General Question

flip86's avatar

Which OS would you say is best for the average computer illiterate. Windows or Linux?

Asked by flip86 (6029 points ) March 28th, 2014

I feel that Linux is the best system. Most computer illiterates use computers for internet only. To connect to social media, play online games, stream videos, etc. Some may also use them for word processing, and Linux has that covered. Linux also supports Netflix in the browser now. Unofficially, of course.

Once setup, Linux is pretty straight forward with no risk of viruses and no chance of installing crapware and toolbars.

Windows on the other hand, while it supports a vast amount of software, makes it too easy to install toolbars, crapware, spyware and obtain viruses. Paid and free anti virus/malware/spyware software is crap. They may stop some, but they never catch everything.

I have seen too many Windows computers of family and friends bogged down with all the crap they have put into their computers. It annoys me to no end.

I’m not trying to advertise Linux. I have a Windows machine and I prefer it, but I also know how to keep it free of crap. The average user does not.

I didn’t include Mac OS because I’m not familiar with it and also because the average user uses a Windows PC.

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27 Answers

hominid's avatar

Chrome OS. Most people in my life use their pcs to access web services. There is very little (or nothing) that they install other than antivirus. But having to provide tech support for them for Windows has been a nightmare. Now, however, I recommend Chrome OS and there is no need for tech support. Period. They turn it on, log in, and every single thing they do on the internet is right there.

I got my daughter (6th grade) the Acer C720 and it’s been perfect.

I’m still on Windows because I am a .NET developer.

filmfann's avatar

Windows. If they don’t know anything about the OS, they may need help from friends or kids, and people know more about Windows than Linux.

flip86's avatar

@hominid I got an Acer C720 as well. I previously stated that Chromebooks are useless but I realized that the C720 can run linux, and for $199, I couldn’t pass it up. I gave Chrome OS a try and hated it. Felt too constrictive. I deleted it and installed Ubuntu 13.10 with the Cinnamon desktop. Now it is a great little machine without the limiting factor of Chrome OS.

hominid's avatar

@flip86: “Felt too constrictive.”

Sure, it’s not for everyone. For many people, however, it’s exactly what they need (without having to upgrade software, deal with Windows nonsense, or worry about managing anti-virus software).

Out of curiosity, does that 2GB version cause any problems or is that plenty for Ubuntu?

flip86's avatar

It runs very well. I haven’t had any issues other than having to patch a few things to get the OS to recognize the trackpad/get suspend working and a few other tweaks.

I followed this guide: http://www.reddit.com/r/chrubuntu/comments/1rsxkd/list_of_fixes_for_xubuntu_1310_on_the_acer_c720/ It says Xubuntu but it works for all the different Ubuntu distros 13.10 or higher.

dappled_leaves's avatar

A computer-illiterate person will not be able to handle Linux. At least, they might be able to if everything works out of the box, but in my experience that rarely happens.

bolwerk's avatar

Windows, for one reason: it’s the most widespread, so newly acquired skills will transfer the furthest.

Linux is a problematic OS for the uninitiated because there are vast differences in user experience across different versions, time periods, and distros. Nothing wrong with that per se, but it does make transferring skills difficult. And for all its diversity, it’s like 1–3% of the desktop OS market, depending who you ask. I can buy that Ubuntu might even be easier for a novice than Windows or MacOS (@dappled_leaves might be reciting a dated criticism), but I also know Windows and MacOS will be around in 5 years. There is no guarantee that Ubuntu will be, and even if it is – well, remember the vaunted ease of Red hat Linux in 1998? Red Hat is a totally different animal now.

And another thing: say you’re a novice, and you need help. There is always a Windows user around who can help. There is usually a Mac user. For Linux, you’re going to need Google – again, not a bad thing, but it will be a problem for some people.

