I went home from last Thursday night instead of Friday afternoon for the purposes of a weekend trip to visit relatives. Not really my idea, but my father somewhat insisted; my mother has been out there helping them with assorted medical things plus the annual Bartholemew County 4-H Fair, where her church has a lemonade stand. He missed her, so he wanted to head out to Indiana for the weekend to visit her, and my relatives. Also to fix my aunt Joyce's computer.
The latter- the fixing of the computer- made things interesting. I tend to find my mother's family unpleasant to be around; I can't deal with how loud they all are (hearing trouble for all of them, but I can't handle their level of sheer loud) and I have a great dislike of their ridiculous social games that inevitably end in about one screaming match every two days. I do my best not to take sides.
But this was an escape! I had a viable excuse to occupy my time away from my actual relatives! A blessed relief, the computer repair somehow took the entire trip. What of it I didn't spend sleeping, that is; my father and I decided that the most realistic thing for our competing sleep schedules to do was to leave at 5:30 AM, before I go to bed and just after he wakes up, with me sleeping in the car. The 5:30 AM departure worked; me sleeping in the car didn't. I was rather out of it and more than moderately irritable by the time I arrived, but a half-hour nap on my aunt's couch... helped, but wasn't sufficient. The upshot to this, though, was that I fell asleep at the hotel almost immediately upon attempting to do so, and my sleep schedule has been essentially repaired. (We have to stay at a hotel for allergy reasons; my aunt's house is a horrible mess, and the carpets haven't been cleaned for years. I have asthma trouble there during the day, and I have to retreat to a motel room to which I have brought an air cleaner to breathe.) It's a very good thing my sleep schedule is patched- it let me get my notecard done for today's exam, something I'd planned on doing over the weekend but then I was informed that those plans were to be put on hold for a weekend trip. I just hope I can finish that lab assignment, too...
Anyway, fixing my aunt's computer was a two-step process. The first was removing her firewall and virus scanner, believe it or not- Norton Internet Security 2005 was too much for her five-year-old computer to handle, even after we tripled the memory. (Added 256 more MB of RAM to her 128 MB.) ZoneAlarm is a sufficient substitute, however. This made her Windows ME install at least as workable as ME ever gets, but this was still fairly slow.
Y'all should know by now what my solution to any inherent Windows problem is: Linux!
My aunt is now an experiment, which I'll likely try to post a proper web-page of and try to get on /. at some point. Can a truly incompetent computer user learn Linux in usermode? There's no way she can administrate that thing, which is why I'm root and have her computer set up to accept SSH logins. Preliminary answer: She's doing just fine, and finds it a shitload of a lot better than Windows. She's happy with a 2min 30sec boot time; it's slower than Windows' primary boot, but not worse once one finishes waiting for all of Windows to load (not just the desktop to appear) to a usable level, something that is nearly instantaneous with KDE coming up under Linux.
Since her computer was FAT32, YAST could repartition it without data loss. She's got a dual-boot machine now, but she prefers Linux! She finds it faster and no harder to use than Windows, she's developed a preference for Firefox over IE (we did install Firefox under Windows), and she's caught on to Evolution as being nearly identical to Outlook Express. She likes the KNewsTicker I have running at the top of the screen on her request. She finds the setup sufficiently like Windows to have had all of a half-hour learning curve and feel comfortable. I'd call this a successful experiment so far. I've taught her about panel hiding buttons, which she likes, and how to shut down properly. I did reset the thing to run on only one desktop (instead of the default two or my preferred four), because it's complexity she doesn't need; I'm not going to push my luck.
What's interesting to me is what's obvious to me vs. what's obvious to her. Intuitive: file permissions. Intuitive: panel hiding. Non-intuitive: tabbed browsing. Counterintuitive: middle-click mark buffer paste. Counterintuitive: scroll wheel usage. Intuitive: the correct name of the panel. Non-intuitive: the correct name of the K menu. (It's got a SuSE logo, so I can't blame her for that.) Intuitive: Firefox in general. Non-intuitive: logging in to your own computer. (I've got her comptuer set to auto-login, now- security hole for anybody else who uses the physical computer, like the rest of the family, but it's no worse than a shared single-user Windows- it's actually preferable, as they don't have root.) Drastically counterintuitive: free softare. She can't really wrap her brain around the idea that all of this is free, and I didn't have to pay for it and it's legal. She sort of understands, but couldn't accept that I wanted to set up the computer to help her and to act as an experiment to see if Linux is ready for novice users; she paid me for my time. (That covers how I'll buy Robo Rally when it's re-relased later in the week, but it's still a little embarassing. I just wanted to help, not to get paid!)
So I'm going to conclude that when there is an experienced administrator and installation-person behind it, Linux is ready for novice users. Just not novice users trying to be administrators. But we'll see how things go in the coming months...