Skip to comments.The GNU/Linux Desktop: Nine Myths
Posted on 03/17/2009 7:16:55 AM PDT by N3WBI3
Nobody questions whether Mac OS X is ready for the desktop. Never mind that switching to it involves learning different assumptions and tools and a new desktop. It has a reputation for being user-friendly, and is backed by a proprietary company, just like Windows.
With GNU/Linux, however, the story is different. For over a decade, columnists and bloggers have been explaining how GNU/Linux isn't ready for the desktop -- and, despite all the progress in the operating system over the last ten years, the arguments haven't changed much. Moreover, increasingly, they're outdated when they're not based on complete ignorance. In fact, I often get the impression that those who pontificate on GNU/Linux's inadequacies have never tried it.
Often, of course, the criterion for desktop-readiness is subjective. What is a bug to one user is a feature to another: for example, having to log in as root to install software is an inconvenience to inexperienced users, but a security feature to those with more knowledge.
Often, too, complaints about GNU/Linux are actually complaints that it is not exactly like Windows. Never mind the fact that, unless it did things differently, there would be no reason to switch in the first place. Or that anyone who expects to use a new application or operating system without a learning period is arrogantly provincial. The fact that GNU/Linux is not completely familiar is more than enough to damn it in the eyes of some critics.
Then there are arguments that involve a rubber ruler. That's where someone claims that GNU/Linux will never be ready until it has a certain feature, then, when the feature is pointed out or developed, changes directions and insists that another feature is essential. You can never win against such arguments, because the criteria for judging them keeps changing.
However, in addition to all these arguments are the ones that invalidate themselves primarily because of error, incompleteness, or misrepresentation. These are nine of the most common factually incorrect ones:
1) Distros are too forked for easy compatibility for developers
This claim is popular among software vendors explaining why they don't make versions of their products for the operating system. It is based on the fact that all distributions do not follow efforts at consistency like the Linux Standards Base, and often put files in different locations. In addition, distributions use a variety of package systems, so that widespread support can mean building packages in several different formats.
These problems are real, but the claim exaggerates the difficulties they create. Universal installers like InstallBuilder and Install Anywhere offer vendors installers that are similar to those on Windows. As for building several different packages, if community projects have no trouble doing so, why should a software company?
But, really, the largest problem with this claim is that it attempts to impose the Windows way of doing things on an existing system. In GNU/Linux, the creators of an application don't support different distributions or packaging formats -- the distribution does.
This system works because, with free software, the distribution can make whatever changes it needs to make the software run. It is only a problem for proprietary vendors. If they aren't willing to work with the system and release their code as free software, that is their choice -- but then they shouldn't complain that the system isn't set up for them.
2) No migration tools exist
True, GNU/Linux might benefit from a wizard that would import e-mail, browser bookmarks, IRC channels and other personal information from Windows. But the same could be said of Windows. At least GNU/Linux co-exists with other operating systems and can read their formatted partitions so that you can manually migrate some of this information.
3) There's no hardware support
In the past, hardware support for GNU/Linux was spotty. More often than not, it existed because of efforts by the community, not the manufacturer, and its early stages were incomplete.
However, in the last three or four years, community drivers have matured, and more manufacturers are releasing GNU/Linux drivers along with Windows and Mac drivers. The manufacturers' drivers are not always free software, but they are free for the download.
Today, cases of incompatibility for basics such as hard drives, keyboards, and ethernet cards still occur, but are rare. The problem areas are likely to be peripheral areas like scanners, printers, modems, and wireless cards. However, you can hedge your bets by a few tactics such as choosing a postscript printer, which always works with the generic postscript driver, or buying from companies like Hewlett-Packard, which has a long history of supporting GNU/Linux printing.
Some people even maintain that, because GNU/Linux generally retains backwards compatibility, it actually supports more hardware than Windows. I wouldn't quite go that far, but, on the whole, driver problems on GNU/Linux seem only slightly more common than the ones I used to find on various versions of Windows.
