Linux users are generic users

August 5, 2010

I used Windows for a long time, and then I moved to Linux. I was all fine and dandy until I took a quick glance over my shoulder at the then-new Windows 7.

It struck me exactly how Linux and Windows compare in terms of their strengths, and those differences brought me back to part-time Windows.

I was ‘all fine and dandy’ with Linux because I had Firefox and OpenOffice. I could listen to music. Learning Linux was essential to help me make my crazy website ideas come to fruition: I had a text editor and FTP, and the same command-line stuff was on the server. Even my mp3 player worked (occasionally) and my camera was simple plug and play.

But my phone was a pain. I could never be bothered to print either, because that was a lottery. Even if I’d have wanted an iPod, I couldn’t have taken the chance that it would keep working. Drag-and-drop was my mp3 player buying mantra.

I was limited in what I could buy and use.

Skipping all the details of what I wanted to get working (summary: games, drivers, specific software, phone data backup), I came to realise that Linux users are often the geekier amongst us, but their computing is much more… computery. More basic, or generic.

Ironically, this is why Linux is perfect for your proverbial grandad who just wants to surf, send emails, listen to music and write letters. Conversely, it’s also best for people who want absolute control over their computer, as near to the bare metal as they can stomach. It’s great for those who programme and code. It’s blessed with the geekiest programs you’ll want (and then more).

My issue was that I don’t quite fall into the latter category, but nor do I sit in the former. I want control, but I also want to print borderless photos without manually imputting settings in GIMP. I want to just plug my phone in and have all my contacts backed up, without having to Google each setting. And I want to use Spotify and Photoshop without the workarounds. Despite TurboPrint and the like (which I would recommend for many everyday jobs), these middling things – which fall between your surfing and your C++ – are Linux’s weak spot.

So I’m currently dual booting: Linux for the geeky stuff of building web sites, and Windows for the RAW Photoshopping and printing, the gaming and the Spotifying. And it’s also Linux (in the form of the Netbook Remix on an Aspire One) for the basics – a quick email or website, feed reading and podcasts.

So Linux excels in providing things like coding tools, music players, browsers and word processors in an easy to use interface. These are the types of things that all computers are good at. But for those users who want something more complex (not the same as difficult) – off-the-shelf 3-D gaming, magazine cover disk software, printer control centres, and specific programs like Microsoft Office – at the moment it falls short.

I’m sure this will change, but as a geek, dual-booting gives me the best of all possible worlds. I can buy what I want knowing it will work, but I can still use Linux for the basics, and the geekiest things.

Mind you, this gives me no small dose of Open-Sourcer-Guilt, so as soon as this stuff is all available for the Penguin, then I’m going back full time.