The Inquirer-Home

Linux proves almost desktop-ready

Brief INQpressions Close but no cigar
Wed Feb 28 2007, 15:51
AFTER MORE THAN two years I have decided to put Linux to the test again to see if it is ready to become a home desktop yet.

Since I still get the occasional death threat from the last time I tried this experiment, I decided to take the advice of some of the Denizens of the INQ message board. The consensus, in as much that the Kave comes to a consensus, was that I should download as many Linux distribution disks I could find and not to bother them again.

Here is what I tried and the results.

A nice looking distribution that had all the Open Sauce goodies you could eat. The only problem was that it couldn't find my sound-card. Since this was attached to the motherboard and I couldn't think of a better way of explaining where it was to the Operating System, I installed the disk to see if it would have better luck. It didn't and no one on the various Linux groups could come up with an explanation as to why not. It couldn't make beautiful music even after I gave it the chance of a full install. Generally it was the Harpo Marx of Linux distributions.

I chose this one because it does not have same problems that some of the others have about downloading software you might actually use, but fall foul of being truly Open Sauce. This truly stupid stance nobbled a lot of different Linux disks I tried and by the time I tried Freespire I really wanted to see something do something useful like play a movie. Freespire looked like a well dressed version of Windows so I installed it. Like Windows it wiped the entire hard-drive including the sector that would have contained all my Windows folders. This was partly my fault. Freespire, which touts itself as being user friendly gave me a choice, either install Freespire on partition or do something incomprehensible involving some file manager. I made the mistake of thinking that Freespire would only install itself over the Linux partition when in fact it had designs on the whole hard-drive. No matter, I had backed things up so all was well. Once installed, however, Freespire managed to play my movies but was a dog in every other respect. It was too slow.

Most of the different web sites suggested that Mepis was the way to go. After all it is "an operating system for the 21st century.” If this is the case, the 21st century is doomed. The disk loaded and then the screen went black, after several goes, I tried downloading it in the disks troubled graphics mode. It eventually loaded but developed a deep grudge against my Skype phone. Generally I liked this distribution, mostly because it has a nice moving fish graphic in the tool bar and it told me the weather. When I installed it, the grudge it had against my Skype phone had escalated into a full war. In fact it would not switch itself off unless I pulled the plug on the phone. Not having Skype was a major minus to me, so this distribution had to come off before someone important rang.

This one was the only Linux operating system that got a second chance because I realised that most of the problems I had with it were easy to fix and it also had the most pluses than the other installs. Despite the fact it is brown, it was the best looking GUI. During the install it found all my hardware. It also had the up-to-date versions of the supplied software. Some of these Free Linux disks shipped with versions of Firebadger and Skype that were older than Spinola. After sniffing around on various webgroups I found a fairly simple way of installing the software that the Ubuntu owners thought was 'dodgey' because it was not true open sauce. The first time I tried Ubuntu I had screen freezes and crashes. These disappeared in the second install and might have been due to problems with the Nvidia card. I don't have that problem now.

In Short
Last time I looked at Linux I asked the question "is it ready for the desktop2. At the time I said 'no' based mostly on my experiences with Suse Linux's YAST. This time I am saying that, particularly in the case of Unbuntu, it is close to being a contender.

I am going to get shedloads of hate mail from those who will say they managed to install PCLinux, Mepis and Freespire without any problems. Yeah, but if my problems were only one in a 100 imagine where you would be if Linux on the desktop took off and you had millions of users.

However, there were moments in all those installs where it was clear that the interaction between the machine and the installer had been written by a developer. Developers don't speak English, but generally think they do. All of these operating systems need a quality assurance person going through them with an ordinary user in mind. Ordinary users do not "mount a CD-ROM", they "stick a CD in the machine". Logging on as 'Root' is something for lumberjacks, not people installing software.

Unbuntu has gone a long way to fix a lot of these problems. The root user idea has disappeared There is a more professional edge to the thing and it is a lot more user friendly. However, its quest to remain pure open sauce and not install software which does not fit into this ethic will confuse a lot of new users. An operating system that will not play AVIs or DVDs, run Nvidia graphics cards by default is of no use to God or Man. You can stand on an open sauce pulpit and say "though shalt not install proprietary software" but you will send more users rushing to Redmond for a Vista future.

I am keeping my dual boot system. I would love to lose Windows XP, but I need to lay stuff out using Adobe Creative Suite and play a few games. At the moment it is worth keeping my XP software. If the likes of Ubuntu continue to make themselves more accessible, then it is clear that Linux will get on the desktop and the software makers will make more of their products compatible. Then there will be no reason at all to stick to VoleWare. ?

See Also
There's hope for Linux yet
Ubuntu spurns Microsoft's advances
Installing Linux is easy, really!


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