More Open Source – Linux coming to the end user

My previous post explained my interest in open source software and how I try to use it where ever possible.

A couple of days ago while browsing round the web I noticed that the new version of Ubuntu (6.0.6) has been released. Having been quite a fan of 5.10 I immediately set about downloading it. The new version comes in two different flavours; server and desktop. I decided to download the desktop version first. As with previous versions, the desktop version downloads as a live CD.

Two minutes later I had a fully up and running Linux desktop. Nothing special there as there are literally hundreds of live linux CDs on the web. However, what struck me about Ubuntu was the tidiness of this particular distribution. Remembering that this is aimed at an end user it had all the main applications you would expect to find on an end users desktop:

  • OpenOffice 2.0
  • GAIM
  • GIMP
  • Firefox
  • Evolution

However, still nothing particularly amazing there. So I decided to click the icon on desktop to install it. 15 minutes later and I had a fully installed and working desktop with all the same applications.

Now I am no Microsoft evangelist but I have to admit that Microsoft have the ability to make software intuitive and easy to use. Take MS Word for example. If I am typing a document and don’t know how to do something, without referring to the online help (being a techie) I can usually click around and find the option where I would expect to look. The whole interface is fairly intuitive. The same goes for Windows. MS have being very successful at making Windows easy to use.

Traditionally, I believe that the thing which has stopped Linux from being more widely adopted as a standard end-user desktop is this lack of intuition within the software and the necessity to have more technical knowledge to be able to accomplish tasks within the OS.

With the new version of Ubuntu I am seeing a definite catch up in the usability of this OS by non-technical users. For example, there is now the equivalent of Windows auto update. After booting the software I was immediately offered the chance of automatically updating the 10 or so bits of code that were now out of date. I also decided that I wanted to install some more software, so clicked on the menu and there it was “Add/Remove Programs”, with a nice categorised list of applications to install. No more worrying about getting the dependant packages correct. This takes care of all that for you. After selecting the software to install, the machine realised I needed admin rights. So instead of throwing an error and failing, I was asked for the admin password, genius!!

I still think the linux world has a bit of a way to go before we can truly see widespread adoption of Linux but with Microsoft upping the hardware specs with each new release of their software (have you seen the minimum specs for Vista yet), I can see more and more organizations as well as end user looking for the realistic and affordable alternative. Linux might just at last be that alternative!


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