Today, too, you can sidestep hardware compatibility entirely by buying GNU/Linux pre-installed from companies such as Acer or Dell.
If you are interested in the OSS ping list please mail me
Yes, the vendors can't release only one version and expect it to work across all the distros--but the difficulty is exaggerated. It's not that hard to make it work.
Nothing much, what’s gnu with you?
Biggest reason why people dont use it more?
The people that push, it treat it like a political/religious movement. Think too many times of the people that dont want to use it as idiots, and the companies whose products they do use as evil. (See Slashdot for all of the above)
Also many of these articles just assume people should use Linux...just because. They start from the premise that what you use now is bad with the same generalizations that they try to dispel about Linux being too complicated.
I recently bought a computer for a friend that had Ubuntu loaded on it. It was very inexpensive. The desktop looked great and everything worked fine, except for her peripherals. No driver for the bluetooth device, print server, wireless card, printer or Zune. I ended up re-formatting and loading XP on it, and now all is well. I’ve found that many people do not want to buy new devices and/or spend the amount of time necessary to learn a new OS, they just want to sit down and do stuff like they are used to doing. TV ads make it seem like all they have to do, is press a button, and they have a DVD all with a pretty design or just plug in a digital picture frame, and all their pictures are on it. That just ain’t so.
Linux is a great OS for people who just want to do email and web browsing. In short, it’s a great OS for people who are too slow to use Windows. The repair shops in town are full of Windows boxen that have been infected with viruses and malware and the owners are completely clueless about how to fix the problem.
Linux users don’t have to worry about that.
The Zune I can understand, but I have a hard time believing the others. My guess is that the devices weren't automatically configured to your equipment and you didn't know how to find them, or the utilities to configure them.
That's fine. Linux is not Windows, and it doesn't behave in the same way.
I own a Laptop that is not mainstream, but Linux runs on it just fine--including my wireless card, printer, bluetooth, and mp3 player (Not Zune, though).
There are drivers for those things that you mentioned.
As a software developer for 25 years I’m tired of hearing all the Commie Free stuff.
Software can add Great Value to a business. Therefore the business decision is to pay a less than Great Price to get an ROI or Open new markets.
People use the software and polish takes a great deal of time. I probably spend as much time on polish as I do anything else. There is just no incentive in our system to produce Free anything. Nothing is free ever.
You're fortunate. This isn't true for everyone. I have an Epson printer and none of the Epson drivers available provide support for it (it's a new printer). Nor does Epson provide drivers for use under Linux.
Frankly, this is one area where Linux is deficient (along with available mainstream software titles). Eventually it may catch up, but with all the peripherals already out there, and new ones coming online daily, it's a tough nut to crack.
With Microsoft more is done for you, less input is required, that's what you pay for. No matter your input/interaction with MS, there is a limit to what you control.
Linux is free natured and spirited, you become involved and interact with a system that puts the user first. The user sets the precedent, and gets out of it what they put into it. A few months of studying a Linux O/S from a book covering the installation, and use of say Hardy Heron 8.04 for example, would liberate many computer users in a refreshing way. :-)
“The people that push, it treat it like a political/religious movement.”
Do you see that here?
“Think too many times of the people that dont want to use it as idiots”
As opposed to thinking people who do want to use it are cultist? And for every FOSS user who thinks people that disagree are idiots I can find at least 10 windows users who think FOSS users are losers living in their mothers basement.. There is enough crap to go around.
What Linux commercials are you seeing?
But FYI other than the zune (and maybe even that) there are drivers out there for most printers / bluetooth / and wireless.
“Ive found that many people do not want to buy new devices and/or spend the amount of time necessary to learn a new OS”
This is true but it has not stopped some from using Vista ;)
“Software can add Great Value to a business.”
Im with you so far
“Therefore the business decision is to pay a less than Great Price to get an ROI or Open new markets.”
Here is where you lose me... The right business decision is to use the *right* tool be it free or closed and costly. Were I setting up an enterprise level service app I would almost certainly go with an Oracle back end (costly) with an jBoss/Apache front end (Free, though I would pay RedHat for support).
your basic assumption is that if its not FOSS it must be superior for every purpose and in every case to FOSS. Thats just not the case.
“Nothing is free ever.”
I suggest you read up on what people mean when the say ‘free software’.
Well, sort of. There are a lot of closed source programs that have installers for certain versions of certain distros and sometimes they can be shoehorned onto a technically unsupported distro.
The fact that that kind of thing actually works points out the cluelessness of the application developers.
Linux is pretty much Linux. Building your app so that it runs only on a certain version of a certain distro is dumb since if it runs at all, it will likely run just fine on most distros. Rather than distributing your app as a RedHat or SuSE RPM that does a dependency check on the distro version it would be much better to write the app to the Linux Standard Base and distribute either a scripted installer or a source RPM. Then it could be installed with little difficulty on most any distro.
An example of an app that does this properly is the Sun JRE and JDK. It's a .bin file and just installs. No silly distro version checking. It just works.
Compare this to, say, Oracle 10g. The installer checks the contents of /etc/redhat-release and looks for a certain version. As such, it will happily install on RedHat ES4, but not on CentOS4, which is exactly the same thing with just RedHat's images removed. To make Oracle install you have to edit the /etc/redhat-release file by hand and make it look like RHES. After Oracle is installed, you have to change it back. But it installs and runs just fine. Dumb.
To make it run on a Debian-based machine requires a host of other hoops to be jumped through, but since Debian stable and RHES4 use similar kernel versions and exactly the same GCC version, Oracle run just fine on Debian once you fool Oracle into installing on it.
The LSB was written just for this purpose. An app written to the LSB will install and run just fine provided that the underlying versions of software are adequate and the LSB is the way to tell that.
Sadly, too many closed-source software companies think it's still the bad old days of Unix when you had to code a different app for each Unix version. With Linux, that's just not true but it seems that the developers at those companies can't seem to figure it out.
I’m surprised Obama hasn’t employed them at the White House. You know, to attend his wife and daughters.
Yeah! Damn those RedHat guys! How dare they give everything away? Everyone knows you can't make money like that!
RED HAT INC (NYSE: RHT)
Last Trade: 15.04
Avg Vol (3m): 2,469,720
Market Cap: 2.86B
“Compare this to, say, Oracle 10g. The installer checks the contents of /etc/redhat-release and looks for a certain version. As such, it will happily install on RedHat ES4, but not on CentOS4, which is exactly the same thing with just RedHat’s images removed. To make Oracle install you have to edit the /etc/redhat-release file by hand and make it look like RHES. After Oracle is installed, you have to change it back. But it installs and runs just fine. Dumb.”
Actually this is quite intentional.. Oracle is trying to limit what OS you get support on. That is what I was talking about when I said a properly configured app *can* install anywhere. Oracle can save their support requirements
Did you try the builtin drivers? Most distros come with foomatic, which holds drivers for hundreds, if not thousands, of printers.
Oracle is welcome to state that it will only support certain versions. That's a licensing issue and they don't need to be expending support resources to try to figure out why a database keeps crashing on a Gentoo box.
That's a support issue. That doesn't mean they have to try to make it difficult to install on other-than-officially-supported distros.
As I said, since Linux is pretty much Linux, such attempts are dumb, since a knowledgeable sysadmin can MAKE it work with a lot of skull sweat. As a sysadmin, I have better things to do with my time than try to figure out what little idiotic system check I have to defeat to get my test database (about which I have no intention of calling Oracle for support) to install on CentOS.
The production servers, running RedHat, those are fully supported. The test servers are not. That's fine. But having to hold your tongue just right and wait for the right phase of the moon to install an app on what is basically exactly the same OS is just an irritation. It serves no useful purpose except to make the sysadmin's life difficult.
You have hit the nail on the head. A cheap Linux box with a crappy HP laser printer is exactly what my mother in law needs. Then, she can click on anything without worrying about screwing up the computer. One printer cartridge lasts for years.
She surfs the internet and sends email. Linux is excellent for that purpose. She can even use Open Office writer if she ever decides to type something.
The only hard part is finding a dial-up modem that works with Ubuntu.
I think you’re right. Linux has been under 3% market share for years and years, in spite of being free.
I agree with you that lack of drivers is a problem, particularly printer drivers. In fact, the only distro that I have gotten to work at all with any printer is Ubuntu. When Ubuntu does detect and recognize a printer, it is automatically configured — that is easier than Windows. But if Ubuntu does not have a driver, you are SOL.
“And for every FOSS user who thinks people that disagree are idiots I can find at least 10 windows users who think FOSS users are losers living in their mothers basement..”
1) There’s more than 10 times as many Windows than there are “FOSS” users; and
2) The number of “FOSS” users who actually ARE losers living in their mother’s basement is roughly equal to the number of FOSS users who think non-FOSS users are idiots.
Very, very well-said. Like creepy political and religious movements, it’s often difficult to separate the product from the agenda of the product’s cultish devotees. And as such, a normal person’s inclination is to avoid the product altogether, even when the product itself has nothing wrong with it.
Fair Enough.. I get it.. you make money on your efforts. But to call everything Free as communist.. Not sure what you mean.
"Software can add Great Value to a business. Therefore the business decision is to pay a less than Great Price to get an ROI or Open new markets."
Oh come on now.. because you are a developer.. you making the business decision for the owner of the business? Most business owners do pay for packages such as Office. Your worried about a small segment of the world that uses Linux?
"There is just no incentive in our system to produce Free anything. Nothing is free ever."
So.. All the people who work on the Linux distro's for nothing are wasting their time and not making a DIME on their efforts.. you spend a good amount of time on your product and get paid for your efforts.. Sounds like a good deal to me.
Somehow I am lost on your whole premise here.
The author calls them “myths” and then proceeds to state that most of them are true to some extent.
Unzipping and compiling software IS beyond the abilities of most people.
Using the exact same software as family members and friends who can help IS of critical importance to most users.
Since hard sectored floppy disks, Dell Rainbows, Zenith Z100’s and CP/M, the most important thing in desktop computing has been standardization. Microsoft and IBM figured that out with the first IBM-PC and Bill Gates rode that horse to incredible success. Users do not want to learn new operating systems or software. They will do it slowly, over time, but they won’t tolerate having to relearn everything at once.
People resist change. They like what they know. Windows is what they know. It’s standard. So is its software.
The lack of viruses for Linux has little to do with any sort of alleged innate security or the competence of its user base. Trust me, with a little social engineering it’s just as easy to get a single-user sysadmin to install an infected package as it is to get a Windows user to install an infected MSI.
However, desktop Linux is such a tiny part of the marketplace today that it’s not worth it from a virus writer’s perspective to waste time on a Linux variant of some trojan. This is especially true if you’re writing a worm distributed via email; yes, you *can* write an OpenOffice worm, but why bother with all that effort when it’ll only pwn a tiny handful of boxes? In fact, the *density* of targets is so low that you can’t even achieve reliable viral transmission; even if you succeed in getting your virus onto one Linux box, the likelihood of it successfully *finding* another Linux box to spread to is very, very low.
Of course, if people start buying fewer Windows boxes and more Mac or Linux boxes *because* of the virus threat, then the total population (and population density) of Linux boxes will increase, while the population and density of Windows will decrease. This will cause the virus-writer to be more willing to write viruses for Linux and Mac, and we will see a commensurate spike in viruses for those platforms.
In the study of biological infections, this phenomenon is called the “Red Queen” principle. When an infectious agent optimizes itself to attack a particular common variant of some species, the agent’s success is dependent on the commonality of that variant; yet its very success causes a decrease in the occurrence of that variant. This in turn forces the agent to re-optimize for an alternative variant, which leads to cyclical patterns of variation over time.
“Unzipping and compiling software IS beyond the abilities of most people.”
Its also not needed on modern desktops which use either RPM or APT.. In Fedora for example if you download an RPM a box pops up that says ‘would you like to install’ you click yes, it ask for the admin password, and the installs..
