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August 4th, 2015

Putting Lipstick on a Penguin

There was a time, and it’s been a while back, when I believed my mission in life was to mount my open source horse and endorse Linux without remorse far and wide.

“Linux is coming, Linux is coming!”

One if by torrent, two if by…uh, download link.

While it’s true that I was a shameless shill for a particular distro during that period, it was the message that was important. Linux will change your oil. Linux will change your baby’s diapers. Linux will change your life.

TuxAnd while using Linux may well change your life, I may have ever-so-slightly exaggerated the amount and impact of that change. Maybe just a little bit. Maybe.

It was then I explored ways to present Linux to the new user, and to do so in a way that did not cause system shock. I decided to make each new Linux installation look as much like Windows as possible. My partner Diane did fairly well when I told her we would become a one operating system household. She wasn’t weaned…she was herded into the world of Linux. I had cleaned the last virus from her computer.

To my surprise, she took to it without a lot of drama. But if there was one thing that drove her crazy, it was the changing of her desktop or icons. I tinker a lot. I like to play with different icons and themes. If one icon was out of place, she was not happy, and explained to me in a somewhat terse manner that her icons and themes were just fine, thank you, and that I was to keep my front feet off of her computer.

Okay. I could do that. Or not do that, as it may be.

But the whole “make it look like Windows” thing? I did my best to apply themes, and themes I created, to make each computer look like Windows. It didn’t take long for me to get tired of doing this, which was convenient because during that time I stumbled across the Linux distro Zorin OS.

Zorin is developed to mimic the Windows XP and Win7 environments. Recent releases give the Mac experience a go. Zorin includes a number of different preset themes in order for you to make it look as close to Windows and/or Mac as possible. On top of that, Zorin OS is a rock-solid distro. Aside from intermittent menu crashes (which I believe is now repaired), Zorin OS is as good as I need it to be.

And the coolest thing? Zorin has an educational version that comes extremely close to having everything we need for a kid’s computer system.

Windows' MaskHowever, it didn’t take me long to figure out something I should have snapped-to long before: You can dress a Linux system up to look like Windows as much as you like or as much as you can, but once the clothes hit the floor the whole façade crumbles and it doesn’t at all resemble Windows. Not even close.

From the obviously different file manager to the missing traditional control panel, the user is facing a different system altogether…a system that was not expected and more than likely not wanted. And that can substantially chap the nether regions of many folks.

I finally stopped all this masquerading and camouflage and asked myself the $64 thousand question: Why am I trying to hide Linux behind what many of us consider to be an inferior operating system? Are we so insecure that we feel the need to put a mask on Linux to make it acceptable? Why are some of us almost apologetic when offering Linux as an alternative? Do we need acceptance so badly that we build false fronts to hide what and who we really are? Are we hoping this little bit of momentary subterfuge is going to go unnoticed? Do we believe it’s going to be effective?

Personally, I’m sorry I ever wasted my time doing this, because let me tell you, I can dress a desktop to kill. Most of us don’t need bland blue everyman look-alike desktops. The majority of us will look at our new system, evaluate the tools within and then go to work.

Well wait…there’s Diane, so there’s that. And trust me, she’s most surely a factor — if you have to face that wrath.

In the decade I have been active in supplying disadvantaged kids Linux-based computers, making them look like Windows desktops hasn’t made one whit of difference. Just because I paint a Harley logo on my gas tank doesn’t magically transform my Honda into a hog. I’ve learned that showing people the major differences, then showing them the obvious improvements, is all it takes for them to get underway.

And for the record, I am in no way criticizing Zorin OS. It occupies the second partition on my computer and I will soon support it by upgrading to the latest paid release. I personally like it and it does fill a need for lower spec computers that we may put out at Reglue. It’s rock solid and well built. If you haven’t looked at it lately, you might give it a spin.

We Linux supporters have nothing to be ashamed of. And honestly…if a person rejects a new environment before even exploring the system, my money says you are wasting your time on that person anyway. That’s how it’s worked out for me.

YMMV.

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

13 comments to Putting Lipstick on a Penguin

  • Hunkah

    I’m a huge fan of Cinnamon. It’s a familiar DE for beginners. Intuitive. I use it with Fedora 22. I, like you, convert as many users as I can to Linux. I give free support and free advice to home users and for every one of them they’ve taken to Cinnamon just fine. (The other liked Gnome 3 more because they had a touch screen). I tell them strict of that it isn’t windows. I give them a full rundown and make them sit with me when I help them with things. All have loved the change and have thanked me. I’ve even gained some lifelong friends from it.

  • Hunkah

    That should have said “straight off”, not “strict of”…

  • gus3

    Sorry, Ken, but if it isn’t running slow from the bloatware and viruses, it isn’t imitating Windows. Any version.

    /me ducks and runs

  • Roland

    Nobody wants to see the 7th Day Adventists, or Mormons, or similar at their door. Evangelism is usually a bad idea. People will switch when they get sufficiently fed-up. Until then, I draw the line at offering to help. Complaints? They can always go back, and good riddance.

