After my last piece, "Alternative is the question; Linux is the answer," I received quite a lot of feedback. Much of that feedback was positive. Some, as you might expect, went the opposite direction. Those who sent in the negative feedback promised to re-answer the question for me.
Their answer? To my shock and dismay, went something like this:
The answer is Windows. Why? Because Linux is too hard to install.
Pardon me while I double take, spitting soda out of my mouth and through my nose.
My response to the backlash is to wonder if those crying out against Linux have even bothered to attempt an install of a recent release? Sure, I'll give them this... back in the day, Linux was not easy to install. In fact, there are still a select few distributions that seem to not quite understand the need for an easy-to-use GUI installer. But those tend to fall into the fringes. The mainstream Linux distributions offer an installation process that is as simple as it gets.
In fact, I decided to do a comparison between installing Ubuntu Linux 15.04 and Windows 10.
Here are the steps.
- Download the ISO
- Burn the ISO onto disk or USB
- Boot from the disk or USB
- When prompted, click Install Ubuntu
- Click to enable download updates and install third-party codecs
- Select your wireless (if applicable) by selecting the network and entering the password
- Select to Install, Replace, or Install side-by-side (for dual booting)
- Select your location
- Select your keyboard type
- Enter a username and password
- Reboot when the installation completes
All of the above is handled with an incredibly modern GUI installer.
- Join the Windows Insider Program
- Download the ISO
- Burn the ISO onto a disk or USB
- Boot from the disk or USB
- When prompted, select language, time, and currency format, and keyboard/input method
- Click Next
- Click Install Now
- Select the installation type (Upgrade or Custom)
- Select the drive that will house the operating system
- Wait for the installation to complete
- Click Express settings or Customize
- Sign into your Microsoft Account
- Select if this is to be a new PC setup or to copy settings from the Windows Store
- Select if you want to integrate OneDrive
- When the desktop appears, you're done
Side note: The install time for Ubuntu Linux was half that of Windows 10.
Even without pretty pictures, you can pretty much draw a simple conclusion. That conclusion?
Installation is not the issue holding people back. If the average user were tasked with installing either Windows 10 or Ubuntu 15.04, chances are they'd shudder at the thought of installing either (when, in reality, both are really quite simple). As for upgrading? Both systems have their pros and cons. The nod to ease of use would very much go to Ubuntu in this case. However, we all know that, given the choice, a full installation is far more reliable than an upgrade.
What is the true answer that prevents users from using Linux? That age-old argument of not enough software doesn't hold water now. So, why? In a word... browser. Period. End of story. Most of what everyone does today is handled within a single window. Combine that with the ease of installation, and you can only draw one conclusion to this query.
The only reason more people aren't using Linux is because they can't go to a big box store and purchase a computer with Linux pre-installed. If the masses could head over to Best Buy or Target and drop a few hundred dollars for a PC running Linux, they'd be using Linux. Why? Because they'd discover an operating system that includes the one tool they mostly use and won't be plagued with the same tired issues they've faced over the last couple of decades.
I have a theory as to why the likes of Best Buy will not sell Linux-installed PCs. With every Windows-based PC Best Buy sells, it comes pre-installed with quite a bit of bloatware, some of which is Best Buy branded. In fact, if you mention to a tech at Best Buy that you plan on formatting the drive and installing Linux, they'll happily tell you that it will void the warranty.
Really, Best Buy? You do remember, at one point, you actually SOLD Linux off the shelf? Remember that? Back when software actually came in boxes with shrinkwrap?
At this point, plenty will (and should) point out that there are options. You can go to Dell, HP, System76, ZaReason, Think Penguin, The Linux Laptop, Linux Certified, Linux Now... the list goes on. Some of these retailers even sell budget-minded desktops and laptops.
The Linux that we see now is not the Linux we knew years ago. Linux is just as user friendly as any platform on the market. The biggest difference is that it's simply not in the eyes of consumers. The ability to purchase a computer preinstalled with an operating system, in and of itself, makes that operating system accessible and useable to the consumer. That's the only remaining barrier to entry for Linux, and there are plenty of companies set to tear down the walls, preventing the average user from enjoying the reliability, security, and power that is Linux.
If big box stores sold PCs and laptops preinstalled with Linux, would you purchase them? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.