Windows, Linux, and false perceptions

One of my co-workers came to me today for some help with a Windows laptop.  He had just nuked and paved (aka reinstalled) the OS on it, and was having a horrible time finding the correct drivers for several devices on the system.  After using a Fedora live USB stick to identify what the hardware actually was (which I couldn’t readily find out in Windows), I finally managed to get everything working except for the audio.  This wasn’t some obscure audio chipset, it was just one of the normal Intel ones based on the AC97 codec.  I eventually got sick of banging my head against it and handed it off to one of our more Windows fluent people who finally managed to get it working.

I had completely forgotten how much of a chore it could be to get everything working on a Windows box after the OS install.  I’ve been spoiled by recent versions of the Linux desktop distros (Fedora in particular).  As long as your hardware isn’t extremely bleeding edge or exotic it usually “Just Works” under Linux these days.  The only thing I’ve had a hard time with at all in the last few years was that after the PulseAudio transition it was hard to get sound working in apps running under wine (which allows you to run Windows apps under Linux), though even this has been sorted out now.  Most native apps never had any problems at all.

It’s funny to me that generally people have the incorrect perception that installing Linux is insanely difficult and requires some arcane geeky knowledge.  This was true once upon a time, and I guess the idea just sort of stuck.  The truth of the matter is that it is far easier to install Linux and get everything working now than it is under Windows.

For example,  Elisabeth, who has no IT training and had never installed an OS before, came to me and asked me to install Fedora on her laptop because she was (understandably) sick of Vista.  As an experiment, I decided to boot her laptop off of my Fedora live thumb drive and let her do the install.  She was able to complete the installation without any problems.  Once the OS was installed everything “Just Worked” as far as basic use of the system is concerned, including the WiFi USB adapter I got for her since the on-board one had crapped out.  Aside from a couple of questions she has been able to take it and run with it without much help from me.

Had I given her a Windows install CD, she probably would have been able to get through the actual install.  The problems would have come in after the fact when it was time to go hunting for drivers for everything.  She is very intelligent, but I’m pretty sure it would have been far beyond her skill level.  Since Windows comes pre-installed on pretty much every retail computer in the world, most people have never actually experienced an install and all of the post-install setup frustrations.  They think that it “Just Works” because they have never actually seen what it takes to get it setup and running properly.

I am truly amazed at how far Linux has come, and wonder if these mis-perceptions will ever get fully wiped off of the collective IT conscious.

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