    Ken, you and Diane should have separate accounts if you share a computer.

  • “Ken, you and Diane should have separate accounts if you share a computer.”

    That doesn’t work Roland, I’ve built her a comupter for herself. There are too many other things to do than argue who’s turn it is on the computer. That ain’t happenin’ here. =:^))

  • Sometimes, I work on her machine and I would make cosmetic changes I thought she would like. Won’t make that mistake again.

  • Somewhat Reticent

    Many users of one operating system become familiar with how it works. It’s predictable, and they enjoy the delusion of feeling secure. Showing them a different operating system dolled-up to look-and-feel similar just delays – and increases – the negative reaction when it doesn’t behave as expected in more important aspects than look-and-feel. How do you diagnose it when something goes wrong? How do you fix it, or at least cope? There’s Freed-and-Open-Source-Software aplenty available for most popular operating systems already. Most users aren’t interested in a constantly-shifting foundation; they avoid living in an earthquake-friendly zone.
    Now, a natural-born compulsive fiddle-with like yourself, On-The-Other-Hand, …

  • Randal

    Ken, You have built a computer for her, is NOT the same as having an account on it (where you don’t screw up her settings). Linux IS a MULTIUSER OS, where multiple people can be logged in and using the computer at the same time (either physically, in a multihead setup, or remotely).
    If her belief is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, remember happy wife, happy life.

  • Eddie G.

    I too have converted quite a few people over to Linux, but almost every time it was they who approached me! There was always “…my desktop is*****..” or “…my laptop keeps doing…” in which case I would come over and take a look. Most times it was usually just an unseated memory module or something related to either Java or Internet Explorer / Chrome. But in almost all instances I would ask them my the same thing. How much do you think this would cost you?…to have a technician come out to your house and fix you up? The first thing they do is reach for their wallet or purse grumbling, (LoL!) I ALWAYS turn it down though, I don’t charge others to help them, that’s the equivalent of firemen arriving at a fire and demanding your checking account number after rescuing you..LoL! I ten proceed to explain to them that I’m asking only because I can show them a way to save on their technical problem bills. And THAT’S when I break out my laptop with either Linux Mint (w MATE) or Xubuntu on it. I then go through EVERYTHING with them showing them everything from GIMP and VLC MEdia Player to LibreOffice and how to make it “work” with MS Office suite. And of course Firefox and Chromium so they can see that they aren’t missing much with IE 11 not being there. When its all said and done, I just thank them for allowing me to show them my “gear”. Now this only produces results if they experience any more problems with their machine, in which case they call and leave a message asking if I can come back and they ALWAYS say to me to be sure I bring my “weird windows” laptop! LoL! By the time I’m through with them on the second visit?…they’ve installed the Linux distro of their choice (I also show them DistroWatch…all the while informing them of the distros that are too complicated and too command line intensive etc.) like…almost 9 times out of then?…Linux Mint wins, I make sure to explain the different DE’s out there and most people go with MATE, Cinnamon, or XFCE only because they’re the most “Windows-ish”. So we “pushers” and movers of Linux are making it known without evangelizing it and coming across as fanatics….(well SOME of us anyway! LoL!)

  • Grant

    My boys have dual boot machines. They have been dual boot from day 1. Their entire life wit the computer let them choose either Windows or Debian (Wheezy first, now Jessie). They started the learning curve from zero on both simultaneously. So… When familiarity is not a stumbling block, which did they choose? Debian (not known to be the most friendly). They prefer the performance and smooth running (remember this is dual boot on used hardware, nothing special built for Linux) and the convenience of grabbing application from the package manager (usually via synaptic) instead of the Russian roulette of downloading a package and hoping there is no malware. Do they ever use Windows? Yes, there are a couple of games that are Windows only, but that is it. Everything else (the main game they play is fine on Linux) including any documents, web surfing, video editing, 3D animating, etc. is on Debian.

  • Randal. I agree with you 100%. Me fiddling with it is a long ago thing. My point was and is, I don’t need to set up a separate account. She now has her own computer. Hers and hers only. We both spend long periods of time on our computers. One computer in the family wasn’t working. I solved the problem by giving her a computer of her very own. I never touch that one.

  • […] Putting Lipstick on a Penguin – Ken Starks (fossforce.com) […]

  • Uncle Ed

    Randall and Ken–it’s even more entertaining when you are the pet nerd for the home and it’s HER computer–but the contract makes you responsible for anything and everything that comes along.

    (Female voice: YOU set up this computer [imported from Taylor TX]when my W7 laptop went useless, YOU helped me pick out this phone, YOU bought me this tablet [she reads minds] so I wouldn’t be jealous when you got one. So YOU keep them running and available 24/7.)

    Yes, they are hers and hers alone, except when they signal for updates. Or when something out of the ordinary comes along. Or she needs a spreadsheet or something special in a document format. These are to be fixed and the fixing is never to disrupt anything–ever! A one-sentence description of the spreadsheet or format is all I should need and she’ll give me long enough for her to get a drink to get it done.

    It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Woebegone, where the women are strong and all the children are above average.