Let's talk Linux, but in a language we can all understand

Jack Wallen believes that a language barrier is preventing Linux from being adopted, en mass, on the desktop. Do you think a simplified, standardized language for Linux is the solution?


Linux language

For the uninitiated, the text below may as well be Martian:

forward slash

Honestly, the language of Linux doesn’t register on the radar of many computer users. And while it’s a great feeling to be a part of the “in crowd,” that's also one of the reasons why Linux often has a hard time gaining much of a foothold with desktops. Sure, anyone these days can learn a GUI -- but Linux users are challenged to learn a completely different way of thinking, a different language, and a different wiring of the brain.

Instead of a magical place where Documents, Downloads, Music, Desktop, and Favorites reside (what IT people understand as C:\users\USERNAME\ -- as in Windows 7), these folders live in /home/USERNAME/. To you and me, it’s as simple as typing out the command ‘grep.’ To those who aren’t hip to the lingo, this odd place called ‘home’ doesn’t compute. Why do you need a ‘home’ directory? And why do you also call it “tilde forward slash” (or “tilde slash” or “tilde wack”)?

The language of Linux

I've often said that in order for Linux to really make any headway in the realm of the desktop, it has to start targeting the majority of users on the planet. Those users are not:

  • Developers
  • Geeks
  • Gamers
  • Members of Mensa
  • Any of the characters on The Big Bang Theory

Linux needs to start speaking to people who use their computers for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, meme creation, email, a document here and there, chatting -- you know, your mom, your little sister and brother, your grandma and grandpa... the real average users who don’t know what a C drive or root partition are and who never (and I mean NEVER) want to issue a command (other than “Eat your vegetables.”)

The language of Linux is something that needs a bit of revision. You could see this happening with the Ubuntu GUI -- slowly they evolved the Linux desktop into something anyone could understand. Take, for instance, the package manager. Ubuntu switched from Synaptic to the Ubuntu Software Center -- a centralized software management tool that's very similar to the highly regarded Apple App Store. The same thing needs to occur with the language. I don’t propose to do a sweeping change to naming conventions that have been around for decades. What I believe is that, possibly, a second “language” needs to be adopted -- one that is simplified and standardized. As much as I don’t like the idea, this new language might have to take a nod from Microsoft or Apple.

So, instead of $HOME, home, or ~/, maybe we have Library. The Library could contain:

  • Desktop
  • Documents
  • Downloads
  • Music
  • Videos

Instead of root or /, we could adopt Windows C Drive nomenclature (or get cute and call it the “L Drive”).

You see where I’m going with this? Language is crucial to helping new user adoption. Confusing them out of the starting gate is the easiest way to lose them. It’s hard enough for those user to learn a new interface, let alone a completely new way of thinking and talking about the way they use their computers. If the language used with the public was drastically simplified, new users wouldn’t be nearly as hesitant to adopt it.

And this new language would hardly affect the core of the Linux community. No changes would need be made to the code or the interfaces. The only noticeable changes might be within the marketing literature or documentation distributed to the public.

Here’s the possible thorn to be angrily jabbed into the side of the Linux community. We all know that adopting standards is something that never seems to fly with Linux. Why is it, when a community growls and snaps at Microsoft for not following standards, something as “no brainer” like as standards are not followed? And nearly every distribution is guilty of this.

The distribution communities would all have to open their eyes and understand this one simple standard would go such a long way to making Linux more accessible to the common user. Adopting a language that everyone can agree on and understand (without putting much thought into the process) could be that magic bullet Linux needs to finally make headway into the desktop.

Let’s talk Linux -- but in a language we can all grasp.

Do you agree that Linux should simplify and standardize it's language? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.




Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website


Sheesh. Linux for Dummies, by a dummy. 

John Madsen
John Madsen

The vast majority care not what language is used, it's still how it looks and feels. So why are you wasting time talking about this?

Francis Enimil Ashun
Francis Enimil Ashun

I agree with you but the other things about variants of Linux operating systems are the lack of backward compatibilities. My HP pavilion dv7 with AMD Radeon graphics 4800 working flawlessly with windows 8.1 cannot work perfectly with Ubuntu 14.04 due to Radeon graphics compatibilities. Why should a user go through the hassle of downloading multimedia graphics before they can watch simple movies, or stream YouTube? Yes Sabayon and linux mint come with these pre-installed but they are not as known as Ubuntu, or even Opensuse or Fedora. In windows one can install programs offline without the need for the use of tarballs and what have you. And lastly the intolerance of linux experts when a newbie asks what seem  to them a foolish or silly question. In my humble opinion these are also some of the things that keep simple users from ever adopting linux  en-masse. Ubuntu is trying but they need to do more. Apple took Unix and polished it to a great product, Google is doing wonders with linux renamed Android maybe Ubuntu should rebrand and make the distro to just work out of box to attract many more ordinary users.


I subscribe to this site as a user interested in tech things rather than as a tech professional. As a user, this article hits the spot. I have tried Linux (Mint and Ubuntu), and while slicker and quicker than Windows it is just too geeky for everyday use. This is particularly so when installing programs or applications - Windows just works, whereas Linux is a baffling battle. The basic question is: is Linux for IT specialists or for the public at large? If it is for tech specialists, no need to do anything. If Linux wants to move into the mainstream it has to become user-friendly in the way that Windows is.


Way too many developers and versions. The average Joe just can not get it to perform smoothly.You buy something that says compatible with LINUX and good luck.I have three USB wifi adapters and can not get either one to work properly in LINUX.Usually video jerks and skips even if supposed plug ins are installed.

Always a problem installing software plugins etc.Nothing seems to flow.Everything is a struggle.


I agree that it's not so much about the language as it is about the perception by the people that matter. I have a question: what kind of margin to retailers and OEM's get for selling Windows licences on their devices? But that's just the beginning.

It's about the big picture. People don't want operating systems. Most of the time, they don't even want computers. They want to eat (aka make money), manage their records, stay in touch with other people esp. people they like or need, and they want to be entertained. and they want to feel taken care of.

We have the Microsoft phenomenon because Bill Gates and his associates convinced key people at IBM (who where the default office equipment people) that what they had to offer would make money and meet needs. Even though many shenanigans occurred in the process and thereafter, the inertia that is spoken about in this thread did the rest. 

