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Which Linux For Non-Techie Windows Users? 766

Posted by Soulskill
from the first-one's-free dept.
obarthelemy writes "Having at last gotten Linux to run satisfactorily on my own PCs, I'd now like to start transitioning friends and family from XP to Linux instead of Windows 7. The catch is that these guys don't understand or care much about computers, so the transition has to be as seamless and painless as possible. Actually, they won't care for new things; even the upcoming upgrade to Windows 7 would be a pain and a bother, which is a great opportunity for Linux. I'm not too concerned about software (most of them only need browser, IM, VLC, mail and a Powerpoint viewer for all those fascinating attachments). What I'm concerned about is OS look-and-feel and interface — system bar on the bottom with clock, trash, info on the right, menu on the left, menu items similar to those of Windows. Is it better to shoot for a very targeted distro? Which would you recommend? Are there themes/skins for mainstream distributions instead? I've been looking around the web, and it's hard to gauge which distros are well-done and reasonably active."
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Which Linux For Non-Techie Windows Users?

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  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz (883997) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @02:30PM (#31211434)

    It took me about 15 minutes to show them how to navigate around (compared to their old Windows XP machine that just gave up the ghost). The only thing I needed to set up for them was flash video so they can use youtube. The system keeps itself updated automatically and they'd already been using Openoffice under Windows.

    They've got a brand new Asus notebook and Ubuntu found all the hardware bits by itself (including wifi and bluetooth). Haven't gotten a "support request" in months. I left a bootable Vista partition just in case they decide they want to get back on the Windows merry-go-round, but so far they haven't seen any need.


  • Re:Try OpenSUSE (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anarke_Incarnate (733529) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @02:31PM (#31211450)
    Additional info: [] for some screen shots. Also, to clarify my previous post; YaST is similar, but more powerful than Microsoft's control panel. If you configure (And you should) the Packman repository (A repository is a collection of install packages that you set up by adding the URL to a window or the file directly, and you can do it easily in YaST), you should be able to isntall almost anything you want right from YaST's package management window without having to search on many web pages.

    There are lots of good documents here: []

  • Linus (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MrShaggy (683273) <> on Saturday February 20, 2010 @02:33PM (#31211476) Journal

    The man himself uses ubuntu.

    I also enjoyed Fedora Core.

  • Re:Prepare for all (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tsa (15680) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @02:34PM (#31211490) Homepage

    Sorry for replying to myself, but if you have to ask this question on /. you'd better not start the whole 'converting business' because you will probably get more questions and remarks than you can handle. First try to find a Linux distribution that looks extremely user-friendly to you, get to know it thoroughly, and then ask people if they want to try it as an alternative to Windows.

  • by bogaboga (793279) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @02:36PM (#31211508)

    Here's why:

    The latest incarnation of KDE [] looks great. You must be warned though that the system your folks must be using has to be "powerful" enough. Here "powerful" is subjective.

  • I prefer Fedora (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jim Hall (2985) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @02:38PM (#31211544) Homepage

    Speaking for myself, I prefer Fedora Linux. [] I find the look and feel is set up to be pretty close to Windows, enough so that sometimes people who look over my shoulder and see me using it assume I'm running Windows. If your family is moving from Windows, this might be a good choice.

    Actually, my wife really likes Fedora, and she's a definite non-geek. It's easy enough for her to use, which (for her) is mostly email, web, text processor, and a few other minor apps.

    I used to run Linux at work for several years, and ran Fedora. It's got the tools that replicate the functionality of Windows. (Unfortunately, I've been asked to move to Windows, at least for work. [] Ironically, I find Windows very confusing to use - Linux just seems so much easier to use.)

  • Re:Ubuntu (Score:1, Interesting)

    by BrokenHalo (565198) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @02:44PM (#31211620)
    Do you really need to ask?

    Unfortunately (from my point of view) this is true. The average (ex-)Windows user will not give a flying fart about the egregious sillinesses the Ubuntu developers have decided to let loose upon an unsuspecting or uninformed world. But Ubuntu will mostly "just work", which will in most cases be good enough, especially given the prevalence of Ubuntu users in forum postings if they run into trouble.

    Years ago, I might have cringed as I said this, but Mandriva might be a good choice for a Windows user without a techie background.

    Incidentally, just in case anyone's wondering, my own introduction to Linux was Soft Landing Systems (later Slackware), and I now run Arch Linux. Works well for me, but I'll understand if that particular learning curve is too steep.
  • YaST, YaST, and YaST (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday February 20, 2010 @02:47PM (#31211662) Homepage Journal

    Windows users expect a familiar control panel to configure their box.

    openSUSE puts out great, polished desktops. Their KDE 4 desktop is perhaps unmatched by any other distro, but YaST is what will really appeal to non-technical Windows users.

