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.



By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....