Sunday, February 3, 2008

Popularizing Linux: Are Flash based Distros underutilized?

I have often thought why Linux is not more popular. Mostly, it is usable, more secure and less costly than Windows. Why, then, do more people not use Linux? Disregarding, for the time being, the general ignorance of the people,I think the following points are very relevant:

  1. It is a Windows world: Most of the applications that people use are Windows specific proprietary programs. The most commonly used applications are an e-mail client, web browser, office suite, instant messenger, multimedia programs and a photo organizer. Changing over to a completely new system is a great culture shock. I think this great change as well as questions as to whether Linux will actually provide an adequate replacement for the programs of their day to day use is a great deterrent for people who actually are interested in Linux
  2. Fear: Most people do not have enough technical knowhow. They are afraid of messing up their systems by opting for a dual-boot configuration. Even if they have backed up all their data, they are afraid of losing a working operating system.  They also are not confident enough of using virtualization as a means of testing different operating systems.
  3. Self –doubt: Linux has earned notoriety as an operating system for geeks. People are just put off by hearing that it is difficult.

How, then, to actually lessen the pain of changing operating systems? The first objective to be achieved is to see whether the persons concerned are actually interested in adopting a dual-boot configuration. In case they are even slightly afraid, I think the best option is to introduce the users to Live-CD and USB bootable distributions. Of these two options, I personally think that the latter is a better option.

Why? For starters, it adds something that Windows cannot give: A portable desktop in your pocket. It gives users the opportunity to access their personal files wherever possible without fear of them being seen by others. And this is a very big value. Windows just does not give this type of privacy. It is non-destructive for the hard disk, but can store additional files. With proper partitioning and formatting of the flash device, the user files can also be accessed from Windows. This option will remove the fear of destroying the system from the users (provided they are told at the beginning how to boot from an USB drive, or a volunteer adjusts the BIOS defaults), and users can try and get accustomed to the different Linux applications. A big advantage over Live-CD based systems will be its boot times and speed in general. I personally think that if, along with the widespread word-of mouth advertisement Ubuntu is getting, this unobtrusive and safe option is projected, Linux will actually gain more popularity. Which makes me wonder, are flash based distros like Puppy or Mandriva-flash underutilized and under-advertized?


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