The problem of starting linux

engine_startI was recently reading a discussion on the release of Windows 7.
The article went into detail when it came to the different versions that will be sold. There will be 7.
In the comment-section, I noted quite a lot of people arguing that this is too much to choose from for home users.
Well then, let’s take those people’s vision and apply it to the world of Linux.

Let’s go on a journey with someone eager to start using Linux (without a live cd).

Let’s say this is one of the wonderfull people informing themselves before they actually start doing something.
Then this user would trigger a search query on his favorite search engine for the value Linux. is probably the first link that will be hit, as the first result has a 42% chance of getting selected.

On he/she’ll be learning a little on the principles of linux and the GNU licence.
After a bit of reading, she’ll know how wonderful linux is and appreciate the idea of openness.

As our imaginary person has a simple old spare computer that can be used to testdrive linux, he/she is convinced and ready to download her own copy.
But there is the first problem: Which linux distribution?

On the page, there are currently 220 listed distro’s to choose from.
So now he/she can start reading all 220 items, but that’s just not done.
The most probable way to get around the pile of different distro’s, will be asking around witch one is the “best one” to use.

After some garbage talk that start with “You should use…” and ends with a discussion bestween some people fighting around to convince eachother that their distro is better, someone will probably point out to the ditsrowatch pages.
In the best case, our user will pick one of the 10 distro’s listed there as the major distributions.

Ok now, this was one of the most idealistic ways for a user to find his/her first linux distribution.

But this is not the end of our journey…

The user will most likely switch distro after time, as the grass is always greener on the other side 😉
In the end, after already having used different distro’s the user will most probably start filtering his choises on package management system.
Then there are the most common choices I didn’t even mention such as: Window Manager, Proprietary codecs, standard apps, …

This is quite a more complex way of choosing your distribution compared to the situation where you’re standing in a shop and having 3 options.

A problem you say?

Whether this is a linux problem or not, depends on the individual user.
This long process of learning and filtering was one of the things that got me interested in linux in the first place.

But if I think about the masses, I guess this is one big draw-back for linux if you compare it against Microsoft Windows or in particular Apple’s.

There is this Paradox of choices – Why more is less speach by Barry Schwartz that will convince you of this.

The Live CD’s from Ubuntu can solve this problem a little bit.
Just by giving people a live cd, with only one version/OS, they will be limited by the direct choices they have.
Thus rendering their mood to become more statisfied.
If someone asks you to give them a Linux distribution, it’s most likely for them to use one if you give them only 1 instead of 220 listed on a page, ready to be downloaded (even for free).


Yes the wide range of different linux versions are a drawback for Linux. And in my opinion, keeping the masses of adopting it.

10 thoughts on “The problem of starting linux”

  1. YAWN.

    That’s why some are vastly more popular, like Ubuntu.

    Even the user of this crappy example might google “easy linux distros” or “linux for beginners” and not have to dig through 220 listings.

    Just like when you want to buy a car you don’t research every fucking car in existance, just the COUPLE that interest you.

    Is too many models of cars making it too hard for people to drive?

    Yes, the world of linux is complicated if you try to just jump in without thinking about it.

    1. It is still a relevant point. What I read out of it is that we should be rating our distro lists to indicate how beginner friendly they are.

      Or even more extreme… perhaps we should be pushing a single distro as our primary source for newbies…? That would never fly I understand, as most people believe “their” distro is the best etc. etc… but it would be what is required.

      Don’t be so dismissive of the key problem though. If you hear about linux, and want to give it a quick try… where do you start? I’m not going to spend 3 nights researching different distros, strengths, weaknesses, communities etc. for something that I may only download and run once.

      The article is absolutely right… getting into linux is as confusing as hell because it is very difficult to tell which are the largest distros, which are the easiest, which are the most user friendly etc.

  2. I have to agree on the car-example, but not completely.
    I guess a lot of people postpone the purchase of a new car, just because they get too many choices.

  3. This is SOO old and tiresome argument. And been shown like how customers buy a new TV, computer (select brand), cars, vacum cleanars is an examples of, it is wrong. Extensive searhing is not how customers buy a new gadget.

    A new linux user is going to use whatever some friend recommends (and installs), is used at work or school, some computer magazine writes about, shown in a TV show or what is delivered with the new computer.

    Very few will ever do a search an choose from 220 different distributions. Most uses what is given to them, and that is why MS is so big in the market. Not becouse all customers have done lots and lots of research.

    Most of those is not even usefull on a desktop. More like embeded systems or servers.

  4. I know that most current users started using it as they got a CD or heard someone (friend/teacher/fam. member/…) talk about it.
    But I wrote this from a personal background.
    When I was 13/14 years old, there was no one around to tell me what to use.
    I didn’t had the ability to just test-drive anything I wanted or go buy computer-mag’s with a CD.
    So It was quite hard to byte trough… at some point, I even gave up for a year, as It was easier to just install from a borrowed windows cd.

  5. I’m sorry to say it, but this is a total mismatch, a comparison of two totally different approaches.

    Linux’ main and most known choices:
    – all might become whatever you like it to be; desktop, server, mediacentre and so forth (only if you by purpose choose a very specialized distro will you to some extent limit your further choices)

    Windows’ versions:
    – the full package, different scales of how crippled it is, some less crippled but with a bonus of another feature; very few can become anything above its basic limits, besides if you pay for an upgrade

    There’s no similarities between these two bundles of choices. Hence making a conclusion on top of this misconception will fail.

    Choices within Linux is another discussion. Linux grow and develop because of the freedom to make it into whatever you like. To demand sever change, in effect to cut off the majority of branches attached to the Linux tree, would be the same as killing off the motivation to create. Of course, as an old timer wrote recently, John “Maddog” Hall, it’s good practise to check whether a tool already exists before reinventing it once more and hence waste time, but that’s a totally different matter.

    Why this obsession about the masses? Linux shouldn’t compromise its strengths just to appeal to group of people, who frankly wouldn’t appreciate Linux beyond what they see on the screen. That’s not the same as pushing those people away, may that not happen, but to let time work and open inroads. Who knows, Linux might split in different camps by time, since Intel and others seem stubbornly decisive in making Linux a common place house name in all kinds of gadgets. But don’t demand Linux to become something that the ones mostly involved don’t share.

  6. Hog wash to all these hypothesis on why Linux isn’t ready for the masses. Only when Linux has the ability to sustain itself in the retail market place will it be ready for the masses. The average user “that 75% of all people” only buys a new computer/operating system when the old one get so clogged up with crap it finally dies on them. And where will they look, duh a retail store. The other 25% are smart enough to start at the top and find there way till they establish their level/comfort zone is with Linux and at that point they will decide what value Linux holds for them, if any. The real possibility for Linux to succeed is when Google arrives with their version of Linux. Why , simple because Google is on every Windows box and the masses know GOOGLE and at that point they “the masses” may venture out of their comfort zone and try GOOGLE Linux ……… my opinion, a Linux user that started with Mandrake many years ago because M$ killed off Word Perfect.

  7. Mimor, I can understand that this was the case 10 years ago. But as you didn’t mention this in your blog, I thought about how is it today. Lots of better ways of get introduced to Linux then back then (I forgot to mention booting a live/installation USB-memory stick or starting installing direct over the Webb)

    Nowdays there are more Linux users around, better distributions for beginners, better forums on Internet, better hardware support etc So todays users has a much better situation then in those days. And I has installed things like Prime OS on a Prime 750 around 1984, which is not this easy 😉

    The problem is that ASUS, Dell, HP etc isn’t selling Linux (or at least FreeDOS) preinstalled on new customer machines on all markets. Just some, and mostly for company markets. So I partly agree with Tom Drazul and Kim Tjik on this.

    In short, we, the customers, must demand to be able to buy computers without the need to pay for MS taxes (preinstalled software from MicroSoft). Preferable with Linux preinstalled, but at least with FreeDOS or no OS at all.

  8. Anders, I completely have to agree with you.
    The well known frustrations (which, strange enough, left precious memories) as we once all knew them, ranging from lack of hardware support to lack of user-base, are indeed solved (for the biggest part).

    Also the probability to get in contact with linux is way much bigger than in the days I knew.
    But I encounter quite a lot of people struggling to make out which distro to choose.
    Then I give them Ubuntu.
    I barely mention the different types of Ubuntu, but that’s the influence of Barry Schwartz on me. (ref. to the video in the post)

    And I might add, I’m glad to see big companies bringing linux to the masses too.
    This is the most comfortable way for people to to get it, as they just don’t trust anything they get for free.

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