I'd like to chime in here. Clearly, looking at my post count (1!), I'm a newbie to Linux. However, I've been installing various distros sporadically for about 3 years now. I've tried a variety, from SimplyMepis to PCLinuxOS, Ubuntu, UNR, Moblin, OpenSuse, and Mint. I have always gone back to Windows - typically, XP. I decided to try out Mint this time as my Win7 RC was pretty much up and I had to clean install my laptop anyway, so what better time?
My experience so far has been good and bad. Like many have said, there's a barrier right off just due to naming conventions etc. I'm a computer tech and a webdev, so this doesn't put me off, but it definitely would to some. First the good.
Mint is by far the slickest distro I've tried. It runs everything out of the box, as it were, and looks good doing it. It's fast. It's pretty easy to get around, from running apps to installing new ones to the control center.The bad.
I have a Broadcom 4312 wifi adapter in my Dell Vostro 1220. This, right here, would be where most people simply quit and install Windows. It's close to where I quit. However, I figured I could do it. Why not? How hard could it be, right?
After a couple hours of reading cryptic readmes from the Broadcom site and browsing various forums where people claimed to have fixed this issue, I managed to fix it. To be honest, I doubt I could reproduce it if I tried. Basically, I just kept copying/pasting stuff into the terminal as I was told until it worked. Then I rebooted. Then it didn't work again. So I went through the process over again, even though the previous instructions had told me this would happen and after I implemented their fix for it. It didn't work. Finally I happened across a site that showed me how to create an auto-running script to clear out the 'bad' drivers on boot and run the ones I wanted it to. This finally worked, even after a reboot.
I wanted to see if I could make it work, and after a fashion, I did. But all the stuff I mucked about with in the terminal, though it made it work... well, I didn't know WHAT or even more importantly, WHY I was doing this stuff. Great, it worked... but I didn't necessarily learn anything because of this process. It just annoyed me. This is exactly the sort of stuff that makes people quit using Linux.
Even worse than the above is when I tried to make a shortcut to something on my desktop. While installing a new driver may be more painless for most than this was for me - and not even necessary for most - creating a shortcut is something TONS of people do. This was like pulling teeth. I had to find where Firefox actually lives and then try to find an icon for it. Wow, was this stupid-hard. I actually had to download an SVG as I couldn't actually find the firefox icon that the link in my apps panel uses.
I'll keep playing with Linux - and likely specifically Mint - but until the community aims to make user-friendliness a specific and top-priority goal, people just aren't going to stick with it. Maybe that's what the community wants? I'm honestly not sure.
As I see it, if that's what is actually desired, some things need to happen.
* less distros, with more effort being put into one distro that is 'primary'. Joe User, doesn't care that there's 947 variants. They just want to have a working OS.
* compiled executables that they can download and install. Great that there's a software manager. But if they hear about such and such an app being available, their first thought is to go to the website to download it.
* rethinking the file system to be more approachable. This is a big deal, I know. But the shortcut issue I described above is exactly one of the biggest issues most people face when they arrive at linux. Where the heck is everything? What is /usr, /var, /home, /etc??? Where are my programs? Honestly, most people just want a programs folder, with their programs inside it.
* Stop the ridiculous G-name, K-name naming scheme. It was cute, 8 years ago. If you've made a great text editor, don't call it gedit. People are looking for Notepad, Word, or the like.. make the names similar enough that people will be able to find things easily.
* change some defaults so that what people EXPECT to happen, happens. For instance, you need to change a setting in Nautilus so the Gedit just opens txt files. Seriously? When someone is given on option of Open, Run, Display, they are honestly not going to have a clue what to do.
* don't make a user put in a password for 90% of the stuff they want to do. This is exactly why people hated Vista (and still do) so much.
* I know this is touchy, but a distro should include stuff so that people can use/view/listen to their files, from MP3s to YouTube to videos, etc. Mint does this, which is why I don't use Ubuntu. Too much of a pain to just get things working.
* Joe User can't be expected to learn too much to use the OS. If they have to, they'll simply quit using it. Sad, but true. Frankly, I think that there's a certain amount you have to learn to use anything new. But terminal commands? Come on. This isn't 1987. The GUI was embraced because it does make some things much, much easier. Most people are visual learners. The terminal should NEVER be used by Joe User. Ever. Of course, that is if Linux were to be considered as a real alternative to OSX/Windows. As long as the terminal is required to fix issues, people will give up. Not all people, but likely most will.
I know that a lot of this stuff isn't doable in the short term, and is likely even difficult to do in the long term. I love the idea of linux and would like to see it be more mainstream; from the numerous number of posts along this topic, I'm guessing many people in the community feel the same. Here's hoping it continues improving over time - and not necessarily just in the directions *I* think it should.
With communities like this, I think it's moving in the right direction.