    It should be noted that you may need to install a restricted formats package to get Flash, DVDs, MP3s, codecs, etc, and possibly a proprietary video driver. But there are 1-click installers that make this process very simple. After those two steps, you should be in pretty good shape.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 20, 2010 @02:48PM (#31211676)

    Since your needs are pretty simple, there are a few options that you can take:

    1. Ubuntu. This is the rightfully obligatory distribution for home and small business users. Despite the politics going on around the GNOME community, it is a very simple window manager that gives most users a great balance between usability and productivity. However, KDE gives you many more options, especially if you are going to be doing the installation for them, but at the extra cost of potentially being a bit behind. (Kubuntu usually falls behind standard Ubuntu, since it's not officially supported by Canonical.) The great thing about Ubuntu is that it keeps the versatility of Debian mostly intact (though it's not as free, philosophically speaking). You can download the standard ISO and get all of the good features and setup that Ubuntu is known for (well...maybe if you don't count 9.10), or you can download the mini distribution which is practically clean slate and lets you install what you want.

      It's really your easiest option.

    2. Debian. If your friend's computers are older or limited on memory, you may want to consider just installing Debian straight and customizing as you need to. Debian comes clean state by default and is quite friendly on resources. For this scenario, KDE is out of the question and you will need to be careful with GNOME; it can take up quite a lot of resources.

    Though I'm sure you're aware, I'll close this by warning you of what you might be getting yourself into in doing this. As you know, Linux for the desktop has improved significantly over the years, but it is still not as polished as Windows or OS X. This is important, as a lot of maintenance must be done through command line and your users will probably not put up with that for anything even remotely non-trivial. You will probably also have to be responsible for finding alternative software your friends might want in the long run since we live in a Windows/Mac world; be prepared to improvise when software they want is not available. You will also want to consider installing WINE on whichever distribution you choose, as OpenOffice will probably not be friendly with many PPT presentations. (On a similar note, be prepared to either install Office outright and deal with brokenness that might ensue, or be prepared to ensure that all of your friend's needs are met through OpenOffice.)

    Good luck!

  • by CBung (1572609) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @03:14PM (#31211958)
    Thank you captain obvious ;) I would expect any of us here know how to run a windows install. Not everyone does, and I was not about to learn him. He has a number of friends that come to his house to party and tend to use his computer. After 12 years, if he wants to change, I was happy to help him. Also, I called vbox option extreme because I do not look to virtualbox as a solution for the average user who just wants to click one thing and have it work. I dont think we should be stuck having to go back to windows for one application.
  • Re:Prepare for all (Score:4, Interesting)

    by elfprince13 (1521333) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @03:14PM (#31211970) Homepage
    My *mother* switched painlessly to Ubuntu. The first step is training them to use Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, and VLC on their Windows machine. After a month or so of smooth sailing, install Ubuntu and show them where the new menu locations are.
  • Re:Ubuntu (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 20, 2010 @03:17PM (#31212004)

    My first experience with Linux was with SuSE Linux and other distributions in 1994. I've used Linux as a server OS continuously since at least 1997.

    Yesterday I tried to install Ubuntu 9.10 on a desktop system. In the end I gave up: Ubuntu just wouldn't let me use any resolution beyond 1024x768. Apparently it had failed to autodetect the monitor, a situation in which all FAQs, HowTos and forum help point to the X11 configuration file ("copy the config file over from an older installation" was frequent advice...). Let's ignore for a second that having to suid-edit a complicated text file to tell the OS about the monitor is an absolutely ridiculous UI failure: None of the manual configuration attempts even worked. Then I tried installing the proprietary ATI driver: Couldn't detect something and just quit. Googled advice: None really, but someone explained something about having to install kernel headers and other X11 devel-packets. Let me remind you that I was trying to set the display resolution. That was the end of the line for Ubuntu 9.10.

    Then I installed OpenSuse 11.2. Same thing: Wouldn't let me use higher resolutions. No apparent way to specify the monitor. WTF? At least OpenSuse had the decency to put SaX, SuSE's X configuration tool, somewhere deep into the GUI menu, which then allowed me to choose a monitor and finally use its native resolution.

    Is Linux being sabotaged? Are you guys out of your freaking minds? It's 2010! How can configuring the display resolution still be a problem? Which Linux distribution for non-techies? MacOS or Windows. I'm serious. Any hope I had left for Linux on the desktop vanished yesterday.

  • Re:Try OpenSUSE (Score:3, Interesting)

    by natehoy (1608657) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @03:33PM (#31212138) Journal

    The point there is to have the entire software library available in a local repository rather than having to go out to the Internet all the time. And you can do that in Debian/Ubuntu/Mint as well, if you like.

    It's an optional step, but if you are installing it for someone else it makes any software they want to add install a LOT faster, as long as the version on the distribution disc is still current (and there are a lot of packages that just don't get updated all that often, like games and educational software). If a more recent version is available, your package manager (RPM or APT) will automatically select it from the more recent repository.

    Remember, the OP asked about installing an easy version for someone else to use. It's a valid assumption that the person doing the actual install can handle such a task, and it offers a marginal improvement to the recipient of the computer because some of their software will install *really fast*.

  • Re:Try OpenSUSE (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CyDharttha (939997) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @04:10PM (#31212512) Homepage

    When using Ubuntu, you can add software without any of that foolishness, using synaptic package manager or apt-get from the command line.

    Don't forget about the 'Ubuntu Software Center' for non-techie users. Its simplified interface is a good alternative to Synaptic for quick search/install/remove.

    I have some pretty good success stories regarding people that are ultra-non-tech using Ubuntu. A friend of mine had a system I helped him with, he uses it for all his music creation/production/promoting work. He moved out to New York, a few thousand miles from me, and about a year later his HD died. I had him order a new drive off newegg, download Ubuntu 9.10 on his wife's PC, and do the install himself. He was up and running with a fresh Ubuntu and installed all his software (VLC, Ardour, Hydrogen, QJackCtl, LADSPA plugins, etc) in under an hour. He wouldn't know how to use a command line if he tried :) Again, I think this is a good success story!

    Here []'s a previous post from me regarding software/hardware he uses and resulting artworks if anyone's further interested.

  • Re:I prefer Fedora (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AzTechGuy (1108805) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @04:26PM (#31212670)
    As a tech for a mid to large size school district, 10,000+ hosts, we recently migrated some of our older equipment over to Fedora as well. We put together a team and they tried different flavors. After a couple of weeks, Fedora was voted in. It was chosen for several reasons, like making it look as much like windows as we could. I was not on that team and can't speak for their choice, however I can tell yo that staff have migrated over very well. We even have staff requesting their older machines be loaded with Fedora because they are tired of windows running so slow on the older equipment . Licensing for windows was costing us more than we were willing to spend as well as our equipment was aging. Instead of recycling these computers for parts or whatever, it was deiced that Fedora could keep them in service and still provide a majority of the services each machines provides. Do some experimenting. It is really all up to how the staff feels and if they can overcome the learning curve.
  • Re:Try OpenSUSE (Score:3, Interesting)

    by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @05:32PM (#31213266) Journal
    The OP is looking for something that works for his family and friends who are average computer users/laypeople. Not something that meets people's ideological values; people who are usually technical experts compared to the vast majority of computer users. I tried to like Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Debian, but I found myself having to build and configure too many things in order to get functionality that I believe should have 'just worked'. I also am not a fan of the GPL. I believe in the spirit of it, but it is too fanatical and viral. There should be ways to allow interfaces between GPL and proprietary code. That way, those who want to maintain closed source could, and those who want to provide open source could. And they could work together. That is what I call open. But it is what it is, and I can only hope that Stallman and his Stallmanites disappear so that reasonable people can prevail.
  • Re:Prepare for all (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Overzeetop (214511) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @05:52PM (#31213462) Journal

    I am a long time Windows user, and have toyed with switching to Linux a couple of times. It always ends up being more frustrating than it's worth. It's fun to bitch and complain about Microsoft, but they do manage to name everything pretty well. It is a royal pain to find things in Windows if you don't know where to look, but even the best of Linux distros have oddly named shit everywhere. Whomever came up with the search bar for Win7 was a God damned genius - it's helped me more than anything else to find the obscure program or setting they seem to like to move with every release.

    As bad as MS can be, for most computer things, it just works. Where it doesn't, it's certainly no worse than OSX and often better than Linux. MS could do a much better job with codecs, imho, but most websites are designed around the mass market - and that means Windows. Drivers are more common. And don't get me started with file permissions. Windows may be a sieve when it comes to security, but there's nothing quite as frustrating as the OS not letting you do something you want to do (MS found that out with Vista, the hard way).

    The biggest issue is that your brother knows Windows. There are no good help files or guides that show "if you did it this way in windows, here's how you do it in Linux." You have to know what Linux calls it to find the analogous app - and that is far from trivial. Play that game 10 times in a row, and you're likely to go back and install Windows ME for relief! In the spirit of slashdot, I'll bring up a car analogy. I try to go to St. Croix, USVI in the winter each year, and the first day or two of driving on the left is a stressful time - and this is in an automatic transmission car that's set up for right side driving (so everything is in exactly the same place I'm used to). Switching to Linux is me in an airplane. Sure, it will get me places I used to go, and new places I couldn't have gone before, and get me there faster, and a whole host of better things. But if all I've ever done is drive a car, I'm likely to abandon that plane as useful transportation very quickly unless I commit to pretty extensive training.

  • Re:Prepare for all (Score:1, Interesting)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @06:19PM (#31213666) Journal

    >>>When your brother was looking for a Start menu on Ubuntu, how the hell did he get anything done on Windows 7?

    Beats me. I wondered the same thing, and gave him a look like, "You gotta be kidding me. The Ubuntu Start menu (or equivalent thereof) is right in front of you." But I just pointed and said, "Here."

    As for the calculator I understand why he didn't find it. On Windows it's under Accessories and called "calculator", so easy to find for my brother. On Ubuntu it was buried under about 100 other programs and instead of "Calc" it's called "Kalc", so even for me it took awhile to find. It wasn't in alphabetical order.

    And in further defense of my brother - he's a truck driver from the hippy generation (60s). He grew up with Beetles, analog dials, and mechanical tools, so he's not familiar with this new digital world like I am. Or you are.

    Still he's able to get around Windows 98, XP, and 7 decently, so I don't know why Ubuntu Linux stumps him? (shrug)

  • Re:Prepare for all (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NotBorg (829820) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @06:22PM (#31213694)

    I find it interesting that people think that old people are going to have the most trouble with technology. Really if you look at how much technology changed over the years they've seen more change than your average youngster. I've found that many old geezers are more comfortable with technology changing than some middle aged geeks.

    Once you accept that it is new technology and it is different than that you've seen before the learning curve isn't as steep. Children don't have a prejudice about technology and old people can often overcome their prejudice faster having done so many times over the years. Its everyone in between that is the problem.

    I don't mean to derail the conversation. I'm not trying to say Linux is easy or hard or that you will or will not end up in a support nightmare. Just that in my experience ease of use within an age bracket isn't really that reliable of a metric. Yet the very young and old are often used as "proof" that Linux is easy.

    (I learned at an early age to not underestimate those who yell at you to get off their lawn. They can be crafty sons of bitches in their old age. They will get you.)

  • Re:Try OpenSUSE (Score:3, Interesting)

    by obarthelemy (160321) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @06:47PM (#31213854)

    1- The 4 problematic PCs are running XP or 7 perfectly right now, so I'm not buying the faulty/crappy hardware line. I checked driver support, they are even supposed to be linux-compatible even if old-ish, except for a very old Via-C7 one which should require manual config, except I can get to that point. My issue is not about Linux being hard to install, because when everything works it's very easy. My issues with Linux are more about limited driver support, failure to install on some systems, lacking/outdated documentation, and disappointment with forums help. But that's not the question at hand, I'll make do with those issues.

    2- You're making the assumption that I'll DL the distro and run around installing it everywhere. You're wrong. And they won't see me fumbling. By the time I roll Linux out, I'll be competent enough (or I won't roll it out), and after a few funny experiences, I do all my installs at home, alone, with peace, quiet, time, my PCs and my tools on hand. Plus it a good policy to make them at least make the effort to bring the PC over, otherwise I'm a permanent on-call slave.

    3- Making it look and feel like XP is a way to have the flattest possible learning curve. You're free to disagree, but I don't find the 'set expectations' approach convincing.

    4- Read the OP: I installed Ubuntu. My issues with it is implied: not XP-like enough. I didn't mention the other problems I have with Ubuntu apart from the look and feel, though I do have some: rsync fumbling ntfs-to-ntfs syncs; nx-desktop configuration (the doc seems to assume more knowledge than I have, which is a common Linux catch). I assume you'll give me the "ntfs is bad" speech, but since I won't switch everything overnight I'll have a lot of NTFS everywhere, all my users data partitions and backup drives are ntfs.

    The 'icons moving around' thing was just an exemple, not a key design goal/issue.

  • by quixote9 (999874) on Saturday February 20, 2010 @10:54PM (#31215512) Homepage
    That's all there is to it. Ubuntu is easy. You have to put all the proprietary multimedia stuff on yourself, but that's pretty much a matter of installing one package from synaptic: ubuntu-restricted-extras.

    Brown is ugly, so change the wallpaper. Honestly. Why people act like this is a showstopper beats me.

    Last and far from least, put the panel where they're used to it, with the trash over there and the Start over here. And you're all set.

    I set up laptops recently for my brother-in-law and his niece, both of them Windows users of the type who don't know a browser from a desktop. I figured I'd have no end of support, but that would still be better than the even bigger infinity of sorting their machines out after their daily virus infections.

    In over six months, they've had no problems. None. There was one question: how to make the panel transparent because they were using different wallpaper.

    They're not the type to use forums for questions, but if they were, the ubuntu forums are the most informative and friendliest to noobs of the lot.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson