Linux is for everyone – anecdotal evidence

As most people who are on the techy side, I frequently get asked to fix computers. I usually turn them down, (truthfully) stating that I really do not know Windows systems well enough in order to mess with their machines. Sometimes this sparks a discussion about other operating systems and what alternatives one would have, other than buying an Apple PC (most average people do only know Mac and Windows).

A couple of months ago, my SO’s parents approached me, utterly frustrated by their PC. They don’t use it very often, it is turned off most of the time, often running just on Sunday for household bookkeeping (done in Excel) and some scanning and printing of photos and documents along with sharing those via e-mail. Some weeks the computer doesn’t get turned on at all. Some weeks it runs every day because vacation planning or important correspondence requires it. The problem was, it took the computer, a two year old mid-tier machine, close to 20 minutes to boot, just to be really slow once booted.

Feeling compelled to help. I started troubleshooting to the best of my abilities. First I looked for that infamous second anti-virus program, but their was none. Hard drive was defragmented. There was sufficient open RAM and the processor wasn’t being hijacked by some dubious process. The computer was just … really slow with the setup it was running.

No wonder, upon startup, countless cloud services and subscription services for Lord knows what forced itself on the display. Dell Cloud, Adobe this, Microsoft that, Facebook toolbar, automatic Twitter alerts, you name it. All of them loaded, but make no mistake, none of them were actually useful in any way, they were just trying to get the user sign in, sign up, use this or do that. My SO’s parents do not know what any of this is, but were afraid to break something by removing any of it.

Needless to say that just booting this thing – as someone who is used to having full control over the system they are operating with – was an awkward and somewhat eye-opening experience.

I wasn’t comfortable installing Linux for them

“Do you also get all of this when you start your computer”, they asked me. I told them “no” and explained the difference between a proprietary, commercial and yet still somehow free product and open source software. They of course expressed interest and I told them that I would install it for them, but I’m not 100% comfortable with it, because it is not as consumer-focused as Windows and also, there was no turning back without buying a copy of Windows (it was preinstalled and there was no key in the box – we checked).

They wanted to try it anyways and understood the drawbacks. So we made backup copies of their data and I downloaded an image of elemetaryOS, an Ubuntu-based distro that puts UI/UX first and doesn’t require the average Joe to access the scary command line.

Easy as pie

Now, I had planned a couple of hours to set everything up, since there was a printer/scanner to set up and find drivers and suitable software for, but as it turns out, it only took me about 40 minutes for everything. Apparently, when the system installed it figured drivers out itself. and the AppCenter included no less than three scanning programs that worked upon installing without any further configuration. I proceeded to download LibreOffice, Firefox and to customize everything at the direction of my SO’s mother and that was it, about an hour after we made backups, we were done with everything.

Language is a pitfall

Well, not quite. You see, something that I had not thought about at all was that their English is not all that fluent so they really prefer a German user interface. To my relief I found that there is actually excellent language support for most of the software, but you do have to jump through some hoops to get language packs installed.

Up until this point I was actually convinced that they could have even managed the whole process of installing a Linux distro by themselves. Installing language packs for LibreOffice though, even though a fairly straightforward process, they couldn’t have done. While finding and installing LibreOffice in the AppCenter is as easy as can be, it doesn’t support downloading additional language packs, so you have to turn to the command line to get that going.

Three months in, counting two complaints

I expected a lot of calls in the upcoming days and weeks about the computer. None. When I visited 2 weeks after the install there were but two complaints. One is that some parts of the OS remain in English, even though all the packs are properly installed, this is unfortunate, but manageable for them. The second one was an error message that was shown when the scan program was opened before the scanner was turned on. I explained why this was showing and everything was good.

Ever since then, there was not a bad word about the computer, on the contrary. overall speed has increased tremendously and the boot time was reduced by easily 90%. Not to mention that there are no more companies shoving their crap facewards after booting up.

I guess Linux is for everyone now.