The Linux environment comes from a different mentality and appeals to people who work with computers "for a living", i.e. the computer has become more of an end in itself. I tend to belong in that camp and I have torn my hair out on many occasions over why things in this industry are what they are. But for most people, this will never be the case. 

The only way for Linux to success like Microsoft products have in the past is through a concerted marketing effort that persuades the decision makers in the affected industries that Linux is a good and safe way to go. Then people will put their faith in it. But that usually costs money. Perhaps word of mouth will work, but it will take a heck of a lot of altruism. Fortunately, in the internet era, more help is available for such things than I could have ever imagined myself. Standardization of course plays and important role, but it does boil down to the software being part of a package for most non-technical people who rely on others to give them the the bundled/organized thing to buy.


Ack. I "lost" the edit box I was typing into. I hope this isn't a dupe post.

It wasn't UNIX (what I'll call GNU/Linux, Mac OS and other reworkings of the same concepts) that disrupted the jargon; it was DOS/Windows. Unfortunately, the user community was exposed to DOS/Windows before they had a chance to learn anything else. If we reach back 30 years, we'll see that UNIX was there long before its alternatives, and that many of the younger operating systems borrowed many concepts from UNIX (and some even from VMS and other 'extinct' systems).

My skin crawls when I hear users refer to UNIX directories as "folders", and similar Windows-isms that have made their way into use, like "the X: drive". But I've just had to bite the bullet and make sure that whatever they're referring to can be rephrased into accurate technical terms. I'm certain the jargon distorts the average users' perception of how the system works, and thus, limits perception of what it is capable, or what to do when things go wrong. For example, the common Windows cure for everything ("reboot!!") isn't appropriate for a system shared among multiple users.

I'm sure that discouragement results when "average" users hear UNIX jargon and walk away confused. I know I have spent many hours gently educating people on  "proper" terms for things; but my efforts are pretty much wasted breath. At least they've heard an accurate description of, say, "an executable" versus "an exie". Maybe it will stick someday, when they learn their most beloved application hasn't got a filename that ends in ".exe", or that the filesystem can be extended in a snap by "mounting" another filesystem at a place of their choosing, or that symlinks and/or shell variables can be used to alias the name of one or more filesystem object(s). Sadly, these kinds of items are news to many users; they aren't aware that they can take temporary or permanent steps to make their machine uses easier -- when it's explained to them how to do this, the explanation is sometimes lost in vocabulary.

So jargon certainly is very important. But it's not everything.

Many of the observations made here by others are correct: the user needs apps that work, a desktop GUI that is intuitive, plus whatever it takes to harness the effective power of that desktop machine into making that user more productive in the performance of her business role. UNIX-based systems haven't always been at the forefront of these needs. But I believe this will happen, and soon. Today, with the growing presence of micro-devices (smartphones, tablets, wearables, and even laptops), we're seeing a need for both hardware and systems portability. This can't be anything but good: a concept that I can only implement on one brand of hardware doesn't have much future. There is research going on in UNIX desktops -- whether you like the results or not, developments like Unity, iOS, Gnome3, MacOS, KDE 4, and Android are breaking new ground in what "intuition" might mean. And we'll certainly see certain of these ideas borrowed and implemented into the desktop GUI "of the future", the "next big thing", the next major advance in how people communicate with their machines.

Not that intuition is the end-all; there are some users who have little intuition; some people can't make maximum sense of pictures and their components, in which navigation takes the place of specification. If it's traditional shell-based command line use that suits a user, he should have it. To me, it's all about making that CPU valuable to many different kinds of individuals who will describe themselves as users.

Smarter people than I are going to figure out what the next "big trend" is. My question is "is this more likely on a Windows base or a UNIX base, or some OS that hasn't yet been invented?". It looks like Microsoft is making sure Windows doesn't have a future. When it goes away, I hope its jargon disappears with it; it'd be a step in the right direction.


The problem and the partial solution you state are good, and I feel it points in the right direction. Though I can see a simpler way to explain it to a *nixer. Make a new Shell, like bash or csh or any other, though the commands are all aliases of the main environment, strap on a decent "file explorer" that uses those aliases internally, and there ya go. Simple explanation, then use the article's explanation to highlight the points that explain it a Microsoft or Apple gui-ist. Those same points are what you need to code for. A simple variation, aliases, attached to "aliased" gui commands not just cli commands.


This article totally misses the point. There are hundreds of millions of Windows (and a few Mac) users around the world who do not understand the "language" of their OS. Only a few techies know that. I support users who don't even know about Windows "My Documents" - they just open files from the recent list in Word and save them in the default location setup in the install.

Linux is popular with geeks because it lets them do geeky things and pampers their egos. Sorry, I now that is a harsh statement but for Joe Average it is true. One poster here has already said it, but I think his tongue might have been stuck in this cheek. If Linux users have to use PCs I bet they secretly open command windows and interact with MS-DOS. Many of the popular Linux commands have been effectively unchanged since the 70s. Many of the Linux gurus have likewise been effectively unchanged since the 70s - check out the cut and colour of their hair at conventions.

MacOS is based on Unix, but few Mac users know Unix. They just know Mac applications. Smartphones advertise they are based on Android, but no users could recognise an Android "command", they just download and use Apps. No-one outside the geekelite wants Windows, or MacOS, or Android, or iOS, they want to use applications. They want Word or Photoshop or Angry Birds. And that is why they don't use Linux - the applications they want to use don't run on Linux. Some do, but one day the one they want doesn't. If you cost your employer £30hr or more, he doesn't want you to spend days learning a new application, even is it is free, he shells out a measly £350 for the one you all know.

The reason Vista was slated, the reason Windows 8 is slated, is that those millions of users had to learn something new. They were sold something better but they got something they had to learn. People value the skills they have picked up along the way. They make them employable. Make those skills worthless and you make the people worthless.

If the Linux world wants to make big money, rather than being a niche, it needs to give users something they want. And that isn't a command set or a filesystem or a naming convention, it is APPLICATIONS. and the key ones for new users are SOCIAL APPS, TOYS and GAMES. I suspect, though, that Linux doesn't want to make money. Money belongs to a different political system. Why else would all the software be free?

