Originally Published: Wednesday, 5 January 2000 Author: Matt Michie
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Transition

The Year 2000 paranoia is now safely behind us, and the year register in our brain has been incremented by one. So far, things are dandy. Normally, I'd write a glowing article on the future of Linux and free software, but I'm visiting family who are trapped with a legacy 90's OS. It is difficult to focus on anything positive while trying to write a Linux.com article with a broken edit.com....

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The Year 2000 paranoia is now safely behind us, and the year register in our brain has been incremented by one. So far, things are dandy. Normally, I'd write a glowing article on the future of Linux and free software, but I'm visiting family who are trapped with a legacy 90's OS. It is difficult to focus on anything positive while trying to write a Linux.com article with a broken edit.com.

I have been safely tucked away in my little Linux universe for so long I'd forgotten how the other half of computing lives. Like an English gentleman lost in the squalor of a London slum, I gaze about the alleys at the children who've grown up underfed, undernourished and uneducated. It isn't their fault they are ignorant of anything better. After all, they've done their best with what they have. With a little help, something better could be within reach of everyone.

This year, Linux companies will start to get serious about bringing over the tired, poor, huddled masses away from their oppressed legacy environments. Much has happened to pave the way for them. KDE and GNOME have destroyed some of the old UNIX myths, but there is still much to be done before immigration is easy and convenient.

The showstopper preventing me from converting my own family to Linux is still perceived difficulty and no full-featured Quicken equivalent. I won't be able to convert them to GNUCash until it supports at least 80% of the functionality of Quicken. We've got the office suites coming down the pipeline, now it is time to get the financial software up to par. If hackers aren't interested in working on it (I'm not), then it would be in the best interest of a Linux company to back some developers.

It isn't the platform, but the applications most computer users are concerned with and as Microsoft has shown, its not the applications but functionality and compatibility that they really care about. Examine how MS transitioned users from Word Perfect to Word or Netscape to Internet Explorer to see some great examples of this.

The desktop environments would especially benefit from these techniques. During product installation, the user should be able to indicate that they are upgrading from a competitor's legacy environment such as MacOS or Windows or even OS/2. Ideally, the new Linux user would boot into the desktop and be greeted with a help screen familiarizing them with the new environment. Each help file would be tailored to transitioning from each particular legacy platform. Throw in customized key bindings and themes and the user can immediately become productive. The new system should watch for the user trying to perform tasks in a legacy manner and then suggest how to do it the "proper" Linux way. Most novice users would find a gradual familiar approach more soothing than being blindfolded and tossed into UNIX unprepared.

We also have some immediate challenges to keeping the exponential population growth going. The community will have to dispel the propaganda that will be appearing shortly as W2K hype peaks. We also have to continue to build the underlying infrastructure that is required to house, feed, and educate tens of millions of new immigrants. There will be a lot of culture clashes and probably some ugly incidents at first, but with proper planning we'll make it all happen.

Time to clear up those hangovers and get to work! :)

Matt Michie is a student of Computer Science in New Mexico. He maintains a small web-site at web.nmsu.edu/~mmichie.




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