Debunking the ongoing Linux usability myth | Apertura Designs

Debunking the ongoing Linux usability myth

Pat Pilcher, writing for the New Zealand Herald today outlined alternative operating system (OS) choices in the face of Windows XP's imminent end of life. It's a useful article, and touches on the options available for migrating off the Windows platform altogether. However, the author unfortunately makes blanket, inaccurate statements about Linux, the sorts of which were popularised many years ago and simply do not apply today. We'd like to offer clarification here on some key points.

First, the author makes reference to "Linux" itself being a product comparable to Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X. In practice, Linux is more a core suite of openly developed technologies which are packaged by technology vendors and delivered to consumers in all manner of branded products. Because of the sheer range of devices running Linux (thousands – from supercomputers and aircraft, to in-car entertainment systems, televisions, and smartphones), it is far more useful when making comparisons to Windows and OS X to focus on a specific OS product with a clear relevance to business desktop computer and laptop use – such as Ubuntu. While the fact that Ubuntu is based on Linux technology under-the-hood might be of some academic interest, businesses are clearly more likely to be attracted to the practical advantages over Windows in cost, security, stability, ease of use, and innovation that Ubuntu brings to the table.

The second statement we must take issue with is the following:

  • "Going down the Linux route is however likely to involve a steep learning curve for non-techie users, who'll also have to sort out apps and drivers for legacy peripherals (or replace them with Linux-compatible equivalents)."

The first claim of a "steep learning curve for non-techie users" is totally and demonstrably not the case. Ubuntu has a beautiful, streamlined interface every bit the equal of its counterparts. In our experience, customers have absolutely no problem adapting to Ubuntu's familiar look and feel – and often delight in the user interface innovations not found on Windows or OS X.

The second claim of having to "sort out apps" is also perplexing. Ubuntu has for years featured its own app store (the Ubuntu Software Centre), enabling one-click installation of a vast array of excellent software (45,000 available applications at the time of writing). It's a system which has worked so well that Apple has only comparatively recently copied the concept with their own Mac App Store implementation.

The third claim of "driver support for legacy peripherals" refers to the third-party pieces of software that enables hardware such as your home office scanner or webcam to work with your computer. In the context of the article, which is about alternatives to Windows XP, this is a non-issue. Technology has advanced a great deal in the 12 years since Windows XP was released, and there's no reason to expect that older hardware accessories purchased during the lifetime of Windows XP will continue to work on Windows 8. In many cases they will not be supported, effectively making the accessory obsolete. One could strongly argue that migrating from Windows XP to Ubuntu certainly offers no drawback in this regard compared with migrating from Windows XP to Windows 8.

These generalised statements of Linux-based operating systems having sub-par ease of use, poor app availability and limited hardware support hark from a long-bygone era. The plain fact is that modern open source operating systems such as Ubuntu are more than ready to replace their proprietary counterparts, and there's no shortage of organisations small and large successfully making the switch.

Rather than take our word for it however, or those of industry commentators, we urge you to try it for yourself. Ubuntu is a breeze to install, and the cost is zero. You can even take an online tour. We'd love to hear what your experiences are.