Why I am not a Linux user any more

linux-desktop-i-want-to-believeFor the last couple of days I’ve been trying to install some new software on the Ubuntu Linux machine that my kids use in their playroom. Being able to get a real computer for the kids for about $75 (about half of which was spent on the monitor; the box itself is a castoff desktop from the college that I bought for $10) and run all the software they could possibly want to use at their age for free has been great. But having to deal with the technical side of Linux and the usability issues in software reminds me of why I no longer use Linux in my daily life.

Back in 2001, when I started my new job at my current institution, I took the plunge and installed Red Hat Linux on my school computer rather than Windows. I had a colleague at my former work who was a Linux zealot and I figured I would take the transition period to my new job to switch operating systems. At the time, one of the driving reasons for doing so was the simple realization that, although I used computers all the time in my work and at home, I really didn’t understand how computers work. I figured running Linux would allow me a chance to learn, as well as expose me to some very good open-source software.

My experience with Linux satisfied both of those objectives very nicely. I learned about what an operating system actually is, how it works, what can make it fail, how software works when designed to work with a certain operating system, and more. As for software, there are a lot of good applications out there, and I still miss Kile for doing \LaTeX editing.

But Linux wore me out. I was running it on a Toshiba laptop, and all too frequently, the basic functions that I needed from the computer would simply not work — or stop working as soon as I performed a kernel upgrade. Wifi was a huge problem, as was printing. I was constantly having to go in, tweak all kinds of technical settings, fail at those, then spend an hour surfing Linux discussion boards for a solution, trying a few that often screwed the system up worse than it already was, and then maybe after a couple of hours of this, the system would work as it was supposed to. Or maybe not.

Eventually I realized that I was losing so much productivity during the work day, having to surf the internet and try stuff out just to get the damned printer to work, that I was losing time to spend with my wife, and later my kid. The final straw came one afternoon when I had to stay at work an extra hour because the computer wouldn’t shut off. Why am I wasting all this time trying to get a computer to work? Is it just geek hubris, trying to prove to the world that I can do my job without having to pay for my OS or software? Well, how much value have I lost in trying to attain to that?

Soon after, in 2006, I switched to a Macbook Pro and never looked back. Yes, it’s proprietary. No, the stuff on there (not most of it) is neither free nor open-source. I am paying money for stuff and there’s a good possibility I am locking myself in to a certain make of software from which I cannot extricate myself if I had to. And I’m loving it. Why? Because it all just works.

More recently, when I was setting the kids’ Linux box up, I had to practically move heaven and earth to get Flash to work in the Firefox browser. Almost all of what the kids do with the computer is go to the internet and play Flash-based games. Without Flash, the computer basically serves as a footrest. I did manage finally to get Flash working on the browser, but I cannot explain how I did it and certainly could not do it again if I had to — not without another two hours of looking around the internet for other people’s workarounds.

I understand that with Linux, I am working with a free, open-source OS — and OS’s are complicated, delicate things that have to handle all kinds of hardware on systems where the hardware is not designed to work together. And moreover, I understand that Flash is a commercial product and you cannot just stick it on a free, open-source OS. I get it. But it’s dumb. Flash is everywhere, like it or not, and by golly it ought to simply work on a browser without my having to mess with it while my 5-year old is hanging over my shoulder saying “Daddy, when’s the computer going to be fixed?” for the umpteenth time. Understand? It’s for the children!

Another example: When I download a game for the kids, and it successfully installs, why doesn’t it automatically show up in the Games menu? Why should I have to figure out how to add things to the menu, and then when I read the instructions the icon for the game isn’t there to add it? And why does this happen with some games and not others? (True story.)

So to sum up, I like the idea of Linux. I like using Linux — when it works. I managed to make it work for me in my job as a professor for five years. But ultimately the problem is that Linux has a long way to go to simply work in all the situations where I need it to, and every time I use Linux I am reminded of why I switched. Until the “just works” factor improves with Linux — and to be fair, with Ubuntu, Linux has made some giant steps in the usability direction —  I remain your faithful Mac fanboy, using all the OS power of Unix underneath a shiny, happy, Steve-Jobs-saturated veneer of OS X goodness.


