Skip to comments.Five Common Misconceptions About Linux
Posted on 06/21/2012 11:51:15 AM PDT by ShadowAce
The recent hubbub over Linus Torvalds comments towards Nvidia as well as Nvidias response to those comments have once again brought up intense debates between Linux users and the rest of the computing pack. Reading the comments on Engadget or The Verge for these news articles, I realized that the general public has some misconceptions about Linux and its ecosystem. I use Linux distributions every single day both on my phone and on the desktop. When I read such comments, I find it kind of funny, but also kind of sad that the Linux that I use so routinely and productively is getting this sort of rap. So here, now, are five misconceptions I think I see most commonly on the Internet regarding Linux and its ecosystem.
I just wanted to get this one out of the way really quick. Linux is not an operating system. Instead, it is a kernel. It sits in between the hardware and the actual operating system (Linux distributions, as they are called) to enable all the userspace software to run smoothly and correctly.
The whole news about Torvalds Nvidia comments I mentioned earlier stemmed a bunch of comments on driver support in Linux from a ton of people. Neglecting the fact that most of the commenters didnt actually see the talk in which Linus made his remarks and thusly assumed he was just saying Nvidias driver support on Linux was awful, most of the comments were pretty misinformed in general.
In regards to Nvidia, its proprietary drivers are actually pretty superb as far as performance goes. This is one of the things Engadget and The Verge participators were griping about, and rebutting that AMDs graphics drivers are terrible. The truth is, AMDs Catalyst drivers (its proprietary set) are also excellent and wonderful and masterful and all that. Its open source driver, dubbed radeon in the Linux kernel, works pretty well too, albeit with some 3D performance issues.
Apart from graphics, Ive never had any real problem with other drivers. LockerGnome writer Ryan Pierson talked with me earlier and make the comment that he had struggles with a wireless card in one of his old notebook computers a few years ago. To be honest, those are edge cases, especially in this day and age. Wireless cards are fairly well supported (by the manufacturers, even) on Linux, especially if you have one of the mainstream brands (Broadcom, Intel, etc.), which you most likely are to have. As such, I can only assume that any driver issues that one person might encounter is either: a] user error, or b] a rare edge case, which means you shouldnt go spouting off on a technology site to complain that Linux has terrible driver support if you cant get your collection of silicon to work correctly.
I should note, however, that notebooks with Nvidia Optimus are a problem area one that Linus was specifically targeting when he made his remarks. The issue with Optimus is that Nvidia has refused to support it on Linux in its proprietary driver, and it offers no support to the open source alternative, Nouveau, whose team is forced to reverse-engineer Nvidia cards in order to write the drivers. This lack of support on Linux can cause a variety of problems, from both GPUs (the integrated GPU as well as the Nvidia GPU) to run at the same time and waste battery life, to the worst case scenario of your laptop booting to a black screen of death, so to speak. This isnt Linuxs fault, though, its Nvidias. The Linux community has been asking Nvidia to merely release the specifications behind its hardware so that the open source community at least has a good shot at writing working drivers. AMD has done this with its Radeon graphics line, even going so far as to committing employees to assist with the development of the open source driver. One last note if youre reading this and you are affected by the Optimus issue on Linux: Try giving the Bumblebee project a look.
I have had this discussion with the other LockerGnome writers plenty of times, and we usually come to agree that the software available on Linux is definitely usable save for a few specific workflows. If you need a photo editor, use the GIMP or another alternative. If you want an office suite, theres LibreOffice or you could even use Google Docs online. Linux has games, browsers, video editors, vector image editors, screencasters, instant messaging and IRC clients, development tools (oh boy, the development tools!), and so much more to offer if youre simply willing to look around.
As I mentioned, there are a few areas where software on Linux can use some work. LockerGnomes Ryan Pierson, in particular, wishes the video editing solutions on Linux were more competitive to the Windows and OS X market. Like I said, they exist, but theyre no Sony Vegas or Adobe Premier. When will the situation get better? Itll have to wait for either: a] the developers of the open source alternatives to get more free time on their hands (unlikely) or b] for the commercial developers to pay more attention to Linux.
When will this attention arrive? I personally think the arrival of Valves Steam platform, Valves collection of games running on the Source engine, as well as Unitys newly baked Linux support, will start the ball rolling. More games on Linux means gamers will start to see the platform as a useful, free alternative to Windows. As the desktop Linux market share increases as a result, more companies will consider developing ports of their software for Linux. Its a snowball effect that I hope happens soon.
This was a fun one to read about on Engadget. Apparently, Linus school project that is Linux has failed to gain any market share for all the computers in the world whatsoever, and he should just give up and call it quits. What the ill-informed do not understand is that, quite frankly, Linux dominates computers everywhere. More than 90% of the worlds Top 500 supercomputers run a Linux-based operating system. Over half of all mobile smartphone devices now run Android, which is built on top of the Linux kernel. In addition, more than 60% of Web servers are running on a Linux distribution.
