I’ve been in many “Linux on the Desktop” debates over the years and my stance today is largely the same as two decades ago: if you want free software to succeed, it must be pre-installed on hardware where all hardware features work, with a hardware vendor that supports it . It doesn’t matter nearly as much how easy a distribution is to install (it’s been easier to install than alternatives for twenty years), because people generally don’t install Windows or MacOS from scratch either, they just buy a computer with everything set up out of the box. Unlike twenty years ago, people are more familiar with computers today and easily switch between Windows, MacOS, ChromeOS, Android, and iOS. I’d argue PureOS is as easy to use as the rest.
Yet no matter what OS or hardware you use, or how easy it is to use, you are going to need help with it at some point. This support is critical to the success of free software, but it’s (unfortunately) largely under-appreciated while simultaneously a significant cost both in time (for volunteer projects) and money (for commercial projects). I wanted to use this post to underscore the importance of professional support for free software, and highlight why it’s so important that we at Purism offer full support for free software on our hardware–it’s critical to free software succeeding and it’s been a critical part of how we approach our mission.
Great post. While I do not disagree with anything, I would like to talk about this:
PureOS is incredibly easy to use. However, most people using proprietary platforms do not manage their own updates. They have automatic updates for the OS and for any software that was installed through the official proprietary software store of their chosen platform. In order to download new software, most people have their fingerprint or faceprint set to authorize downloads and installations, and they do not have to do anything in order to install OS updates.
In contrast, PureOS and other Linux operating systems require a privileged user to initiate software and OS updates, and the user is required to type a password each time.
I think this is a huge barrier to entry for Linux for most people. If I gave a non-tech friend a Librem 5 or a PinePhonePro, they would see it as a chore to manage it and prefer their “easy” iOS and Android devices.
Does anyone at Purism have any ideas how to properly and securely address this? Could the PGP smart card resolve this in a similar way to fingerprint and faceprint scanners?
The overwhelming majority of the market is people who just want the thing to work.
Tell them they have to do the install, and that’s WAY too complcated.
I know someone who would post–on a non-computing site!–stories of what he could do to fix his Linux install, and he could never understand why no one else wanted to switch. The problem is his stories intimidated people who read them. Even I was thinking, “who wants to go through all that–much less learn the vast amount of things needed to know what to do?”
It’s gotta work right, out of the box, or it will NOT have mass market success.
There are people who can’t understand that…and there are others who have an attitude infinitely worse: they’re happy about the fact that the way most linux is marketed now, only an elite group of geeks will ever want to use it.
While it would be really easy for this thread to veer off topic into a list of complaints about ease of use on the Linux desktop, I would disagree that being prompted for your password when you do privileged things on a computer is any kind of unusual behavior or barrier to entry. Various versions of Windows have done something similar when they split Administrator and User roles, and even websites like Amazon will prompt you to enter your password when you make certain security-sensitive changes to your account.
That said, I believe GNOME Software has an automatic updates feature you can enable. We just disable things like that by default because we don’t want people to feel like the computer is doing things without their permission.
I think a key point is “support on our hardware.” The problem is librem hardware is… underwhelming. No dGPU support, 1080 screen, WiFi is iffy. To get Bluetooth functioning on the L14 requires support in the form of learning how to install its firmware.
I agree with the sentiment, but FOSS isn’t there yet.
Maybe ‘barrier to entry’ was the wrong phrase for me to use. You are correct in your example of Windows, but I think that we should be comparing the Librem 5 to iPhone and Android in this case. On iOS, users never have to type a password to update installed apps or to update the system itself, and I think that Android is the same.
From my own perspective as a PinePhone user running Phosh, the combination the following things can be off-putting:
the need to type your password to run any and all updates
the abundance of updates due to being rapidly developed (no complaints here)
the qwerty keyboard to type the numerical user password
If there were a numerical passcode keyboard similar to the one on the lockscreen that would automatically show itself when the user is prompted to type their numerical user password, then this would be much more normal compared to other modern phones.
Do you mean that the PureOS software store has this functionality and that it just needs to be enabled by the user?
Yes, on my Librem 5 I just went to PureOS Store application (our branded GNOME Software) and in Preferences is a slider to perform automatic updates. On my phone it was enabled so it’s possible it’s the default or it’s possible I enabled it. Regardless when there is an update that can’t be automatic (because it requires a reboot, which tends to be many of them) I’m not prompted for a passphrase regardless, I just tell it to restart and update and it does.
Great OP. Also, I would like to say what an achievement it is that such an OS now exists at this level of ‘out of the box freedom’.
Here are some challenges I observe “in the wild”:
Generally, there is still a lack of understanding what free software (and customizability) has to offer. Many have already ‘siloed’ their minds and limited their expectations of what software environments can do for them
But, when shown an alternative, many people want it (source: anecdotal evidence). So, the question is: how to make space in ‘public places’ for such dialogue to begin?
In general, the Linux experience does require some commitment to computing in general - because people seem not to understand that even with their MegaSoftware, they still encounter problems - so, why wouldn’t they want those problems associated with solutions that will end up better understanding/controlling their environment?
My conclusion is that places like this forum are really great resources that may be helping to build structures for continued nuanced thinking about computing options, including free ones. I also encourage anyone who blogs to share tutorials or resources to ‘keep the learning pathways open’.
As a fan and advocate of PURISM and its products,(I own a L13, Mini, add ons, and waiting for two L5’s) the EZ part plus being preloaded being ready to go out of the box is definitely my PUBLIC experience.
I held a Box Opening Event for the L13. Too much fun.
rather than a long post here, this url tells about it if anyone is interested:
I was hoping the event would start off an effort to enlist family, friends and anyone for that matter to jump in and buy a PURISM product. It proved otherwise, not quite ready for primetime, public, use I sadly realised.
I made the effort to speak f2f with TW at a ATO conference about my recognition of it being ready for the “masses”. My concerns were acknowledged, but more importantly, I came away with the hopes that in fact that is the goal, and progress was being made.
There is more noise about this on any of the “When am I getting my L5…” threads, no need to add to them. Point is, I was, and still am, pushing for PURISM and absolutely see their efforts as intensely difficult and important. To expect it to be perfect is, IMHO, myoptic and lacking the understanding of how difficult FOSS work can/is. To get as far as it is I think, still, is amazing. Nicely done, me thinks.
Kyle, I’ve searched and searched but I can’t find out why PureOS requires reboots to install so many of the system updates. This feels like a regression the Windows way of doing things in a way. Are the reboots required for Pureboot/Heads boot file signing requirements? Or is it something else?
If you want to continue this discussion it would be better for you to start a new thread, but I will provide a quick answer: it isn’t a PureOS-specific requirement, but simply that GNOME Software (which is the GUI we use for updates) uses PackageKit to apply the updates, and PackageKit intends for updates to be unattended, and it tags many updates to be performed by rebooting into a limited environment. There are pros and cons to the approach.
You could always just run apt from the command line, and then the only updates that would require reboots to function would be kernel updates and similar things.