This was the year of Linux on the desktop, at least for my family. I’ve been using a succession of free systems for years, switching at a whim between FreeBSD, Gentoo, and Debian; I’m the household geek though, so that doesn’t mean much. However, the real turning point came when we decided to build a little computer out of spare parts as a Christmas present for my in-laws. Rather than giving them an old licensed version of Windows, or shelling out much more than the value of the computer for a new copy of XP, I decided to install Ubuntu.
Since they were upgrading from a WebTV and would be starting from scratch anyway, this seemed like an ideal time to try something different.
And I was right.
It took a little tweaking, but their shiny new Ubuntu system is humming along and they love it. It’s easy to use, does everything they want, looks great, and didn’t cost a penny. As a bonus, I can easily SSH in and then repair or upgrade it from 1,100 miles away.
I guess I don’t really see what’s left to be done before widespread adoption, other than convincing OEMs to save some money and make their customers happy at the same time. I mean, there’s no way my in-laws could’ve installed the system on their own, but they wouldn’t have been able to do a thing with Windows either. On the other hand, their new digital camera worked right from the beginning, and both of their printers (including a multifunction printer/scanner/fax) were up and running in minutes.
The upside is that their new machine comes with just about every piece of software they’d ever want. The downside is that they can’t install random software off the internet—if you actually consider that as a problem. Since they’ve never touched a Windows system before, they have no idea that Firefox isn’t what “everyone” else uses, or that OpenOffice Writer isn’t exactly the same as Word. I won’t say that they’ll never have any problems, but it seems clear to me that Linux is ready for the average user, given proper vendor support.
So, if you’ve been thinking about taking the leap of faith, I say go for it! Sure, it’s probably different than what you’re used to, but that passes quickly. Come on in—the party’s just getting started!