“The lack of viruses for Linux has little to do with any sort of alleged innate security or the competence of its user base. Trust me, with a little social engineering its just as easy to get a single-user sysadmin to install an infected package as it is to get a Windows user to install an infected MSI.”
That’s a Trojan, not a virus..
Or--you just choose "Add/Remove Software" from the menu and choose what you want. It does everything else for you.
Your very post here on FREE republic would suggest otherwise. It cost you nothing to read it, nothing to post it, nothing for me to respond. Yet it works. Enough people send money in voluntarily to make this the 7th highest rated conservative site. So much it for being a commie idea, don't you think?
Yeah, But I’ve found that most people are familiar with windows, and just don’t like or want anything new. Also, a lot of older devices don’t have drivers readily available, and lots of people don’t want to buy new stuff, when their old stuff is still good.
Science is free. You never hear of a single company owning the science of batteries, or storing electricity. Think about it. What would our world look like if scientific knowledge weren’t free, open-source information. When a scientific discovery is made, it’s peer reviewed, reproduced, and added to the pool of science. You could argue that some science is not free, i.e. patented drugs, etc. But even those have patent expirations.
Why should software code have to be any different? We live in a free society (supposedly). If you want to patent or keep your software closed, that’s your choice. But for those of us who want to develop software openly, that’s our choice also. So what’s with the “COMMIE” attacks?
“But Ive found that most people are familiar with windows, and just dont like or want anything new.”
Most of the people I know who are clueless Windows users really don’t care. You can interchange them with a Mac and they never have a problem. All they need is their email and web brower. Everything else is just too hard to use.
“a lot of older devices dont have drivers readily available, and lots of people dont want to buy new stuff, when their old stuff is still good.”
Actually, legacy products are usually OK with Linux. The problem is the new stuff. Chances are that the only thing they have is a printer.
I deal with a lot of older people and their #1 problem is viruses and spyware. Their other problem is their ability to screw up their system which is easy to do in Windows. An Linux box or a Mac would work just fine.
I suppose the webmaster has no bills to pay either. I suppose that if you watch tv it is free(You only pay with your time watching commercials). I suppose you only pay 30% income tax (no everything you buy is taxed and taxed).
Just because the cost of something is absorbed by someone else or hidden doesn’t mean it is free to everyone. It may appear to be free to you. There are always strings attached.
Debunked years ago, yet some people don't seem to get it.
Linux viruses are less common because the design does not as easily lend itself to being compromised by malware.
There are more Linux web servers than Windows web servers yet Windows web servers are still compromised more often. Given your debunked premise, please explain how an operating system with a LARGER footprint than Windows is LESS vulnerable.
No, there aren’t. I contacted the manufacturers and was told the models she had were not supported in Linux.
I realise there are drivers for most devices, just not the one’s she had.
She wanted XP back, so that’s what I did.
Linux is supported in the same way this web site is supported. By donations from volunteers.
It may appear to be free to you. There are always strings attached.
Quite true. The strings on Linux go like this:
1. You can USE it all you want. No cost.
2. If you take Linux code and use it to build a new software product, your software product must also be given away without cost.
3. If you don't like that, don't use Linux to build your software product.
That’s true, most don’t really care, they want what they are most familiar with. The few people I help, are familiar with windows.
There is a difference between "supported by the manufacturer on Linux" and "works with Linux."
The only piece of hardware that I've ever not gotten to run under Linux was an antique TDK 5-disc CDROM changer. It used a proprietary interface (that is, not IDE or SCSI) and while the standard non-ATAPI driver would see one drive, it wouldn't see the others or shuffle the disks.
That said, getting unsupported hardware to work under Linux often isn't worth the effort. It's better to buy hardware that is already known to work out of the box. See your distro's hardware compatibility list.
Perhaps the next time this situation comes up, I will. Right now she has a system like she used to have, and is happy.
That’s the beauty of capitalism, it creates so much wealth that free rides become part of the mix, just to get you on the ride!
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.