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Linux: The Mom & Pop's Operating System

By Anderson Silva

This month's article isn't much of an article, but more like an interview. It's not very technical, but potentially satisfying. True or False? If you have been around Linux for a few years, you may have been called an open source advocate, a computer guy or just a plain and simple nerd. Probably true, right? For years, that's how Linux has been seen by many outside the open source community, and even a few within it. This article, I mean interview, is a living example that this stereotype does not stand true any longer.

About 15 years ago, when I first arrived in the US as an exchange student, I met a family in a small town called Hampden, ME. Over the years, I became friends with this family, saw their kids graduate from High School and College, and even lived as neighbors to their parents for about three years of my life. The person I am writing about is my good friend Brenda McCleary, a mother of two college graduates who decided to give Linux a try.

I also want to emphasize that I have done very little editing on this interview because I want to show the reader that one must not have to know all the right terminology or Linux versions and distributions to be able to start using it.

Anderson: Hi, Brenda, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Brenda: Hi, Anderson. I've been married 31 years to husband John. I am the mother of two adult sons: Patrick (26) and DJ (24). I live in Simpsonville, SC. I have worked cleaning homes, been a church secretary, an administrative assistant in a denturist office, and currently in the food service industry as dishwasher/baker/prep person.

A: When was the first time you heard about Linux?
B: I heard about Linux from you Anderson.

[Note: Yes, I've been using Linux since 1996, and virtually every time I hear someone complaining about their Windows machine being infected with whatever destructive technology is out there, my reply is usually: You should give Linux a try...]

A: What made you want to switch from Windows to Linux?
B: I switched to Linux because you recommended it and because I was tired of Windows not running properly. I often dealt with viruses and having to buy a new computer more often than I should because after a few times of trying to restore Windows it would no longer work. You convinced me that Linux was user-friendly and that I wouldn't have to worry about viruses like I did with Windows. You also explained that there would be some learning curve in using this new Operating System and that some applications or hardware that I currently use may not be compatible.

A: What Linux distribution and version are you using?
B: I am currently using Ubuntu 10.4?? It is the latest upgrade that Update manager offered. Is this right Anderson?

[Note: Ubuntu 10.04]

A: Tell me about your biggest frustration with Linux.
B: My biggest frustration with Linux is the simple things like trying to upgrade my Garmin. I did research on-line to try and see how to fix the problem but because of my lack of education concerning words like bzip, tarballs, source codes and such. It may as well be Greek or Latin and I gave up not knowing what to do. I finally had my son upgrade it on his computer with Windows.

[Another problem that I had, but not related to Linux itself, but more of a vendor support issue was:] When I first received my computer from Dell with Linux OS I was so excited. I could not however get the DVD to work. I called Dell and after many conversations, being transferred to different sections of the company and was asked to reinstall the OS system twice, that didn't fix the problem, I hung up angry and frustrated. Dell does not give customer support for Linux. I finally sent my husband and my computer to your home and you had it fixed in less than a hour. If the fix was that easy why couldn't they help me?

A: Have you ever used the Linux terminal? If yes, what did you do with it?
B: I have tried to use the Linux terminal using step by step instructions based on on-line articles by other Linux users. To be honest I don't remember what it was I was trying to fix, but I do remember when the terminal accepted my codes, copied line for line from the article, I was tickled pink!

A: Have you ever had to upgrade your computer by yourself? If yes, what was the experience like?
B: I recently upgraded my computer through the Update manager which automatically lets me know when there are updates and upgrades to be installed. Just a few clicks of the mouse and the update or upgrade is finished. So much easier than Windows! After the upgrade there were a couple annoying glitches, but they were soon worked out with new updates.

A: Tell us a bit about what you do with Linux at home? Anyone else in the family use it? What do they do?
B: The two major reasons I use my computer is to access e-mail and Facebook. I also do on-line searches, upload pictures from my camera with F-Spot photo manager, listen to music on Rhythmbox, type documents on Open Office, and create CD's on the CD/DVD creator. Synaptic Package Manager has also been a useful tool..as well as Users and Groups. I especially enjoy it that I can log into my own account and not have to deal with family members bookmarks or icons that they choose to use on their desktop screen. My husband also uses Linux for e-mail and Facebook, paying bills on-line and doing on-line searches to read news from our home state, Maine.

A: What's your favorite part about using Linux?
B: My favorite part about using Linux is not having to deal with viruses, cookies and not having to worry about when the OS is going to die. It is a stable, trustworthy system that I hope in time will be more and more compatible with Windows so that many other simple people like myself can enjoy the many benefits of using Linux without the frustration of certain things being incompatible. Although I do have to say that the upgrades to newer versions of Linux seem to fix some problems automatically which means Linux is aware of the incompatibility issues and is taking action.

A: Do you feel you've learned more about computers using Linux? Why?
B: I do not regret moving away from Windows as the benefits of Linux far outweigh the frustrations experienced in some things not being compatible and how to fix them. Of course it is especially helpful when I can Facebook you, Anderson, with questions.

A: Well, Brenda, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us about your Linux experience. One final question, if you had to recommend Linux to another mother like yourself, how would you 'sell' it?
B: I would definitely recommend Linux to other mothers because of the many benefits I have explained in this interview. I would however recommend to them that they do their research concerning compatibility issues of hardware and software they are currently using to make sure the change would best fit their needs. I would also recommend that they also find a current Linux user that could help them through the transition in case they run into the same problem I did of no customer support from the seller. You are welcome.

My friend Brenda McCleary has been a Linux user for a little over two years now, and every once in a while I check in with her via Facebook to check out her level of satisfaction with it, and even though I, myself, am a Fedora user, I try to make myself available for her when she has questions about how to get something working. But I have to confess that Brenda has been flying solo with her Linux install for several months now without any major incidents.

The Linux Operating System has definietly grown up, and so have its users. We are not all just College kids with nothing better to do than hack on our computers trying to solve a programming problem. A lot of us are ordinary folks with a simple wish: when I get in front of a computer, I want to connect with others, share media, and even work without having to keep fighting viruses, malware, trojans, etc. Not to say, that Linux is a safe haven, yet, in comparison to Windows, it is safe enough.


Talkback: Discuss this article with The Answer Gang


Anderson Silva works as an IT Release Engineer at Red Hat, Inc. He holds a BS in Computer Science from Liberty University, a MS in Information Systems from the University of Maine. He is a Red Hat Certified Engineer working towards becoming a Red Hat Certified Architect and has authored several Linux based articles for publications like: Linux Gazette, Revista do Linux, and Red Hat Magazine. Anderson has been married to his High School sweetheart, Joanna (who helps him edit his articles before submission), for 11 years, and has 3 kids. When he is not working or writing, he enjoys photography, spending time with his family, road cycling, watching Formula 1 and Indycar races, and taking his boys karting,

Copyright © 2010, Anderson Silva. Released under the Open Publication License unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 176 of Linux Gazette, July 2010