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I like having choice, being limited to a single desktop, especially one that tries to look and feel like windows would be a tragedy on my opinion.
I agree, but this is also the strongest argument I can come up with as to why Linux may never be a big player in the desktop market. You and I, and many other people here, love the power and choice we get in desktop environments. However, my boss can't even use my Win2k machine at work, because I moved the task bar to the left side of the screen and set it to auto-hide. (I don't care that it's a nice big 21" monitor, I still don't care to waste the screen space on a taskbar I'm not actively using.) My wife's boss is even worse - he thought that one of the machines in their office was horribly broken because there was no Word icon on the desktop - it was only accessible from the start menu. These are normal users. Not you, not me, not even my wife.
If a single element of the UI being out of place is enough to make a computer completely unusable, then your average user certainly won't appreciate the ability to choose between Gnome and KDE, much less the option of using twm or Xfce.
That said, if Linux ever gets to the point where, like Windows, there is only one desktop environment and only one window manager, I'll be moving on to one of the *BSDs, or maybe HURD.
The problem with this discussion is that people like your boss (normal people) aren't praticipating. We can only extrapolate and make assumptions without them.
I also can give a lot of examples that resemble this behavoiur and this worries me. I just can't understand people that think this way.
However we all have varying levels of computer experience and this affects our levels of comfort with various GUI or other interfaces.
Its my opinion only that most users learn the first system they get and that most users are task oriented. They want the machine to do what they want it to do.
Advanced users are by their nature advanced and able to change things more with any UI.
Thus for example the loss of the word icon can be described as creating "a disabled machine" because word processing may be all that user wants their PC to do and MS Word is the tool they are used to using to get what they want.
Perhaps discussing another "almost universal" user interface might be interesting..
I expect you and I and most others would be pretty lost if before being able to start and use our cars each morning we had first to position shape and power the spark plugs and combustion chambers to correctly burn the fuel to provide enough power to overcome internal resistance and power the vehicle ..
Perhaps we would be lost when faced with a change of controls - i.e. not in the place we had left them ..
Imagine if the brake was under your left foot (where the clutch is on a manual) and it worked in reverse, press down to release, lift off to stop... imagine if the accelerator was on the left of that .. if the side of the road you drive on changed each day of the week ..
We expect (and quite rightly) that when we insert and turn the key (in the usual place :-) that the machine will work in a predictable way .. cars have a relatively universal user interface now .. steering wheel on the same side within most continents and almost always in front of the pilot :-) pedals in very similar positions, gear levers etc etc ..
Despite the fact that the science involved in making the car work is very complex, the average user needs make two critical inputs before being able to use the car, neither of these involve finding controls that have moved someplace other than where they left them :-)
key in one hole - fuel in the other .. ready set :-)
The Car user interface has been increasingly standardised so that masses of people can use cars (without needing extensive education on the theory of power transmission through differentials or extensive knowledge of the thermal or electrlytic properties of constituent materials in their cylinder blocks) ..
Is it so much to expect that computers for the masses, could be expected to share the same goals wrt predictable user interfaces for standard normal everyday tasks ...
Now, that's true but I've also seen people buying their new computer and asking me how to install Word because they wanted to write something and wondering why I don't have it installed. It looks like normal people are sharing their experience.
"I expect you and I and most others would be pretty lost if before being able to start and use our cars each morning we had first to position shape and power the spark plugs and combustion chambers to correctly burn the fuel to provide enough power to overcome internal resistance and power the vehicle .."
I even don't understand what some of the things you mentioned are ;-)
"Imagine if the brake was under your left foot (where the clutch is on a manual) and it worked in reverse, press down to release, lift off to stop... imagine if the accelerator was on the left of that .. if the side of the road you drive on changed each day of the week .."
That's certainly not the case with Linux desktops, especially KDE. The guys from KDE are just copying the Windows interface (well, of course, you can change it if you want...).
I could go on, but I think I've beaten the point into the ground.
