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.
And 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.
However, 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.
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Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue