-{Intro}-

I’ve decided to give Linux another chance. I usually do once or twice a year. What always happens is that I run into some technical problem and rather than figure it out I end up moving back to Windows where I already know how to do it. I’ve recently come into the possession of some extra computers, which means that I won’t be able to say to myself “I need another handy Windows machine” and give up. I have ways to force myself to confront the haze that is my sudden ignorance of the computer that I am working on.

Below are the pros and cons of my early impressions. If I stick with it, I’ll do an update a few months from now.

Pro: Installation. It was a breeze. Unlike when you’re installing Windows and it feels the need to make sure that you’re keeping track of it and enforces this need by asking you random questions during the installation, Ubuntu asked me these questions at the beginning and end of the installations. Thus leaving me free for the concurrent Windows installation on a separate box.

Con: Updates.
After booting up for the first time, I was informed that I needed to install updates. I figured “Okay, sure” and said yes to what was apparently 236 security updates. This is the kind of crap that Linux people make fun of Windows for. Keep in mind that the installation was from a CD that I downloaded and burned the day of the installation.

Pro: Wireless connectivity. It was a breeze. Much easier than with Windows. Both in setting it up and in the ability to reconnect at will. Windows mostly reconnects when the Automatic connection is available, but Linux always does.

Meh: Graphics. Linux usually looks slicker and generally nicer than Windows 2000 and XP (though Vista leapfrogged them). Not so much on the laptop. My laptop is probably to blame somewhat as well (What ever made IBM think that 1024×768 would suffice on a 15″ monitor?), but it looks even more uncomfortable than XP does given the poor resolution.

Pro: Ultimatix. A one-stop download that installs many of the essentials that they don’t put on the installation for licensing reasons.

Con: Ultimatix. Ultimatix felt the need to warn me in between installing each section that there could be complications. There needs to be a rule about any process that has the potential of taking two hours being able to run fine without being baby-sat.

Con: Application installation. This is a perennial Linux problem. With Windows it’s point, click, answer some questions, and install. If you want to install an application on Linux, how you go about it depends on a huge number of factors (Gnome or KDE? Debian or Other?) and unless its carried by a repository or has a special install pack, you have to go into the shell to install it. Apparently (?) this is necessary because of the wide variety of distributions out there. This means that you’re stuck with repositories, which are great in one sense (see below), but are limiting in a way that Windows is not (and if Windows were, it would be further proof to Linux buff as to why Windows sucks, but Linux people have no problem with Linux doing this and consider any problem I might have with it being my problem).

Pro: Repositories. Repositories are a sort of central server where you can go in and download and install applications automatically onto your machine. If the repository has what you’re looking for, it makes installation of software twice as easy than on Windows (if not… see previous entry). Further, you can put in some keywords and automatically download applications you didn’t know existed. I wanted a comic book reader and was very frustrated when I couldn’t find my favorite one (Comical, which has releases for Windows, Linux, and OSX). Repositories couldn’t help me with that, but they gave me three alternatives to choose from. Hopefully one of them is as good as Comical.

Pro: Application availability. Thus far I haven’t found any application I want that there aren’t at least a couple applications that can do. This is in stark contrast to a couple years ago. Thanks to Repositories, I’ve found applications that do what I want to do in minutes where it took me years to find for Windows. I often ask myself “Can I be the only Windows user that wants to do this particular task?” and often I feel like I am. Less the case with Linux.

Con: Shortcuts. No shortcuts to Windows network drives. You can make a shortcut to a local location that accesses a Windows drive, but to make a shortcut to the Windows drive you have to assign it locally. For Windows users, it’s the difference between having a network drive mapped to a local location vs accessing it through Network Places. In Windows, you can assign shortcuts either way. Not so with Linux (that I have been able to find).

Con: Network drives. This is a show-stopper unless I can figure out. At some point I may change my fileserver to Linux, but it’s Windows until I can have a high-degree of confidence in my ability to wade through Linux. I don’t want to get too deep into technical details (which would require charts), but I’ve found at least three different ways to meet these needs with Windows and precisely none (thus far) with Linux. The big problem being my inability to permanently assign local locations to network drives (like Mapping Network Drives in Windows). Linux used to be able to do this, but right now I can’t. I’ve found a half-dozen supposed solutions and none have (thus far) worked.

Con: Forum Support. The Ubuntu people have done a pretty good job of cleaning up the Help forums, which used to primarily consist of being called stupid and worse when you asked basic questions. But there is still the prevailing attitude that if Linux isn’t meeting your needs, your needs are the problem. And, if these problems at all involve Windows, it’s a Windows limitation.

Pro: Forum Support. There is lots of helpful information there. If you have a question, chances are somebody has asked it before. And unlike many Windows help forums, no accounts or fees are required to read solutions and only accounts are usually required to participate.

Con: Infinite Distributions. It’s great that so many people are working on different versions of Linux at the same time. Free competition and all that. The downside is that the answer to your question depends wildly on the specifics of your install. Who released your Distro? What version? What version of the interface are you running? What version of the networking interface? These are questions that come up with Windows, but not nearly so much.

Pro: Shells. Windows has the Windows UI. The Start Button, Start Menu, etc. You can download alternatives, but they’re rarely well-supported. Linux has two prominant ones and at least a handful of less prominant ones. It lets different people with different preferences use different interfaces instead of the one-size fits all Windows interface.

Con: Shells. It’s frustrating when you like different aspects of each one and you can’t merge them. So far neither are remotely as flexible as the Windows interface. It’s less customizable and more this-or-that.