But when I get into a car, I can still figure out how to drive it. I think perhaps part of the problem is that nobody ever sat me down and said "This is a car. You pull this lever if it is raining, and turn this knob if the sun isn't up." Instead, they told me to turn on my headlights when it's dark, run my wipers when it is raining, and told me where I was likely to find those controls. A lot of new computer users, on the other hand, never get told "To write a letter, you will want to use a word processor. The one most people use, and which is installed on this computer, is Word. You can usually find an icon for it on the desktop, but sometimes there is an extra toolbar on one side of the screen or another - usually top or right - that has a button for word, and almost always you can find it from the start menu." Instead, they get told, "When you want to write a letter, click here."
<edit> "daskboard"? twice? what's wrong with me? </edit>
I think it interesting to look at OS from the pov of a car UI..
The point you make about generic applications "word processors" is well made.. a key to MS dominance might be that they make their products easy to take others content but not always easy to send to others ..
Plus users get an MS OS on the machine from the start - in the shop and usually MS works -
Getting on the machine from the start has less to do with technical superiority than with sales and marketing effectiveness which is perhaps where MS is truly superior over the likes of Linux / Mac etc etc.
I dont think for many users the MS Office components are any better technically than competing items. They are good but few use the advanced functionality over what was available with Office 3.1.
What MS have in spades is dominant market share.
Another issue is the perceived importance of compatibility compared to general utility.
General utility I would say is what we use computers for :
To write with.
For remote written communication.
To calculate things with.
To store and retrieve data.
To publish things on the www.
To prepare things for local printing.
To keep our kids busy off the Tv.
To access information sources.
None of these needs say in any way that we should be using one "brand" of software at all.
So why do the mass of market occupants think they should be, because their appears to be little choice? perhaps because there are not enough public portable document formats available ...
All they have stopped quickly in using win, telling me how linux is beautiful-elegant-efficient-funny etc..
[BTW I agree with littleman, I think the better userfriendly-desktop-distro is Mandrake]
So, I have no doubt that a well-working desktop linux pc is a lot better, from a not-geek POV, than a windoze one.
A problem is.. that nobody wants to make any effort in going a little beyond 'click&go', i.ex. nobody of these my friends has even read 1 man page.
Another BIG problem is marketing.
All the world is infested by wndz software-hardware, only because Microsoft has spent all its resources in that.
However I don't think the solution is making linux desktop distro compatible with windows prog.
I think the solution is the initial 'userfriendly' feel of an all-in-one pc with linux pre-installed, working devices..
But here comes the hardware-devices sellers issue, I know this is a sad one.. :( ;)
Nor should they have to. the point of technology when geared toward the average user should be simply this... to make their life easier. We simply need more prevalent competition in the OS market. Linux needs to compete on the same playing feild as Microsoft if they ever plan to garner any viable marketshare over and above geek users. Linux terminology needs to become common place. Until linux becomes the OS for the common man, there will continue to be fear over the dark and forboding cloud of geek speak that surrounds the linux distro's. The car analogy used in an earlier post is absolutely spot on.
People do not want to have to research... they just wanna use.
It really is terribly intresting commentary on society, that even the lure of a nearly free OS, incredible stability, relative ease of use, frequent updates of most distro's, and that cool little penguin are not motivation enough to sway people.
M$ marketing has really layed a groundwork that is nearly impenetrable.
The car analogy used in an earlier post is absolutely spot on.
If I know something about my car, maybe this will come useful to me when in trouble..
That don't mean at all I'm forced to think of all the mechanics/electrics-onics etc. parts of the car when I use it.
That said, maybe the fact is simply that people should stop thinking that pcs are obscure gears owned by their software-hardware.
Ooops.. that is what are M$ machines.
[A stupid analogy: a lot of people like to know, at least, what they are eating, and a lot knows, even if a little, about cooking.]
Chances are, you'd buy the Windows PC. Just as most people do when they're faced with the choice of a Windows PC or a Mac.
Today's Windows PCs work well, and they're the industry standard. That's good enough for most folks.
Look at it this way: How many people kept on buying Beta videocassette recorders after VHS became the industry standard?
You might want to hang around a compusa for awhile, they have a nice apple section and get a good amount of interest and *sales*.
Not enough sales to change the fact that Windows is the industry standard, though. (Which isn't to say that Apple isn't the standard in a few niches, as Linux conceivably could be. Maybe Linux could be to technogeeks what the Mac is to art directors.)