Simplicity or Complexity?
Sometimes I sit back and wonder about the direction technology has taken, especially with regards to operating systems. I think back to my Apple days and even when I got my first PC running MS-DOS with Microsoft Windows 3.11. Obviously, some of you can go even further back in history while others not far at all. But when I think about it, I think of how simple things were and by the end of the day, it all still worked! As the years had gone by additional “fluff” has been added to these simple computing machine, now adding complexity into the equation. Complexity in terms of how things are accessed and managed. What is even more amazing is the fact that by attempting to focus on simplifying modern day computing (while adding more security), more complexity is introduced! Why? Is it because the average PC user has grown so accustomed to the more complex methods that by attempting to simplify things, you are challenging what they knew?
Is this the problem holding GNU/Linux back as a more popular choice for the desktop? While I have never had the displeasure of playing around with it myself, I have read that this was the case with Microsoft’s Windows Vista. Microsoft had attempted to simplify things for the average user and by doing so they challenged that same user. The user now had to be concerned with administrator rights along with other things. We all know that a huge majority of PC users rarely know the difference between their RAM and their hard drives, so why take things away and replace them with other methods? From network/user management to even basic navigation and file creation/modification. Now, in Microsoft terminology “simplicity” does not mean”faster.” In a Microsoft operating system or application, when something is simplified, it means that there are at least a minimum of 3 additional steps added. Windows 7 is following in the same direction. Will the average user be just as disappointed from 7 as they are with Vista?
Overall, for a while now Apple has remained somewhat consistent with its appearance and functionality (details aside). The same cannot be said for GNU/Linux and Microsoft Windows. GNU/Linux had been redefining itself through multiple interfaces where now many can say it is truly user friendly and ready for the desktop. I agree 100% with that assumption. As for Windows, owning the majority of the market share and remaining consistent between Windows 95-ME, slowly reinventing itself with XP and now turning its environment upside down and confusing the average user, how does this bode for its future? Chances are it will still do well but who knows how much success it will truly achieve and if it falls short of its success, will it help with the future of GNU/Linux? I hope so. The sub-notebook industry is increasing the usage of GNU/Linux (as is seen on Network Applications). Even entire countries such as Russia and China are creating their own distributions to be widely used across their nations.
While the graphical user interfaces of GNU/Linux are excellent and have plenty of similarities with their Mac OS X and Windows counterparts (for easy transitions), are its slight differences going to hold it back for mass adoption? I will express my opinion to this further down. I have been running GNU/Linux since 2001 and now I cannot imagine using anything else. I am writing this post from my laptop under Fedora Linux and when I think of how efficient I am on this machine, I know going back to Windows will slow me down. Efficiency is introduced with great tools such as Avant-Window-Navigator, GNOME-Do, Firefox with its numerous plugins, the command shell to even my own whipped up python/pygtk scripts, one of which is used to enable/disable and manage my Network Manager. Enable the special effects with Compiz-Fusion and we are talking about a graphically appealing and rich filled experience in GNOME, KDE or whatever GUI is the user’s preference. The point-and-click mentality as seen in a Windows environment, does lack in efficiency. And while GNU/Linux can still function in the same manner without any faults and in less steps, is it still too “radically different” from its Windows counterpart that through its simplicity, more complexity is added for the average user, as they have to learn a new environment? I say no. The average user is not as dumb as we have stereotyped them to be and they usually do nothing more than surf the Internet, checking their Facebook and MySpace pages while streaming music. They do their on-line banking and pay bills. They quickly bring up OpenOffice to do word processing, etc. At least this is the case for my wife. She uses Ubuntu Linux and never calls me for help. I installed it, which was so simple and from that point, she already knew what Firefox was. A quick study of task bar with drop-down menus revealed to her all that she needed to know. The Network Manager has been easily accessible and easy to use. She has had no problems coming from Windows XP.
I would love to hear what you have to say. While all interfaces are different, everyone seems to be heading in the same direction of development and design. I ask, do you feel that this simplicity will affect the adoption of GNU/Linux?