Pro: Codecs. This is a biggie. A very biggie. When you want to play a video that it doesn’t have the codec for, it goes out and finds it. Without fail. Windows has features that are supposed to be able to do that, but it almost never seems to work. Unless that’s something Vista fixed.

Pro: Drivers. Another biggie. Automatic driver support for my hardware for Linux surpassed Windows a long time ago. That is remarkably impressive when you consider how much more eager hardware manufacturers are for Linux drivers than Windows ones. Windows 2000 was terrible about this. Windows XP is better. Maybe Vista figured that all out, though not from what I hear. Further, if the drivers aren’t already on the CD, it will go out and find them. Windows supposedly does this, but I can’t remember the last time it succeeded. It’s almost always that the drivers are on the initial installation or you have to find them yourself.

Pro: It’s free. This isn’t even entirely about saving the money, though that’s part of it. More than that, it’s about not having to worry about authentication. No OEM license vs standard license. I install it and it’s there. Simple as that.

Con: It’s not free. Free in the non-monetary sense, that is. Right now I feel hugely more constricted using Linux than Windows. Some of this is attributable to my superior Windows knowledge and inferior Linux knowledge, but not all of it. Some of the under-the-hood things with Linux are so complicated that I’m stuck with whatever they’ve GUIed. In some ways, they’ve out-Windows Windows in the rigidity of the way it thinks that you ought to want to do things. For power-users, the complexity under the hood ultimately means more freedom to do what they want (or so they say). For people just starting out, Linux is like that person that person that doesn’t tell you how to do something, tells you that you’re doing it wrong, then insists on doing it himself.

-{Summary}-

Linux is in that state that it’s been in for at least the last three or four years: Almost there. Almost comparable to Windows in ease-of-use. This time, on that front, they really are almost there. If I weren’t such an ambitious user and just wanted it for more normal usage, it would in many ways be easier than Windows. Not being unambitious, I couldn’t say.

How close Linux is to being “there” (a viable alternative to Linux for most users) is uncertain. Whenever I’ve quit Linux in the past, my friend Tony has said that it was my loss. I said that it was actually Linux’s loss because I’m a relatively early-adopter on a lot of these things. If I can’t be bothered to learn it, the average Windows user won’t be bothered.

Part of me wonders if Linux has performed an end-run around me. Making it really easy for the unambitious user, super-flexible for the hyper-ambitious user, with me stuck in the middle. They’ve really done a great job of making the easy stuff easy. Easier than Windows. So maybe they have and maybe with increasing exposure on netbooks Linux will start piquing interest. It’s long been my position to never, ever bet against Microsoft (after years and years of hearing about how they were due for a fall any… minute… now). With Vista’s utter failure, though, maybe all great things must indeed crumble.

I still doubt that it will be any of the current incarnations of Linux that does it.

-{Note: Except as they pertain to the most recent Linux releases are positions held prior to any involvement I may have with any of the above-mentioned companies or their direct and indirect partners or competitors}-


Category: Server Room

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8 Responses to Adventures With Linux

  1. Webmaster says:

    Reminds me a lot of my adventures with trying out Mythbuntu a while back (and having Mythbuntu fail miserably). Considering I have industry-standard hardware (and a capture board that’s one of the most popular in the world), it was amazing to get the response I did out of the Linux-ites.

  2. trumwill says:

    Web,

    It surprises me that your problems were hardware-related. That’s been by far one of the most hassle-free areas of Linux. A writer for Slate also reported driver problems with Ubuntu proper, which also surprised me. Anyway, I’ll probably be trying MythBuntu at some point and will record the results here.

  3. Linus says:

    I tried Linux once. Had a spare box lying around and some friends in the dorm that got me started. Turned it into a simple file server. I ultimately gave it away, and haven’t tried Linux since. I do remember my impression being that it was great to have an OS that 1) ran so well on limited hardware and 2) was so reliable.

    Thanks for being the guinea pig on this one – I’ll give Linux a couple more years before I try it again.

  4. Webmaster says:

    Will,

    The problems I had related partially to hardware (drivers for my existing series of r/f remotes, the most popular in the world, and for my video capture card, also one of the most popular series in the world, were nonexistent) and partially to software (getting the playback software to behave itself correctly for various types of video file was amazingly difficult, and I kept getting a very odd “video in top left quadrant, other three quadrants show garbage” error mode).

    I’m very, very wary of linux from now on. After being bugged and bugged and bugged to “try” it, only to have the experience I did, and then getting the “you are the problem not linux” response with no actual help from the Ubuntu and Mythbuntu forums when I went to ask for help, I’m not likely to go back anytime soon.

  5. ecco says:

    I’ve run Linux in the past, and have a distribution on a spare computer that I use sometimes. Unfortunately, I’ve found that codecs are my achilles heel. I know that it’s not really the fault of Linux, but some content just requires Windows, although I do miss the command line.

  6. Brandon Berg says:

    Ecco:
    Check out Cygwin, which is a port of the Linux CLI to Windows.

  7. trumwill says:

    Web, so what did you do for your PC-TV setup?

    Ecco, how long ago was this? I had problems with codecs a couple years ago when I gave it my last prolonged chance, but this time it worked much better. Even with WMVs. Haven’t investigated too thoroughly, though.

  8. ecco says:

    It was about three years ago when I was having my codec problems. WMVs were indeed the most problematic, since some of the sites I would have to use were exclusively IE and used WMVs.

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