View Full Version : What does the Windows Power-User want

Elle Stone
January 1st, 2008, 09:02 PM
There are a lot of threads on the Ubuntu forums asking what would it take to get an average Windows user to switch to Linux. A lot of responses center around making Linux easier for the computer-illiterate end-user. See in particular the very enjoyable thread at http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=199744.

It seems to me that these discussions overlook an important practical consideration, that is, the role of the local Windows "power-user" in switching family and friends from Windows to Linux.

Linux, at this point, has a distinct advantage over Windows in the areas of security and 64-bit computing. Vista is giving many Windows power-users second thoughts. Vista needs cutting edge hardware just to get out of its own way and it's crippled with DRM. Now is a golden opportunity to catch the Windows power-users. Or so it seems to me. The power-users, once converted, will in turn lead the illiterate end-users to Linux.

So what do you think it would take to convince the Windows power-user to switch to Linux? All you ex-Windows power-users - why did you switch? What problems have you encountered? And how successful have you been at converting your friends and families when they bring you their malware-laden Windows boxes to fix, yet again?

I offer the following proposed descriptions for consideration:

I. The typical Windows computer-illiterate end-user
II. The typical Windows power-user and why she might want to switch to Linux
III. Why it took this Windows power user so long to switch to Linux

I. A typical Windows computer-illiterate end-user:

1. She doesn't particularly want to learn anything new and unfamiliar. She doesn't want to learn how to install an operating system. She doesn't want to learn how to use new software applications. But she CAN learn how to use new applications pretty easily IF she has an incentive.

2. She DOES want applications to work quickly, rather than leave her sitting staring at an hourglass, waiting for something to happen.

3. She undoubtedly uses one or more programs that can't be replaced by a Linux equivalent. For example, she transport documents back and forth between work or school and home; and work or school ONLY accept Microsoft Office documents. But she doesn't want to dual-boot. She probably won't like using Wine unless the application is "Platinum". She won't be comfortable installing VirtualBox, but she'll find it easy to use if someone else installs it for her.

4. Often she's using older equipment that is now working at a snail's pace. Or she's recently purchased a new computer with the newest operating system, and the whole thing STILL works at a snail's pace because the specs on the new hardware are at best marginal for the new operating system.

5. She may even think that "snail's pace" is normal. But eventually, because of accumulated windows garbage and/or malware, things get too slow or break altogether. At that point she turns to her closest computer-literate "Windows power-user" friend for help.

II. A typical Windows "power-user":

1. She uses (or has used) Windows in a work environment rather than for purely personal goals like surfing the internet and downloading email. She is the resident "go-to" person when things don't work. She may (or may not) have experience reaching back to the days of dos, but today the internet is her best friend when it comes to trouble-shooting computer problems.

2. She is concerned about computer security and efficiency. In the (not so) wonderful world of Windows, security and efficiency go hand-in-hand: hijacked computers don't work very efficiently (some have jokingly proposed that the main benefit of dual-core is to have computing power left over after the resident malware has taken its chunk).

3. Her Windows installation is "lean and mean" because every spec of RAM on her system is needed to run a RAM-hungry application. All unnecessary background services are shut down. Nothing is "pre-loaded." She monitors background processes like a hawk. The only thing bogging down her system is the firewall and antivirus and increasingly necessary rootkit/malware/"first-strike" protection she has running in the background.

4. She is proficient at installing and reinstalling Windows. She's rescued most of her family's and friends' (illiterate end-users all) computers more times than once. She's sick of cleaning up other people's malware-laden computers, but she's too nice to say "no". Sometimes it takes her an entire weekend to rescue a malware-ridden computer. She attempts to educate friends and family on computer safety; and she installs antivirus, firewall, Spybot, Ad-Aware, ad naseum on their computers. But malware evolves, and social engineering persists, and the broken computers just keep coming back.

5. She may even have designed and built her own computer, carefully selecting the "most for the least" to meet her own specific computing needs. She wants a 64-bit operating system to go with her spiffy 64-bit hardware. But Vista looks like it would need cutting edge hardware just to get out of it's own way; that DRM thing that cripples non-compliant hardware looks just awful; and she's tired of worrying about the latest Windows security hole.

6. The constant battle to keep malware at bay has turned her into a control freak, at least where her computer is concerned. She wants to know what every little dll, exe and jar file on her computer is doing. She hasn't achieved that lofty goal, but she tries. Her system has NEVER suffered from malware, probably . . .

