McFarland (WI) – After receiving her new Dell notebook, a young female student at Madison Area Technical College (MATC) in Wisconsin realized it contained Ubuntu for an operating system (a version of Linux), and not Windows. Unable to load her Verizon High-Speed Internet CD and the subsequent inability to access the Internet, coupled with no Microsoft Word (which is a MATC requirement), she dropped out of school for two semesters. The Linux community was soon up in arms.
Local TV station WKOW, channel 27 in Madison, Wisconsin, picked up on her story and broadcast it on Tuesday. Soon after, blogs and boards all over the Internet were ablaze with stories about “the girl who dropped out of college over Linux.”
Yesterday, due to overwhelming response to their Tuesday story, WKOW broadcast a follow-up piece. They explained that once this story reached the Internet, their servers were inundated with angry, hateful and rude emails, along with similar phone calls to the station. Several Linux users also contacted the station basically trying to see if they could help the girl fix her problems. A representative from Dell also contacted the station to let them know they would help her sort out her order after learning she wanted to send the notebook back.
The young woman also reports being harassed on her Facebook account by several Ubuntu users who claim her story makes Ubuntu and Linux look bad.
All in all, the Internet’s response to this otherwise unfortunate story has been astounding. What’s most amazing is how many people were attacking the woman, stating that she was in some way to blame for the problems she had. This, rather than realizing that maybe there’s some work to be done to make Linux more accessible to the non-tech users, was standard operating procedure over the story.
Guys, the Linux crowd, Ubuntu isn’t for everybody. I’m a huge Linux fan, even having discussed with TG Daily’s editor, Wolfgang Gruener, about including Mark Shuttleworth in our top ten people in technology for 2008 list. I believe in open source software, I believe in Ubuntu (and Debian in general), and I believe that Linux has the potential of being a full-on replacement for everybody. In 2007, I wrote an article entitled Leaving Redmond, WA in 24 hours – encouraging users to make the Ubuntu switch. But the truth is, Linux is not Windows. And even Ubuntu is not like Windows in any way when it comes to getting new software installed. And that’s just the way it is, and as it turns it out, that just happened to be the one problem this young girl had – and the one leading to this story.
A Windows user orders a computer expecting it to be Windows-based. Regardless of her inattention to detail on that matter – one which probably serves to indicate exactly how much non-Linux users believer the world is a Windows world, when it wasn’t Windows, and when she couldn’t get her CD to install or figure out a way to run Word, she didn’t have a big timeframe with which to operate under. She didn’t have time to consult board after board finding solution, or to wait for memers of the Ubuntu community to respond to question posted on one of the hundreds of available help boards – you know, the ones that get looked over and ignored because maybe they don’t use all of the right words? You know the ones I’m talking about – right? Of course you do.
Obviously her decision to quit school was not based on Ubuntu or Linux, though it may be have been the final straw. If anything, this story should serve as a wakeup call and call to action regarding the user unfriendliness of Linux in general (including Ubuntu) when inexperienced Windows users switch over. There is so little common ground that without a guide it’s all but hopeless.
It’s time for the Ubuntu community to grow up, and if they really want to become a “real operating system” in people’s eyes, then something necessary has to happen. This continuation with the way Linux is and has been needs to change. Users are never going to adopt Linux or Ubuntu in big ways until the issues of driver problems, compatibility between Windows and Linux methodologies are addressed. I’m talking in terms of the functionality of the task, not the mechanics of getting it done or how it gets done. These issues have to be addressed, and they need to be addressed in easy-to-understand-and-follow ways.
New Linux users need a source they can go to which shows them how to do in Linux that which they would’ve known how to do in Windows. And such a tool needs to support different versions of Windows as well. Develop that tool, integrated into desktop-level help, and you’ll immediately begin to see a migration in marketshare.
Until then Linux crowd, and in this specific case the Ubuntu crowd … it’s not going to happen. Ever. Ubuntu isn’t there yet for the average, non-techie Windows user. It’s not even close.
Of course, all of this is just my opinion. I could be wrong.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.