Recently he had to adapt to win95 and I was trying to teach him the basics. Now my father can issue 'arcane' commands like copy and mkdir and fdisk, and he has even mastered wildcards and such. He can program, and he can compile his own programs. Yet, it took him some thirty minutes to grasp the idea that "when I drag a file on another directory, the file is not moved, not copied, instead just a shortcut is created" After some frustration, he realized it'd be quicker to do it through the prompt, and he never used windows eplorer again since. Then I had to explain about shortcuts on the menus and desktop.. which eventually led to the question "can't I just add the damn directory to the $PATH??" Great fun!

    Intuitive interface is an interface that provides you with an easy-to-grasp expectation as to what will happen when you do some action, and that fullfils that expectation. Well, I never really understood how that applies to Microsoft's interface. It harldy ever manages to do what I expect to happen.

    It is natural with users of an interface to get comfortable with it over time. But intuitiveness does not refer to that. It refers to making users comfortable with the interface without prior experience and habitual familiarity with it.

    Nick Moraitakis

  • by jfunk ( 33224 ) <jfunk@roadrunner.nf.net> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @11:50PM (#1662963) Homepage
    Please join me in boycotting Loki. I'm not about to trust these clowns with a tech support call, much less my credit card number.

    Um, this wasn't exactly a Loki press release. This was an individual employee, not speaking for the company, who I doubt even asked his supervisor if he could spread the story.

    A few people here scream "boycott!" at the drop of a hat (which is often red, incidentally).

    It doesn't solve anything.

    You boycott a company that hires child/slave labour in foreign countries. You boycott companies that destroy the environment or personal freedoms. You don't boycott trivial stuff like this. Few people will listen to you.

    Instead, a linux company does the same thing and suddenly it's "Microsoft is hiring idiots and trying to spread FUD, blah blah blah".

    Actually, most of the talk on this story is about useability issues with Linux. To top it all off, I see lots of agreement that Linux does lack useability in many areas.
  • I don't CARE what the difference is between 10W30 and 10W40 motor oil is. I don't care what my "CV joint" is. I don't have to know the difference between shocks and struts to drive my car. I never want to have to do more than put gas and windshield wiper fluid in my car in order to drive it. When I use my car, I want to get in, turn the key and go somewhere. Yes, I *do* have to know about the steering wheel, turn signal, gas and break pedals, but I don't have to know anything technical about the vehicle to use it properly

    That's the fucking point. There are people out there for whom even having to know about the steering wheel is "too technical". And their number will only grow if this "dumbing down" philosophy goes on.

    Maybe we should remember the old adage that "there's not such a thing as a free lunch"? If you want to enjoy all the wonderful things that a computer can do for you, you'll have to make a little effort to learn about it. I'm not talking about writing your own device drivers; I'm just talking about knowing that you cannot drive your car telepathically.

  • by cjsnell ( 5825 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @11:55PM (#1662968) Journal
    They didn't breach confidentially by paraphrasing what the caller said. Squistle (the author of the letter) didn't give the callers name or location, only the fact that the caller was a male and that he worked for Microsoft.

    Like hell, they didn't. They said that he was a male Microsoft employee that worked on a project which was evaluating Linux. He had a 450MHz PIII with a Loki game installed on it. Believe me, he would not be that hard to track down.

    Since this was never a "real" tech support call, is any "real" privacy being violated?

    Uhm, it looked pretty damn "real" to me. What, are you saying that this tech just made up this story?

    Are you also going to boycott all Microsoft products because they are trying to fake a study on Linux usability?

    Who said anything about faking a story on Linux usability? Corporations test out competitors' products all the time, to help them improve their own products. The only thing we know about this was that this was a usability test. Anything beyond that is pure speculation.
  • I made an app that made a shar archive, eg, it could unarchive itself. After extracting itself to /tmp, it then tried to figure out the distro it was running on, by looking for dpkg, or rpm.

    If it found dpkg it converted itself into a deb and installed itself.

    The same with rpm. If it found nothing it just installed as a TGZ.

    If you want it, email me and I'll dig it out. Its just a bundle of shell scripts.
  • The thing is, this guy *did* speak for the company. One of the first things they tell you when you go to work for a big corporation is that you are not the official company spokesperson and that you better not speak like you are. Divulging this tech support call to a major online publication would probably be considered "speaking for the company", at least it would where I work.

    I agree with you that my use of the word "boycott" was a little too strong. I'm serious when I say that I have doubts about Loki's concern for customers' privacy but I will not judge them until I see an official Loki press release on this. If they publicly apoligize, then I will know that this tech support person screwed up and that this is not the way Loki treats their customers. Otherwise, I can assure you that I won't buy any of their products. :-)

  • You know, I didn't chose linux because it was a jumped-up playstation. I chose it because it's a relatively stable general computing platform, with the ability to run a lot of geniunely useful software.

