Thursday, March 11, 2010

Changing OSes: Harder Than You Think

I have had experience in a wide variety of operating systems over the years -- every version of Window$ except 2.0 and NT 3.5, DOS 3.0 - 6.0, Linux distributions, MacOS 7.5.3 - OS X, BeOS R5 through Haiku, and even a little QNX. It dawned on me yesterday that this actually colors my perspective significantly. As proponents of alternative operating systems, we need to be aware of how hard it is to change your primary OS.

Think for a moment about what using Windows is like: always being on alert for viruses, perpetual security updates, going to the Geek Squad or a friend / relative for fixes, Microsoft Office, buying a PC loaded with bloatware, Photoshop and other can't-live-without-it apps and so on. It's a way of life, and an inferior one at that, but that realization comes only if you are made aware of better options. Let me repeat part of that: it's a way of life, as in a culture. Not that I've done it myself, but I know enough to know that changing your primary OS is very much like moving to another country.

Consider the differences in what you know about the United States, England, and Australia. Last time I knew, there weren't too many koalas climbing trees in Willesden Green, for example. I'm not even going to comment on the "Chocolate Thunder from Down Under" server at Outback steakhouses here in the States -- I've never had it -- but I do know what it is that Australians call a thunderbox, and the only thing it has in common with chocolate is the color. Eeew. Riding a lift is something I might expect a construction worker to do, as in driving a forklift, but that's not what it means across the pond. They all speak the same language, but there is a lot of difference even though there is a lot of common ground beyond language.

Imagine for a moment moving from your home country to another one which speaks the same language that you do, but one you've never visited before. Which would be more difficult: packing everything and leaving on the next plane out of town or spending time there and planning your trip, possibly having a house in both places for a while? Without a doubt, the harder option would be the first one, but sometimes we, who have successfully done that in a computing context, mention it without hardly a second thought -- "Just use Linux (or a Mac, or whatever). It's easy!" That's like saying to my neighbor who has lived her entire life in the town I live in to move to Australia without any regard to all, if any, of the implications that this entails.

Changing your primary operating system is something that takes time, effort, and patience. The change requires willingness to put in effort to learn something new, even through the problems and inconveniences that will arise. Total beginners actually have an easier time than people who "don't know much about computers" but they still require a lot of help. Keep in mind that truly helping people requires an investment of your life into theirs.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article and very much true. The first paragraph gave me nice memories, as I had a very similar experience with different systems.

    Regarding total beginners I have two examples.

    My father started using a computer when he was over 70 and I gave him a Mac as I believed it is easier to get used to. For him a computer equals OSX. He does not know what a computer virus is, and has no idea what does BSOD mean :)
    Friend of mine gave an Ubuntu laptop to his mother, who uses it happily since over two years now with minimal outside assistance.

    I hope one day (soon) I will be able to give them Haiku OS. Then we can talk about converting them, and how difficult it is.