Published: 2012-03-23

Desktop Linux

Note: This was originally posted to my Blogger blog on 23 Mar 2012.

A couple days ago there was quite a little controversy surrounding "Desktop Linux". I put in my two cents, but I thought this would make a good blog post, and I've been meaning to start blogging. So here were my thoughts. The original post, by the way, is here: http://goo.gl/qZr6v.

I consider desktop Linux to be a superior experience in almost every way to OS X or Windows 7. I own both a Mac and a Windows 7 license and I don't use either of them because I'm less productive with them and they "feel" uncomfortable. Have I put in time learning to use desktop Linux effectively? Definitely. But I spent years learning to use Windows effectively, so what's your point? In fact, I spent well over a year using OS X full time at work and I actually switched to Windows 7 when I got the chance because I didn't like it.

Just because user X can't get feature Z to run properly on distro K doesn't mean there is a fundamental problem with desktop Linux itself. If anything, the problem is one of communication on the part of distros and desktop Linux "evangelists".

For example, people should know going in that their hardware may not be fully supported. Ubuntu maintains a list of supported hardware, but how many people check before installing? If someone isn't using compatible hardware to run whatever distro they're trying to use, that isn't the fault of desktop Linux generally and "go buy a new computer or use the OS that came with yours" is a perfectly reasonable response in my opinion. You can't run OS X on a random Dell, but Apple makes that very clear from the start (and against the license agreement) so no one can reasonably be upset by that fact.

People should also know in advance that just because there's a package in the repo, doesn't mean the software will work properly in their particular environment (even MS and Apple have problems with this, there's no way to test every possible combination of HW and SW). This is especially true if you've installed something from source, or through some other unsupported channel. Does Apple test all their updates against software installed with Homebrew or Macports?

Finally, they should know that desktop Linux isn't a magical paradise where everything works all the time no matter what (no OS is). But too often this is the kind of message you see (or used to see, maybe not so much recently) people communicating. Grandma's computer has a virus? Install Ubuntu, she'll never have trouble again! More likely, she'll try to install some game her friends are playing and get upset when it doesn't run... Can't run "Ultimate Crystal Cave Smashout 3D" on Ubuntu? Try WINE! It runs Windows programs on Linux! Except when it doesn't...

Stop by the Ubuntu forums and take a look at some of the newbie questions. Very often, the problem boils down to "Windows (or OS X) worked that way, Ubuntu works this way, how do I make Ubuntu work that way?". I'm not saying desktop Linux doesn't have problems (Unity, barf), but the fact that desktop Linux distros only support limited hardware and have problems from time to time doesn't make desktop Linux fundamentally different from OS X or Windows 7.