PS. I was around in the 70s (and the 60s, even the 50s) and I can use Linux because I could use Unix in the 70s. I use Linux to run my web servers, and I intend that my next laptop will run Ubuntu desktop (this one has it in a VM) because I'm too old to learn Windows 8. I'd also love to know why config files are in /etc and the web root is in /var. But that only bothers me when I have to turn geek and fix something that's broken.


I do not believe linux needs to change it's language, Sort out the installation of apps so users do not have to edit cfg files manually to get things working. Fix the driver issues, what sane user wants to spend a half a day trying to get their shiny Nvidia card working on their laptop without having to jump through the dependency hoop or having to download a secondary app and installing it before removing other drivers and editing text files so it can run. This is just one example, unless the common things work out of the box, every day home users won't go there for the most part.


I am tired of Microsoft's policy to stop upgrades and security notes for their OS, after a certain date. Personally I use XP Professional, and I look Linux world as a newbie. I run Ubuntu, on dual boot, and I find it quite friendly if compared to the Distro issued at the end of last century, where a user was compelled to find EVERY driver for his machine. Things may look better, in 2014, but still I find impossible to have drivers for a flatbed HP scanner or for my modem used solely for faxes. Fortunately I am an home user and I can spend a lot of time on these issues, but for a IT manager things may look different!


Hi Jack,

You are part right, but in part you too, have "missed it".

There does need to be a language change but not in the manner you have described. It is easy to change from "My documents" to "Library", or to "Home", but that is not the problem. The problem is shown in the way you use the example of "grep", and just gloss over it, as though everyone knows what grep means. But many of us don't know what grep means. It's name is not an English word, and gives no clue about what it does. And you don't even put a short explanation in parentheses, of what grep means, or does. This is another small example of the "Linux-users' arrogance", which whilst unintentional, does exist.

The person who does not know Linux has no idea of what grep does.

Compare commands like "grep" to the old MSDOS CLI command "find"or compare to commands like "copy", "edit", "rename"; commands whose names describe what they do in English. But Linux uses "cp", "awk", and "mv"; commands whose names do not appear in the English language and therefore require a deeper level of learning.

This means there are two steps in the leaning process. The first step is learning what the command means, for example to learn that "cp" means "copy a file from one place to another", and the second step is to learn the syntax of the command so that it does the job I want it to do.

In essence this means that in Linux you have to learn two things compared to MSDOS in which you only had to learn one thing, which is, how the syntax works.

My knowledge of computers is wide. I first started using computers in 1973, with the "RT-11" OpSys, running on a PDP11/10; which I had to start by entering a memory location and a command, in binary, with 16 front-panel switches! I built my first computer based on a Motorola 6800 chip and had to solder all the chips onto the mother board. I learned the MSDOS OS well enough to be looked upon as a guru by all my colleagues. and I learned most of the versions of Windows. I program in FORTRAN, QBasic and VBA. And I have installed many Linux OS distributions.

But of all these computers and OSs, I find Linux hard to learn even though it should not be.

Another gripe about Linux is it's non-English grammatical constructions that I find hard to learn. English uses verb-subject-object, but Linux uses the opposite verb-object-subject instead. Example; in MSDOS, if I have a file A and I want to make a copy B, I can say "copy A (to) B". This follows English grammar rules of subject to object, but Linux does the opposite "cp (to) B (from) A". Again it is a two-stage learning process, so it is twice as much work to learn as DOS was.

Other spoken languages use different grammatical rules so perhaps speakers of those languages have an easier time learning Linux, but it is harder for native English speakers.

I love computers and I love to learn about them, and all my friends think I am an expert, but in the final analysis I use Windows a lot more than Linux, because Linux is just harder to learn.

But I realise that my way of looking at things might ge different to other people because I still prefer, by far, calculators that use RPN logic instead of algebraic notation.


A barrier to learning any new technology is its terminology.

And most computer terminologies are exceptionally quirky.

I actually like Linux "words" better than Windows "words" but how do you get your potential audience willing to take the leap into a new terminology? DOS on the first personal computers was a huge inroad into the huge group of less-nerdy potential computer users, which included scientists, small business people, people in the music and film industries, and also educators. The MAC captured some of that market by rolling out a real GUI before anyone else. But the rest of us HAD to learn DOS, which is now the basis for the Windows command shell and file system and so forth.

One strategy is to hide all that terminology behind a GUI. It takes a lot of effort and often means designing dialog boxes for things that are really much easier to do from the command line. But Apple, then Microsoft, were willing to make that effort, and it paid off for them. Since Linux is open source, we need to talk about higher ideals than profits. It's about freedom.

That's a "buzzword" on this planet that actually means something to people. And to the extent that you could create a marketing campaign for freedom, Linux could certainly be part of it. In this day and age, freedom could actually use its own marketing campaign. And there are actually a few people working on it - I know, I keep track of them. But those people - to get to the place where they were willing to devote their lives (without any prospect of serious monetary gain) to a subject so nebulous as "freedom" - went through some heavy-duty personal transformations. That's where it starts, and that's what it's going to take, I think.

 There is a real culture clash here. And in some aspects it amounts to a war. So if you want to step on the "Peace Train" as one old songwriter called it, you'd better be prepared to go through some stuff. I don't think the success of Linux ultimately depends on hiding or changing its language. I think it depends on making using Linux the freedom-loving, life-loving, successful thing to do. The worse that can happen is that Microsoft finally caves in and makes its OS open-source! So: Realize what you are advocating, and be willing to take responsibility for it. It IS worth it.


Hey Jack;

Ever hear the saying "tail wagging the dog"? Before PEOPLE were computer savy, the "C" drive, GUI, Windows, and even 'delete' were almost another language. With the eventual adoption of Linux and the rest of the *nix's, those folks who had to learn the Windows lingo will certainly have to adapt to the *nix lingo. I remember the early adoption of DOS and then Windows, those noobs had to get with the terms then so they'll have to relearn them all now instead of dumbing down to suite them and causing those of us 'early adopters'  to 'Learn Down'. NO, I say that Linux and it's cousins are here to stay, the future and the next gen of computer users are picking it all up as we speak. Those that want to cling to the old ways will just fall behind. We'll not have the "Tail wagging the dog" cause it don't make no sense nohow.