Of course, Windows 8 has eroded the value of the universality of the Windows somewhat. Hopefully Linux takes off better. And don’t take any of this as an endorsement of Windows. Novices usually don’t have reason to remain novices, so it doesn’t always hurt to just take the plunge and challenge yourself.

johnpowell's avatar

My mom has no real problem with Ubuntu and used it for a while. She uses Photoshop a lot and that was the reason she eventually went back to Windows.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

While I think that if someone is going to invest time in learning an OS it would probably be best to learn windows. My real world experience has me in the Linux camp, especially the newer Ubuntu distributions when an install is clean and all the hardware is supported. This is just web browsing and basic computing, 99% of what my folks do. I built them a PC several years back with Windows and they kept calling me with “how do I…”, “it’s broke…” I loaded linux and it all stopped. If they ever needed to do anything complicated like add a printer that is not supported then that’ll be different. In the end I set them up with a dual boot and left detailed instructions on how to change between OS’s. They were usually able to do what they needed on one or the other. I.M.O. all of the big three OS’s suck it big-time, especially OSX (as I type this on OSX) I have all three loaded and sadly I boot between all of them more frequently than I would like for various reasons.

livelaughlove21's avatar

What @filmfann said. I’ve honestly never known anyone that used Linux. Everyone I know either has a Mac or a computer/laptop with Windows installed. I probably wouldn’t even know what to do with Linux, and I’m not computer illiterate. I find Windows to be extremely user friendly, but some people are just hopeless – like my mother, for example. I’ve walked that woman through attaching a file to an email about four times and she still can’t do it on her own. So frustrating.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

Linux is not an OS. It’s part of many OS that are out there.

There are three main “flavors” of Linux-based OS out there:

GNU/Linux, representing most servers and most desktop machines;

Android, running the majority of smartphones;

and a category which I’ll just call “embedded”, which is in many, many different kinds of devices from CNC controllers to the fancy touchscreen UI on my friend’s new stereo.

You’re surrounded by Linux-powered devices all the time and you don’t even know it. The ease-of-use question is irrelevant to the OS kernel (Linux) because it does not provide any of the user interface.

If you are talking about a PC then the Linux you are looking at is either GNU/Linux (i.e., Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, RedHat et al.) or Android. Currently very few PCs run Android natively but this is changing.

When I introduce a complete newbie to computers (as I fairly frequently do as part of my work with Free Geek Seattle) I start with Xubuntu 12.04 (FGSEA’s current “standard”). Starting with a complete newbie is actually easier because they don’t have the bad habits that Windows inculcates in its users (running as root all the time, installing random stuff from the Internet, etc.).

Vincentt's avatar

Depends on which Linux. I’m convinced, however, that a computer that came with the latest LTS Ubuntu would be easier to handle without assistance nor experience than any of the Windows family.

Of course, the no experience and no assistance assumptions are unrealistic.

johnpowell's avatar

My sister dated a dude when her twins were 9 years old. They got two of these running Ubuntu.

He neglected to note the password so they couldn’t install software. Luckily booting into ROOT is easy so I reset the password on both. The blond twins new password was lemon and the redheaded twin was strawberry.

At nine they were cruising the front-end for apt-get and installing games.

jerv's avatar

The best OS for newbies really depends on the UI. Windows would be the worst as it has things that are laid out so poorly that even I get confused trying to find basic controls. OS X is actually a close second as many of the things that I often get “under the hood” for are just plain locked out.

That leaves Linux, which covers a wide range.

You have the Linux that everybody thinks of; the old Bash shell CLI. You have embedded systems like the Siemens controls on the Handtmann SC 5-axis mill I use at work. You have Android and it’s derivatives (like the Nook and Kindle use). then tehre are the desktop shells; KDE, GNOME, XFCE, MATE, Cinnamon, Unity, Pantheon, Sugar (designed for use on the OLPC, the laptop given to kids in Africa, who I doubt have much computer literacy), and more.

While that may seem daunting, and thus complex, it really isn’t. The fact that Ford, GM, Dodge, Toyota, VW/Audi, Subaru, and many more all make cars doesn’t keep people from driving, so who should a wide range of UIs stop somebody from using Linux? And many of them have enough common features, along with all using the same console commands in Terminal, that it’s almost like arguing that the color of the case affects usability or performance. Just like different cars having the same pedal arrangement and steering wheel but arranging the dashboard differently, it’s mostly cosmetic with the differences being more imaginary than actual.

Some of those options are far simpler than Windows could ever hope to be. Many Linux distros get whatever software you want/need from a repository with an interface not unlike iTunes. Most install what you need to do what you want/need to do by default, the only real issue being that some things are renamed. Linux doesn’t have Photoshop; they use GIMP. There is no Internet Explorer; it’s usually Firefox. Word and Excel? No, LibreOffice!

The only real downside (and the major reason I still use Windows) is for hardcore gaming. While Ryzom has a native Linux client, Skyrim, World of Tanks_, and other games I play are Windows-only, and I just don’t feel like setting up WINE. But how many people really do much with their computers beyond surfing, streaming, and Facebook? And any gamer that knows little enough about computers to qualify as “computer illiterate” really isn’t a gamer; gamers know enough to install video cards and configure the drivers, which is more than enough to count as “computer literate”. Those that don’t tend to stick to games like Farmville.

@dappled_leaves This is 2014, not 1994. Considering that many modern Linux distros only require that you know your name, time zone, and native language to install, I think that anybody who cannot handle that really shouldn’t be using a computer… or shoelaces. Autodetect has come a loooong way, so Linux can now plug-and-play about as well as Windows can. The sole exception that comes to my mind being hooking to an iDevice, but given the flaws of the Windows version of iTunes, I don’t see that as a real ding.

@livelaughlove21 You don’t know anybody with a Nook, Kindle, or an Android smartphone/table? Or uses a GPS in their car?

@filmfann I must be weird then. Most of the people I know that know anything about Windows are well-versed in multiple OSs, There may be more people that think they know about Windows, but I have never had any trouble finding people that knew Linux well enough to help me.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@jerv Of course I do, but I thought we were discussing personal computers.

jerv's avatar

@livelaughlove21 Computer-illiterate people generally cannot use any of those items any better than they can use a PC. If they have the computer literacy to use those items, then I know they can handle Linux since they already use Linux by using those items.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@jerv It’s nice that you’ve only had trouble-free experiences with Linux. I had to install half a dozen different distributions (this was maybe 4 years ago, not 20 years ago) in order to find one that would recognize my wireless drivers. I can handle that because I’m not computer-illiterate. But not everyone is. That’s all I’m saying. I have nothing against Linux and am actually considering switching to it as my main operating system (instead of only for modelling).

bolwerk's avatar

@dappled_leaves: at least with hardware, usually anything one distro can support another can too, at least with some tweaking.* Most drivers are distributed with the kernel, which is constantly updated. There might be obscure exceptions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if wireless laptop vendors were among them four years ago and maybe today to some extent.

One of the last big drags with Linux is you really do have to buy hardware you know is supported. This is mostly just a matter of matching a spec sheet with kernel hardware support. Of course, you can also go directly to a vendor who supports Linux. But this problem is definitely disappearing. I use FreeBSD at work, where the problem is much bigger.

* In extreme cases, kernel re-compilation :(

dappled_leaves's avatar

@bolwerk One of the last big drags with Linux is you really do have to buy hardware you know is supported

Yes and no. Not everything will be on the spec sheet, unfortunately. On my next laptop purchase, I had a devil of a time trying to get information about wireless adaptors (*I meant adaptor, not driver above) and Linux compatibility.

But this is my point. Not saying it can’t be done, not saying it’s not worth doing. Just saying that a computer-illiterate person does not want to be faced with this sort of challenge.

jerv's avatar

@dappled_leaves I have had similar issues in the past, though they decreased in frequency to “same as Windows” levels a forgettably long time ago. Not zero, merely comparable. But I get your point. Laptop wireless adapters and other proprietary hardware is an issue (for both Windows and Linux), hence my love of open-source.

Also, I’m spoiled in that I can get @rexacoracofalipitorius’ help for the esoteric stuff without going online; that’s helped a bit since he has more network knowledge than I do.

bolwerk's avatar

@dappled_leaves: if you can’t see what you need adding up on the spec sheet, that’s a red flag not to buy the hardware. A discrete laptop’s wireless adapter’s Linux support is probably usually easily found with a Google search of the model. If that were difficult or inconclusive, I’d say fuck off to that option.

I agree that it’s a problem for the computer-illiterate though. Most people simply don’t think in terms of buying stuff that works with their OS because, well, Windows in theory works with everything and comes preinstalled anyway. I even think @jerv is maybe downplaying the remaining compatibility problems a little much.

The overarching strategic issue here is: why aren’t computer illiterates and novices buying Linux with their PCs? Probably not so much because it’s hard to use, but because they aren’t finding it. I bet 99% of those remaining compatibility problems would evaporate if they were because what remains largely comes down to vendor support.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@bolwerk If that were difficult or inconclusive, I’d say fuck off to that option.

Yup, that was pretty much my approach. Still sucked to strike potentially good machines off the list. ;)

bolwerk's avatar

@dappled_leaves: yeah, it does. Though, to be fair, no one saying there is support probably strongly indicates there is no support.

z_malloc's avatar

Why are the discussions about linux bringing up difficulty with hardware support. I doubt the “computer illiterate” could install windows, it’s 1500 security patches and hardware drivers to begin with. I set my father up on ubuntu 6 years ago after I got tired of getting called about something going wrong with his windows install every few months. Almost never hear from him anymore. Showed him how to use vmware to run a few windows apps he needed, and make and restore vm snapshots.

Remove the installation and driver/hardware aspects when you compare the two and you’ll find there is virtually no difference in perceived difficulty of use. If you know how to use firefox in windows, you already know how to use it in linux.

If you want to easy suffering with regards to hardware support, buy a Mac. If you have skills enough to take any of these routes, WHY CHOOSE AT ALL! Do what I do. Run them all. We are over a decade in to virtualization now. I refuse to suffer with just a single option.

Also worth considering the evaluation of the various “LIVE” disc options. Beauty there being, they can NEVER screw things up.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@z_malloc with a name like that you must be a systems programmer.

bolwerk's avatar

@z_malloc: I doubt Windows is harder or easier than anything else to install for a novice. Either way, the reason we talk about hardware is most people get their OS bundled with their computer, and Linux is rarely one of those options. People have to install it themselves and it may not match their hardware.

So Macs don’t really offer any additional ease over Windows in that department. They just offer another route to Windows’ problems with Apple’s added costs and incompatibility.

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

As @z_malloc points out, the perceived greater hardware compatibility of Windows and Mac comes from vendor support. If you buy a computer with Windows pre-installed or MacOS pre-installed, then you can reasonably expect that the hardware will be supported by the same vendor that sold you the computer. If you buy a Linux computer from emperorlinux.com or system76.com, you’ll also get full hardware support.

The difference comes when a user adds third-party hardware or installs a bare OS. In this situation Linux can perform in a few different ways depending on the distribution and how the kernel was built. Without going into details, Linux generally either works with new hardware automagically without any user interaction, or requires fairly advanced hacking. I’ve observed a general trend towards the former over the latter (in PC hardware only- it’s different with servers and phones).

I have built a lot of computers from found hardware. Every time I have installed Windows on such a system I have had to deal with “driver hell”. (I have never tried to install MacOS on non-Apple hardware.) Windows drivers aren’t well maintained on hardware more than a few years old, and sometimes they are impossible to find. Nearly always, they are impossible to verify (not signed, not hashed, not available via https from a reputable source, etc.) If you have the vendor driver disk for the machine, then you’re fine- unless you need updates. Maybe you can get them, and maybe not.

You might not think that building computers is an activity for “average” or “newbie” users, but lots of people don’t have the wherewithal to purchase a new machine with vendor support. Organizations like freegeekseattle.org provide parts and training and let people build their own machines. We also provide free tech support. FGSEA has an organizational bias toward Free Software – but even if this were not so, we couldn’t support Windows in this way. It would cost us too much in time and money. Other organizations such as interconnection.org can do this, but only because they receive direct support from Microsoft.

There are still vendors who don’t understand how Linux support works; it’s a different model from that used with other OSes, and it’s not so easy to wrap one’s head around. Some years ago I bought a wireless doodad that proclaimed on the box that it “supports LINUX”. The box contained a CD with the C source code of the Linux driver, and (incorrect) instructions for building it. It was also the wrong driver. This was not proprietary code, mind you; it was already in the Linux source tree. This vendor could literally have submitted a one-line patch to the kernel team, and their hardware would have been Plug-and-Play under Linux. Not only did they not realize this, they were unreceptive when I told them about it (with specific instructions). Their reply was that they didn’t support kernels newer than the 2.4 series (which had end-of-lifed a year before on almost all desktop distributions.)

So, Linux isn’t necessarily hard for newbies or Average Joe and Jane- but it can be a bear for those who Already Know Too Much.

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