7. She may well bite the bullet and go with Vista, because she wants to take advantage of 64-bit computing and more than 2gb RAM. But she is a prime candidate for making the switch to Linux. And when she does, most of her computer-illiterate friends and family are likely to follow sooner or later. Why? Because the next time Uncle Joe's computer stops working, our computer-literate ex-Windows power-user is going to say, "I'm sorry, Uncle Joe. I don't know anything about Vista. But I could help you set up Linux and your computer will work a lot faster."

III. Oh, OK, I admit it. That typical Windows power-user is me. I didn't bite the bullet and go with Vista. I switched to Ubuntu.

I've been trying to switch to Linux for the last five years. Why it has taken me so long to switch? A major reason has been Linux bloat of all things, coupled with the learning curve it would take to gain control over what is installed on my computer.

Five years ago I installed Redhat on my Inspiron 8100 Dell laptop, dual-booting with Windows 2000. I immediately uninstalled it because the default Redhat installation was more far more "bloated" with applications than my carefully tuned Windows 2000. I tried again with Suse a couple of years later on my brand-spanking new 64-bit-ready workstation, with the same result - bloatware. My attempts at trimming Suse down left me with a non-functioning installation. It seemed like more trouble than it was worth. And 64-bit computing hadn't matured much. So back to Windows, again.

Not too much later I tried FreeBSD - I liked that one a lot, got it going just the way I wanted, but alas nvidia didn't (and still doesn't) supply 64-bit freeBSD drivers and FreeBSD didn't run the linux apps I was most interested in.

In the meantime, 64-bit computing has come a long ways. And so has Linux. And so has virtualization and Wine for those necessary Windows applications.

Recently I took the advice of a Linux guru friend of mine and installed Ubuntu. Too much bloat. So I installed Xubuntu - faster, but how do I get past the gui to do things "my way"? Did I mention that the average Windows power-user is a control freak? We are. We have to be to keep the malware at bay.

Eventually I found a net-install CD from
http://www.psychocats.net/ubuntu/minimal#barebones (the net-install link is nowhere to be found on the Ubuntu home page). I made a minimal command line installation (actually I probably made five or six installations, that learning curve thing), and have worked from there tweaking as I go. The Ubuntu forums have been my best friend for the last two months (my linux guru friend is not around for daily questioning, alas).

So what have been the biggest problems so far, the biggest stumbling blocks for this ex-Windows power-user and newbie "Linux-guru wannabe"?

1. THE major stumbling block, after figuring out how to do a minimal install, was figuring out how to deal with security concerns. I have decided that for now an antivirus is not so important. I eventually ended up using Arno-iptables-firewall to set up my iptables. But I don't understand what the auto-generated iptables is actually doing. I just take it on faith that it is doing something good. Tons of reading on the Debian website about security still leaves me feeling "in the dark." I am thinking about creating a Linux installation in a VirtualBox so I can cruise the internet without fear of picking up malware (yeah, I know, linux is more secure blah blah blah, but part of that "security" stems from not being a particular target, with Windows being such low-hanging fruit). I worry about rootkits. Before trying Ubuntu, I had Etch up and running and managed to break it with Bastille. I've just put the whole security thing kind of to one side.

2. I have Wine (installed from source so I can keep multiple versions of wine running side-by-side) and VirtualBox running to take care of the Windows programs I can't live without. Can we say "learning curve"? Or is it "have your cake and eat it too"?

3. How to partition my hard drives was a major concern.

4. I really, really, really want a firewall like "Zone Alarm" for one reason: I want to know when programs are trying to "phone home." I can't find such a thing in the world of linux.

So that is where things stand at present with this (now ex-) Windows power-user. Other than the security concerns, I am just totally loving this whole Linux thing.

I'm formulating in my mind "how to's" for when the next friend or family member comes to me saying "fix my computer". And when said friend/family member shows up, there will be another Linux convert, an average computer-illiterate ex-Windows end-user, happily using Linux. He or she will never know how much time I spent figuring out how to make things work - they'll just be presented with a working system and as much of an education as they seem to be able to handle.

But I won't be installing full-blown Ubuntu on anyone's computer if they are using older hardware.

In fact, my better half (another Windows power-user; he's far too busy to learn Linux - his main computer is his livelihood) has issued me a challenge:

Get his very old and seldom-used (it has Windows 95 installed on it) Pentium Pro, 64mb ram with two hard drives: 4gb and 7gb respectively, up and running Linux . . .

. . . so he can cruise the internet and download email from it. I suspect he's really curious about this whole Linux thing and wants to play. Suggestions welcome!