Only in the desktop space has Linux yet to leave its mark. Like I mentioned in the previous section, I expect the arrival of Steam, Source, and other gaming platforms to help boost Linuxs desktop market share considerably. Lets hope so, anyway.
This one is kind of silly. Granted, I am a developer and have been using Linux for many, many years now (since I was ten years old, at least), but the ease of use of Linux distributions has improved drastically over the years. Ubuntu, specifically, has helped make desktop Linux usable enough for ordinary human beings, as per its motto. Like I said, the software is there, so all it takes is getting used to a slightly different desktop environment when switching from OS X or Windows. I dual boot Windows and Debian here, and I hardly ever touch Windows anymore; Linux distributions have come far enough to be my daily driver from here on out.
I think Linux distributions can be intimidating and scary. I get it, though; new and different things naturally repel most of us (Im a certified creature of habit, Ill have you know). Many people shrug Linux off as difficult to use because they havent spent the time with it that it really deserves. Spend a couple of days trying to get your workflow up and running on a Linux distribution and see how you like it. Perhaps then youll gain a different perspective.
My Raspberry Pi is finally due to arrive on the UPS truck tomorrow! :-)
Already have the latest Debian image loaded on an SD and waiting. (2012-06-18-wheezy-beta)
I have a sh**load of purchased software on my windows boxes. How do I run it in Lynux?
And I've been waiting for the kids to write one. ;)
My days of writing drivers after reverse engineering hardware are over.
Hurry up with those drivers, kids... Sure, it's an edge case, but I need my Mozart!
The same way I do. :)
“kernel. It sits in between the hardware and the actual operating system “
Somebody obviously doesn’t know what an OS is and is trying to define Linux as something it is not.
But if Linux is not an operating system why would I put it between my operating system and my programs and then add Wine as another middle man.
I confess I tried ubuntu a few years ago and even used the Linux version of MS Office (open office). But one day it simply stopped working. I even uninstalled and reinstalled with no luck. It looked fine but you could not see or type anything in its word equivalent.
I finally got rid of it and ubuntu and got on with my life. My computer is like my toaster. I use it when I need it and then I forget it exists when I don’t.
Number 5 is real.
I just use winamp on my xp machine. Works great and no hassles waiting for the kids.
Nope. Linux is not Windows and it doesn't pretend to be.
It is easier to use and install than Windows is, but the process is different. What most people perceive as a difficult OS is really a learning curve they don't want to climb. Once that learning curve has been attempted, it just gets easier.
Different strokes for different folks.
I keep a copy of the latest Windoze system around so I can walk customers through their problems.
I'm less inclined to do that as time goes on.
I use Linux and frameworks built on top of Linux extensively in my company (which is powered by Amazon Web Services and their Amazon Linux distribution, built upon CentOS).
But it’s silly to think Linux will ever go anywhere on the desktop. That has been said for 15-20 years. I remember trying it in the late 90s back in the bad old days of Winmodems (well, they’re still here, but wifi and ethernet has replaced direct connections to the internet).
However, I do use a unix-based OS on 100% of my personal devices: OS X and iOS. And Apple has made it fantastic.
“Supporting Linux is important to NVIDIA, and we understand that there are people who are as passionate about Linux as an open source platform as we are passionate about delivering an awesome GPU experience. “
Classy response to Linus’ F bomb. Personally, I feel nvidia should just focus on Android, the linux ‘distro’ that actually succeeded.
Yes, there is a learning curve. But I found out it is not nearly as steep as people make it out to be.
Do what I did. Take an old computer and install a Linux distro on it. Most of these Linux distros work great on older hardware, btw. Then set aside a little time each day or each week to familiarize yourself with Linux. Check out a Linux book from your local library and work your way through it. When you get the basics down, try different distros. Until you find one you really like (mine is PCLinuxOS).
I hardly ever use my Windows computer anymore. And I certainly don’t miss Windows at all.
It's a pretty popular desktop.
Please read my previous comment through to the end.
Fedora 16 here.
I really liked Linux and it worked with every single piece of hardware attached to it without problems, until we bought a new HP printer about 3 months ago.
The printer works fine with my wife’s Windows 7 machine and even an older XP machine, but I can’t find drivers for it for Linux.
I used to be a “computer nerd”. My problem with Linux is that it is not “standard”. And that is what the public needs. They need to be able to go to the store and buy their software and install it on their machine with a minimum of hassle.
I’m no fan of windows, but I tried ubuntu and found I had to be a much more “active” user of my machine than when using windows. I still fought it out (heck, I really tried to embrace OS2-Warp) but had too many OS2 flashbacks while trying to get it to work. I finally decided I had more important things to do with my time than micromanage my computer.
Windows is “mostly” install stuff and forget it.
I'm still on F15. I was going to upgrade to F17, but they delayed btrfs until F18, so I'll wait on that.
And to be pedantic, while OS X included XQuartz (X11.app, Apple’s version of X Window System), it most certainly is not the GUI in OS X.
In fact, Apple is dropping support for X11.app in Mountain Lion.
If number 5 is real - then you are required to stop using your Android phone NOW!
What’s a distro? What’s a kernel vs an OS? Even the language is different and that is no small thing unless the subject at hand is either your job or your hobby.
Since I’m in IT and use Windows, and windows works fine at home, I don’t really know why I would use Linux. Originally my motivation was to speed up my computers, but that is no longer an issue so my motivation evaporated, especially when I started encountering problems with Open Office.
And getting my wife to use it was like pulling teeth.
Until I find a compelling reason to switch from what I am currently doing, I’ve decided to move on.
Sounds like you prove my point about number five. ;-)
Hmm, looking at #5...
Linux is only for developers and computer experts (aka Linux distributions are too hard to use)
It looks like you're right. I used to be an Android fan and recommended it (in hindsight, dangerously) to everyone. Then Verizon got the iPhone and I haven't looked back. I feel sorry for recommending it to my coworker who, every time I'm in town and visit him, has figured out how to put 3 shortcuts to his contact list on the tray, delete his Phone shortcut, and have 4 weather widgets on his homescreen for Mountain View, CA. Not to mention about 30 new voicemails with no idea how to check them. Someday, I tell him, he'll have an upgrade and can get a smartphone designed for ordinary users.
What is humorous about this is that you are actually wrong about Linux not being “standard.” Linux implements the POSIX standard - Literally!
POSIX or “Portable Operating System Interface [for Unix]” is the name of a family of related standards specified by the IEEE.
I realize what you meant to imply, i.e. it doesn’t work like most people expect. Even that isn’t really true if you use most mainstream distributions. The programs & the GUI environment work the same general way as Windows does. There is a button you push to get a list of Applications - or perhaps a list of Application types, i.e. Internet/Office/etc. You click on one of these and it fires off the application in question.
Now - it may not have the same names for the applications you are used to performing a specific task, though some cross OS boundaries like FireFox & Thunderbird. If you want IE/Outlook/etc. You need to run Windows. There are other options.
What model and is it network attached or capable of being networked?
—If number 5 is real - then you are required to stop using your Android phone NOW!—
I’m an ex-T-mobile employee. When they pushed the new operating system to my Fender mytouch it killed my phone. I went to the store and did everything I could. They did everything they could. I called tech support and they did everything they could.
But since it was out of warranty (barely) I was stuck.
BTW, what it did was slow the phone down to be unusable. It was like using Vista on a pentium 1, literally, even when just trying to answer the phone.
It did the same thing to my wife’s fender but to a lesser degree. I now use both as “iPods” but even after stripping everything off mine I could, it’s almost not even useful for that. But I’m a cheapskate.
BTW, when I moved to KY where I have no internet access, I was going to use my new Galaxy S as a wifi hotspot in my home. It worked great the first month. I actually used uTorrent to download a nice 600 mb “book on tape”. Then it stopped working.
After five months and countless phone calls to support I gave up and went satellite. I was using the tower near a highway and they cut me off because the tower was really not there for people like me (way too few people actually live here). To this day I can’t send text messages with pictures from home. I have to be somewhere else. They’ve cut us off from that tower.
If I had my way, my wife and I would use nothing but old flip phones. But she needs texting for the kids and grandkids. And the way the plans are set up, there is not much difference in the price of the plans.
This is they year of Linux on the desktop! LOL
I used to be a certified RedHat admin. It expired over a decade ago.
I use Linux on a few servers, but our main software is Windows only, running on Windows servers. We have Windows desktops and all our employees are familiar with them.
I’ve played around with Linux over the years on desktops. Sometimes I could get it to load and sometimes not. Generally, I just couldn’t set aside the time to figure it out. When I got it to work, even as an admin, I had to hunt and peck around quite a bit just to do anything. Not insurmountable, but most users don’t want that kind of change at the same time they have to change the look and feel of every piece of software.
What I think would really be helpful, at least from a desktop perspective, is for the whole Linux desktop community to agree on a single standard desktop, and the closer to Windows look and feel the better. Offer every distro with this same desktop so that new users can always have the same look and feel no matter what distro they try.
The biggest complaint about Win 8 (at least from my perspective) is the changing interface. It’s a huge training and support challenge. At least if Linux had some sort of agreed-upon standard desktop, there would be a real impetus to use the Win 8 migration as a chance to migrate to Linux since you have to retrain everyone anyway.