Nuf Said??

Early adopter of Linux who saw the light a LONG time ago.......


No, there is no need to the change, with flavours (distributions) like Ubuntu, Mint, Zorin, and Pinguy there is room out there for everyone. Those of us who have taken to using Linux as our everyday OS do so for numerous reasons, but mainly because it is not Microsoft Windows and Linux will allow you to get into the back end to do things if your so inclined.

Most people these day understand what "user home" means regardless of the OS and most will not care that they are not in the same locations on each OS as most just use a GUI to access the filesystems.

For those of us who like the command line understand and like the jargon. It is easier to say "change to the root directory" to go to the base of the whole filesystem, whereas you cannot say "change to C:" to do the same thing as this is only a mount point for one partition.

The Unix language also make programming easier, there is not need to use lines of code just to find someone's home directory.

Leave the jargon and language alone.


That street goes both ways. We should not dumb-down the OS. We should smarten up the users. Any user not engaged enough to learn the differences between their old OS and Linux, are not worth the effort. 


The way I see it, the language to be used is secondary to reconciling the filenames, folder/directory names, and driver installation between Windows and Linux.  I can usually find enough information to do anything that really HAS to be done from the CLI, but there are lots of things I find more difficult.

I am 72 years old & started playing with "programmable calculators" in the '70s. Then, I started with FORTRAN-4 on an IBM 360, went to PCs with MSDos/PCDos, tried Windows 1.0, used Windows 3.0, 3.11 for workgroups, 95, 98, Several versions of NT, XP, Vista, and 7. I switched to Linux with Ubuntu 6.06 in the summer of 2006 & right away, I noticed that some characters allowed in Linux filenames  are forbidden in Windows & some allowed in Windows are forbidden in Linux filenames. I have used Ubuntu &/or Mint ever since my first install in 2006, but herein lies the rub - my wife is afraid of Linux, so besides maintaining HER PC on Windows, I dual-boot mine on Mint 16 & Windows 7 in order to be able to troubleshoot hers. I can't just backup a data drive & expect to be able to restore to EITHER Windows or Linux. As an innocent bystander, it appears to me that there is an active and malicious effort on the part of fanatics from both camps to make sure that "you can't make MY stuff work with YOUR stuff". It should be very easy to come to some agreement that would allow any Linux data file to load on Windows, or any Windows data file to load on Linux. I have recently seen SOME effort to simplify driver installation on hardware where Linux is an afterthought. Brother recently developed a script to install the drivers for my HL-2270DW wireless laser printer, & it works beautifully, but this is the exception rather than the rule. One thing that scares the hell out of me, every time I plan to install a new version of Linux, is hoping that the drivers for my Epson Perfection 4490 scanner will still work. I think the last version THEY have tested is Ubuntu 8.04.


You mean 'en masse". "standardize it's language"  ...sigh. Don't lecture us on our language skills!

Those of us who need to bash, will bash. The rest of us, the noobs, will use the GUIs.



Yes!  I'm the IT department for a number of small businesses who don't know what open source is and don't care.  Windows 8.1 plus Start8, which costs me $5 that I give them as a gift, works well for them, but the cost of Windows + Office hurts some of them.  Some users require QuickBooks, AutoCAD, or other non-Linux application(s), but some only need what Libre can give.

I would need a server that can manage network-wide usernames and passwords and serve the same files to both Windows and Linux clients.  Some clients could be Windows and others Linux.  I can handle server chores from a command line, but the Linux clients must present office workers a GUI interface with no requirement for them ever to see a command line, which intimidates or frightens most of them enough to be willing to pay for Windows + Office.


As you can see in my previous comment English is only my third language so please excuse the typing errors.


I am 62 and first got a Atari console. Then I got Commodore Vic 16. Next were a Commodore 64. Then a Amiga 500 and then a Windows PC with a lot of floppies to boot the machine. I then kept on using various Windows. I tried to load some Linux Oses but putting in the CD you had to type some funny stuff and the just left it. Years later a friend gave me a CD with Ubuntu 9.something. It asked me some questions and HEY it worked. I started to buy PC Format and at times at had some Linux OS to try out. Putting these Cd's in some I could install and others wanted me to do some unknown things and I just threw those away. The issue is myself and many millions do not know this command lines and will just use something where you just click on a icon. I am now using Ubuntu 13.10. and find it so easy to click on it's icons altough I had to go through a learning curve. I did not mind to learn this UI because I did not have to type funny words. All my children only use Windows or Macs. Them and there friends now nothing of Linux and will only use Windows pre installed computers because this is what they work with. U say Mint or Ubuntu or Mandrin even Linux they think you are talking of some herbs or spices.

Cicuta2011 just commented ”Let's differentiate the savvy people from the dummies.” I think he is a dummy. We are educated with various degrees and do not know IT. Obvious he only know some IT and does this make him a dummy?


The article sucks! There is a place for everything in this world and Linux, as every UNIX derived platform, the place is industry and technical people and that is its place period. As for those who want to waste time and energy with Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. then windows and tablets will do as well as iPods and cellular telephones.

If someone wants to learn something, then that person has to put a bit of an effort to learn it and once that is accomplished then it becomes second nature.

Let's differentiate the savvy people from the dummies.


It's best if Linux remains very geeky.  That way we won't have three common operating systems to use (four if Android really gets popular on notebooks and desktops) but only two: Windows and Mac OS.

If Linux was ever targeted to non-geeks, it would become a major player with lots of users which would result in all hardware supporting it and all software having a Linux version.  That would be terrible.  People couldn't just dismiss Linux as unnecessary.  They'd have to actually think whether they wanted a Windows, Mac or Linux box.  That's a lot of extra work which can be avoided by keeping Linux as geeky as possible.

Don't let Linux get ungeeked!  Fight to keep it something you have to work hard to understand and can be proud of understanding well enough to use.  The masses who would make Linux popular are not deserving of such a system.  Keep the barrier high and Linux will remain pure and the property only of the deserving.

The penguin is a wild hunter.  He isn't a farmed bird like a chicken or turkey meant to be served to the masses at Chick-fil-A or Thanksgiving dinner.


If Adobe chose a Linux Distribution and Desktop environment (or, hey! build their own artist-focused UI!) and compiled their Creative Cloud software for it, you'd see a huge shift to Linux.