Filed under Apple, Linux, Technology

52 responses to “Why I am not a Linux user any more

  1. Good for you. It’s hard to abandon sunk costs.

  2. Will Farris

    Your experiences mirror mine almost exactly. I love the concept of Linux and have ordered a couple of factory linux laptops that work Ok until I did an upgrade which subsequently broke stuff. On desktops I have had much better success, and will continue to play around with Kubuntu and other distributions, again, as a hobby until that far off day comes when it just works, as you say. I have an iMac that I also really don’t like because it too has crashed in the past and I can’t find where the “buttons” are with various apps like I can with windows. Casting all politics aside, when it comes to raw productivity as a networking engineer, I always have to turn to windows machines. I dont have the time to tweek, patch, and find out you do this and do that with a Linux laptop or Macbook. I will say that it was a thrill the first time I got miniTerm to work on my Linux netbook as I crafted into a Cisco router. But then, where are the features of Procomm Plus? I use tons of advanced scripting and recording features that might take me months to do in Linux. And given the shortness of life: WHY? Now i am free…

  3. I hear you! I never was able to learn to use it without loads of frustration either. And on my MacBook, stuff just works, as you said.

  4. virusdoc

    Ironically, your Linux story is EXACTLY why I abandoned Windows (Vista and to a lesser extent XP) for MacOS. I used to enjoy tinkering, and the idea of spending 2 hours on user forums to fix a driver problem was exciting 10 years ago. Now, dammit, I want to sit down and get my work (or play) done with no friggin’ hassle. Only MacOS has managed to provide that experience in a nearly seamless manner for the past two years. I converted first at home, then at work, then on my mobile. It is unlikely that I will ever look back. The extra cash for hardware and software is chump change compared to my time.

  5. Myke

    I think a lot has to do with hardware too. I’ve been running Ubuntu on my Dell Inspiron 1420 for 2 years now with none of the problems that you ran in to. I’ll agree that it’s not for everybody…not yet anyway. In a few years I think it will be much more solid. I have an iMac as well but choose to use Ubuntu over OS X almost 100% of the time. I enjoy tinkering and customizing so maybe that’s why.

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  7. silico

    Vista won’t work on older machines and will break on plenty of hardware configurations. Not sure why you should set a higher standard for Ubuntu.

    I have four machines including an old Toshiba. Ubuntu is great on three of the machines but won’t work on the Toshiba. I think that that is pretty good going for free software.

    Go the Windows or Mac route and you become a hostage to monopoly pricing. A happy hostage maybe but a hostage nonetheless.

    What the whole OS movement, Firefox, Linux, MySQL has done is to provide a restraining influence on these monopolies. That has got to be a good thing. So when you are knocking Ubuntu or complaining about the user experience remember that those of us who accept that Ubtunu is not perfect and accept that it needs all of us to work with it are making the paid for software better (remember how bad IE was before Firefox came along?) and act as a restraint on Windows and Apple extracting even higher monopoly profits from, well, you.

    • @silico: You might want to have a look at the definition of “monopoly” before you use it so much. A “monopoly” is a market in which there is only one seller. The last time I checked, Apple does not have a monopoly on the computer market. And from experience with dealing with Apple for the last several years, I can attest that they don’t price their products as though they were the only seller. If they did, then a Macbook Pro would cost $5000 instead of $1199, iWork ’09 would cost a whole lot more than $79, and so on. What keeps costs down is not the presence of a free operating system that doesn’t work properly on 25% of the systems out there without major tweaking. This is like saying the presence of bicycles keeps the costs of gas down. I cannot fathom the idea that Linux, being as arcane and often-broken as it is, has had any appreciable impact on the cost of an Apple computer. If you have data for that, please share.

      Your championing of free software here is admirable, but you’re forgetting that individual consumers get to make choices about the things the buy (or do not buy). Successful companies do not “extract” higher profits from buyers. They *earn* them, by making good products and charging a reasonable price for them, so that buyers like me will choose to spend money on their stuff. Yes, going all-Apple does lock me in to a certain extent. But this is a choice, made by weighing all the options. People who spend money on hardware and software are not drones in the thrall of Steve Jobs.

      When I have to spend time reconfiguring the wifi on my laptop every time I open it because Ubuntu won’t detect it, again; or when I have to reconfigure the printer every other time I try to connect with it; or when I can’t get Firefox to work with Flash; this is not a failure to accept that Ubuntu isn’t perfect. It’s looking at a system that simply doesn’t work reliably, weighing the fact of its unreliability against the limited amount of time and patience I have for finding clever workarounds, and making a rational choice. This is the whole point of the article. The other commenters here and I are not haters. But we have only so much time on our hands to tinker with the innards of an operating system in order to get the basic functionality of the computer to work. At some point in the future when the Linux people have figured out how to make Ubuntu as reliable as OS X on a Mac, and provide all the features that my Mac has (e.g. iTunes client, one that doesn’t require kernel hacking) then I would consider switching. Until then, no thanks.

      • ubiquitous1980

        Lets get something straight. You need to define the market before you can define its structure. Firstly, there is a market for boutique high-end laptops and desktops. Secondly, that market is largely held by Apple with other fringe players. Thirdly we should ask if the majority of users in that market which use the majority product (i.e. Apple laptops and desktops) if they find a large degree of substitutability for that product (i.e. would they swap it for the next best thing. Note: the underlying issue is opportunity cost). If we answer no to this third issue, and if and only if those other players have a very low market share in total, essentially that market structure is a monopoly. Admittedly, the circumstantial evidence as far as products are concerned is in the favour of Apple. However, just because they have not increased prices and reduced quality, this does not assure us that they do not have a monopoly or a virtual one for that matter. Often theoretical application of economic concepts is not appropriate if you do not get sane outcomes.

        Please do not be too simplistic in your underlying assumptions. You must address the market as it is, not how it appears at first glance. This comes from a person who loves economics, finance, and IT.

  8. It’s amusing how emotional we get about our operating systems. I appreciated that you simply evaluated your circumstances and decided to change things.

    A computer is just a machine. Changing operating systems should be no more emotional than changing vacuum cleaners or microwave ovens. Of course it’s not, because it takes much longer to learn how to use a computer than a vacuum cleaner or a microwave oven. But it’s still a morally neutral decision. It’s not like breaking a commitment to a person. Loyalty is for people, not machines.

    • Will Farris

      It is amusing that there is such religion out there among OS adherents. I think its roots lie in the business class versus artist class distinction. Windows is the IBM mentality and Mac is the free wheeling artist/musician I-am-just-so-cool mentality while Linux is the geek with the I-am-so-capable mentality. These days, though, why not be of the I-have-them-all mentality.

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  10. amca01

    John’s remarks above: “It’s amusing how emotional we get about our operating systems.” and “A computer is just a machine. Changing operating systems should be no more emotional than changing vacuum cleaners or microwave ovens.” are right on the money. People do get absurdly attached to their OSes, and the “mine is better than yours” battles fought on every imaginable subject are legion and pointless. The best OS is the one that best serves your needs, be it Windows, MacOS, Linux, or whatever.

  11. I totally agree. I so want to have linux work, it is such a great idea. I think that the failure of linux is the same thing that gives it its freedom, that anyone can change it and edit it. Ubuntu was suppose to be the solution to that, but even with Ubuntu there are just too many flavors, and modifications to the core.

    I now run windows on all my computers, I gave Ubuntu a real try for over a year. For 80% of what I did it was awesome, but that other 20% really sucked.

  12. thanks for great posting 😉

  13. Tim

    So… what I read here is that you never really grasped the OS, therefor it’s the OS’s fault.

    1st Ubuntu? I seriously don’t know how this distro got so popular so fast, but it’s not as developed or as supported as others. Redhat is better but still not as polished as I prefer for desktop use (server is another story). SuSE is generally my distro of choice for desktops (Owned and produced by NOVELL for the last 5-6 years).

    2nd MAC? Great I’m glad you got po’d at one *NIX OS and went to another *NIX OS you really made a point (at least to all the people that have yet to discover that since OS X was released the MAC OS is totally built on FreeBSD a flavor of UNIX). I’m in no way saying there’s anything wrong with MAC btw.

    In closing… this article made me laugh… thanks =)

    • Robert

      @Tim: Unfortunately you have totally misread — or perhaps failed to read at all — what I wrote. Look at the last paragraph, where I state — truthfully, I might add — that I used Linux exclusively in my work for five years. I started with Red Hat, then used MEPIS, then Ubuntu and dabbled with a couple of live distros in between. I used Linux for office applications; LaTeX coding; programming; mathematics research; internet activity; and all points in between. I had MEPIS and then Ubuntu installed on a second machine at home for a long time (eventually replaced with a Mac mini and then with an iMac), and I currently do have Ubuntu installed on a third computer here at home and perform maintenance on it all the time. (Too much maintenance, IMO, and that’s part of the point of the article.) So your conclusion that I don’t understand the OS and therefore blame the OS is hogwash.

      One of the reasons I went to Mac instead of back to Windows was precisely because OS X is based on Unix, and I liked the fact that if I got fed up with the user interface I could always call up a terminal and there is the good old command line, functioning as always with the same Unix commands I’d come to know. I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that I am unaware of this, but that idea is hogwash too.

      People who want to take issue with my article: I don’t mind your doing this, but please read the article first and stop drawing conclusions out of thin air.

      • Tim

        I failed to read nothing. Everything I suggested was inferred from your article, perhaps you should re-read your own work.

        I said you never really grasped the OS, because the OS is the Kernel, not anything you may have used in conjunction with. If you never understand the kernel then you never truly understand Linux or Unix, and upgrading it doesn’t imply intimate knowledge of. As most Linux OS’s have now, and have had for quite a while an automatic kernel upgrade utility (and I suspect that based upon your described wireless problems this is what you used).

        Things maybe you should have read in my original post:
        Redhat has never been the best desktop OS. Server sure. Desktop, they’re working on it.
        Mepis? Sounds like a disease and not a very popular one, so kudos on finding a linux distro that probably has a wealth of knowledge and support behind it (that’s sarcasm btw).
        Ubuntu… again… seriously, the only time I ever hear of this distro is from MCSE’s who think they could magically become accepted in the industry by attempting to get a basic understanding of Linux (or in most cases to be able to say ‘yeah I have a linux box at home’). None of my colleagues have ever mentioned it other than just in passing.

        MAC OS… I suggested you didn’t know it was Unix because you are touting in the whole article moving away from linux the very title of the article is “Why I am not a Linux user any more”. You didn’t mention anywhere in the article that you knew it was Unix (Linux’s older sibling with a more proprietary kernel). Therefore one can only deduce that you didn’t actually know you left Masha for her 3 second older twin Marsha.

        No thin air needed….

        To John; I know people that have driven for 30 years, and have no idea how to change the oil in their vehicle. Your point has no relevance to this conversation.

    • Yeah, maybe Robert wasn’t dedicated enough. He gave up after only eight years.

  14. @Tim, please. Moving the goalposts by saying that I don’t understand an operating system unless I mess with the kernel is spurious logic. Next, you’ll say that you don’t truly, TRULY understand an OS until you write part of the kernel. Or, perhaps I was not using the “right” distro, i.e. the one that all the people who truly, TRULY understand the OS use. Therefore if a person migrates from Linux it cannot possibly be because there is some legitimate reason to do so. There is no point at which I will really understand Linux using this method of reasoning, which perhaps explains why you are engaging in it.

    It is exceeding clear to anybody that Mac OS X and Linux are not the same thing, despite OS X being built on Unix. To take my “switch” story and gather that I don’t know my operating systems is like deducing that a person doesn’t realize that a Toyota and a Chevy are both automobiles because that person sold his Chevy and bought a Toyota.

    To focus on the point of the article again: Your statement, and that of silico above, that “distribution ___ isn’t perfect but they’re working on it” is precisely why I am not using Linux now. There was a time — before I had to get all my work done during the work day so I can spend time with my kids, before taking on major committee assignments at work, and so on — that I could live with an operating system that only functioned at 80% but for which I had earnest assurances that somebody, somewhere, was “working on it”. Not any more. I cannot keep up with the technical gymnastics one has to perform to get Linux to work. I need a finished product. If Linux ever becomes one, I’ll consider switching back, because again — again! — nobody here dislikes Linux. But that time has not yet come.

    • Tim

      Robert, I moved nothing. I can guarantee you 100% that anyone proficient in Linux can at the very least do a manual kernel upgrade. I can also guarantee you that most of these people won’t even touch an RPM or any other boxed installs that are available, and prefer to do installs directly from source code (obviously I don’t know which you use, but I would guess that you don’t use the source, or avoid it if possible). These are considered BASIC operations in linux or unix.

      Now to be clear, my point is not to pick on you. The reason for my responding at all, was to point out that you don’t truly understand what you are talking about. Your article is discouraging to new linux users, plain and simple. If I didn’t know linux as I do, I might have read your article and said “whoa, guess I’ll stick with the big 2 OS producers then”. Your article as you know comes with certain amount of Ethos. What with your references to different distros, and years of experience. Naysayers are not something the Linux community needs. Certainly not when they don’t truly know what they’re talking about.

      It is exceedingly clear to only YOU that the differences between OS X and any Linux distro are not the same. I have news for you, running either of the major brands of X-Windows, Gnome or KDE can be made subtle. And back to my knowing your OS point, if you install from source via gcc (Yes, you can do this in OS X too.) you can run almost any application for linux in OS X, and vice versa. OS X just has a pretty gui over it, that’s all, the guts are still the guts. Vehicle references while cute do not apply.

      “To focus on the point of the article:” My statement that ‘they are working on it’ strictly pertains to certain ‘pretties’ that users are so fond of. Not of basic functionality. Very few people would be able to find something that they need to be able to do on a PC that cannot be done on a linux box.

      • Will Farris

        Whether or not the Linux community needs naysayers or not is beside the fricking point, jerk bait. Quit your bitching over semantics and get a life! Linux requires to damn much dicking with in order to get something useful done. There are plenty of media geeks who agree. So go back into your open source cave AND MAKE IT JUST WORK. Enough of this crap already.

    • A very old vetran of the OS Wars

      You might as well give up on reasonable conversation with OS advocates. Whether Linux, Windows, Unix, or Apple, it is a religion. To indicate that you wish to change religions is an insult to the integrity of the religious group you are attempting to leave. They must crush you and your arguments. If you succeed then their faith in undermined. Their confidence is damaged.

      Remember, more wars have been fought in the name of religion than any other reason.

      I use Windows as my primary OS. The machine is a tool. I’ve used Mac and Linux where appropriate. Mostly I use Open Source software where I can, buy what I absolutely must. Windows for me (note I said, for me, possibly not anyone else) has proven the most economical model.

      I applaud you for choosing Mac as a model that works for you. (I used to sell Apple equipment many years ago, you know, the original Mac and Lisa). Apple provides an excellent system that performs the functions you need, therefore a good decision.

      Only advice I have is not to waste your time on convincing the any OS fanatics of the wisdom of your choice. It never works (See Asperger’s Syndrome for further information on the personality type you are dealing with)

      By the way, I’ve got 25 years in IT, survived the OS/2 – Windows wars, do understand the power of the command line, but choose computers as tools, not religions. When it comes to computers, choose the combination that works for you, not someone else.

  15. I love Linux and will happily engage in healthy debate with anyone who cares to. I don’t like Macs much and I argue with Mac fanboys all the time – usually over a beer or three – in the same way that non-nerds argue over which is the best football team.

    The point is that after we have finished trashing each other’s operating system of choice we get another round of beers in then indulge in some Windows bashing which is something that both Mac fanboys and Linux nerds often agree on 🙂

    At the end of the day – who really cares what operating system OTHER people use? It’s fun to debate but not worth falling out over.

