Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Generally the expression “familiarity breeds contempt” means that the more a person is familiar with something the more the person despises that thing. Often this expression is directed toward but is not limited to human relationships.

The majority of non technical computer users have only known Windows. They obtained a computer and Windows came preinstalled. If for no other reason than Windows came preinstalled and Linux does not. Most only use Windows at work or school. Most might have some awareness about Macs but not Linux. Of those familiar with Linux, at least in name, many perceive the system as user hostile and difficult to learn. Browsing the web tends to confirm their perspective when noticing how much tutorials depend on using the command line.

This familiarity creates a devil I know versus the devil I don’t know conundrum. As non technical users are not going to dig deep into a computer operating system, they prefer to remain with the devil they know. The only devil they have ever known.

Human nature is such that many people will continue to suffer rather than change. Often change is challenging, possibly traumatic. Computers are no different.

Regardless of what tech savvy users prefer, to win over non technical users requires change. Tech savvy users can adapt more easily than non technical users. Features do not need to be removed and no free/libre software user wants that. Yet changing defaults is something tech savvy users can live with.

The defaults in Windows favor the non technical user. Tech savvy users override those defaults to customize their desktop. Tech savvy Windows users do not complain about these defaults.

Linux distros and desktops should be designed the same way. While obtaining a distro preinstalled remains a steep uphill climb, if tech savvy users provide their friends and neighbors with a Linux system preinstalled, they still need to overcome the contempt Windows users will have for a new system because of their familiarity with Windows.

This is not about making Linux desktops look exactly like Windows. This is about non geek defaults.

Like with Windows, the tech savvy user is not impeded by modifying defaults. The non technical user is baffled by making those changes and instead chooses to remain with the devil they know.

Only one chance to make a first impression. Terminals, workspace switchers, and transparency do not impress non technical users. Such features scare non technical users. Likewise with updating distro releases using a terminal or needing administrative privileges to connect a printer.

Often in Linux systems the defaults are configured to impress fellow geeks and demonstrate “geek creds” rather than cater to non technical users.

This is not about dumbing down. This is about more skilled people helping others.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General, Terminal, Windows

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