And if I could use Adobe and my Windows VST audio plugins under Linux without a hassle, I'd dump Windows pretty quickly. I *like* spending time in Xubuntu when I'm not working. But I can't do my work in Linux, sad to say...


I've always heard "slash" used for '/' (windows "forward slash") and "whack" used for '\' (windows "backward slash") ... likewise "tick" used for  "single quote" and "tack" used for "backward apostrophe" ... grinning.

With my fun quip over, what you describe is not "language" so much as "jargon."   Merriam-Webster defines jargon as:

1 a :  confused unintelligible language b :  a strange, outlandish, or barbarous language or dialect c :  a hybrid language or dialect simplified in vocabulary and grammar and used for communication between peoples of different speech 

2 :  the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group  

3 :  obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words 

All of the linux-isms, many of which are in fact unix-isms, you describe clearly fall under definition #2. In addition, writers who insist on using loads of jargon fall under definition #3 in my opinion.

As a technical writer with many years of experience, many of us work diligently to avoid jargon heavy prose until such time as it adds clear value to the content.  Sadly, as my slash-whack, tick-tack statement indicates, even the linux (er, *nix) community cannot agree on what to call things. This might be driven by the constant influx of new end-users.


~~~ 0;-Dan

NOTE -- Characters like forward-slash, backward-slash, and backward-apostrophe have actual names among formal typographers.  For example, what we call a "pound sign" or "number sign" -- "#" -- is known as an "octothorpe."


I do not agree that the issue is particular way we discuss the file system in Linux. The typical user in Ubuntu or other graphical has no greater need to understand the Linux file system than the Windows file system.

The problem is the lack of devices that support Linux that are visible to your end users. The lack of the blue shirt guys in Best Buy being able to talk intelligently about Linux. The lack of manufacturers selling Linux computers at the electronics stores. Most people will have issues picking a compatible printer long before they are going to need to know how to get to their files in a terminal session.


Good god. I will be very happy the day the language is one of the urgent  problems of Linux. By the way: did you ever realize the Microsoft language. Not the nice pictures on the desktop, but the one you need to use (in a terminal), if you really want to work with windows?

Back to Linux: I don't know whether it really make sense when we always look to the desktop and the final goal to gain market share from the famous competitors. But it is no question that Linux could become much more popular, if it will succeed to solve some annoying problems. To give a few examples:

1) the "perfect desktop" is still missing. Not the one and only for all Linux users (let's sustain diversity), but the one that someone feels confortable with after using windows XP for 12 years.

2) devices/drivers 

Let's be honest! It is still a shame or a desaster. Even with printers, especially multi-function devices, Linux is far away from "plug and play".  No need to talk about scanners or my ipod. The Redmond-pampered average user will never understand, why he had to "tinker" the whole weekend only to get his multi-function device to print in black and white - unfortunately only the first paragraph of the page. No colours, no scanning, no fax. And what should I tell a CEO about this? Save a lot of money using Linux, just to spend it buying new printers?

3) Software

There is a universe of fantastic software out there in the Linux repos. No doubt about it. But there is a parallel universe of windows software without any Linux counterpart. Maybe we had to start with Outlook, because it is a shame that no original Linux Mail Software can compete with it (the only exception is Thunderbird which is not really a Linux product). Anyway. But there are thousands of highly specialized programs for documentation (e.g. in hospitals), administration, accounting etc. All of them just made for windows. And people have to use them for their work. And Wine will not help them to get them running on a Linux desktop. So you have to make them understand to use this universe inside a virtualbox with a full retail license of windows? What a wise solution!

Language? Why so verbose? I'd like to interact with appliances in a more direct way. Tap them, move them, point them, or better still..have it watch me. Yes, if my android tablet can infer myintentions from my eyemovements, my hands and my posture, why not my linux machines?

A command line interface, however cleverly disguised, is a thing from my youth.. a dear memory but long gone and never to be had again...

And I'm also sorry for the rant....but it just seems that there's always going to be this discussion of "Whether Or Not Linux Will Conquer The Desktop..." and to me it doesn't matter, because I use it REGARDLESS of whether or not the Fortune 500 businesses are using it.....I use it regardless of whether or not some college or university is using it. To me and to a whole lot of other folks I've spoken to...both in my personal life and in the professional realms as well, the Linux desktop exists and it is alive and well. For those who are "looking" for it at their corporation, or the local college...or the bank or not-for-profit down the highway, you may or may not find it because it all goes according to the NEED. If a bank or corporation has been using Windows for decades and they've not seen the problem with paying for Office and Windows and anything else they need then they will NEVER adopt Linux in the workplace, because as far as they're concerned, its not broke so they don't have anything to fix. ...

As far as I see it. No. Linux does not need to create a new language. There are more than enough OS'es for those people who want / need the "Point & Click" interface they've grown accustomed to in the Windows / Mac world. I used to use Windows daily and never had a need for the command line stuff, because of all the snap-ins and plugins that it came with making the MMC a lot easier for administrators. Since making the move to Linux, wholeheartedly......meaning I don't have any Windows machines anymore, I can say its been an awesome experience! And the funny thing is?...I have a 70 year old Mum who ALSO uses Linux daily...