% fortune -ae paul murphy

The great divide

A few weeks ago, Serdar Yegulalp wrote a long article for Information week under the title Ubuntu Linux Vs. Windows Vista: The Battle For Your Desktop.

Here's the teaser:

Is Linux finally ready to take on Windows as a desktop OS? We tried out both Vista and Ubuntu on individual PCs to see which works better. Here's who won.

And the conclusion?

Ubuntu works best at handling the ordinary task-based day-to-day stuff, the kinds of applications that don't need a particular operating system to run well. Admittedly, the applications themselves aren't tied to any one OS anymore; you don't need Windows (or Linux) to run a good word processor, and you don't need Linux (or Windows) to have a good Web browser. Vista, on the other hand, has a level of completeness and polish in many small respects that some people find it hard to do without -- the way hardware devices are handled, for instance.

This article drew 222 comments on digg the very first of which, by Schestowitz, hit the nail precisely on the head:

To the author, it should be clear that changing software is not like changing diapers. It takes time to learn new things and acquire more software and hardware that is perfectly compatible. Skills likewise. Evidently, this reviewer provides a (or "yet another") case of Mr. John Bloggs tries Lunix (sic) for a week and then reports on differences wrt Windows [XP|Vista] (siblings), which the reviewer has used for over a decade.

Change takes time. The "grandma" reference at the end must assumed that $Grandma has never used $Operating_System. Fair judgement is one that oblivious to prejudice and convenient assumptions.

The vast majority of the comments echo consequences of "Mr. John Bloggs's" lack of Linux experience. People point out, for example:

  1. that the author pretends to compare two OSes but is actually only comparing two GUIs - and the wrong one for Linux at that;

  2. that the author confuses free and nearly OS independent applications like GIMP with expensive and locked in applications like Photoshop without considering either cost or performance; and,

  3. that the author is less than either correct or current on just about everything Linux: from back-up to device management and the availability of multiple GUIs.

Interspersed with these observations on the article itself are the usual comments from proponents of the two OSes nominally being compared. These comments are, of course, off topic because they're about the article's topic, not the article itself, but these are the comments of interest here because they illustrate the extent to which the two groups, the wingots and lingots, talk mainly to themselves, and therefore past each other, even when attempting to communicate.

Consider the following exchange:

by pasuljko on 4/27/07

Very balanced article.

Unfortunately, did not really point enough times that Ubuntu is FREE.

If something free is as good as something costing $300 based on technical/usability merit, choice would be more obvious once financial element is factored in the decision.

by klawz on 4/27/07

Yea, tap water is free too, but you see people paying over $13.00 a gallon for bottled water, all the time, with no real benefit other than taste, and they can buy a water filter that is 1000x cheaper if they are all that worried about taste.

by mississippiman on 4/27/07

also as far as 90% of windows users are concerned its free as well. (either because of piracy or because it was pre-installed) so price really isn't the issue here

by rusty075 on 4/27/07

But Time is not free. If I'm paying my employees $25 an hour and the time lost retraining them in Linux and Linux software when they already know Windows is more than about 4 hours, then the "free" software is costing me more than the commercial software would have.

At home you may not have employees, but your time still has value. If you are already Windows-literate the time spent learning Linux and getting it to work right on your particular machine is time that could have been spent doing something more enjoyable. If I had to pick between paying $100 and spending half an hour installing Vista on my mothers computer, or spending $0 and several hours, plus numerous phone calls over the following weeks and months, teaching her how to use Ubuntu, I would buy the Windows every time.

That is, of course, unless learning Linux IS enjoyable to you. For many of us it is, which is why Linux has a larger user base in the "computer enthusiast" market than it does in the "casual user" market. Until someone develops a Linux product that leverages the entirety of the Windows user base's knowledge, and requires little or no new knowledge to operate, and installs on as many machines as simply as Windows does, Linux will continue to struggle for market penetration beyond the hobbyists. Installation troubles are still a huge hurdle, even for Ubuntu. You ever try to troubleshoot bungled drivers on a machine when you don't have internet access via another computer in the house? Thats enough to drive me to drinkin'. The trouble is, if someone does develop a product that does all that the chances are that they will be selling it, not giving it away.

by stmiller on 4/27/07

pasuljko was modded down by the windows fanboys, I see. Boy- they are feisty today. This parent post has a point.

by langford on 4/27/07


You're over estimating the effort involved in "training" for Linux, and assuming that most office employees are actually proficient at using Microsoft products. Linux is more complex, primarily for the IT department that installed it. To the average user at their desk, training amounts to logging in and finding the applications menu. If you want to bring OpenOffice into the equation, it's basically the same toolbar and drop down menu that they either do or don't already know how to use from years of either Microsoft Office, or even Corel's products.

Here "pasuljko" responds to the article by pointing out that it compares the value of two products without mentioning their cost differences - "klawz" seems to say that Windows users are fashion victims without minds of their own, and mississippiman proves himself not from Missouri by stating a consequence as a cause. Wow, but the key to what's going on is in the response from "rusty075:"

But Time is not free. If I'm paying my employees $25 an hour and the time lost retraining them in Linux and Linux software when they already know Windows is more than about 4 hours, then the "free" software is costing me more than the commercial software would have.

Look carefully and you should see that he's implying an unrealistically low Vista cost, ignoring application license costs, and pretending that the up front license costs define total cost. Now ask yourself: his writing style and the complexity of expression suggest that he's way to smart too believe that - so why do it?

Festinger would understand - Rusty075 is not lying to us, he's lying to himself; and if you re-read the rest of his comment above you'll see more of that same syndrome at work. Everything he says looks kind of sensible - until you think about it a bit and realize that even the personal preference bit, which should be unquestionable, has a hidden assumption whose effect is to make Rusty075 feel better about his choices: grandma already has a magically effective understanding of how to use Vista.

"Langford": answers him on some of the facts implicit in his comment, but here's the real question I'm asking you to consider: do you think either one understood the other? did anything in any of the 222 comments change anyone's mind about anything?

My answer is no - and I picked this discussion precisely because it was civilised, largely dominated by a literate pro-Linux crowd, and generally reflects a commitment to communication and community.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.