User friendly Free Software Desktops

Frank Heckenbach frank at
Thu Jul 19 22:03:36 UTC 2001

Josef Dalcolmo wrote:

> I don't see any performance difference when typing a letter, no matter what
> program I use. Most of the time is spent by me, trying to figure out how to do 
> something, not by the program.

It would be catastrophic if on today's hardware you'd see any
performance problem when typing a letter and doing nothing else.
I've often heard this argument, are there are two essential

1. You have (almost) up-to-date hardware.

2. Typing a letter is all you want to do.

(So this is a little like wondering which kind of truck to get when
you want to transport a bag of feathers once a week. ;-)

ad 1.: Sure, for some people in some countries it's no problem to
always upgrade their hardware, but for many people it is a
substantial expenditure, and for most people in the world eveen
impossible. Of course, in the windoze world, not up-to-date hardware
means you can't run the latest windoze which means you can't run the
latest office which means (thanks incompatible data formats) you
can't exchange data with "everyone else" so the system is
"unusable". Using free software, you can write letters on say 5
years old second-hand hardware for 1/5 or 1/10 of the price and
still not see any performance problem (except perhaps when starting
X, but you don't have to do this often).

ad 2.: You might say that most people don't want to use their
computer for more than a fancy typewriter, but don't they really
want to, or do they just think they can't? E.g., a number of times
when I've asked windoze users why they don't do (some
computationally intensive task) on their computer, their response
was something like: "This would take hours, and I couldn't use the
machine in the time because I'd be afraid that it crashes and
destroys my work, and the background computation, and my hard disk
or whatever ..." I don't know if this fear is justified in the
current windoze versions, but if not, M$ has apparently done a good
job of seeding this fear with earlier versions where it was
definitely justified (as I can confirm myself, unfortunately), so
most users don't even expect much from their machines.

Maybe this is one of the main problems. Many windoze users I have
talked with share an almost fatalistic view by now, like: "I know
that I'm paying lots of money for a machine I can't do much more
than I could with my last one, I know it won't run stable, I know
I'll never understand how it really works and I'll never be in
control of my machine, and viruses are a necessary evil, and perhaps
my computer will send my private data to Redmond, and I'll be forced
to upgrade again very soon, and I know that M$'s conduct is amoral
and they'll use my money to do even more of it, and I know (or
rather, have heard) that Linux is so much better, but I'll stick
with windoze because millions of flies can't be wrong or something."

So I think we should let people know that they actually expect
something from their computers. I only don't know how -- just
telling it to them doesn't seem to have much effect on many people,
not even demonstrating it (they'll say you have to be a wizard to do
such things, so leave me alone) ...


Frank Heckenbach, frank at
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