(Linux Mint with the MATE Desktop Environment) and she NEVER needs or uses the command line, so the language that is used there doesn't even MATTER to her! I also have 2 younger brothers using older sister using it....her husband...their son and his mechanic...and the two employees that work for next door co-worker from my FedEx days....and a bunch of other people as well...and NONE of them use the command line EVER! Yet....they're CONSTANTLY emailing me telling me how great this OS is...and how much easier it is to do things without having to worry about keys etc. And all this without one iota of change to the Linux language base!......If people want to adopt Linux....whether in the enterprise or at home....they will venture out and do it. And no matter what language is used in the CLI it won't change their experience with Linux. As for advertising.....well I don't really think it's necessary...but I'm sure others will disagree with me. See when you advertise 9 times out of 10 you usually have to lie or "stretch the truth" a bit in order to recoup the advertising dollars you just put out.....things like "New & Improved"....Better Than Brand *"......the false surveys where "8 out of 10 people chose:..." all means a lot of ad-men and sometimes unsavory tactics to get your product to sell. Best way to promote Linux is through word of mouth and hands on demos......let the person see how easy it is to do things...but don't like....don't make them feel they're moving into "Computing Nirvana" where nothing ever goes awry. Instead tell them about the issues the might face....with dependencies not being there....with error messages from the logger telling them about SIGABRT....or about yum not working properly....tell them about LibreOffice not always working right with that document they saved in "corrupted" format from Office 2000....let them see these things...and who knows?...maybe they'll still be willing to try it out. Otherwise....don't go forcing an OS on people who are satisfied with what they have. I could have taken up all this space just bashing Windows...or Apple...but I realize that Linux is not for everyone....but for those who are willing to make that leap of faith.,...for those who are brave enough to go explore alternatives to what's been out there for decades....there's Linux....for everyone else...there's the status quo of Windows or MAC OS.....either of which will do what you want...when you want...for as long as you want....until it decides IT doesn't do that anymore. LOL!


Let me jump in.

For me (I'm 60 and I've been using micro computers for over 45 years with multiple OSes including CP/M, DOS, OS/2 and all the Windows releases from 1 to the current 8), I see several real problems in the hard time for Linux to be widly accepted on the deskop.

One is the multiple distribution branchs each of them having not only its interface of choice, but also its package managers with their relevant syntax e.g. Why the pacman commands should be different from apt or yum? Just and only to satisfy the ego of their developers?

Second is the lack of consistency of the different UI. A panel here for one, a dialog box there for another, a pull-down menu for one, a pop up window for another.

Third and most important is the general behavior of "gurus" v.s. newcomers with their favorite idiom: "man is your friend".

I moved to Linux 4 years ago, just to see how it works and I've been facing that kind of crazy and arrogant attitudes too many times.

Further, I must say that 99 % of the time, you won't find a clear and complete explanation on how to use such and such other command in the unfamous man pages or wiki stuffs.

Most of the time, these documents are written by "experts" giving the general way to use them but without any hint and clue of how to teach (i.e. no suite of simple to complex examples of how to do this or that).

Then, the pseudo "wars" between the developers of the different distributions don't motivate hardware manufacturers to promote such or such other choice e.g. promoting Ubuntu v.s. Fedora, or Suze v.s. Manjaro, etc. etc. etc. will assure you to get the flames from the other communities.

And last point, at the current age of super smartphones and tablets, it's still crazy to be obliged to use command lines. Not that I want to remove the terminal (it's very usefull once you know how to use the commands of your distribution) but any modern distribution should be able to execute 100 % of the tasks needed to be performed by any user (and administrators) via a consistant GUI.

That's the force of both OS/X, iOS and WIndows.

To sum up, this is both the lack of "standard" and the freedom of choices that creates the big problems for the wide adoption of Linux on the desktop.

Just my two cents as a power user loving Linux (Arch, CentOS, Debian, Fedora, LinuxMint, Manjaro and Ubuntu) but still using Windows 7 for several tasks including e-mails with the comfort of Outlook.

Adrian O'Dell
Adrian O'Dell

It's hard to sell people on the idea of using Linux. People who know about Linux probably use it. It is quite usable by common folk who just wanna facebook, twitter, email, etc without needing to hit up the command line. Even windows has issues that are best addressed via command line. What we should be doing is heavy advertising just like the competitors, selling systems pre-loaded, and offering support ... basically just mirror what the other two desktop OS are doing to get sales. Door-to-door sales doesn't work, which is the current effort by anyone trying to spread the word, and they just come off sounding like a religion.


You should be joining and suggesting ideas.

I think we should just copy the Windows user directory structure.  /users/username/.  And within there, Documents, Pictures, Music, Videos, etc.  It's not perfect, but it's what should be done.

The "Library" system Windows has sucks, and should be ignored.

Beyond that, we need to get a few steps away from the Xerox Park document-and-tools model.  For whatever reasons, beginners still like to operate within applications, and don't like to manage files.  We may not use "File->Open" very much, but a lot of users do, and they prefer it.

Even more popular is the "emails" model of document management, with the three-pane view with folders along the edge, lists of documents, and then double click to open the document.  Google Drive does this - but they don't go far enough.  Many users would prefer to go into an application first, then get the Drive interface to view only the files for the current application.

Not only that, they want folders only for that application.  I know this sounds like a nightmare - but it's what people seem to like.  (I help beginners all the time - and I'm just astounded.)

Now, that said, there are a ton of things that people want, or don't know they want but do, that would improve the experience enough to get people to switch.

1. is a file system and apps that handle revisions.

2. would be a system that could turn a PDF file into a text, or, even better, a way for a PDF file to retrieve its source document. (this implies a much better way to share documents.)

3. is a much simpler spreadsheet that comes pre-loaded with a couple dozen common business forms.  I mean SUPER SIMPLE - sums, counts, and a few other features, and it would manage entire folders full of forms.  The lock mode should be really easy to enable.  forms should be emailable, perhaps via a centralized server.

4. a calendaring system that is really, really good, and basically embedded into the desktop experience.

5. a SIP phone that lets you call someone based on their email address, and lets you call a regular phone number by paying a small amount of money.  this phone would be dialable from your contact list, and would come with a simple application that helps you make calls to lists of people (and log conversations).

6. a SIP videophone that lets you call someone based on their email or phone number, and if possible, gateways to facetime or skype, even if you have to pay for the gateway.

7. an office in-out board that work across the internet.  yes, the SIP phone could do this, and chat could do this, but an explicit interface is good.  GNOME already does this to some extent.

8. a way to buy a windows vm ready to go.  this would be to run legacy windows applications.

