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 Moreover, increasingly, they're outdated when they're not based on complete ignorance.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.
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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!
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“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
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