January 1st, 2008, 09:21 PM
You know what's great, all those comments about Linux that say "It's great for the techy guy, but its not something your grandmother would use". WELL... about that... ;)

And As a windows power-user, I want Linux ;) Now I'm a power user in 2 operating systems :p
But I agree with everything you said about problems with tools for computer management and security in windows... I live in <city> and our ISP provides for free an excellent anti-spyware, anti-virus, anti-IE-problems, etc. system manager that does exactly what a lot of things your describing! You can set it up to prompt you about any program receiving or sending internet data, and program launching another process, any program interferring in a nother's memory, etc and it's really easy to use - it gives you the clichéd "allow or deny", and also will describe what its doing, give an estimated risk level and basically everything that Linux comes with or doesn't need because of superior architecture :p

January 1st, 2008, 09:42 PM
In regards to linux bloat --

Distributions like redhat and suse (loosely derived from Slackware), esp. around the time Windows 2000 was a mainstream OS, took (and still take with their enterprise releases) the methodology of installing damn near everything offered in their distribution. This has its advantages and disadvantages. Its advantages are: The app is there, and configured. You need but run it. Disk space is cheap, and having it installed and having it loaded are two different things. If you have a slow, or no internet connection, this is very convenient. You can have a 7-8GB linux installation and still keep your base memory consumption well under 200MB. The disadvantages are: some applications are services, or daemons, and a early adopter of linux may not understand how to identify and stop unwanted services

Enter ubuntu:

Ubuntu and other debian based distributions take a minimalistic approach, giving you the basic necessities of the majority of computer users want and need, and hook into online repositories to get anything else. The advantage, with specific regard to ubuntu is that it does a fantastic job with application identification. For example, if you tried to run a command in ubuntu that you did not have installed, but was available in a repository, it would tel you that, along with the command string you would need to type to install it. Dependency control with aptitude has really come a long way, and while its not a perfect science, its contributions to linux's end user usability cannot be denied. The downfall is if you have a slow or no internet connection, you are very much restricted or cut off from the great software resources that make ubuntu such a great release.

in all cases, Linux or UNIX systems memory management is far superior to windows, taking as much read operations away from the spinning disks as possible. This greatly increases how fast data can be accessed as memory is so much faster than disk. So your bloat can actually help you perform better, depending on which parts you consider bloat.

Microsoft is getting better about satisfying its dependency requirements with software it creates and sels, but it still doesn't always play well with other software packages, even if they follow Microsoft logo compliance. Windows apps will still, to this day, step on DLL files, overwrite configurations, have conflicts with versions .NET code, have API calls become outdated and unavailable with service packs giving no forewarning to developers or administrators.

With Linux, its much easier to isolate libraries, or use symlinks to define desired default versions while leaving the original libraries untouched. All of this equates to overall system and application stability.

As a windows administrator for many years who is now a linux and unix administrator, I want stability and productivity for my users. What I can give them in with a well tuned linux machine and software is so much more than what I can give them with windows.

also, in more ways than I could possibly outline in one thread, I find linux far more secure than a windows machine. I think, as you continue learning and using linux, you will be able to make these comparisons for yourself :)

In regards to surfing, I follow and pass on a general rule of thumb. Surfing the web can be like driving through a big city. Eventually you get familiar with the surroundings and places that have most of what you need. Just be aware when you venture outside of your familiar zone that you might turn right into a bad neighborhood. If a site looks shady, get out of it. Be aware of our surroundings. If you do an online purchase, and you don't have a secure tunnel opened, verified by the little lock icon in the corner of your web browser, or if you don't accept a secure certificate for something that SHOULD be secure, get out of that page. Firewalls are great, but nothing is greater than training yourself to identify signs like this.

Thank you for the good read!

:edit: for a firewall, consider 'firestarter', or if you want to get outright perverse with monitoring, check out ethereal. Ethereal is not a "firewall" but it is a network traffic analysis tool that is extremely informative, and you can set alarm triggers with it.

both applications are in the repositories.

January 1st, 2008, 09:55 PM

May get that old Pentium Pro computer up and running. :)

I found the main problem with an old 95 machine I had was getting the mouse to work smoothly. (if at all!).

CM Xtasy
January 1st, 2008, 10:02 PM
I am definitely a Windows Power User. Linux would be good for me if I just surfed the web an looked at... adult material. I dont look at adult material and dont just surf the web to websites I don't know. Linux doesnt have the power programs that I need such as Photoshop, Premier Pro CS3, and others. Yes I know of the Virtual Machine or dual-booting, and I've done both, but why not just have one operating system that does everything I need? Dont get confused, I'm not saying Windows is the best at everything, but at my needs it is. I wont be totally converting to Linux anytime soon, but I hope the Linux Community will greatly improve.

Linux does have great advantages when it comes to security and open-source programs which make up the best builds of programs. It has been a great success so far, and I believe it will be widely recognized and used sometime in the mere future.