The problem you write about, below, is in regard to winmodems (you can read about them on Wikipedia). There you will find that winmodems, like their name implies, were written for Windows, and without vendor support and in some cases permission, no one can change that. Wikipedia puts it like this, as of June 9, 2007: "They are also referred to as a Winmodem because the first commercially available softmodems mostly targeted the Microsoft Windows operating system running on IBM-PC compatibles. Although their usage has become more widespread over other operating systems and machines e.g. embedded systems and Linux, they are still difficult to use on operating systems besides Windows due to lack of vendor support and lack of a standard device interface. "
Talk to Microsoft, then, by all means. They are telling the world they would like interoperability. Tell Microsoft you'd like a standard device interface. Talk to your vendors. That is how you can solve the problem. Or visit sites like you mention, Linmodem.org, and help your friends and customers out by configuring for them, if you know how. Frankly, your story about friends at the senior center telling each other about Linux is hard for me to take seriously. And by the way, none of them can install Windows and set it up for the Internet either, I wouldn't think. At least my elderly relatives can't. So this is a false "usability" problem. If you have elderly friends, relatives and customers, install for them.
To blame GNU/Linux for behaving legally and honorably in a marketplace deliberately tilted against it is misplaced.
Also, please watch your language here. Thanks.
Finally, I don't know where you are getting your figures on computers being sold without modems, and only winmodems, but most of us manage to find them. Actually, truth be told, most people don't even use modems of any kind any more, having graduated to DSL or cable or other faster connections when possible, so I expect this is a dying issue.
As for distros not addressing how to get online, you are seriously mistaken. Kubuntu, which I use currently, will get you online with modem, Ethernet, or wireless. I suggest you find Network or Networking or whatever each distro calls it. It's in there. Or try Ubuntu or Kubuntu and you'll find it is easy. If you don't know how to get online after that, just go online on another computer and visit Canonical's Ubuntu site. They offer both free and paid support.
As for older machines, here's how I got my last modem. A neighbor tossed out an old computer and I took the modem out of it. I get a lot of old parts that way. It's amazing how many people throw out perfectly usable computers. Surely you can do that in your shop when folks dump a computer and never come back, which happens in all businesses, or look on eBay. I hope these suggestions are helpful.
A major usability problem
Grokdoc, is encouraging people to either install Linux and let Aunt Tillie play with it, recording her reactions, and then sending that information to the Grokdoc wiki. The chores they would like the brand new user to attempt are to type a letter, sent it to the printer, then get online, surf the web, and get/send email.
Therein lies the problem: Nearly every computer manufactured for the mass market in the last 8 or 9 years has a 'soft' modem, rather than a 'real' modem with jumpers,and actual hardware in it. As a result you can go to any number of box dissasemblers, and get 'Winmodems' out the wazoo for 3, 4, 5 bucks piece (Conexant chipsets are a tad more expensive, maybe 6 or 7) They are useless for Linux, so far as I have been able to discover. Hard modems, when you can find them at all are in the 50 dollar range.
I have tried a number of distros, starting back in 1993 or so with Coherent, working my way up thru Yggdrasil, Caldera, Slackware, Mandrake, until the present day, when I have available to play wih, Fermilab Scientific Linux, NSA SELinux, White Box, Fedora 1 and 2, and all the Redhats I bought along the way, from 5.1 up through 9. Now I've been investigating SuSE from v8.0 on to the present. None address the problem of how to get online.
I have never seen the problem publicly addressed on this or any other guru's website, although there are sources like Linmodem.org and associated links that help. The assumption, apparently, is that Aunt Tillie has broadband access of some kind, and Linux is just ducky at finding and installing access for those technologies.
The Aunt Tillie that *I* see every day in my shop finally got tired of all the BSOD's, worms, virii, and general hassles of using Microsofts products. While she was down at the Senior Center, her lunch buddy told her about Linux, and gave her a copy of SuSE's trial version. Tillie took it home, it installed perfectly, it booted up, and then told her she had no modem. If she were curious enough to dig around, (and not be so disgusted that she simply re-installs Windows 98SE and forgets the whole unpleasant episode) she might find the hardware icon in Control Center. In it she would find her winmodem listed, with its manufacturer, model number and chipset (usually). Why then, does the system then tell her that it can't configure a modem, because she doesn't have one?
I can tell you from many years of experience as a system builder, and storefront geek shop owner that Aunt Tillie is not going to go out and throw away $50 dollars on a hardware modem (if she can find one) just to use Linux. She wants to use *HER* computer, which has never been opened in its lifetime, full of dust bunnies and mouse doo-doo, just as it is. She is 'Thoroughly Modern Tillie' and would love to explore this new set of toys, Linux, and other GNU products, but if her modem won't work. the whole thing is a non-starter, right off the line.
After 13 years, and having thousands of man-years invested in development, one would reasonably expect to be able to use the most common form of modem on the markets today. As an aside, I grant you that they are not really modems, but some evil hybrid of hardware and software. *BUT* they are what is out there. Developers have to be aware of that, and must deal with it.
I'm retired, but work for a tiny non-profit that refurbishes older boxes. I am the guy who installs any of a number of flavors of Linux on them (depends on hardware configuration, mostly. Faster machines get newer distros) and pass them on to the marketing types to be given away. (Our local library qualifies the applicants by need) We have exhausted our store of 'real' modems and find ourselves with piles of unbranded Lucent, Rockwell, and Conexant soft modems. We don't have money to buy hard modems, and like Aunt Tillie, we shouldn't have to.
Can you offer me some resources that will allow me, the guy on the front line here, a HOWTO or a pointer to a HOWTO to make my life easier? Can you use your influence in the community to make this a front-burner issue? As long as the Aunt Tillies and Uncle Marvs of the world have standard PCs, with standard soft modems built into them, Linux will never become a true desktop alternative absent solving this glaring problem.
I am not a guru, but I've been fiddling with these things since 1967, starting with an IBM 7094, with all the card oriented grey iron boxes in the math building. I feel that if I were able to make just one, or even two successful installs, I would have the problem whipped, and the poor people in my community would have the ability to burst out onto the web, and they would never be the same again. I live in Bisbee ARizona, and there are a *LOT* of poor people here.
We, the non-profit, on the other hand, have about 8 tons of miscellaneous boxen, from the community colleges, and other sources. Right now, they are in a warehouse. I would like to see them on tables and cabinets all over Cochise County. I am stopped by this one major problem. As are al the Aunt Tillies and Uncle Marvs
Regards, David M Wilson