Linux.com Still Unhelpful for New Users
Linux.com, which was taken over recently by the Linux Foundation and received a major overhaul, has gone live. The site has a slicker look and contains a lot of useful information targeted at experienced Linux users. Unfortunately, like the old Linux.com, the site is not a very intuitive resource for beginners.
As I wrote a while back, the original Linux.com site, like its counterpart Linux.org, assumed that visitors already knew a lot about free software when they arrived. I had hoped that the Linux Foundation’s redesign of the site would make it a resource for individuals seeking to get started with open-source operating systems, but unfortunately, that hasn’t proven to be the case.
Linux in the eyes of a “normal person”
To illustrate the point, let’s put ourselves in the mindset of a “normal person” seeking to install Linux–and by normal person, I mean an individual who has no idea what open-source means, doesn’t know anything about computers beyond the basics of everyday use and has heard that Linux is a free alternative to Windows, but isn’t sure where to download or how to install it. I was this person once, and I suspect many of my fellow Ubuntu users were as well.
Chances are good that our normal person will end up at Linux.com, since it’s the second search result when one googles “linux.” Once at the site, she’ll probably first take note of the flash animations at the top of the homepage, which are currently targeted at “Linux professionals” and “gurus”–content that’s not likely to assist a new user in figuring out where to get Linux.
Undaunted, our normal person might next take her search to the navigation bar and hover over the button labeled “Learn,” which will lead to a section of the site named “How tos.” Although that seems like a reasonable place for an article titled “How to install Linux,” she won’t find one there, even if she manually navigates through the poorly organized list of links (in order to get to the H’s to see if there actually was an article called “How to install Linux,” I would have had to click “next” about thirty times if I hadn’t instead thought to edit the URL manually to select the desired page).
The next logical step in the search for instructions on installing Linux is to query the site’s search box for terms like “download” or “install”. These bring up links to write-ups on various Linux distributions, most of which include download URLs. Unfortunately, user-friendly distributions like Ubuntu and Fedora are not given priority over obscure do-it-yourself releases, making it unlikely for a new user to find what she’s looking for.
If the user is lucky enough to know what a Linux distribution is–and most neophytes are not–she might notice the “Download Linux” link available under the “DistributionCentral” button in the navigation bar. There, again, she’ll find a long, alphabetical list where the handful of distributions designed with new users in mind are hard to find among the more numerous hobbyist versions that will do nothing but turn a normal person off to free software forever.
Sending users back to Windows
Somewhere deep inside Linux.com, there might be a straightforward, beginner-friendly article on downloading and installing Linux. But I couldn’t find it, and I doubt many normal people will either. Instead, they will become frustrated and assume that what they have likely heard about Linux–that it’s only for geeks–is true, and crawl back to Windows or OS X.
It would be great if Linux.com’s homepage included a prominent link to realistic instructions on choosing a beginner-friendly distribution, downloading an ISO, burning it to a CD and launching the installer. But it doesn’t, which is very unfortunate for new users trying to figure out what the Linux thing is all about, and for members of the free-software community seeking to convince more people to make the switch.