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Compassion for Windows Users

In a discussion which covered some of the differences between Linux and Windows, a Windows using friend asked me if I felt compassion for Windows users.

I feel some compassion for people who have bad working environments. While using an operating system that has poor support for the business tasks does decrease the quality of the working environment, there are bigger issues. For example a while ago I was doing some sys-admin work for a financial organisation. I had to use Windows for running the SSH client to connect to Linux servers, this was annoying and decreased my productivity due to the inability to script connections etc. My productivity was also decreased because of my unfamiliarity with the Windows environment, it seems reasonable to assume that when you hire a Linux sys-admin they will have some experience of Linux on the desktop and be quite productive with a Linux desktop system – while the same can not be said for a Windows desktop. But what really made the working environment awful was the paperwork and the procedures. If a server doesn’t work properly and someone says “please fix it now” and I only have a VT100 terminal then I’ll be reasonably happy with that work environment (really – I wouldn’t mind a contract where the only thing on my desk was a VT100 connected to a Linux server). But when a server process hangs in the same way several times a week, when the cause of the problem is known and the fix (restarting the process) is known it really pains me to have to wait for a management discussion about the scope of the problem before restarting it.

But I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for people who end up in bad working environments such as the one I was briefly in. Anyone who is capable of getting such a job is capable of getting a job with a better working environment while still earning significantly more than the median income. The people I feel sorry for are the ones who work on the minimum wage. I don’t think that the difference between Linux and Windows on the desktop would matter much if you were getting the minimum wage, and people who are on the minimum wage don’t have a lot of choice in regard to employment (I think that all options for them suck).

I don’t have much sympathy for adults who use Windows at home. I have to admit that there are some benefits to running Windows at home, mainly that the hardware vendors support it better (few companies sell PCs with Linux pre-loaded) and there are some commercial games which are in some ways better than the free games (of course there are more than enough free Linux games to waste all your time – and some games are best suited to a console). Linux has significantly lower hardware requirements than Windows (my main machine which I am using to write this blog post is more than three years old and has less power than any other machine on sale today apart from some ultra-mobile PCs), so any long-term Windows user can install Linux on one of their machines which lacks the resources to run the latest version of Windows.

The only Windows users for whom I have much sympathy are children. When I was young every PC came with a BASIC interpreter and everyone shared source code. Books were published which taught children how to program in BASIC which included fairly complete example programs. For the cases where proprietary software was needed the prices used to be quite low (admittedly the programs were much less complex – so pricing is probably in line with the effort or writing the code). Now it seems that computers are often being provided to children as closed systems that they can’t manipulate, the web browser has replaced the TV.

I believe that Linux is the ideal OS for a child to use. There is a wide range of free educational programs (including kturtle – the traditional Logo turtle) and there are also a range of free powerful programs which can be used by any child. Few parents would buy Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator for a child to play with, but anyone can give a child a $100 PC with GIMP and Inkscape installed. They might as well give 3yo children access to the GIMP – it will be less messy than fingerpainting!

I expect that some parents would not consider Linux for their children because they don’t know how to use it. Fortunately Linux is easy enough to use that a child can install it without effort. Some time ago the 11yo daughter of a friend who was visiting asked if she could play some computer games. I gave her a Fedora CD and one of the PCs from my test lab and told her that she had to install the OS first. Within a small amount of time she had Fedora installed and was playing games. While the games she played were not particularly educational, the fact that she could install the OS on a computer was a useful lesson.

It seems to me that children who are raised as Windows users are less likely to learn how computers work or be able to control them properly. I expect that on average a child who is raised in such a manner will have fewer career options in today’s environment than one who properly understands and controls computers.

12 comments to Compassion for Windows Users

  • Carsten Aulbert

    Nah, not GIMP for the 3 year olds. Tuxpaint is much, much better and even comes with “naughty” sounds that the kids love and laugh about.

  • [...] lovely little quote from Russell Coker in an article about whether he has sympathy for Windows users: Some time ago the 11yo daughter of a friend who was visiting asked if she could play some computer [...]

  • alex

    I agree with everything apart from the comment on games. It’s quite simply not possible to run the vast majority of new PC games on Linux. A large number of PC games are also released on consoles, but this only looks at large, big bidget games. Small, independant games still come out mostly on Windows, and they just don’t work in any form under linux.
    This is what keeps my desktop at home running Windows.

  • Silvère

    Hi Russell,
    Why shifting a rational discussion towards a sentimental incline (compassion?, sympathy?).

    Carsten, thanks for the Tuxpaint tip.


  • I’m going to have to challenge the idea that Windows games don’t work on Linux. Even ones that don’t officially work under Wine tend to since the Wine 1.0 release, and in particular with most of Wine 1.1′s snapshots. I’ve been using Debian since 1997, and I’ve been a gamer since 2001. I don’t do Windows. id and Atari have been relatively good about producing Linux ports (and id is so noble as to rerelease their legacy products in a DFSG-compatible license!), for everything else there’s Wine.

  • etbe

    Carsten: Tuxpaint might be better, but GIMP is what I have observed to work. I will have to suggest Tuxpaint and get some experimental data on this.

    alex: I’m not sure what you are disagreeing with. I admit that there are some benefits to playing games on Windows (due to some Windows games being better than Linux games). I merely note that my gaming needs are totally satisfied by Linux games.

    Silvere: I was asked about compassion for Windows users. Anyway I think that the technical issues were sorted out a long time ago.

    Paul: Sure you can use Wine, but I really doubt that it will work as easily as just installing games natively on Windows.

    It will certainly be a lot harder than “apt-get install freeciv wesnoth freecraft” (which installs three games with a single command and no effort). Of course installing Windows games on Windows is a lot harder than that.

  • etbe: You’d really be pleasantly surprised, then. Just as a test, I removed all my wine prefixes and started from scratch with 1.1. I didn’t have to do anything fancy to get everything working. So far, the only bugs I’ve come across is a minor visual glitch in TF2 and voice input doesn’t want to work with my Plantronics USB headset in Steam.

    Even programs like Auran Trainz that used to be a real bitch to get working in Wine are just as easy to get working as Windows (possibly easier if you have two games that normally conflict, since you can just install both in their own wineprefix and they’ll never even know the other exists).

  • [...] developer Russell Coker has an interesting blog about compassion for Windows users. One of his friends asked him whether he feels that or [...]

  • thedarkknight

    complete fanboy rubish. if someone uses windows and gets work done, which I witness everyday then why bash them? grow up, and as linux matures as a desktop platform it will get looked at, but as long as dropping to a CLI is a neccesity, and jumping through hoops to get sound and your ipod working it will remain a niche O/S at best.

  • etbe

    thedarkknight: Thanks for the windows fanboy perspective. For reference dropping to a CLI is not necessary for typical Linux desktop use, and sound and USB mass storage access doesn’t require any special effort (it usually works with a default install).

    If I was going to bash Windows users then I would suggest that they all lack knowledge of how a modern Linux system works. ;)

  • mcinsand

    etbe, why did you softpeddle your windows fanboy bash? a more accurate slam would be:

    If I was going to bash Windows users then I would suggest that they all lack knowledge of how a modern operating system works. ;)

    Seriously, what idiot would integrate the web browser, GUI, and OS together? And, I don’t know of a single Windows user (and I know a lot) that doesn’t complain about constant crashes, constantly degrading performance, and lack of dependability.

  • thedarkknight: Oh grow up. Windows has it’s CLI and it’s often just as necessary to use it as it is in Linux these days. CLIs are a bit more howto friendly because you don’t have to subjectively describe a user interface, and it ages better because commands change less often than UI widgets do. Plus you don’t have to assume someone is using a specific widget set then…

    Even Windows users were knocking the inability to get to a command line in MacOS… and then Apple bought out NeXT and started using /that/ for their OS…

    The command line isn’t going away any time soon, on any platform. Even Microsoft accepts that.