1.2. The user interface

1.2.1. Is Linux difficult?

Whether Linux is difficult to learn depends on the person you're asking. Experienced UNIX users will say no, because Linux is an ideal operating system for power-users and programmers, because it has been and is being developed by such people.

Everything a good programmer can wish for is available: compilers, libraries, development and debugging tools. These packages come with every standard Linux distribution. The C-compiler is included for free, all the documentation and manuals are there, and examples are often included to help you get started in no time. It feels like UNIX and switching between UNIX and Linux is a natural thing.

In the early days of Linux, being an expert was kind of required to start using the system. Those who mastered Linux felt better than the rest of the "lusers" who hadn't seen the light yet. It was common practice to tell a beginning user to "RTFM" (read the manuals). While the manuals were on every system, it was difficult to find the documentation, and even if someone did, explanations were in such technical terms that the new user became easily discouraged from learning the system.

The Linux-using community started to realize that if Linux was ever to be an important player on the operating system market, there had to be some serious changes in the accessibility of the system.

1.2.2. Linux for non-experienced users

Companies such as RedHat, SuSE and Mandrake have sprung up, providing packaged Linux distributions suitable for mass consumption. They integrated a great deal of graphical user interfaces (GUIs), developed by the community, in order to ease management of programs and services. As a Linux user today you have all the means of getting to know your system inside out, but it is no longer necessary to have that knowledge in order to make the system comply to your requests.

Nowadays you can log in graphically and start all required applications without even having to type a single character, while you still have the ability to access the core of the system if needed. Because of its structure, Linux allows a user to grow into the system: it equally fits new and experienced users. New users are not forced to do difficult things, while experienced users are not forced to work in the same way they did when they first started learning Linux.

While development in the service area continues, great things are being done for desktop users, generally considered as the group least likely to know how a system works. Developers of desktop applications are making incredible efforts to make the most beautiful desktops you've ever seen, or to make your Linux machine look just like your former MS Windows or MacIntosh workstation. The latest developments also include 3D acceleration support and support for USB devices, single-click updates of system and packages, and so on. Linux has these, and tries to present all available services in a logical form that ordinary people can understand.

The screenshot below shows how each item in the Channel list (RH 7.2, StarOffice, Opera, Ximian Gnome, Loki games and CodeWeavers) can be updated with one mouse click. Adding or removing software packages or keeping the system up to date is simple with tools like this one, called Red Carpet:

Figure 1-1. Ximian Red Carpet: automated package management