Is Linux User-Friendly?

By Michael J. Martinez

October 14, 1998

Windows users will probably take one look at the instructions for installing Linux and grimace. It’s plain. It takes a lot more computer knowledge than most Windows users have. And they may be surpised at the appearance, too. The font during the boot process is whatever your computer defaults to—it looks, as one staffer put it, “very 1990.”

Remember dealing with DOS? Most brands of Linux are command-line based, though Red Hat and others have created graphical interfaces to give the operating system a more familiar, Windows-style look. It helps a lot.

While Windows 98 installs itself, Red Hat’s 5.1 version of Linux requires the user to repartition the computer’s hard drive, identify its SCSI components, and assign sectors to various parts of the system. If any of that went over your head, you might have a hard time installing Linux. And unless you’re a computer whiz, don’t try to put Windows and Linux on the same machine. It takes a lot of work and more than a little knowledge.

After days of attempting to “layer” Linux on top of Windows, we finally realized that most Linux users simply wipe their hard drives clean and, in effect, start over with a totally Linux system. Then we purloined an unused Pentium II minitower from our tech department, and followed the start-up as provided by Red Hat. After remembering how to repartition a hard drive, we got Linux up and running.

It is incredibly customizable—the start-up process allows users to choose exactly what they want loaded onto their computers. Linux runs the computer well, and most Linux users say it runs quicker than Microsoft operating systems. Still, it’s an OS built by and for elite power users, and it shows. Getting to that familiar graphics-based interface is a lot of work, and caused us to check out our Linux instruction book more than a few times.

Still, it’s a strong OS. Now if only the developers would make it a little friendlier for the rest of us.


Copyright 1998 ABCNEWS and Starwave Corporation.