9. a way to share video across the LAN, via email.


Why dosnt my system listed below...

Load my Lunux MINT 15 MATE 64bit (it is a legally purchased copy), onto a HDD or SSD that is on my system.

Even a virgin HDD/SSD formatted (tried both DOS and NTFS), put the install CD/DVD into the ROM and start the installation.

I have tried everything, and Ive be told to do command line scripts in an effort to get MATE installed, all FAIL.

If I put a Win xp/Vist/Win7 it just finds all my HDD's and asks where I want to install to immediatly.

Linux tried Mint 15, Ubuntu 12, Fedora 14, and a few others all the same hang and NO install.

So as Iv sail until i can just put mu Linux install disk and have it install, I will not be using it on any computer except a late model basic computer, with a ASUS motherboard.

If anyone ans help you can e-mail me cforster orcon net nz, I look forward to some helpful replies. 

Carls New Computer System….

Ø1 x Asus P8Z77-V Intel Z77 ATX Ivy Bridge Socket 1155

Ø1 x Intel Core i7 3770K 3.5Ghz Socket 1155 Box Unlocked

Ø1 x Arctic Cooling Freezer i30, CPU Cooler, 120mm, Direct-Touch Heatpipe

Ø16 Gb Total G.SKILL Ripjaws X 16GB (2x8GB) DDR3 1600MHz (PC3 12800) High Per

Ø1 x COOLER MASTER HAF XM MID TOWER 200mm USB3.0 with add Fans

Ø2 x Western Digital Caviar Blue WD10EZEX 64MB 1TB Set to mirror Raid 1 e: drive

Ø1 x Corsair Force GS Series 3 480GB SSD with SandForce SF-2200 Series controllers and fast Toggle NAND SATA3 6Gb/s R/W: 555/525 MB/s (MLC) This drive is installed in the removable slots  as c: drive

Ø1 x Corsair HX-850 850W ATX Power Supply 80 PLUS GOLD Certified Modular Cabling 6x 6+2 PCI-E 12x SATA 8x Molex

Ø1 x  Lite-on 24X SATA Black Dual DVDRW iHAS324 Retail drive d:

Ø1 xSapphire HD 7850 DirectCU II 2GB DDR5 PCI-E  2 x DVI  1 x HDMI 1 x Displayport Video Card connecting to two monitors

ØMicrosoft Windows 7 Pro 64bit OEM

ØMicrosoft Office Professional Academic 2010 Retail Box

Ø1 x External USB Card Reader

ØAVG Internet Security 3pc's x 2 years updates and AVG PCTuneup 3 PC's 2 years updates

Ø2 x AOC e2350Sd 23" Full HD LED Monitor - Black 1920x1080 20M:1 running off the Asus Video card

Ø1 x Logitech MK550 Wireless Wave Combo

Ø4 x Existing Seagate 250GB NQC ST3250310AS drives from old system these are running 2 as RIAD 1 mirrored 250Gb f: and 2 x RAID 0 500gb g:


that is precisely why i an not a physician today.their lack of conversing in English.


Dear Jack,

I totally disagree with your article and the concept of "language melting" that you propose.

Ask any multilingual person and they will definitely tell you that certain words and concepts don't always translate from language to language; therefore you will never close the digital gap between windows users and Linux users unless they are willing to learn the language Linux speaks, and make their own interpretations of the concepts offered and described in the new language. 

Proposing that the concepts described by Linux users are hard to understand to Windows users is also incorrect. How do you explain those people who made the jump from Windows to Linux and are happy Linux users now?

Why is it that for some users the jump is easier for others? Wasn't it as hard to jump from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95? Wasn't it as hard to jump from Windows 7 to Windows 8? Wasn't there always a learning curve related with new and different software? 

WHY on earth would Linux need to become as "easy to understand" as Windows in order to grab your ever favorite market share and gain (as you many times in many articles have stated) a foot hold on the Desktop? 

And you go ahead and recommend the L drive? It's as ludicrous as trying to turn a square peg into a round whole. If Windows users are so "asleep" and comfortable into their Windows environments that doesn't mean that the Linux community has to become docile to accommodate them.

One of the things that always attracted me and keeps me attracted to Linux is that there is so much to learn and so much potential and so many people that put their little peg into Linux and show their intellect and intelligence. People with passion. People that have seen how far just a little bit of work has taken them.

"Why is it, when a community growls and snaps at Microsoft for not following standards, something as “no brainer” like as standards are not followed? And nearly every distribution is guilty of this." I wonder which standard you're referring to.

Do all DEs have windows with close maximize and minimize buttons? Can you move, resize minimize and maximize windows in those DEs? Can you click on buttons right click on desktops to change wallpapers, do GUI programs have textboxes, checkboxes radio buttons etc etc? What exactly are the standards that are being broken here? If you are referring to uniform UIs throughout the OS then you're wrong there too. Microsoft introduced the ribbon in their Office suite that divided users... and the only reason for its adoption is because it's been PUSHED by certain organizations and users (even in the enterprise) have no say in the matter nor any options available to them. 

Same goes going from Windows 7 to Windows 8 with the Metro interface. It took a loud cry from the users to get Microsoft to put a form of a Start button in the Metro Interface and that took a new version of Windows to achieve. In contrast, KDE, LXDE, XFCE always had a start button. 

Acting as the voice of those Windows users that find it difficult to use Linux you cry foul because the "language" and the terms are hard for them. And you ask the Linux community to put their language in the same melting pot with the Windows community.

How about you start asking people in the Linux community to see what are their complaints regarding newcomers from the Windows world? Even up the plain field then talk about the common language you so eagerly talk about.


@Francis Enimil Ashun  

Try, why should HARDWARE vendors dictate what operating system they will support?

They should be required to provide drivers, fully functional drivers, for ALL operating systems that could be used by the user to run the system.

that would stop a whole lot of the problems people have with drivers.

the codec issues, if the mpaa, riaa would stop trying to prohibit using any non digital restrictions enabled os to access the entertainment media, those would go away.



The hardware/computer manufactures have tried to sell Linux pre-installed. The problem is people don't understand what Linux is and what it can do for them. It has a bad reputation as the "tool only for geeks and professionals". With Ubuntu leading the way in user-friendly-ness, it can gain more of the market share.

How did people understand the Windows terminology of "C: drive" in the first place? They had it forced into their brain over and over again until it sank in. Why? Because this was the only option on the average computer at the time. If people can learn that and Mac terminology, they can certainly learn the Linux terminology.

Now that we (all of us) have options and choices, we all can learn the nomenclature. Those who use Linux can help those that are new it it. The "RTFM" days are mostly gone. Most Linux people are willing to help others. Sharing is what the community is all about. That's why we have free code, improvements, and many programs/applications that do the same things.


