Recently I made the decision to move my personal laptop over to Linux. Being a .net C# developer, I’ll still continue to use Windows for work purposes, however Linux is now my recreational OS of choice.
I guess in many ways it has given me a new found love for tinkering, scripting and learning new things. And good Lord, Linux offers fantastic opportunities for exploring.
I’ve been so focused on the under the hood stuff that I have all but ignored one of the best features of Linux – Linux for the basic end user aka the Granny.
So let’s just get this straight. In my mind I see computer users in terms of skill and ability in this order:
- Elite supreme hacker
- Scientific / raw low level developers
- Implementers (developers) —> me
- Super users
- Power users
- grannies / basic end user
So what exactly is a granny?
When I talk about a granny, I am really talking about a user that has virtually no interest in computing. They see the device as a means to perform a certain function, and have absolutely no interest in exploring beyond that.
For example, a granny might be aware of a certain news site where they are able to read current articles or watch the odd video. Grannies have no clue what drives the web, they have never heard of technologies like flash or html or what a script is, or where web pages are stored, or what a browser is. They only know if they click or tap a certain icon it opens up this white box and from there they can see news. A lot of grannies have caught on to communication over the net, and so regularly use applications like Skype. Some even have email (most don’t), some are aware of Facebook, some aren’t.
Most grannies I’ve met aren’t stupid
They simply have no interest in computers and view the device as something that should work atomically, like a TV or a car or a vacuum cleaner. One thing is clear I’ve never met even one granny who explores any aspect outside of what they are doing with the device. This isn’t fear either, this is just complete and utter lack of interest in additional capabilities they do not need. But they can tell you when the stuff they expect to work isn’t. A lot of these grannies can tell you that their experience is slow or point out why it is frustrating.
Usher in Linux
At first glance it would seem ironic that Linux the system most suitable for tinkering would be up for my nomination for the most suitable granny proof OS. But no, let’s dig deeper.
Linux is modular. Now I have yet to find the perfect granny distribution. But let’s consider the following. Let’s say our granny needed 3 applications. Internet, Email and Skype – that’s it!
Although Linux is modular and you could most likely pull all of this off without a fluffy desktop environment. We can’t really expect our granny to be typing away in the console, now can we? So we need need at least a DE, once we consider a DE, we’re now including a mass of packages that drive the DE and the WM. But consider for example : http://www.zdnet.com/a-linux-computer-for-grandpa-and-grandma-7000000436/ - based on tiny core, so this is completely possible.
Now if we had not been lazy, and only used the exact packages we need to use Internet, Email and Skype – eg: remove all packages that aren’t required, and I mean everything! What we are left with is:
LESS STUFF = LESS CAN GO WRONG
That’s right we would have about a proficient implementation of an OS as we could possibly get in 2013. With mostly all the code sitting in native C++, save a few the browser plugins.
We could pull this off with Windows by using a visual overlay on top of explorer. However this would not be without problems, since underneath we would have full blown windows running. We could turn off some unneeded services, but the entire core OS would still be sitting there in the background.
And since computers are complex, and since things can go wrong. What we really want is :
LESS stuff, Less of everything, only the essentials.
So it stands to reason then, that with a bit of training and a modern DE on a distribution like Ubuntu or Mint that even a granny would be able to perform mundane computing tasks with little to no problems on Linux.
I cannot say the same for a raw Windows installation – from experience with the granny user base.
So my vote is for Linux on this one.