The other day someone who knows I am in the computer business came to me with a very sick laptop (Gateway W340 with Intel graphics chip and Broadcom wireless). The machine was a fairly innocuous little guy that had some serious issues. I’ll list them out:

  • The operating system was Windows Vista (he did not want to shell out the money for Windows 7).
  • There was a root kit.
  • Numerous malware issues.
  • Chock full ‘o viruses.
  • Wireless was flaky (at best).
  • Machine was horribly slow (presumably because of the above).

My usual first steps are to boot into safe mode, run Combofix, run CCleaner, boot back into regular mode, run Malwarebytes, and then run the antivirus. After this was all complete the remaining symptoms were:

  • Wireless was still flaky (at best).
  • Machine was still slow.

After doing everything I (and the consultancy I work for) would have done, I determined that the best approach was to re-install the OS. Problem is, he couldn’t find his restore discs and (as I mentioned earlier) he didn’t want to shell out the money for Windows 7. This laptop was just going to be his spare laptop for home use (it was his primary laptop at work).

I decided it was time for an experiment. I knew the laptop had a restore partition so if I left that partition alone we could still restore the machine back to factory defaults (if he could find his restore discs). So…it was time to bring out the big guns. Said big guns? Ubuntu 10.04. I was fairly certain 10.04 would work like a champ on the machine. It did. But the big test would be when the user had the machine in his hands and put it to use.

Naturally, before I handed over the laptop, I made sure it had everything installed he would need for home use:

  • OpenOffice
  • The GIMP
  • Gwibber
  • GnuCash
  • Google Chrome (he used Chrome when it was a Vista laptop)
  • Empathy (for chatting)
  • I also made sure Rhythmbox had everything it needed to connect with the Ubuntu One Music Store.
  • Just for fun, I enabled Compiz, because I know the person would get a kick out of it.
The last step in my plan…hand over the laptop and wait for the report. When I handed over the laptop I instructed the user on some basic Linux functions (like how to connect to wireless – which is a no brainer, and how to install applications from the Ubuntu Software Center).
To be honest, I was a bit nervous about the results of this little test. The user wasn’t the most computer savvy user and was prone to have machines wind up coming back with one ore more issues. I was expecting to get call after call after call. But the calls never came. A few days passed and I hadn’t heard a single word from the user. Initially I assumed he just hadn’t had time to use the machine. After nearly a week without hearing from him I just couldn’t take it any longer and called him. His reaction?
“Oh my God this is so wonderful! Thank you!”
I wasn’t expecting that for certain. And after prodding him a little further he nearly knocked my on the floor when he asked: “Would you mind installing this Linux on the rest of my computers?”
This guy represents the vast majority of computer users in this country. People who need their PCs for about 1/100th of their capabilities. They need email, web, office documents, and keeping track of their finances. As much as we IT-minded people want to stand up and say NOONIN!, the truth is the truth and the truth is the average user can get by with the bare minimum. When this is so – why not give them an operating system you KNOW won’t come back to you riddled with viruses and the client (or friend or family) saying, “I thought you fixed this?!”
What this little experiment does for me is validate what I have assumed for the last, oh, two or three years: Linux is ready for the average user desktop. In fact, within the last year I would have to say that Linux is now the IDEAL OS for the average user desktop.
Now I am not advocating that everyone start installing Linux on their clients machines without permission. But you will come across those clients that you know are ideal candidates. When you do, tell them you would like to install an operating system on their machine that you think they will like and won’t give them a bit of trouble. The task just might wind up giving you a reputation as a miracle worker…as it did me.