Morning Coffee Blog: Year of the Linux Desktop

12 Jan
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There’s a long running gag among Linux enthusiasts that “THIS is the year of Linux on the Desktop”. Despite being the underlying OS of almost every server that drives networks and the Internet in general, Linux has still never managed to catch on as a viable alternative to corporate OSes for daily desktop use. And there is a good reason.

Like most FOSS (Free/Open Source Software), there is a barrier to entry with Linux. It requires some technical knowledge and skill to even get started and understand the basics. While there are extremely noble efforts to make Linux more accessible to “norms” (the Ubuntu distro being the most well known), even tech-minded folks like myself are wary to rely on it for daily desktop use. Even if you have all of the software you need and hardware supported you require, it’s just too easy to mess things up and totally bork your system. As I joked on the tech-talk channel of the O:P Discord, “installing Linux means reinstalling Linux”.

And here’s where we come to the wider issue. I’ve always been “Linux curious” if not enthusiastic, and have made an effort. I have a dedicated Linux server. I can SSH into it. I can noddle around in the terminal. Following tutorials I’ve managed to install a LAMP stack and set up a local WordPress dev environment for this very site. My Plex server runs on it, etc. But even after all that, I’m wary of trying to use Linux as my daily driver.

The bigger issue is one of culture. All FOSS takes some effort on the part of the user. There is always a barrier to entry. As fantastic as Mastodon is, one of the things that holds it back is the immediate wall of indecision that a new person is hit with the moment they try to sign up. We’ve all been trained to seek the path of least resistance, and have to fight our own mental inertia to get over it. Very few people do that.

Until recently, the deeply gatekeeper-y nature of Linux enthusiast communities was downright hostile to new learners. Thankfully that is changing. Folks like the wonderful Veronica of Veronica Explains are part of a vital cultural shift to bring more people into the FOSS world and help them get started.

More important than trying to make the software itself more user-friendly, I think the goal is in helping people realize that yes, FOSS requires some effort on the part of the user to understand, and not only is that how it should be but you can do it. Taking control of your digital life means stepping up to the plate and actually learning how things work, even on a superficial level, every one of us has the ability to do that. You’re smart and capable. Learn one thing and your confidence grows. That confidence stirs you to learn more things and before you know it, you’ll be the one explaining how things work. And the mental process that gives you the flexibility to learn new skills will translate to every other area of your life. The act of learning itself becomes easier, and once you get that bug, it never stops.

Well I guess it wouldn’t be a piece about Linux without a wall of text, huh? Coffee time.

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