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Linux for the common person

Most Windows users will have probably encountered them: The hardcore Linux fanatics: People that will swear that Linux is the ultimate OS and utterly hate everything that has the name Microsoft on it. Normally I wouldn't really mind these people. After all, it is completely up to you what kind of OS you want to be running on your system, and when you are happy with your current OS, why would you need to change?

This is what makes some of the Linux users out there kind of dangerous. Thinking of themselves as cyber prophets that need to rid the world of the evil called Microsoft they will verbally abuse every ms user until they give in and decide to give Linux a try. This is where for most people the nightmare begins...

A good piece of advice: BEFORE you even attempt to download a Linux distro, ask yourself: Do I really need Linux? Proven fact: The reason why most people will attemp a linux installation is curiosity, end of line. Nothing more, nothing less.

Of course , we can all understand that it gets boring after a while, looking at the same Windows desktop every day again, however: It is unlikely that switching to a Linux desktop will suddenly make your computer experience more pleasant. Linux fanatics will remind you over and over again about the security issues in windows, the fact ms is spying on us, the high amount of viruses, the high price you need to pay if you want to use everything legally, hell...according to some people your computer might even explode the moment you install the latest version of Windows. Though, when you think about it yourself: Microsoft doesn't make bad software. If windows was really THAT bad, everyone would have switched to Macintosh a long time ago, so let's take a look at those disadvantages:

Windows is filled with security holes and can be easily hacked into
True, new security issues are found every day, and new patches are also being released every day. However: this in no different from a Linux system: Unless you invest a lot in security, hackers will ALWAYS have an easy way to get in your system. The fact that Linux is mostly open source makes it even more dangerous. Why don't we hear Linux users complaining then? Because most Linux users that need to protect important data, know damn well what they are doing, and will take enough security measures in order to prevent security breaches. Same CAN be done on a windows system, but 95% of the windows users are "ordinary" people that don't care about tight security anyway, thus they will be targeted by script kiddies who see an easy target to hack into. Not to gather important data, but just for the kick of it.
More and more Windows viruses are made every day
So what is the goal of a virus writer? Right: to infect as many people as possible. What do most people run on their PC? Right: Windows!. Face it: the moment an OS becomes popular, more and more viruses WILL pop up. Imagine that everybody switched to a Linux system tomorrow, you will see a huge boom in Linux viruses. Agreed: At this point it is quite hard to create a good allround Linux virus, because of the dozens of different Linux distros that all use different structures. But if Linux wants to become popular one day, they WILL have to agree on a good standard sooner or later.
Microsoft software is expensive, while Linux is free
Indeed a true advantage that will become more and more disadvantageous for microsoft in the future. More and more Linux desktop distros will appear, creating a true competition for microsoft. More about this later
Microsoft is very vulnerable to spyware
OK, this is a proven fact. For example, the Microsoft Media player sends statistics about every file you play. Sure, they give you an option to disable this, but for validating wma music files, you still have to connect to the internet. Despite the fact than nobody really knows what exactly they do with that data (but you can imagine it can be easily used for legal issues) it remains a disturbing fact for someone who wants to keep his actions secret. Also, there are plenty of 3rd party programs that include a lot of spyware/adware. This simply doesn't occur in Linux applications because of their open source nature. Ofcourse the common person won't worry about MS knowing he just sent his pictures of little Billy to grandma, but there are also a lot of people that DO worry about this, so I guess it is quite natural that they go look for an alternative OS.

But...like I said before: this is a HUGE step you would make. Windows has some REALLY good features that simply aren't available in linux: It is foolproof, installing software is extremely easy, configuring drivers and hardware is a breeze (well...most of the time) and it is the most supported OS out there. For a very long time, linux distros had none of those features, thus they were only interesting for people with a lot of free time and devotion on their hands. However: Huge changes are going on in the world of linux...

Recently more and more so called desktop distros start showing up. Basically, these are linux distros aimed at the common man. We had Lindows before, but this is still far from what a daily user needs. A desktop user basically wants the following thing: A computer environment on which he/she can perform all his/her tasks without having to worry about what is running beneath. Nothing more, nothing less. People don't want to fiddle around with config files, they don't want to spend an entire day just to get the scrollwheel of their mouse working. They just want to boot up their computer and see everything in working order. This is exactly what recent destop distros like Xandros and Arklinux are trying to accomplish.

Let's take a look at Arklinux for example: The installation of this OS is done in 3 mouseclicks and 20 minutes, wich is even better then MS software (for comparison: Gentoo linux takes a whole day to install). Next thing you reboot your computer and all your usb and pci devices are detected and installed. It's almost too good to be true: Even microsoft could learn from this. Installing new software? Just clicking on the right title in the nice "install new software" GUI you get. In other words: These distros are meant to get you started as soon as possible, yet with full functionality. So if you want, you CAN tweak your linux if you have the courage for it, but it is not needed to get everything working.

What we see here is that there are now several distros coming up that try to get the same advantages of windows, but without its disadvantages (spyware, price of software). This is a very good thing actually: Now linux becomes available for everyone, without turning their life into a nightmare. This can also become a good challenge for Microsoft to further improve their products and work out their main disadvantages. A lot of people claim than 2004 will be the year of the desktop distros. And I am really curious how everything will evolve. How many people will try to make the switch to another userfriendly OS, and how will Microsoft react on all this? Time will tell, but the battle will sure be interesting to watch.