Opinion: "Confessions of an Ubuntu Fanboy" Response
Just got done reading, "Confessions of an Ubuntu Fanboy". While I'm glad the author has decided to be more practical in his promotion of Linux and Ubuntu, I strongly disagree with some of his conclusions and I'll cover them below.
I have been using Linux for about 15 years now and over the course of that time I've helped more people than I care to count with Linux installs, removals and everything in-between. I've seen people try Linux out for a few days and give up on it. I've seen people tough it out and become valued members of our local Linux community. Linux isn't for everyone and choice is good. I no longer advocate Linux for someone who isn't willing to learn new things. I quit trying to push it on people and now I'm somewhat selective in helping people the second they say they want to try Linux. I state up front that there is a learning curve and that they will need to expect it. If I sense that they don't have patience to learn new things, I don't even bother.
The problem with the article in question is that the author seems to want to try to make Linux for everyone and in doing so, he advocates violating some important tenants. He primarily focuses on Windows users but it could be any proprietary OS or applications.
It IS Easy to Learn, but Unlearning is Hard
Linux is just as easy to use as Windows or Mac OS X especially from the point of view of anyone who has no computer experience. The problem is that so many people do come from other environments and they have spent a lot of time learning those environments... and that knowledge is often a stumbling block to learning something new... in this case Linux. People who have been using Microsoft Windows XP for years seem to forget the learning curve they had to go through at the beginning of that relationship. The truth of the matter is that Windows is NOT intuitive and you actually have to learn your way trial and error... but as with anything, learning pays off and you are rewarded for it.
The gist of Jim the former Ubuntu fanboy seems to be that rather than having people learn something new, we should just give up and make it as much like Windows as possible to the point that they are running application virtualization software so they can run the Windows applications they are used to. While I'm not against using Wine or other virtualization technologies to run Windows or Windows apps when you really have a need to, I do not think abandoning native Linux applications wholesale is something that should be considered.
Don't Fear the Command Line
Jim complains that so much of the Linux help available online uses the command line and that new users are scared of the command line. Sorry Jim, the command line is a FEATURE and not a FAILURE. Microsoft has been enhancing their command line options with each new Windows release and Windows has been growing more like Linux/Unix... while at the same time, Linux has been adding more and more GUI management apps and is growing more like Windows. I think that both of those motions are good. I think users should be taught the command line rather than trying to find a way to completely avoid it. Users are better off if they learn how things work and can troubleshoot them in various ways. I'm not against GUI apps but knowing what config files an application / service uses and being able to modify them with ones preferred text editor is a good thing. Having more than one way to do something, is a good thing. Jim contents that the users are scared of the command line. They are... and why is that? Because they are constantly being told that it is hard. It isn't hard... it is actually quite easy... and much more flexible than any GUI application. If you want a good beginners guide to the command line check out the FLOSS Manuals CLI Guide.
Yes, some effort will be needed to learn the command line BUT such learning will definitely be rewarded. As a new user learns a little bit of the command line hopefully their confidence will grow and they will learn NOT to fear it but to appreciate the power, flexibility and speed it offers. The CLI is something we should be saying good things about, not bad mouthing.
Microsoft Office Can't Do ODF?
Yes OpenOffice.org (and broffice.org for those in Brazil) is fairly compatible with Microsoft Office documents... but yes OOo defaults to ODF document types and no, Microsoft Office can't (currently) read them. I hope Jim wasn't suggesting that OOo should switch to making .doc, .xls, and .ppt the default formats? Do we really want to help propagate proprietary document formats? For heavens sake learn why propriety document formats are bad and why open document formats are good... and rejoice in the ability to use both... with the open formats being the ones you should promote. Does this mean that a user has to understand how to save as or export a document from time to time? Yes... the user has to learn... and again they will be rewarded for that learning. Proprietary documents aren't going away any time soon but open formats are catching on and have a very bright future.
Microsoft Office is a big lock-in piece of software especially for those companies or institutions that use Exchange Server and Outlook. Explaining to users that this lock-in exists, that it is ultimately a bad thing, and that open formats and standards are where they should be moving should be a focus of any Linux advocate. I'm not saying you have to be dogmatic or impractical but there is such a good case for open standards why not talk about them.
If you want to exchange documents with others who might be using proprietary formats still, use PDF. OpenOffice.org does export to PDF and in most cases, shared documents do not have to be editable. The P in PDF stands for portable.
Working with Apple Hardware?
Jim complains that Linux mulitimedia apps only work with older iPods and that Canonical should put in significant effort to improve the apps so they can keep up with Apple hardware. Why do you think newer iPods don't work with Linux? How many times has a software provider figured out how to make their software work with Apple hardware only to have Apple intentionally break third-party software the very next application update or hardware revision? Simply put, Apple DOES NOT want anyone else's software to work with their hardware. And they aren't too fond when application developers write modules that make their apps work with open standards (think ogg support in iTunes).
Sure, Apple hardware is popular but so what.? If we have to bend over backwards to make their hardware work and then Apple intentionally is anti-customer... why is that our problem? iPod owners should be demanding that Apple make their hardware work with third-party apps rather than trying to make Linux distro makers license and adopt patent encumbered codecs. Sure it is a pain to learn something new, but one will be rewarded and it is an easy argument in the best interests of the user.
Using Adobe Apps over Native Linux Apps?
Jim doesn't recommend GIMP anymore. Why not? GIMP is mature and has been around since 1995 and is constantly updated and improved. Does it operate exactly like Photoshop? No it doesn't. Should GIMP be exactly like Photoshop? No it shouldn't. Again, learning something new will reward you. Now you can use an application without a proprietary file format... and share documents with your friends and not worry whether or not they can afford a proprietary app to open the document you've sent them. GIMP is available for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, as well as about any OS that offers a C compiler. Photoshop? Not so much.
Why would you recommend giving up on mature, native Linux applications and using Wine as a platform for running Windows apps? If you are going to run one or more Windows apps, why not just run Windows? I do realize that there may be use cases where someone needs a particular application for legacy file compatibility... but the sooner you get out of that trap the better.
Yes there still remain some application categories where there is no suitable substitute application so in those cases, ok... use virtualization or Wine... but don't just give up on native Linux applications.
Abandoning Principles for Popularity?
If we as a community have to abandon our principles to gain popularity, what have we gained? The phrase "Year of the Linux Desktop" has been batted around like an indestructible pinata. I've been using Linux as my desktop since 1995 and it has gotten better every year. Do I want to do whatever it takes to get more numbers? No. If I have to lose what is good about Linux for it to become more popular, I'd rather it continue a slow growth rate and be less of a security target.
If Linux grows more rapidly by getting users to abandon other free software, what have we gained? I guess we could hope that eventually users will learn the benefits of open standards, file formats and applications but is enabling better use of closed things the way to do it? I don't think so.