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Linux and ‘Microsoft Trained Brain Syndrome’

By: 27 January 2011 4 Comments

What’s one of the obstacles preventing Microsoft Windows users to make the switch to Linux?

According to Erik Rasmussen — a member of the Milwaukee Linux Users Group and a former member of Microsoft’s Windows Vista Technical Adoption Program (TAP) for Rapid Deployment — said a major obstacle is something that he (and others) call Microsoft Trained Brain Syndrome. What is that condition? Simply put, people who suffer from it labor under the impression that certain tasks can only be accomplished with the tools that Microsoft provides.

“I wanted to completely jump off the Microsoft bandwagon,” he said. ” But I still had a few software requirements holding me back. One of the biggest lessons I started to learn was that Microsoft had successfully convinced me that I needed to use a specific software application to accomplish a task (but I came to realize) that there are a lot of different tools in the shop and that many different brands of tools can be leveraged to accomplish a task.

“I began to move from being focused on a specific software application to accomplish a task and was able to transition to being more task-oriented. I learned that I have a task to do, the computer is a tool to accomplish tasks, and there are actually quite a few software apps (and operating systems) which can be leveraged to accomplish a task.”

In Rasmussen’s case, the biggest obstacle to moving to Linux had to do with a piece of audio software that he used to produce a radio program. That software is available only for Windows. Rasmussen said the desire to be rid of Windows compelled him to look at what he could achieve in producing audio with Linux and, eventually, he ran across a program called Wine — a free application that allows some programs to run under Windows. Rasmussen said he was able to get his sophisticated audio programs — Sony Sound Forge and Sony Vegas — to run under Linux through Wine.

“Wine actually helped me transition,” he said, adding that he eventually found Linux-native applications that took the place of the Sony software he had used for years. “It was thrilling when I finally figured it out and was able to retire the Windows sound apps in favor of all Linux audio apps and produce the radio program.

“Many of the Linux apps actually work much better than Windows audio apps ever did and — as I understand it — Linux give you the best quality you can get out of your sound hardware, whereas Windows has many technical hurdles to overcome to make audio work correctly.”

Rasmussen said many Linux users have gone through the same process — they thought they needed Windows to run a certain programs to accomplish certain tasks. Rasmussen said Linux, more often than not, has the right tools available and usually for free. For example, Windows users who think they can’t get by without the Microsoft Office suite can usually make out just fine with — a free program that runs under Linux, Apple Macintosh, Windows and other modern operating systems. OpenOffice handles word processing, spread sheets, databases, presentations., etc. and can even read and write Office files.

Once a Windows users makes the decision to install Linux, two challenges present themselves — finding the best Linux distribution that best suits the needs of the individual user and where to find applications to take place of the tools they’ve used on Windows for years. One thing that can be a bit disorienting about Linux is that there are more distributions of the operating system than you can shake a stick at and each version has its devoted supporters. Rasmussen said that somewhat fragmented state of affairs can be an advantage — if one distribution doesn’t quite fit with what the user wants, then there are others out there.

While Ubuntu is one of the more popular (and perhaps the most popular) distro now, there are other popular ones that have there merits. You’ll find a list of various distributions here, brief discussions of them and links to them. Bear in mind that Linux is free and very easy to try, so testing some out and picking the one that suits your tastes best is probably a good idea. Also, online communities spring up around Linux distributions, so finding people willing to tell you about why they like certain distributions is an easy task.

The communities that form around Linux distributions are also important as it’s not difficult to find people willing to point new users to various software packages. Of course, those communities are great resources for people who simply want to figure out how to use Linux. In other words, if you lose your way, it’s not difficult to get back on track thanks to supportive communities that are more than willing to give out advice.

But, why switch from Windows in the first place?

Rasmussen said the answer to that question largely rests with individuals. Some are perfectly satisfied with Windows and that’s all well and good, but some users don’t care for the operating system and want an alternative. That’s where Linux comes into play.

But what caused Rasmussen — a former Windows user who had some ties to Microsoft to switch? He said his disappointment with Windows actually started back when he was involved in the aforementioned Vista TAP. Microsoft provided him with a “spiffy new convertible Toshiba Tablet PC” for his involvement in the program and it worked very well at first. However, after a time, Windows rot set in and that Toshiba system started to slow down and develop “odd-ball” issues such as drivers not working with hardware, virus problems and malware cropping up from time to time. Windows rot, of course, is that phenomenon through which that operating system that ran so quickly at first slows down considerably over time.

One of those odd-ball issues had to do with Windows 7. Rasmussen received a beta version of it and found that he couldn’t install it because the operating system couldn’t see the hard drive on the Toshiba system that Microsoft had given him for his participation in the Vista program. That’s right — a computer clearly recommended by Microsoft couldn’t hack the company’s newest operating system.

By contrast, the Linux distribution chosen by Rasmussen — Ubuntu studio — had no problem finding the hard drive and other hardware on the system. Rasmussen said there is a misconception about installing Linux as rumor has it that putting it on a system is difficult. Rasmussen said he was able to install Ubuntu Studio quickly and the same is true of most Linux distros.

So, why does Rasmussen appreciate Linux? His response to that question was a handy list:

* No viruses.
* No Windows rot.
* A stable and reliable system.
* Can get the best performance out of my hardware.
* Easy to use.
* Able to do as much with it — to change it — as you care to.
* I can share it with others for free.
* More frequent OS versions than Windows, or I can stick with a long term support (LTS) version of Ubuntu if I want to.
* Can browse the Web with much less risk.
* So many software options.
* Many different Linux Distributions to choose from, (can find one tailored for specific needs, which helps others with specific requirements).
* Not needing to install drivers (or very, very rarely). I like being able to connect a printer without needing to install anything special.
* It just works, and usually right out of the gate after install.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen has set up his church on Linux and is out spreading the word about the operating system.

“I’ve found that many people do not even realize there are alternatives to Microsoft Windows,” he said. “When I explain some of the advantages and that Linux is all free, they’re usually quite amazed. It is quite fun to help people switch and to see their reaction when they realize all their options and what they have been missing.”

One more thing — Rasmussen said he gets a kick out of the Windows 7 slogan, “Life without walls.”

“It gets me thinking — if I had no walls, I wouldn’t need Windows, either.”

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =


  • Paul Podbielski said:

    “It gets me thinking — if I had no walls, I wouldn’t need Windows, either.”

    Thank you for the validation. Most people I share that joke with don’t get it. Then again, most of them can’t imagine a world without microsoft, anyway.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Paul — I thought that was pretty good, indeed.

  • Claude said:

    I am starting to use Linux and i find it easy to work with
    J’aime beaucoups

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