Semantics is Restricting Linux Desktop Adaptation.

This is a direct copy of a post on the Blog of HeliOS, a project based in Texas that I strongly feel for, who in their own words - "build computers for disadvantaged kids in the Austin-Metro area"
From :

Originally posted on Monday, May 31, 2010

Taken from Merriam-Websters Online Dictionary.


The meaning or relationship of meanings of a sign or set of signs; especially
: connotative meaning b
: the language used (as in advertising or political propaganda)
to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings
(emphasis mine).

This has been gestating within me for over a year. An incident yesterday brought it to full term and I thought I would share some thoughts on this topic with you...maybe to complete derision...

Maybe not.

Regardless, I am going to broach the subject here.

Her name is Margie and she is the Grandmother to three small boys, ages 7, 9 and 11. I went there yesterday as part of our Twenty Computers in Twenty Days project and installed a desktop computer for these kids. The mother and father of these boys haven't been seen since mom dropped the kids off three years ago. She was "going out for the evening" and Grandma agreed to babysit.

It appears that her evening isn't over yet...She wrote once from Los Angeles and said that she was going to be sending for the boys as soon as she got her first paycheck. That was in 2008.

The boys are well-adapted though...outwardly you wouldn't know that the most important person in their world had betrayed them in the most insidious of ways. Their grades are good and they are all bilingual between Spanish and English.

Outwardly you wouldn't know...

They were thrilled that they were getting a computer. It took me only a few minutes to set it up and get it going. Margie had arranged for internet service prior to my arrival so when the machine came on, it was fully connected to the internet.

That's when the questions started.

Shortly after the Desktop was established, the obligatory popup appeared, stating that "Restricted Drivers" were available for installation.

Margie asked me then: "What does that mean?"

This has happened easily over 100 times in the five years we've been doing this. Most people never notice it but some do, and some are disturbed by it.

Margie was.

Even after I took the time to fully explain the whole proprietary driver thing to her, that word still lingered.


See, most people to my experience take words literally. When someone is faced with the term "Restricted" it forms in their mind that they are not to use whatever is deemed "Restricted". Even after my lengthy explanation and after telling her that some desktop functionality and most of the games wouldn't work right without the "Restricted" drivers, she still insisted that she did not want them installed.

Again, from Merriam-Webster:

c : not intended for general circulation or release
And from - restricted:

confine, limit situation or ability to participate

bind, bottle up, bound, chain, check, circumscribe, come down on, constrict, contain, contract, cool down, cramp, curb, decrease, define, delimit, delimitate, demarcate, demark, diminish, encircle, enclose, hamper, handicap, hang up, hem in, hold back, hold down, impede, inclose, inhibit, keep within bounds, keep within limits, moderate, modify, narrow, pin down, prelimit, put away, put on ice, qualify, reduce, regulate, restrain, send up, shorten, shrink, shut in, surround, temper, tether, tie

To Margie, Restricted translated simply to illegal or forbidden. To her mind, if the system was telling her that something is "Restricted" then it should not be used. End of discussion.

Again, this isn't the first time this has happened. I personally do not see the harm in framing the popup in this manner.

Look...there are a number of reasons that Linux as a Desktop alternative hasn't gained more popularity...but to bottle ourselves off from mainstream use over a badly chosen word is goofy.

Yeah, and I know..."but that's the way it's done"... and "The majority of people understand"..."It's not that big of deal...blah blah blah.

To just over 10 percent of the people I've installed for, it is a big deal.

Think for a minute...think about how outsiders perceive the Linux infrastructure. It is foreign enough with the file system, not to mention the application associate any application or data in Linux as "Restricted" isn't helping our cause. Of course, some of you could not care less.

Oh yeah...applications...let's get into that for a minute.

About six months ago, we did a long distance deal where CPS (Child Protective Services) asked us to provide a laptop to a 17 year old girl in San Antonio who needed one badly. I explained that these things never worked well as I could not physically go to San Antonio for the setup and familiarization session. Against my better judgment, I FEDEX'ed the laptop there. I was assured that this would not be a problem as someone there would be available to help her with a Linux Desktop.

Obviously there wasn't.

I started getting emails from her, complaining that she couldn't "download" anything. Remember that to the Windows user, "download" and "Install" have some definite blurred lines. The "run" option once the download is completed usually keeps the user in the dark as to where the actual download landed. They most times don't touch the EXE file...Windows does that for them.

Bless their hearts.

Hide the most basic of functions from your users in the name of convenience. That pretty much insures you propagate the Stupid User Syndrome. Can't see any obvious motive for that anywhere around...

So I explained to her that Linux handled the installation of software differently. I took over an hour to "familiarize" her with her desktop and the functions therein.

By the end of the call, I wanted to run red-hot knitting needles through my eyes.

Multiple times.

Chewing a rounded cup of shattered windshield glass was my second choice, given the scarcity of knitting needles.

To be fair, I have to admit that I suspect this child couldn't run her Windows computer with much more skill than a Linux machine. She is not a "computer user". She is what I describe as a "task-set mouse clicker". She's learned to do a limited set of tasks such as Facebook, MySpace, email and Everything else pretty much mystifies her. Anything after that is mostly Voodoo.

But still...we could do better and we could start at the beginning.

Synaptic. What in the hell is "Synaptic"? Aside from a term used in describing or talking about the nervous system.

Sure...we know what it is, but what in the actual word "Synaptic" tells us that it is the system's primary software management system. Agreed, it is sometimes listed that way in the menu but to the uninitiated, the word "synaptic" has no mental match with "software installation".

Look, I am far from the first to bring this up. We've been talking about it since the early to mid 2000's and still not much has been done about it.




I'll leave the rest for comments. I could click my gnome menu and list a dozen cryptic application names but ya'll know them as well as I do. Again in the name of fairness, my distro of choice as well as Ubuntu has went a long way in putting side-tags on these names to better describe them.

But still "We" could do better. It's obvious that most Linux application authors don't put a lot of thought into their app naming or if they do, they do so to amuse their peers.

Whaddaya say we take the New Linux User into consideration.

They are your future and I have enough field experience with this to confidently tell you that they are confused. Sometimes to the point of shrugging off Linux and becoming just one more of the "Linux Sucks" crowd.

Again, some of you don't particualarly care about new users...I mean, you already know what you need to know about running your system. You rest assured of your geek superiority and glance over your glasses in condescending glances. To you, all is right with the world and the rest of them can eat cake.

All-Righty Then.

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