@ArtyChoked  THANK YOU! Sheesh. I grit my teeth every time I hear some newcomer talk like the last 50 years never happened and that Apple and Microsoft invented everything. Bill Gates is simply the luckiest man in the world-- not because he got rich-- but because Gary Kildall was busy that day and couldn't be bothered when IBM showed up in disguise knocking at his door. Otherwise we'd all be going "Bill-- who??" and using CP/M or MP/M-2014.


@AES2  >>Yes!  I'm the IT department for a number of small businesses who don't know what open source is and don't care.  Windows 8.1 plus Start8, which costs me $5 that I give them as a gift, works well for them, but the cost of Windows + Office hurts some of them.

So it's 'pay me now or pay me later' then. Pay upfront with cash and keep on paying every upgrade. Or, pay with some effort to learn the *nix OS and NEVER have to pay again. It's so obvious. Should be an easy sell for you and whoever you hire to train them. Just my 2 cents and thanx for listnin'. 



WHAT'S the PROBLEM! Even THIS guy is using Ubuntu and 'he don't know no command lines and funny words'. If this guy can use it, why aren't all folks using it? Just my 2 cents + 2cents and thanx for listnin'.


@SaintDanBert Don't forget "virgule" or plain "diagonal" for a slash mark. I had forgotten about "octothorpe".


@indigo196 I largely agree with your comments.  Those 'new users' are largely incapable of configuring their own machines, no matter the OS.  If the pc vendor / store doesn't configure it for them, then a friend/relative who's some degree of tech savvy does. I believe what most of them want is some sort of easy launcher for the task they want to complete. They don't care what's underneath.

The ones who are interested in learning something will.


@Null4Ever  Is correct in every way. As a *NIX/Windows System Administrator, where I maintained a 100+ server farm, I have been using Linux in both server and desktop instances for on the order of 10 years. Starting with Red Hat server, so the command line was our means of controlling and working with Linux and likewise with Solaris. Of course, I had been working with Solaris before it was called that so Unix commands became second nature and that is the main way that I even control my Mac.

The problems discussed by @Null4Ever are completely correct. I've used many different distros and right now, I've settled on Mint. Also, what hasn't been discussed, I haven't read every comment, but I've even tried a couple of window managers that mimic Windows, all the way to the Start button. I've also tried the Mac OS X window manager. Of course, except for the obvious copyright infringement, they worked as advertised. I really like AfterStep which mimicked NeXTStep. So, if some of the copyrights went the way of the copylefts, Linux could be made as familiar to everyone, case in point, the most popular Linux variant, Android. So, Linux could be made user friendly, if there wasn't so much infighting (between distros/variants) and outfighting (agains Windows and Mac OS X). 


@mdevicariis @JoeDas  My mom STILL can't get the "C:\" Drive thing. She's been using her Windows computer for years and prefers it. But ironically, way back when, when all access was via CLI Shell (meaning dialup, UNIX, Usenet News, et al), she understood that a lot better. She's definitely a point-n-clicker, and Windows overall is still really where she belongs, but it is definitely not a "Universally Understood" or "Intuitive" kind of thing for all people. There is just as big a "Concept" and "Terminology" hurdle in Windows as any other OS, its just that there are a lot more "ordinary" people who know about Windows who can relate and "help"-- (if only we could just get them to stop "helping".... sigh)


@krausek @AES2

Not quite.  We hear a lot of free beer and free speech talk about Linux, but it's also like a free puppy.  It takes work, and someone has to pay for it.  Windows XP was released late 2001.  How many Linux desktops are currently running a release from 2001?  Service Pack 3 is five years old, and since then it's been easy to keep XP up to date with a simple configuration of Windows Update.  How many Linux desktops have kept current by auto-updating themselves for the past five years?

GNOME 2 had a lot of happy users, but I think the fraction of them who like GNOME 3 might be lower than the fraction of Windows users who like 8.  There is a non-zero learning curve from GNOME 2 to 3 or to Unity.

I could save some serious coin for some of my clients by moving some of their servers and desktops to Linux, but the savings in licensing cost and complexity would be partially offset by the heftier maintenance work.  I'm all for more income for myself and less for Microsoft, but it's not an install and learn once and for all for Linux vs. keep paying through the nose to the Evil Empire story.



Please explain it to me like I'm a 5 year old. Why am I  a snob?

Because I urge people to put some effort in learning something new instead of turning Linux into something more familiar to Windows users?

When you speak English and you move to a different country (for whatever reason) you do not expect every person to learn English just so that you are comfortable living there. You have to pick up the new language. Yes an English speaking person can help learn that new language but at the end it's you that has to learn the new language. 

Same goes for migrating from Windows to Linux. If you want to make the move you gotta put the time and effort. That's what it boils down to. Anything else is simply ludicrous because it does not represent any real scenario or use case.

Oh and as far as panties go... its you who got yours in a knot.

Tim Jordan
Tim Jordan

@barbarossa1  ∮αδδετ ALERT. Above is how to recognize them.


@AES2 @krausek  @AES2 @krausek  "How many Linux desktops have kept current by auto-updating themselves for the past five years?" 

:) ? All of the rolling-release distros have (surely you know this):

These include Arch, which is my favourite, and Manjaro (not tried it yet!), which is a more conservative, as well as preconfigured, spin of Arch.

I agree though; using Linux requires more understanding of how computers work, *as of now*. With Arch, for example, you don't stumble across computer knowledge, you wade in it... The geek that makes it through this gauntlet is probably forever thankful for the experience. I used to have nightmares about linux university classes in dark basements... Now I feel that I can do anything with computers.

"Enthusiast Operating System" comes to mind. On the other hand, there's no limit to how user-friendly a UNIX-like system *could* be (look at Android and OSX) *on top* of all that black magic. We should expect stuff like Manjaro to perform abstraction intelligently enough to expose as much functionality as possible, while *never* taking away the possibility to dig deeper. Arch makes it easy to dig deep, it is possibly the *easiest* "complete system" to understand.

Manjaro could be a great gateway drug. Now I'll end this Archaganda, sorry. ;)

OSX, interestingly, gives you a full-fledged terminal interface as well. Perhaps a lot of people would not use OSX if that wasn't there to fall back on? They *know* (I know) that their GUI shell is not complete (no GUI shell is), and needs to be supplemented with a complete shell of some kind... 

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