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My Computer Illiterate Brother Envies my Linux

Aug 25, 1999, 12:46 (48 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dave Whitinger)

By Dave Whitinger

People who know me understand that I recently moved myself and my family from Dallas, Texas to the northeastern tip of Tennessee, close to the borders of Virginia and North Carolina, nestled deep in the Appalachian Mountains. One of the benefits to moving up here (aside from the obvious peace and quiet) is that much of my family lives here.

Last night my brother, Andy, brought his family over for dinner. The tour I gave of our new property ended with my showing him my office where I run my part of Linux Today. His first reaction was: "Wow, what a big monitor!" His second reaction was: "Look at all these computers". His third and final reaction was: "Look at the size of that Linux Today logo!"

Andy is just about as computer illiterate as it gets. He's not interested in diving into computers, and has little need or use for them. I suspect the user-unfriendliness of Windows has giving him the impression that computers are difficult to use, and very frustrating objects when they crash or provide instabilities. As the store manager of a fast-food restaurant, his only use of a computer is to perform the most mundane tasks. His computer at home is relegated to the occasional E-Mail check using Eudora.

I offered him to sit down at my machine and take a test drive. His first comment was about my Afterstep wharf (an icon bar at the bottom of my screen, full of neat icons and fun toys). I have running xeyes, wmtime, an ethernet monitor, and a CPU monitor in my wharf (see screenshot). He moved the mouse and saw the eyes following the cursor. He asked for detailed explanations of the CPU and ethernet monitors. But what caught his attention the most was the Pager, which allows me to have multiple desktops open at the same time. I walked him through moving across desktops, and explained how I have all my E-Mail work in one window, most of my Netscape's in another window, and xterms scattered throughout.

He wanted to see my E-Mail, explaining that he uses Eudora for Windows, and was interested in what I had that compared. I pulled out my TkRat, and walked him through how my E-Mail works, including a detailed explanation of procmail, and I showed him a script that I wrote to parse my procmail logs and report to me, on an on-going basis, when my mail arrives, and which folder it arrives in.

When I told him how much mail I receive (you really don't want to know), he understood the importance of procmail.

He asked if he could get all this for Windows, and I explained that Linux was an entire operating system that lives outside of Windows, and, in fact, that I didn't even have any Windows running on almost all of the computers in my office (with the exception of my laptop, which has a dual-boot that I never use). He wanted to know how hard it would be to get Linux on his computer, so I explained the concept of dual-booting and the benefits of using Linux over Windows.

His final reaction was that he was amazed at this whole world that he had no idea existing. He now understands why I have devoted my career to Linux, and is excited to get Linux on his computer so that he can improve his efficiency and possibly start using a computer more than 1 hour per week.

All this, from a computer illiterate person who has avoided computers because of his dislike of Windows. In reflection, I have to wonder if Linux could be the breath of fresh air that computer-haters and computer-illiterates need to finally feel good about actually using computers. Do these people really dislike computers, or are they attributing their disgust of Microsoft Windows to a disgust of computers in general?

In any event, I'm now in the market for a second hard drive for my brother's computer. Maybe we'll plan a Family-wide Linux install-fest for all of my relatives. Welcome to Northeast Tennessee: Here's a Linux CD-ROM, put it on a second harddrive and call me in the morning.