Here Be Dragons

March 14, 2007 at 4:14 PM

I was updating my server this afternoon. Since this particular server runs Gentoo, this means that I was browsing the web while idly watching thousands of lines of open source code compile and optimize itself in a background window. If you're not technically inclined, suffice it to say that this is the closest real-world experience one can have to sitting in an over-sized hovercraft watching three screens spit a live sample of "The Matrix" out at you.

Well, okay—it's a little bit different. In my particular experience, there was only one screen, and DeVotchKa was blaring merrily in the background. Thankfully, Keanu Reeves was nowhere to be seen. In any case, I'm happily browsing, when I suddenly see the following zip by in the background:

   (  )   /\   _                 ( 
\ | ( \ ( \.( ) _ \ \ \ ) \ ( _ / _ \ (` \+ . x ( .\ \/ \_-----------/ (o) \_ - .- \+ ; ( O \__ ) \___ ` \ / (__ +- .( -'.- <. - _ VVVVVVV VV V\ \/ ( ..: < - <- _ (-- AAAAAAAA/ | . /./.+- . .- / +-- - . \___// \_ (_ ' /x / x _/ ( \__' \ / , x / ( ' . / . / | \ / / / _/ / + / \/ ' (__/ / \ NMAP IS A POWERFUL TOOL -- USE CAREFULLY AND RESPONSIBLY

That's right—NMap needed upgrading. I've often heard complaints that the Linux desktop offers too many barriers to the general populous—veritable dragons, barring the way to adoption.

Frankly, I'm less and less tolerant of that argument. I've seen people with little technical inclination sit down at an Ubuntu installation and be productive within minutes. Take my wife, for example: a classically trained ballet dancer surrounded by art, then a business major surrounded by (and inundated with) the Microsoft world of business productivity. She's in danger of becoming an Ubuntu convert, and probably would be one already if her homework instructions weren't so Excel-specific.

Of course, I'm sure she wouldn't feel comfortable installing Linux herself. But I'm also quite sure she wouldn't feel comfortable installing Windows herself, either, which illustrates why pre-installed Linux is such an important issue. At present, being able to use Linux has as a tacit prerequisite of being able to install Linux. That sort of inhibitor is nonexistent in the Microsoft world, and quite frankly, is why so many Windows machines run every day full of spyware and viruses. Windows users are allowed to be users alone, and are not forced to be administrators as well.

Ubuntu at least is at a stage where one could simply use it without having to perform any administration—but only if it were installed on the given hardware by a knowledgeable expert. Of course, the same issue is true for Windows machines: the average user will be lost installing third-party drivers, partitioning hard drives, et cetera. If OEMs would devote resources towards creating a pre-installed version, the average home user could find it quite sufficient. Of course, of course—I'm not talking about gamers. Gaming on Linux isn't up to par, by any means, and I've written specifically about that topic before.

As far as I'm concerned, the software and usability Dragons guarding entrance to the Linux Desktop have been slain—the ones that remain, if any, are due to misunderstandings, shady business practices, or the occasional Gentoo upgrade (a side note: Gentoo seems to pride itself in dragons; don't bother with it unless you like getting your hands dirty, and slightly burnt).