Thursday, September 10, 2009

Karen de Coster and Linux


Please note up front that I didn't name this article "Karen de Coster versus Linux." There's a reason for that. Following the arc of the thing from her article on PC versus Mac to her Open Letter to Linux Geeks to Jim Davidson's Facebook Note in response to that letter, I don't see that there's really a fight to be picked here.

I do think that she has a view of Linux which I've seen elsewhere. It's a view I had myself for a few years after trying to get Red Hat 7 up and running on an old box and finally throwing up my hands back in, oh, 2003 or so. Back then, Linux was still not ready for "everyday computer user prime time." It was a pain in the ass to install, you had to be ready to leap into the command line interface to tweak it and push it around, the choice of apps was much more limited, and if it got messed up you either figured it out yourself or trolled discussion forums looking for a clue (if you could get online, that is). I resolved to avoid Linux at all costs, and would have stuck to that resolution if a virus hadn't eaten my machine alive at a point in time when I desperately needed a working machine right now and happened to have Mandrake Linux install CDs lying around.

As I've said many times since, things have changed. I've installed every version of Windows up through Vista on PCs over the years. The newer distributions of Linux are easier to install and configure than any Windows version since at least as far back as Windows 98 and possibly Windows 95. They're very stable and there's a very good chance you'll never have to leave the GUI and start messing around with command line stuff in the console. The GUIs I've been using (KDE, JWM, IceWM) are at least as intuitive, as attractive and as functional as Windows or Mac OS. There are multiple decent offerings in every broad applications category, and if you really must have a particular Windows app there's a good chance that you can run it in Linux using Wine. Oh, also: Linux doesn't crash as often, and it's free, and frankly the available user support for it is, in my opinion, very competitive with what's out there for Windows.

BUT!

That doesn't mean you're a snob if you don't run Linux.

Karen de Coster runs a business, invests a lot of time and effort in writing, and likes to ride (and, if I recall correctly, tinker with) big-ass motorcycles. She's willing to pay a premium, and can afford to pay that premium, for a computer and an operating system that do what she needs them to do without a steep learning curve and/or investment of a lot of time learning their ropes. She wants to run her business, write her essays, and ride her motorcycles, not mess around with her computer.

While I think she's over-estimating the complexity factor with respect to Linux these days, I also think that if I had her priorities and was in her situation, I'd do exactly what she did: Plunk down good money for a Mac and go about my business in the comfortable knowledge that the thing will work and that if it stops working there's a kick-ass support system standing behind it to get it working most ricky-tick and without a bunch of guff.

Over the years I've had to become a very minor league Linux geek -- new Macs are expensive! -- and if Linux distros hadn't improved so rapidly and remarkably, I'd probably have been forced back into Windows hell. Karen de Coster isn't in that position, so the choice she's made is completely understandable (and, of course her choice to make in any case).

As I've mentioned here at KN@PPSTER, I recently had the opportunity to get back into a (used but reasonably modern) Mac myself, and I have to say it's like moving from a decent hotel (indoor pool, continental breakfast) to one of those places with a hot tub in every room and champagne breakfast in bed on demand.

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