Two Types of Users

by Eric Schwarz
from the AmiTech-Dayton Gazette, June 2009

A while back I read an article talking about the "death" of Linux on the desktop. Naturally there are a lot of dissenting opinions. mostly from people who use Linux on a daily basis on their desktop machines. When I read the article, it was pretty clear what the author's definition of "death" was. The author was referring to the likelihood of the "average person," or more accurately, the computer-illiterate to choose Linux over Windows or Mac operating systems. I can understand that view within those constraints, though the "date of death" was set around 2002 or some such. Personally, I saw a chance at life for Linux a year or so back, when the small "netbook" laptops were the new big thing. Linux was making some substantial inroads in that arena, as it was better suited to the smaller memory and drive footprints of those little machines than Windows. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the Linux-based netbook to be all but murdered by Windows, though it had to be more with XP than Vista.

Based on the "regular person" guidelines of the article writer, I would set the death of the Amiga platform somewhere in the mid-nineties, between the bankruptcy of Commodore and the bankruptcy of Escom. Perhaps that seems harsh, but again we are talking about the general public here, not people who know all about computers. Sadly, while the Amiga and its relations, including MorphOS, AROS, the various hardware projects, and more, may survive for years to come, it's unlikely they will ever be on the radar of the general public ever again. I guess if some think Linux is already off the public consciousness, what chance does the Amiga have?

The basis of all this talk is the idea that there are two types of people in the world of computers and operating systems -- the ones who know something about computers and the ones who don't (and probably don't care to). Way back, way way back, the vast majority of computer users were the first type, largely because computers were somewhat demanding, and you had to learn something about them just to use them, and to decide which to buy among all the available platform choices. Nowadays, computers are a commodity, and like any appliance most people don't really care about its workings or attached brand name as long as it does what they want it to do adequately. That's one of the big reasons why Windows and Mac are the big names today -- both excel at doing the basics (Internet, games, managing media) with a relative minimum of fuss from the user. Each has advantages in certain areas, but it all works out about the same if one doesn't sweat the details. Linux can do the basics about as well as the others, with the added benefit of the bulk of the available software being free, but even with lots of advances in ease-of-use, Linux still often requires its users to have a bit more on the ball compared to Windows or Mac. One has to pick among a million-billion different variations for one. Linux has a very strong following among the "people who know something." Putting it to serious application, or at least putting more thought into its use beyond "Can I read my email and play MP3s with it?"

The Amiga family is more than capable of handling the basics of Internet and futzing around, though the available software and support is not quite there. What made the Amiga unique throughout its life is it's always been about more than simply doing the basics, whether it was graphics and gaming in the old days to desktop video to just the enjoyment of a simple yet powerful operating system. That may have kept the Amiga and its descendants from the mass appeal of its peer systems, but it also made it something special in the eyes of the "people who know something" who could appreciate it. Even with all the various systems I've used over time, the Amiga family is the only one that's been special to me over the last couple of decades -- above and beyond the "basics," that is.