Windows: Choice But No Choice

Posted by Scott_Ruecker on Mar 8, 2010 1:19 PM EDT
LXer Linux News; By Scott Ruecker (Phoenix, U.S.)
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LXer Feature: 08-Mar-2010

In the area of window managers Linux users are completely and totally spoiled rotten. We constantly debate the merits of one desktop environment/window manager over another. We argue over what programs are better than others, what versions of those programs we like over another and getting in world class pissing contests all the while crying about what we wish they would do better or differently. I wish Windows users had this problem, but they don't. Why? Because they have no choice.

I know that there are other window managers for Windows but they are little more than themes compared to what we have. We Linux users have thousands of versions of Linux that you can run on multiple types of hardware with dozens of different desktop environments on top of them, or none at all if your really cool. All of them customizable to the hilt and we're still not happy. It seems like we are the spoiled child in the 31 Flavors who can't find anything they like while poor Windows users have no idea that 'ice cream' comes in anything other than vanilla, and a sad vanilla at that.

We have gotten fat on the bounty of choices and drunk with the power of functionality they provide us. Go use a generic NT, 2000 or XP setup for a week and then try and tell me that KDE, GNOME, Xfce, Enlightenment etc. are really that much better or worse than each other. Because compared to the Microsoft window manager in any version of Windows, any Linux window manager blows it away. Many authors, Bruce Byfield stands out in my mind, have told and re-told their issues with, loves and hates of competing desktop environments to the point of ad nauseam.

Give me a desktop environment I do not like on top of a Linux version I cannot stand and it will still be a thousand times better than any Windows machine you could put in front of me. And I will make a bet that even if forced to use the desktop environment and distro I do not like I would still be able to change enough of the settings and download whatever programs I couldn't live without and make it enough to my liking that I could live with it, happily. I could not do that with Windows even if I wanted too.

I am just trying to give some perspective to this issue, not pick any fights. I used to prefer KDE over GNOME until KDE 4.0 came out and I have always liked Enlightenment and Xfce but I have never really used them extensively. As a Linux user I have the luxury of choice in being able to have that opinion. It is those choices that almost all Windows users have no clue they are even missing out on.

When I show people some of the cool desktop effects I have enabled, which are completely useless for getting any work done but good for some shock value attention getting. I show them all the cool ways I can make the desktop look and feel the way I want it too and to a person they get a touch jealous and want to know how they can get that cool stuff on their Windows machine. That is when I start in on what Linux is and such.

I know that may not be the best way to expose someone to Linux but hey if it works right? It is all about the comfort level of the individual user and that varies from person to person. I can hear many of you saying "Duh Scott, like we didn't know that already?" But we need to keep finding ways to make checking out and/or switching to Linux more comfortable. How? With the advent of the 'Live CD' it has gotten much less painful or downright painless if you ask me, for the uninitiated and fearful. I was one of them, I remember being afraid of what this "Linux thing" would do to my computer if it messed it up and asking myself what I would do with my computer if it happened to turn it into an expensive paperweight.

Firefox has done a great service to Linux and FOSS in general in that regard because just getting people to switch the browser they use was, and still is a big big deal to most. That one choice alone has changed how millions of people view their interaction with the Internet and as Google has shown with their release of Chrome, their perception of what a operating system is as well. I have a recent visit to a friends as an example..

So just a few days ago I was over at a friends and was asked if I could take a look at their XP computer to see what I could do to make it run better. It was running very slow overall and it would take IE several minutes just to open and/or close. The obvious answer from most of us would be simple, just install some Linux on it and Bang! problems all go bye bye right? But its not that simple in practice as Carla Schroder recently pointed out, it can be a real pain to just try and tidy up the cupboards on a Windows system let alone "make it run better".

In my attempt to make their XP machine run better I introduced them to the idea, that's right, the idea of running a different browser than IE. I literally had to start at the very beginning and tell the history of Netscape (which they remembered hearing about) and how Firefox/Mozilla came from it and told them that there are several other browsers besides IE that you can surf the Internet with. After all this time knowing me, my friend had only the vaguest idea what Firefox was, I kid you not.

It took me almost an hour of explaining and answering questions before they were comfortable enough to allow me to install Firefox on their machine. I showed them around the settings, got all their bookmarks imported, made a few little changes I knew would help and made it their default browser. It reminded me of myself years ago when I finally got brave enough to install some program called 'Mozilla' on my computer, now look at me.

Until my friend gets the hang of Firefox I have no plans to introduce Linux into their life. They know that it is a operating system not exactly like Windows but that is all. I have learned that to force a change on someone is a recipe for failure. Not only for me in trying to show them the joys of using FOSS, but for them in the frustration of using something they don't think they need or even want to use because of their lack of familiarity with it.

I know I am most likely going to start another lengthy desktop environment debate by posting this but it is my hope that a few Windows users come across this article and ask themselves, "You mean I have a choice?". Because they do, they just don't know it yet.

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» Read more about: Story Type: Editorial, LXer Features; Groups: Community, Enlightenment, GNOME, GNU, KDE, Linux, Microsoft, Mozilla, Xfce

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Couldn't agree more hkwint 17 1,122 Mar 11, 2010 10:29 PM
Window Manager gstrock 19 1,100 Mar 10, 2010 8:43 AM
I remember! ardchoille 2 796 Mar 10, 2010 1:30 AM

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