    I'm guessing that quite a few folks feel like me, that is to say, if it becomes reduced to a toy for the lowest common denominator, then I will seek a new platform. I always liked FreeBSD :)

    Linux didn't get to be even this grown up by pandering to every trivial fashion to come along.. Frankly, if I wanted a brain-damaged box, hobbed by trying to be overly friendly, I would have bought another Mac...

  • Look at it this way. 99% of the operations a user can perform will be performed only rarely. This means that unless they are at the far-end of the bell-curve marked "geek" a user will not have had the time or inclination to learn the super-optimal-figure-movement-minimising command-line way of doing it. This is where easy to learn becomes the same thing as easy to use - the operation is rare enough that for most users, performing the operation involves learning how to do it. In this situation, friendly icons win hands down.

    For the kinds of operations that average users spend most of their time doing - moving files around, cutting and pasting bits of documents - Windows has plenty of shortcuts that even occasional or inexperienced users quickly become accustomed to, but at no stage is the user thrown in at the deep end and expected to pick them up straight away. Result: for an average user, Windows is easier to learn and easier to use.

    "Designed by idiots for idiots" should be the mantra of anyone who seriously wants to take on the mass market.
  • The only time I _ever_ need to change the default install dir is when I have multiple partitions in my system (NT doesn't support a boot partition larger than 4G!!) and i constantly have to specify "D:" to install!
    In linux, if I have multiple drives or partitions, I mount them accordingly, and netscape goes where it should by default! It doesn't need to know or care what is happenning on the FS or hardware level.

    Also, that "Last Known Good" hardware choice for NT has NEVER worked. I support 60 NT boxen, and 5 NT servers, and I have NEVER been able to get that to work. Even hardware profiles being created don't help, for some reason. And guess what Tech Support is gonna tell you to do?

    And hopefully noone is an idiot enough to overwrite their old kernel without first booting to the new one...

  • by kfsone ( 63008 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @01:03AM (#1663003) Homepage
    You're scaring me a little here guys. This is going to be a cold shower for some of you.

    This is NOT a competition against Microsoft. Don't use Linux as your private banner for campaign against Microsoft - or any other competitor. Those of you who do are working directly against Linux. I refer you to the crusades, the spanish inquisition. Both done in the name of Christianity. Both waged against an enemy that any convert could see was evil.

    Microsoft is big enough that if the Linux following tries to make sure Microsoft can never out do Linux *by observing* Microsoft at the microscopic level, then Linux will turn into a Windows parasite.

    I would suggest that Netscape's biggest undoing came not from Microsoft, but from Netscape. They got too obsessed with 'beating down Microsoft', and less and less focused on 'making a better Netscape'.

    By Netscape 4.5, Microsoft didn't really have much to compete with.

    I realise people are going to jump up here and tell me how the court case helped thus and something else did that.

    But do we have a great web-browser? No.

    Microsoft play a game, a competition. Linux has no need to enter the bullring. Remember what makes Linux what it is is people developing Linux for users, developing Linux for sys admins, developing Linux for deployment. Don't turn this into Linux development for comparison charts.

  • Wait. Sorry. Whoa. No.

    One of the reasons I use Linux is that I'm relatively immune from the viri and other nasties which affect the Windows world. An important reason why I'm immune is that foreign software, if it is to do anything serious to the system, must be installed as root, and anything which I install as root I have the sourcecode to and have usually compiled myself. I usually haven't crawled through that code to check for hidden nastiness, but I could if I wanted to.

    Recently I've had packages (mostly Java ones) which come with MS-Windows-like graphical point and click installers. To install these you've fundamentally two choices: to install them in the user space of some user, as that user, in which case you've immediately got problems with other users using the same software; or to install them as root, without being able to do 'make -n install' first to see what the hell they're up to.

    This is what you're asking for if you ask for a point-and-click RPM installer. It would have (in the general case) to be su root, because otherwise it couldn't install into privileged parts of the filesystem; and before you know where you are you would have masses of hostile variants of well-known RPMs installing trojans and trap-doors and worms all over the shop.

    Now, of course, we elite /.ers would not be affected by such packages

    but the newbies and journos and other less elite and refined Linux users would be, and they would not be impressed. And then the media would be full of stories about how insecure and risky Linux was and we'd lose all the ground we've gained over the past years.

    There really is a significant engineering trade off to be made here. Microsoft (and Apple before them) know this perfectly well and have made a conscious choice to go for ease-of-(unskilled)-use over security and stability. And Microsoft are now moving from that extreme ease-of-use position towards a still easy to use but more secure position by using installers that look at digital signatures and so on before installing a package.

    Remember, we (the Linux community) are not competing with a bunch of incompetent morons here. We're competing with an extremely slick and professional marketing organisation, who hire very capable software engineers. We've got where we are because we occupy an ecological niche that Microsoft hasn't yet occupied: something with better security, but a bit harder to learn. I don't believe we can compete with Microsoft in their core market, because they are already established there and they are very good at what they do.

    If we erode the things which make our product distinct from theirs we risk losing our market share, with (in my opinion) little prospect of taking theirs.

    What we need to do is not change our product (at least, not radically) but to educate the marketplace to see its benefits. Our message must be 'Yes, linux may be a bit harder to learn, but the improved stability and reliability are worth it'. Instead of going out to capture their market, we need to bring (some of) their market to us.

  • We had a talk from an MS employee here this week, and he said the standard development box at MS is a dual PIII 500 with 256 MB of RAM. A single PIII 450 doesn't seem so overspecced in relation to that...
  • FUD from Microsoft about Linux's usability.

    It's not FUD. Linux is not usable by most of the world's population, and it was never intended to be. Linux remains a technical, enthusiasts' OS; to use it to do almost anything at all requires a vast store of knowledge and familiarity with the functioning of the OS and programs. Think of all the concepts we understand and take for granted: .config files, libraries, multiple users, devices, mounting,... the list goes on and on.

    This lends itself to more of a learning cliff than curve. Most of the world's population doesn't even want to know what a filesystem is. They just want to be able to press a button to send email to Jimmy. If they're going to use Linux as a desktop OS, they need to be abstracted from all the internals of the machine.

    Linux, even pre-installed with KDE/Gnome, is nowhere close to this. I would never recommend Linux to a non-technical-enthusiant in a million years. If you had to give OS support to your clueless grandmother/uncle/neighbor, which you rather they use--Linux or 98?

    The important question is: do we really want these people using linux, in any form? It's not as easy a question as it might sound. On one hand, pretty much all Linux users dislike Micro$oft. We're all happy to see a proprietary, closed, inferior OS get trashed by Linux. The rapid expansion and public hype has also benefited the Linux community immensely. A couple years ago you never would have seen useful things like QT, XFS, and Darwin open-sourced, major games on Linux, or graphics companies releasing Linux drivers... Such benefits will continue to flow as more people and hence desktop applications support linux.

    But there are also dangers if this increasing popularization of Linux were to occur, more than just the irritation of having users that don't understand what a tarball is. The reason most people I know use Linux is because it's so complex. What first attracted me to Linux was its complexity, its power, and the ability to manipulate, control, and monitor the OS on a low level.

    The problem is that while ease-of-use/idiotproofing and power can coexist, it's a difficult and unstable situation. As it stands now, most programs cater to advanced users -- text .config files, lots of command-line options, etc. The average user wants the opposite--simple gui, no questions. This does not lead to good security or powerful programs. If an idiotproof easy-to-use desktop environment is layered on top of Linux, it's likely that many companies releasing software for it would not include the power, behavior, and configurability we now expect . Also, programs might begin to depend on various functionalities of the user-friendly shell to do irritating things without telling us.

    Programs that might otherwise be ported to Linux as it is now, with full functionality, could work only in user-friendly mode. Hard-core Linux users could face the unpleasant choice of either 1) contuining as they do now, compiling software, not using insecure features, and being unable to use most software out there, or 2) having to deal with many of the annoyances of Windows, except on Linux.

    So think through the issue carefully before espousing Linux as the OS of the masses... do we really want Linux to be an OS usable by those who have no idea how it works? Or do we want to keep it an OS for technophiles, one that chooses power, flexibility, and security over ease-of-use and simplicity? I know why I use Linux; the choice is clear to me. There are enough tech-loving people around to make linux a viable, well-supported choice without opening it the masses.

    Ali Soleimani
    Caltech math/physics undergrand

  • Why not, games would be the perfect environment for MS to use as move over to providing Linux Programs, not an OS Distribution. The world is full to bursting with every kind of game for win/dos/95/98. Microsoft has over the last couple of years been moving more towards the game releases as well as application updates, but it has a lot more competion than it does with apps and OS's, so what could be better than to make you move into a New OS environment through an area of the OS that has been largely commercially ignored ( yes I know Quake, Doom, Quake II, Freeciv etc) by official manufacturers. I can't beet linux as an OS, but it can get in on the pole position when the games race really hots up. Thats if it can get it's coders of CIV call to power of course.
  • by Taurine ( 15678 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @01:37AM (#1663019)

    Coaxial, you are the voice of reason. Thankyou for speaking in defence of Linux. When Linus began Linux, he set out to build a free Unix-like operating system, not a contestant for dominating OS of the Universe. He wanted Unix, but now so many people who want an alternative to MS have attached their allegiance to Linux. However, they don't want a Unix-like OS, they want an OS for everyone.

    Unix isn't about dumbing down, it is about empowerment through knowledge. The more I learn about Unix, the more I discover I can do. Most of the things I am thinking of here cannot be expressed efficiently in a GUI (OK I can think of a way to make a GUI environment for shell-scripting, but it doesn't speed things). Unix isn't about catering to the consumer.

    Essentially, to cater for the consumer, you would have to remove most of the things that make Linux so great. The multi-user environment is fundamental to Linux security, both from the outside world and poor-quality local code, but logging in and maintaining user accounts gets in the way of the consumer, so throw it away! Then we don't need to worry about file permissions and ownership, after all they just get in the way of the consumer, so throw them away! The consumer finds it inconvenient and difficult to build from source, so throw away the development tools, and open source! Eventually you end up with a free Win9x.

    I'm not saying that consumers shouldn't be allowed to use Linux. I'm saying that consumer interests should not be allowed to damage Linux. If you manage to create a Linux distribution that caters for the consumer without damaging the source tree by removing things, just by setting things up so that they are easier, it will likely get Linux publicity. It will give the wider populace the impression that Linux is a low-end OS that doesn't doesn't have powerful (OS) features, and probably with masses of people that find clicking difficult, low stability.

    Let consumers have Linux. But don't prevent anyone from having a free Unix-like operating system. Don't let the one of the most brightest public displays of open source go out.

  • That might be very true, but I'll get back to that. First, if Linux want's to rule the Desktop, then it WILL be dealing with past Windows users. And I guarentee they'll balk at having to type all that stuff in instead of hitting a .exe icon. I know I do/did. But let's say someone is totally new to computers. I'll bet that they would prefer clicking an icon and answering 3 questions, that really don't require thinking about, and having it all do it for them and then a nice big icon on their desktop, all put there automatically. Maybe this is what MS was doing, seeing how a complete newbie faired in Windows or Linux.
  • Computers should be as easy as cars? Well, do you have to have a driver's license for a computer? Do you have to take a driver's test? Nope. You just have to learn a few things about "driving" the computer.

    Cars are really not that simple. You have to know about all the traffic rules. For some people that's really tough. However, you learn them by reading, not by just driving around hitting people and then complaining how this thing crashed :-)

    You really don't have to change engines or gas in your car. You don't have to change network cards and hard disks either. Where's the difference?

    But then again, if you want to use the computer easily, I have one for you. It's called Barney. :-)

  • I'm with MS in this one. My theory is they are hiring clueless newbies and/or established Windows users to test out Linux, to see how the average person would respond to it. And this phone converstation is not suprising at all. I speak from experiance, I've used Windows since about Win 3.1 and never really had to do anything with DOS. I'm a teenager, so I like to install lot's of crap, so that's important too. Reading /. day after day about how great and almightly Linux is, I decided to try it out. I thankfully read a lot about it, so when it came to install I knew to reboot my machine to boot into CD (I mention this only because of a kid in my class who was suprised when a Linux install program didn't start when he popped in his Red Hat CD in Windows), and wasn't totally confused of what /dev/hda2 meant. But will the average Windows user know that? Maybe, maybe not. Ok, so I finally get it running, and I agree again with the MS guy, it IS harder to install, at least if you're used to Windows. If people switch, I guarentee the tech support lines will be swamped with calls complaining about having to use a command prompt, people wondering where the .exe extension is, and just how to do the simple redundent tasks that everyone uses everyday. I still have problems installing some programs a month after I've installed it, and sometimes it does inexplicably screw up on me and just stop working. Sure it's my fault, but what's to say that some other clueless newbie won't do the same thing? And I doubt they'll be as patient as me, they'll just erase it and go to Windows only again. Linux has it's place in the computer world, I see how come you like it. But I think that Windows is the better choice for newbies, and I think a lot of new Linux users who used to use Windows will get fustrated at Linux. And if you really must know, I do prefer Windows over Linux, and part of that reason is I already know how to do everything that's neccasary for me in Windows, and a lot of things just seem simpler in Windows.

    Disclamier: I do not hate Linux. I think it's a good OS depending on what you want to do. I just feel like MS is a better choice for a newbie and for me
  • by Anonymous Coward
    One test of Usability of s/w is can I install and use -lets say- an editor easily *without* having to read the manuals or installation procedure. If I have to do that, then it's too hard and unusable. Only for the more powerful features should I have to read the manual. Thus, it should be idiot proof. Moreover, documentation written for the military has a spec whereby it must be written at a seventh grade education level. The reason is is that at one time the person using this big complicated electronic device was usually a high-school dropout, however, the spec has changed. So if you do Usability studies on how simple it is to use, you must also do Readability studies so that documentation is simple to understand and use. We get alot of comments on Computer-based Training (CBT) stuff that would surprise you although it should be almost common sense.
  • From the point of view of "tales from tech support line" it is not particularly interesting. Not a monumentally dumb user, and certainly not a capturing question.