In business, time is money. I’ve not come across a version of Linux yet that was worth the time to adopt for my users.
Also, and maybe this has changed, but it seems like mice in Linux never worked like Windows as far as moving around the screen. Every user I had test Linux complained about it. This seems like a small issue, but it’s actually a major obstacle to adoption. Perhaps that’s something that can be configured - I haven’t puttered around with Linux in a couple of years.
When “investing” in an OS or computing environment there are tradeoffs in terms of
- $$$ paid out (for both OS and apps)
- time paid out (for both OS and apps)
- payoff i.e. enjoyment or benefit of use
With linux your $ cost is minimal and approaches 0. Your time cost is fairly high no matter how smart or experienced you happen to be. Your enjoyment payoff is fairly large at least that’s true in my case.
Over the term of ownership time cost tends to go down while enjoyment tends to go op.
With Windoze and to some extent Mac the $ payout is substantial, the time payout is much less. The enjoyment factor is subjective but speaking personally neither is as high as linux and in the case of Windoze it seems that for many folks it’s a signed quantity meaning it can also take on negative values.
Assess your own situation, see where you want to be on this list of tradeoffs, then pick the platform (Or platforms because there is no need to be monogamous) that meet your needs the best.
Most modern mid-range and upwards PCs are capable of running Windows as a Virtual Machine guest on a Linux box.
There’s also wine, but I prefer the virtual solution. It’s more intuitive.
Also, VMware and VirtualBox both offer “seamless” integrated desktops so that the windows guest doesn’t have to execute in its own window, but rather has its own taskbar on the host desktop, or a taskbar integrated with the host’s.
Use WINE or create a VM and load Windows on it.
—What is humorous about this is that you are actually wrong about Linux not being standard.—
Yeah, I’m actually with you. I should have been more specific. I meant “accepted by the average non-computer-junkie as standard”. I used to be in hi fi and computer sales. I figured out a long time ago that when dealing with non-product-junkies, people want to spend as little mental energy as possible when using a product. It’s why most cars have automatic transmissions nowadays.
Come to think about it, the analogy may apply: Linux users are to windows users what stick shift drivers are to drivers of automatics.
I confess I gave up the stick shift when commuting in traffic on seattle freeways. Now that I’m in Kentucky and there is no such thing as traffic, I’m all over the stick shift because I WANT to be more involved in the control of the car.
> What model and is it network attached or capable of being networked?
It is network attached.
With that post, you nailed the spirit of my position on this.
I also notice something we have somewhat in common: we dealt with making computers work in a corporate environment. We perceive computers primarily as tools and something we don’t have to overcomplicate or deal with when we “punch out”.
I remember when I had to become a memory expert (remember dos “himem”?) just to get Aces Over the Pacific to run in dos mode on my Windows 3.1 machine. I’m burned out on messing with my computer. I had to replace a cooling fan on my cpu last year and that was hassle enough. I used to build all my computers from scratch. Now, when a computer acts up I just go to costco and drop another $299 and bring one home. Heck, I even use the motherboard video and audio.
I also stuck with beta for way too long. I sold video and knew it was much better than VHS. Big frickin’ deal. When I made the switch to VHS my life actually got a lot simpler. :-)
I live the subtitle to Dr. Strangelove: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. Or, in modern vernacular, I took the blue pill or drank the coolaid - and it was goooooood.
Your post proves number five. Every person I know would read that and say, “What? What is that guy talking about? Wanna head out for lunch?”
Or something like that. ;-)
To be fair to the author, I’m replacing the word “expert” with “hobbyist”. I went to a computer fair in Kent Washington back around 1997 with my nephew and before we went in I told him, “soak this up because it is like going to an auto fair before the introduction of the model T. Eventually this will go away as the computer becomes a commodity like the toaster.” It did and they have.
Most people don’t want to mess with it and your post talks over the heads of even many computer hobbyists that only do windows or Mac.
I banned windows from the house 10 years ago. Amusingly, a substantial part of my livelihood is based on my expertise in the windows server platform. It's a dirty job, someone has to do it.
The Linux supervillain.
Yeah, actually having to support machines that serve a variety of users somewhat alters your perspective. Plus having to take into account the complete cost of a machine/os/device and not just it’s initial purchase price.
But that’s why we get the big bucks.
(Made myself laugh there with that last line)
—So you don’t have to completely abandon Windows to get started with Linux.—
I agree, but you have to have a compelling reason to bother. Few of us do.
Again, I tried ubuntu and also have no love of Windows, but I have a better understanding of “the masses” than I used to. And as computers become more and more of a “commodity” that does what it does pretty reliably, few are going to feel the need to attempt to swim upstream. And that is how most people perceive it, especially those who have actually tried it.