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SEUL: What's so hard about Linux...

I've tried to start this discussion before, but I'll give it one more go,
if only to end the tiresom .deb versus .rpm debate:

This project is founded on the assumption that there is something about
current Linux distributions that make them 'too hard' to be used by 'the
average user.'  I don't necessarily disagree, but I haven't heard any
convincing statements of what exactly is so hard.  For the sake of
argument, let'd deal separately with installation versus using a system
once it's installed.

What's so hard about installing Linux?

I know the answers here: Repartitioning and setting up X.  The main
problem with X is figuring out what kind of hardware the user has.  To the
extent that we can autodetect hardware, we can solve this problem.  But I
don't think we can autodetect everything, so the question becomes how can
we increase the probability that the user will give us the correct
information before he or she gives up in frustration.  For many users this
window of opportunity will be infintesimal; these users will never install
SEUL (NB I wouldn't expect these guys to handle installing Windows 95 on
their flaky hardware themselves either.)

Repartitioning is hard.  I don't think it's all that hard technically to
wrap defrag, FIPS, and FDISK into a friendly package.  The problem is that
once you've got this wondertool, you've got to either make the decisions
about how to repartition for him or force him to figure it how for
himself.  Both options have drawbacks, and I think managing not to be
gored by the horns of this dilimma is the real challenge in improving the
Linux installtion process.

I must admit to being pessimistic about seriously improving Linux
installations.  There are a lot of little things that can be improved, but
installing a second OS (especially on PC hardware) is hard, and is not
likely to be undertaken by 'the average user' anyway.

What's so hard about using Linux?

What indeed. After I installed RedHat, I logged in through xdm and was
presented with a friendly Win95esque screen complete with a start menu
from whence I could run the apps I had chosen to install.  The apps worked
pretty much like I expected; most Open and Save menus brought up dialog
boxes that showed me a hierarchical directory structure just like I was
used to from other OS's.  The only think I missed was a desktop file
manager ala Explorer or Finder.

But I'm a geek whose used Linux for nearly four years.  Probably most you
are geeky linuxophiles as well.  Let's look seriously at what users might
miss in a out of the box linux systems.  App support is probably the big
thing, but there is only so much seul can do about that.  The number two
problem we're pretty much powerless against as well: it's different.
People would have a lot of the same complaints moving from Win95 to OS/2
as they do moving from Win95 to Linux.  We could make SEUL look and feel
as much like Windows 95 as possible, but I think that would kind of be
missing the point.

So what can we do?  I really don't know.  Think about the day to day tasks
your 'average user' friends and family want to use the computer for.  Walk
through these tasks in your head and try and figure out where they might
stumble if they were doing them on a Linux system.  Don't just rely on
your best guess - look over people's shoulders for the next couple of days
and try and project their actions onto a Linux machine.  What problems
might they face?  I think if we take a good look at these details, we can
better identify the areas in which SEUL might meaningfully contribute.


| Jay Bloodworth                  | jay@pathways.sde.state.sc.us |
| Network Technician              | Voice: (803) 734-7000        |
| SC Department of Education      | Fax: (803) 734-4064          |

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