    From the point of view of "Microsoft spying on Linux" it is not exactly breathtaking news that Microsoft might be playing around and doing tests on competitor products. I would bet my left hand that it's not the first or the last time they do this, and it's not even worth noting as a practice in this industry.

    I can hardly consider this article "news".. I would more easily classify it as "gossip", given that I also have my doubts as to whether it is an admirable practice to publicize the contents of private support service calls.

    Perhaps this article has given foot to an interesting discussion over UI issues.. but nevertheless this could have been achieved without introducing tabloid-style gossip headlines such as "Microsoft plays Linux games at work" What's next? "Microsoft runs out of sanitary paper?" or "Bill's X-lover reveals true nature of company name?"

    Nick Moraitakis

  • I love the computers and cars comparison, because this is where it comes in. :)

    I don't CARE what the difference between glibc 1 and 2 is. I don't care what "CVS" is. I don't have to know the difference between kernel 2.2.6 and kernel 2.2.10 to run my desktop. (Faster and stabler than Windows, but that's another post). When I use my desktop, I never want to have to do more than turn the computer on and change my screen-saver. When I use my desktop, I want to doubleclick on something and start writing my reports. Yes, I *do* have to know about the mouse, both buttons, and my username and password, but I don't have to know anything technical about the O/S to use my desktop properly.

    Am I missing something here, or is this already the case? RedHat 6.0 will boot from my CD and do everything except note that my mouse is an intellimouse on its own*; if they included AbiWord (for example) in their install, I'd never have to do anything else.

    Nonetheless, I happen to know the differences between shocks and struts, and the grades of gasoline, and what the difference between 10W30 and 10W40 motor oil are because they make me a more effective user of my automobile. I also happen to be an inveterate tinkerer, so I also know how to rebuild an engine from scratch, if you'll send me the plans. Heck, I'm building my own car right now, from parts and plans other people supply; I'll be selling the plans into the public domain once I finish.

    As it stands, most people are ignoring the vast majority of things they can do with 'computers' (in most cases, with their favored productivity app(s)) because they are either unwilling or unable to learn about the rest. I am an elitist; I don't necessarily believe that the Linux Command-Line Way is the Right Way, but there is a learning curve, especially for Windows**. (I went from an Apple IIGS to a Win3.1 PC box, and I was lost as all get-out until I sat down and read the manual cover-to-cover. The Apple IIGS was a triumph -- an totally general information appliance. Only if you stuck the GS/OS or Finder disks in specifically did you even realize there /was/ an operating system.)

    However, alot of the general resisistance to dumbing-down comes from (geek) culture rather than technical issues***. It goes against what's valued (especially in the gift culture that's developing these applications and operating systems about which you're pontificating) to dumb things down, though not to make things better. In many cases, the two are diametrically opposed. (Also, the less-choice-is-simpler camp attacks the liberterian in every geek.) Our gift culture values displays of competence, pretty much. Social standing is generally taken in terms of competence (up to wizardry in areas); it's no suprise that Joe WinBloze user is universally reviled. No one objects to mpeg123 front-ends, but using a front-end in this case actually gains you a significant amount of functionality; and the command-line is still there if you ever (cronjob alarm clock, anyone?) need to script it. So there's a certain prestige attatched to the mpeg123 front-end builder.

    I personally used fvwm95 until I got my hands on KDE, so I don't find it particularly disturbing. It also means that I personally know that it's possible to move from the wrapper to the real thing (so to speak -- not to be dissing fvwm95). On the other hand, while WinLinux is technically impressive (slurping h/w settings out of the windows registry and translating that into Linux drivers & setup is decidedly non-trivial), not many /.'ers liked the idea. Part of that reason is that a UMSDOS-based linux distro is not the Right Thing, especially if you're looking to allow the user to gradually move up to greater competence.

    Elegant (in the classic sense) designs are always easy to use, and that's what we should be aiming towards. The opposition stems from the dumbing-down process not generating an elegant design. If you /really/ want someone to someone to use your software right away, you can walk them through it with intelligent defaults. The key is that the walk-through is NOT an elegant design, and that it must not be the only way to use the software.

    Intuition is wrong enough frequently that it's not always a good design...


    * Admittedly, the defaults aren't particularly brilliant, but that's life.

    ** The major advance of Windows 3.1 was the GUI for applications, not for the system. This is where Win9x went horribly wrong. It's a given that the computer won't always be right, so treating cases where it isn't as exceptions is a Bad Idea and tends to break things. (That is to say, I /like/ autoprobing and plug and play, but don't expect them to work.)
    I know it's admitting to being horribly inadequate, but I don't know TeX, and find that WordPerfect 8 and/or AbiWord satisfy my writing urges completely (except for WP8's broken postscript generator). I know I'm not a Real Coder because I like using jcc over emacs or pico. (Though I do keep an xterm handy for doing the makes, because my Makefiles would give makemake the shaking fits.)

    *** IE, we're not building a homogeneous system here; interoperability is going to be a bitch. IE, mounting is the Right Thing to do; is automounting? (For the "Why should I have to 'mount' CD-ROMs when they 'just work' in Windows?" questions.) It is the Right Thing to distribute applications as source; should we adjust the LSB so that there's a user-writable subset of directories for scripted installs? Should we ship our distro with '.rpm' as a MIME-type for netscape so we can 'just download' a binary-form application?
  • Maybe memory serves me wrong but I think I once read (here on slashdot??) that the Linux-community was going to try and get Linux on the desktop-market. Some of the observations made then were that:

    1) HELP is not cool (kewl/c00l);-) ("If you can't find it out by reading the manual or the README, thou art not worthy")

    2) HELP-files are really hard to write. Big companies have people working for them doing nothing but making manuals, and these professionals are the people that make those incredibly clear, easy to read, VCR-manuals!!!

    Truth is (IMHO) that if you guys want to give Linux a place on the desktop, you will have to cope with (l)users.....

    What Linux probably needs is a "TESTGROUP" of some kind. Maybe just a bunch of (ex-)WIN users that are genuinely interested in Linux, but just can't get it working.

    Truth is, I am such a person. I'd love to try and get Linux on my machine, but it's just too damn hard... Well, maybe I'm just a lazy bastard....


    Light travels faster than sound. That is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
  • by Breakfast Cereal ( 27298 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @02:27AM (#1663042)
    The cars to computers analogy is a lousy one and I wish people would stop using it. Everyone uses their cars for pretty much the same thing. Not everyone uses their computers for the same thing. Frankly, a Linux without shell scripting, compilers, configuration files, etc. would be useless to me. That's why I don't use Windows; I can't do a damn thing on it!

    If you must have an analogy, I suggest computers to vehicles. Maybe you need a car, and I need a dump truck, and someone else would need a jet.

    If you must have an OS for the masses, then why don't you write one? Linux was written to be a powerful, Unix-like OS. That's why Linus started on it in the first place. I don't see why it has to meet the needs of every single person. If you want a free home-user OS, there's plenty of GPL'd code you could use to start building one.
  • by shamus ( 62684 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @02:58AM (#1663055) Homepage Journal
    And given that... how did Linux perform? The out-of-box experience seems to have failed.

    I think in this case Linux actually passed extremely well. This guy has done a complete install of Linux, obviously got the desktop working to the extent of browsing the filesystem and CD in the GUI.

    It's CIV:CTP that's failed if anything. I bet if their install had been called setup instead there would have been no problem.

    I've seen plenty of software that's difficult to install under Win, and most that's impossible to uninstall. Quite often with NT some stuff can't be installed without administrator perms because obviously all DLL's have to go in the system directory.

  • I interned for the evil empire last summer and I've got a semi-funny story. Everyone has two machines (slow one for e-mail, fast one for work) there so I installed Linux as my e-mail machine (because Outlook was too slow on my bottom-of-the-pecking-order e-mail machine). All kinds of geeks came out of the woodwork and wanted to play with Enlightenment and my other stuff. A couple guys got accounts to run scripts on it. One clueless manager guy said, "Are you *allowed* to use Linux?", I told him yes, definitely (i had no idea). His next question was, "Do you think I should?" I again told him yes. After I left, I heard he tried to do so, and managed to munge his system. The tech support guys who had to fix it reported it, and got him in trouble for 'undermining the corporate confidence and solidarity'. They came out with an anti-Linux internal use policy as a result, at least for that department.
  • I am an software engineer, and work with several other software engineers who still don't understand mounting disks. I'd set up the autofs automounter, but for the following problem: until the directory is mounted, it does not show up.

    Somebody (if I ever get the time I'll look into it myself) needs to modify autofs so that a mountpoint can be specified, and will show up in the automount directory, but won't be mounted until you actually try to enter that directory and retrieve the file list. That way, under [Gnome|KDE|Enlightenment|*], there will be an icon for drooling user boy to click on. This would go a long way to making Linux easier to use.

    Now, re: Loki's install. The biggest problem with the install script that I had was that it was not tagged as executable on the CD. That means that:

    1. The icon in Gnome won't be the "executable" icon, corn-fusing the user.
    2. You won't be able to launch the install from a GUI and you won't be able to just launch it from the shell. Instead, you have to do a "sh install", which is non-intuitive to the average luser.
    3. The TCL/TK script the installer runs tries to to a grab, which if you are also running something else that wants to do a grab, the installer will error out. Not good. (BTW, I like being able to switch away from the installer and do something productive, which you cannot do under Windows. Point for us!).

    Now, I agree that autostart on programs is a BAD IDEA. I turn it off on my W9bluescreen systems, but it does make it easier for luserboy to run his stuff. I have a friend who has a five year old. She can play her games on the computer, since they all autostart. She finds the CD, puts it in the drive, and there is her game. There is no way my friend will leave that system in Linux and have to deal with a cranky kid! But, autostart should be an option (perhaps a daemon that is launched (or not) on a per user basis when you log in AT THE CONSOLE.

    Lastly, the LSB needs to push some sort of standardized installer, be it RPM, DEB, or supercilfragoulishexpealidous. But it needs to be standardized, it needs to be able to set up any and all desktop managers (i.e. the various GUIs need to settle on a standard, common way to set file associations, icons, etc.), and it needs to work both as a GUI and CLI app.

    Make no mistake: if we do not make Linux desktop ready, Bill will bide his time, gather his strength, and when he is ready, destroy us. In his world view, "There can be only one."

  • She does quite well. She's had Linux for under a week now, but she's already progressed from "how do I hold the mouse?" to sending me email about how much she likes it... that's almost entirely without my help, after showing her the basics once I left town.

    It's running RedHat Linux 6.0, updated with KDE 1.1.2, and heavily tweaked by me to make it easier to use. Sure, it took me two days to configure the machine so that I was happy with it - but after I was done the result was really very good. With constantly improving distributions and apps, I expect that next time it won't take me two days to get even better results...

    Linux just works. Making it work the way you want it to is getting easier every day - and that includes making it user friendly.

    The problem with most usability tests, is people are testing users who already have Windows or Mac experience, and therefore expect certain things from their computers. If Windows users hate using Macs and vice versa, is it fair to expect either to like Linux? A valid test would involve a well configured machine and a complete newbie. I'm getting the distinct impression that Linux can do a pretty good job in that scenario.

  • If Microsoft needs to do hands on tests to figure that linux is unfriendly to newbies who can't rtfm and are trying to manage their own machines, they really are as stupid as many people here seem to think.

    The problem for MS is that a large portion of their constumers are not in this situation at all. I probably could not get many of my non-geek relations to move to Linux today, because they manage their own machines to some extent and don't have the enough interest to learn something new and complex.

    My parents (and my surfin grandma), however, never do any management or installation on their own windows machinse anyways, so if it wasn't for the MS-Office thing I could move them straight over any day now (if they were still living in the same country as me that is). All they have to do is learn to click on an icon in KDE instead of Windows 98.

    As Linux gets more and more simple and the average knowledge of computer users increases, the middle group is shrinking.

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @03:36AM (#1663075)
    > He said that his [nontechnical] mother should be able to use Windows.

    That's the drill: put a Turing Machine on your mother's desk, but hamstring it first, so it won't do anything that would make her need to ask a question or two.

    That's fine for an appliance, but let's not call the result a computer.

  • by RebornData ( 25811 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @03:51AM (#1663085)
    This has been hinted at in a few postings here, but I want to emphasize that there's a BIG difference between how easy things are to learn vs how easy they are to use once you know them well.

    Windows is much easier to learn than Linux. Sit pretty much anyone down who knows how to mouse, and (for example, an experienced Mac user) and they'll probably be able to get a lot of things done. The reason is that the GUI provides a lot of context for you- look at an empty screen, and there's a big start button that will lead you to almost everything that's useful on the computer with nice hierarchical labeling.

    This does NOT mean that Windows is perfect in this regard- knowing to move a little box with a wire sticking out of it to make an arrow on the screen point at something is a new concept for a LOT of people. But it's possible for a reasonably computer literate person to use without reading any documentation.

    It is not possible to find most of the useful things on your average Linux box by pointing and clicking. Yes, it *can* be set up this way for "normal" end-user tasks if someone knows what they are doing comes along and puts all of the right things in (for example) the KDE menuing system. But putting anything new onto the machine (or doing serious reconfiguration work) requires a lot more knowledge than you're likely to get by pointing and clicking. Even finding the right docs can be a real challenge.

    But this is all about the first time you use a system. What about the 100th time? If you're a patient user and have taken the time to learn what to do, the problem changes entirely from "how do I find things" to "how do I get to what I need efficiently". IF you know Linux, it's very efficient to get around in. The command namespace is flat- there is no hierarchical set of menus to click through to get to what you need, so every command is at your fingertips if it's in your brain. Most things can be automated with scripting if you know what you're doing, and if typing three keystrokes to get your favorite text editor open (vi) is too much, you can alias it down to two.

    My point is that "usability" is not a simple scale with things that are "usable" and things that aren't. A lot of you who love Linux today (including me) would hate some of the changes that would be required to make it more friendly for newbies, because it would sacrifice one kind of usability for another. And no, you can't always have it both ways... some of the properties of Linux that make it so powerful (customization) also fundamentally decrease the newbie-friendliness.
  • You'll be flamed for being elitist. And so will I, because I agree with a lot of what you say.

    Actually, Linux might be able to have it both ways, by providing an ease-of-use layer (aka straightjacket) on top of the naked power of the basic system. I just urge those building the EOU layer not to introduce incompatibilities with the base system, so that software not explicitly invoking EOU features will remain portable.

    And don't saddle us with a Macro Virus Support System under the title of "integration".

  • by mcrandello ( 90837 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @04:12AM (#1663104) Homepage
    Come on, why won't we fix the problem? The fundamental problem with computers in general (for beginners) is that they are hard to use. They aren't like coffee-machines or game-consoles.

    Or VCR's. I still can't get mine to work;P
    I'm a recovering Windows user, and for the most part using RH6 is at least as easy as the first time I tried to use Windows 95.

    The fundemental problem with computers exists most often between the chair and keyboard. Hoew much easier is it supposed to be exactly when Microsoft even takes care to put a help entry two or three spots up the bottom from the start menu? The guy in this story saw the words README and didn't even think to check there first.

    Don't get me wrong though...It gives me hope that Red Hat may be onto something basing their business off of supporting people. They'll always need it.

  • by Thomas Charron ( 1485 ) <twaffle&gmail,com> on Friday September 24, 1999 @06:26AM (#1663148) Homepage
    As much as I found this interesting, this simply isn't right. When I call a company, I really don't expect employees OF that company to go announce it all on slashdot.

    I don't care if they changed the name or not.. It was tacky, and makes Loki look bad..

    "Hey guys!! I work at a sex hotline, and I just got a call from ".

    For all the complaining about privacy, apperently it doesn't apply to Microsoft and their employees..
  • by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @06:37AM (#1663160)
    I love the cars and computers comparison, because this is where it comes in. :)

    I don't CARE what the difference is between 10W30 and 10W40 motor oil is. I don't care what my "CV joint" is. I don't have to know the difference between shocks and struts to drive my car. I never want to have to do more than put gas and windshield wiper fluid in my car in order to drive it. When I use my car, I want to get in, turn the key and go somewhere. Yes, I *do* have to know about the steering wheel, turn signal, gas and break pedals, but I don't have to know anything technical about the vehicle to use it properly.

    The car analogy works in other ways, too.

    When I did tech support for an ISP, it amazed me how often people moaned "Oh, this is SO hard" over the phone. I would tell them "click here... click there... click 'ok'" and get "Ohhh... this is sooo hard. How do you learn all this?" But I'm a "computer person" and they're not - why should I be amazed?

    When's the last time you heard a reporter on TV moan or joke about the complexities of cars? "Yes Corky... I know what you mean. Last night I went for a little drive and there was a light blinking on the dash. By the time I figured out I needed something called 'gas', I THEN had to figure out what 'octane' to buy! Those cars are sure difficult" (group chuckle).

    I'm sure this kind of car conversation wouldn't be as out of place if it were 70 or 80 years earlier. But these days, its ludicrous. Furthermore, no respecting "intelligent" public figure would repeat such absurdity. Cars are old hat. EVERYONE knows how to operate them. If they break, most people shrug and hire someone to fix them. When we're "car newbies", we take Driver's Ed. classes to get the basics. Then we build on the basic knowledge with experience. Its all very simple.

    Welcome to the "computer generation". Pundits used to love talking about how computers will be in everyone's life during the 80s. We're there now. And how does popular culture refer to computers? "Ohhh... they're so HARD!"

    Hobbiests are going to enjoy the ins and outs of their chosen interest. They'll tweak and tinker. And they'll smirk at those who don't have their understanding. Even if that hobby involves what others see as simple tools. But that works well for the hobbiest - they can make their interest their profession. Provide the casual user with a simplified interface so they can use their tool. Then take over from them if their tool breaks. It works for cars; it'll work for computers.

    What we don't need is the continued absurdity that, in this day and age, computers are "too hard" fostered on us by popular culture.

  • by Wah ( 30840 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @06:48AM (#1663175) Homepage Journal
    Unix isn't about catering to the consumer.

    It was this thinking that allowed for the rise of Microsoft. Or maybe it was the huge licensing fees. From the GNU Manifesto Once GNU is written, everyone will be able to obtain good system software free, just like air. Following that, shouldn't it be just as easy to use?

    I'm not saying that consumers shouldn't be allowed to use Linux. I'm saying that consumer interests should not be allowed to damage Linux.

    I don't see how they can, other than invading newsgroups and flooding newbie questions. But, when this happens, paying for Service comes into play. Regardless, the whole thing is based on choice, even if a new super-easy GUI distro comes out, you don't have to use it. Just because there are more layers on top doesn't mean you have to use them.

    Change is always difficult to deal with. What I see in this post (and the others like it) is akin to a father watching his daughter go out on her first date. "Touch her and die!" You may shout, but if you had listened to that advice, she would never have existed. Trust that you raised her well and gave her the tools to deal with unwanted advances.

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin