It’s the learning curve, Jack

Jack Wallen on TechRepublic is a major open source zealot, and like other Linux zealots, he’s been predicting the "downfall of Microsoft" for years, thinking that any release now, Linux (in particular Ubuntu Linux) will overtake Windows on the desktop.

So what’s his recent gripe? The "language of Linux":

Honestly, the language of Linux doesn’t register on the radar of many computer users. And while it’s a great feeling to be a part of the “in crowd,” that’s also one of the reasons why Linux often has a hard time gaining much of a foothold with desktops. Sure, anyone these days can learn a GUI — but Linux users are challenged to learn a completely different way of thinking, a different language, and a different wiring of the brain.

Here’s the thing that needs to be kept in mind: every system has concepts to be learned and a curve to that learning. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about an operating system or an image editor, a financial management system or an EMR system. You could take someone familiar with a Mac and drop them on Windows and they’ll probably be able to figure out a few things, but it’ll take a bit.

About five years ago, I released a program called the Puzzle Pirates Trade Profiteer, or "Trade Profiteer" for short. It’s a relatively simple program, but there are some concepts that you need to know in order to use it, and I say explicitly on the website for that program that it is designed for those who are seasoned merchant traders in Puzzle Pirates, people who understand what the commodity market interface shows, how bid tickets work, and the like. It is not a tool for the uninitiated.

And when it comes to financial management software, sure you can find a basic program that’ll allow you to track your checkbook. But as and other online systems show, there is so much more information that can be garnered. Displaying that information is what does. Understanding that information is your job. Understanding that information in such a way that you don’t misinterpret it and find yourself in bankruptcy proceedings is the learning curve. Okay, probably a stretch on that example, I’ll admit.

The problem with Linux is the number of concepts that must be learned.

That is why Microsoft and Apple try to keep the number of concepts you must learn on Windows and Mac OS X, respectively, as low as possible. But you still need to learn them to be effective with the software. This is why Apple and Google have had so much success with iOS and Android, respectively: there are so few concepts to learn and such a low learning curve that it has allowed for widespread adoption of both platforms.

Language isn’t the problem, Jack. The learning curve is the problem. The concepts that need to be learned are the problem. And if describing one concept continually leads you to having to describe or explain more, you’re going to lose your target audience to frustration.