Defining “easy to use” with GNU/Linux

Today, I had a brief conversation with a few adventurous undergraduates who have attempted to use GNU/Linux. They started out saying that GNU/Linux was not as easy to use as Windows 8.┬áNow, given the usability disaster that is Windows 8, I had to wonder just what exactly these undergraduates meant by “easy to use.” I expressed my surprise, asking if they had been using GNU/Linux recently. While they reported that yes, they had been trying to use GNU/Linux in the last year or so.

Again, I was puzzled. So I asked “What do you mean by ‘easy to use?'” The response simultaneously dismayed and yet, did not surprise me:

“I have been trying to use Linux Mint, and whenever I log in, I can move my mouse around for about 3 minutes before it is no longer able to move around on the screen and only random keys on the keyboard work. And that’s on my homebrew PC. Maybe it is the hardware I have chosen, but it all works just fine under Windows.”

I commented that this sounded like a poor X configuration, and possibly a driver concern. To which it became clear that this student’s efforts to correct the problem were met with failure also.

Another chimed in with “I tried to install Linux on my computer, and after the install, my keyboard wouldn’t work properly at all,” Concluding “Making it easy to use means making it just work.”

While I could not ask additional follow-up questions due to time constraints, it is quite clear to me that the fact that most GNU/Linux distributions do not include every driver imaginable is part and parcel the problem. Once again, my dear FOSS advocates and users, the problem boils down to drivers.

And when we start to pull on the thread of drivers… the sweater quickly becomes unraveled as we have all faced the issue of sacrificing functional hardware for the sake of running GNU/Linux, or working with a philosophy that aligns closely with the Free Software Movement.

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