    I liked your article Robert – I don’t agree with all of it (well I wouldn’t would I – I am a Linux Fanboy) but I liked it so thanks for sharing.

    • Tim

      Will… very constructive, calling names is always the way to show you are right. as the English say ‘Good show’!

      My argument had NOTHING to do with semantics just simple basic applied knowledge. I’m sorry if simple basic knowledge offends you. =)

      Mike; You have a good attitude, but I fear that articles such as this only serve to dissuade new linux users and developers. Especially when the argument is leveled from a position of perceived authority.

      • Will Farris

        Once again you focus on the irrelevant, that is, name calling and basic knowledge, AND NOT ON THE POINT, which is : LINUX DOES NOT WORK WELL AS A PRODUCTIVITY TOOL WITHOUT HUGE INVESTMENT OF TIME TO DEVELOP PROFESSIONAL EXPERTISE. Why can’t you deal with that??? Your hubris is what offends, not a question of basic knowledge, which is, again beside the point. Your superior attitude multiplied across countless other zealots like yourself is what is making the greater world hate you and you precious OS and holds it back to wider acceptance.

        Another point, while I am at it. I am an electrical engineer and we use lots of great linux servers all over the place in my million dollar design verification test lab where I actively test cutting edge DSLAM and metro ethernet and GPON technology. Stuff like tftp, PPPoE, file servers, repositories, packet test applications and wireshark, and many other things. We have lots of capable geeks in here who get paid to fiddle with the linux servers. But the desktop goes to Windows because we need them to work everyday all day and quickly – no time to fiddle dick Get it? Can you name for me one Terminal Emulation program with its own scripting language and hundreds of other features that runs in native Linux that comes within a light year of ProcommPlus? There is not one, otherwise the hundreds of engineers around here would let me know about it. There is no shortage of knowledge here, dude.

    • @Mike, I’ll buy the next round once this discussion is over. 🙂

      @Tim, what Linux needs is not fewer people dissuading others from using it but fewer problems which cause people to become dissuaders in the first place. Would it be better to keep potential new Linux users in the dark about Linux’s negative points, only to have them find out the hard way about these points later? Isn’t it better to let people see other people’s opinions and then make up their own minds freely? You know, like, free as in freedom?

      • Tim

        Will; I have yet to miss a single point. The point all along has been lack of knowledge, and you just demonstrated it. Thanks for playing the home game.

        Even suggesting that you need a desktop machine to run everyday and that is why it gets MS Windows. Is exactly why Microsoft has their Monopoly over the PC. Brainwashing. I defy you to show me ANY windows box that has never had a virus, bad update, or just BSoD’d for no reason.

        I don’t care what you run, it can be made to work in Linux (AND TO PROVIDE ALL CAPS LIKE YOU…… JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT DOESN’T MEAN IT CAN’T BE DONE… IT MEANS YOU CAN’T DO IT). When’s the last time Procomm released a version anyway? Have you ever heard the term ‘Industry Current’? That’s like saying WordPerfect for DOS 5.0 won’t run on Windows Vista.

        Seriously Grow up, and maybe start thinking before you type.

        Robert: I have no problem with you voicing your opinion, it was not my intention to make it sound that way. My point is more that you should make sure that it’s clear and directed. So as to not give the wrong impression.

        for instance “Why I am not a Linux user any more” could be “Why I am not a Ubuntu user any more”

        My fear is that by using the Kernel as the target you turn people off of the OS completely. Whereas if you want to document your problems with Ubuntu, or Redhat, or Mepis, people might say “okay maybe I’ll try SuSE, or Mandriva etc…. “

      • Tim

        wow…. Congratulations Will Farris you just got even dumber…. (I bet you hear that all the time though)

        I just looked up the latest version of Procomm Plus. Not even supported under Windows XP, a product MS is getting ready to discontinue. What’s next?? You going to start complaining that Linux won’t take your Atari 2600 Cartridges?

        Seriously, if your keyboard had a mouth…. you just put your foot in it. =)

  16. Tim – I am proficient enough with Linux to use it all the time both professionally and personally. I also solve Linux related problems for many people who use many different flavours and yet I personally choose Ubuntu for my own machines. It just works!

    When you choose to insult the developers and users of distros such as Ubuntu, Mepis, Redhat etc you are flaming your own.

    • Tim

      Mike; tbh I didn’t insult Redhat. I said that their desktop install leaves something to be desired, but that their Server package is rock solid. That’s not really an insult as much as a statement of deficiency in one area. I also pointed out in one post that they are working on it.

      As for insulting the other 2 distros, I see your point ‘flaming your own’. I was kind of hard on both of them. I was trying to make a point though, and that point still applies. Their are some distros that are at a disadvantage to others for many reasons (i.e. development time, R&D, who’s doing the developing, etc…). So to blame ‘Linux’ as a whole, discouraging new users instead of blaming a distro you had a bad experience with, is short sighted at best. Especially when you switch to OS X which might as well be Linux any way.

  17. virusdoc

    I’m going to chime in and agree with both Robert and Tim, the primary contributors to this discussion. My credibility and experience here is minimal, which I’ll admit up front. I ran a Fedora Core distro as a hobby machine for about 3 years, starting with Core 2 and giving up somewhere around Core 6. I also built and ran a MythTV box using Core 3. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of frustration. I learned a lot about basic Linux commands, but not enough. I was constantly at the user group forum, and I admit that I didn’t learn enough about how the commands I was copying and pasting REALLY impacted the OS. This was my first mistake migrating into Linux territory.

    The second mistake was not researching hardware before cobbling together a system–I used castoff parts much like Robert did. Some worked great. Others were a massive and recurrent pain in the ass, especially ethernet and sound.

    My third mistake was using the autoupdate feature of FC, which 9 times out of ten would break something with a kernel upgrade (this is a mistake to which Time alludes, and unfortunately one which is deeply ingrained into any brainwashed Microsoft or Mac user: always apply the upgrades!)

    My fourth mistake was assuming that free/open-source software = good software. The packages available are by and large good, but if you don’t know what the installer scripts are doing you’re asking for trouble by running them.

    All in all, I found the experience exhilarating but frustrating. I believe (as Time asserts) that my problem was purely that–my problem–and it was ignorance. If I had taken the time to understand more about how the OS was interacting with its file system and the hardware, I could have built a very stable, very enjoyable system. But I neither had that knowledge nor the time and desire to acquire it. Despite your protests otherwise, Robert, upon a re-reading of your article I think you had some of the same issues, and on this point I believe Tim is correct.

    But I also think Tim did miss (or at least sidestep/redirect/deemphasize) the main point of the post, which (as I read it) is this: Linux is not ready for the masses yet, and it’s just barely ready for the computer-literate hobbyist, especially if he/she is ooking for a dirt-cheap, recycled-hardware, seamlessly automated OS experience (this isn’t you, Robert–I agree your level of skill is higher than this, but still falls short). I think it MIGHT be ready for the techno-geek today if he/she is willing to follow a strict hardware compatibility list, and if the distro coding community took the time to test kernel upgrades on those defined platforms prior to release. But to expect ANY OS to run seamlessly on a random assemblage of hardware produced over the past decade is asking a lot. Windows struggles with this, and Mac just plain won’t do it unless installed on Mac hardware–even so you’re about to lose compatibility with the prior generation of processors in Snow Leopard. Linux has understandable difficulties in this area as well.

    The OS is only half the equation, and I agree with Robert that both commercial and open-source software manufacturers need to streamline the software install experience, or at least they did a few years back. Maybe things are better now.

    Anyway, I continue to follow the Linux posts on Lifehacker and Gizmodo/Engadget. I think the community OS has a huge amount of promise, and I would encourage anyone with the bravery and time to wade in and try it out. But don’t expect to get the full experience if you aren’t willing to rip into the code and understand it. If you (like me) are at the whims of the more learned folks on user forums, you’re going to break stuff. Breaking stuff can be fun, but not if you really need a machine to work 100% of the time for your school or job.

  18. virusdoc

    Tim: sorry for the repeated typo of your name as “Time”. If Safari doesn’t underline it in red, I’m helpless 🙂

  19. very useful post.

    i wonder if tim has consider the possibility
    that *his* part in this discussion
    could scare off potential linux converts
    at least as fast as robert’s…

  20. Scott

    I have tried to make linux my main OS, but it just does not cut the mustard. Several reasons that were listed above are part of the problem, but the other is that the software titles are lacking.

    OpenOffice cannot even come close to Microsoft Office 2007 or 2008 (for Mac). iWorks 09 is really coming along nicely. The titles go on and on.
    I have a Mac, and I am also running Windows 7 at work, now.

    Tinkering is fine for Linux, but when I have to work, I need tools to get the job done right now. Paying for commercial software should not be looked down upon. I honestly have to say that my Linux friends are bigger snobs than those who use Windows and Mac.

    If you are on the server side…go for linux. But, linux will fail to enter the desktop world until it “meets the people” and gets software that people want.

  21. Rabbit

    Flash worked immediately on Firefox for me, I just downloaded it from the repository.

    You must have been using an unstable test version of Ubuntu, the 64 bit still has a few problems because they’ve only just started using it.

    Ubuntu always “Just works” of me. The only time I need to start tweaking things is when I’m doing stuff that is impossible with Windows and Mac anyway.

    I think Mac software is okay, what upsets me is the amount of money they charge for their computers, a core 2 duo processor in a mac will cost you 4 times more than with any other company, you’re paying all that extra money for their software, and I don’t see any advantage in Mac OS X over Linux.

    Word of warning; Mac hardware has been known to catch fire (my cousins did), plug it out at night.

  22. Maybe you choose a wrong Linux distro. I have 2 Debian laptops (one IBM R51 stable KDE other Lenovo s10 testing XFCE) and desktop box is Debian testing KDE (upgrade from stable). They works and when I install new app it is automatically in menu.
    Ok i agree that some hardware can be sometimes difficult but from my experience when you install Debian on your box it works, and kernel/new version upgrade also works.
    I newer have Mac so I can tell about him but I think that Mac “Just works” only because it is made for specific hardware. Tray install Mac OS on few regular PC or laptops and should he work? If you look that way you can also choose Linux friendly hardware and he will work perfectly out of the box!

  23. James

    A hard time getting Flash to work? What’s hard about

    sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted extras

    (or, if you’re allergic to the command line, the equivalent sequence of mouse clicks to fire up synaptic and do the equivalent via a GUI)?

  24. James

    Make that ubuntu-restricted-extras.

    Let the sequence of “not all that easy, is it?” comments begin.

  25. What’s hard about “sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted extras”? Knowing to do it. That’s all. The command isn’t hard to execute.

    It’s like the old story of the plant worker who comes out of retirement to fix a problem. He sends his former employer a bill for $1000.05 — five cents for whacking a pipe with a hammer and $1000 for knowing where to whack.

  26. Myke

    Where’s the comment from “A very old vetran of the OS Wars”? I saw it in my email but I don’t see it on here? I thought that comment was a good one.

    • I thought that was a good comment too, and for some reason it didn’t post although it is listed as posted on my dashboard. I’ve copied it and will try to paste it here and see if it works:

      You might as well give up on reasonable conversation with OS advocates. Whether Linux, Windows, Unix, or Apple, it is a religion. To indicate that you wish to change religions is an insult to the integrity of the religious group you are attempting to leave. They must crush you and your arguments. If you succeed then their faith in undermined. Their confidence is damaged.

      Remember, more wars have been fought in the name of religion than any other reason.

      I use Windows as my primary OS. The machine is a tool. I’ve used Mac and Linux where appropriate. Mostly I use Open Source software where I can, buy what I absolutely must. Windows for me (note I said, for me, possibly not anyone else) has proven the most economical model.

      I applaud you for choosing Mac as a model that works for you. (I used to sell Apple equipment many years ago, you know, the original Mac and Lisa). Apple provides an excellent system that performs the functions you need, therefore a good decision.

      Only advice I have is not to waste your time on convincing the any OS fanatics of the wisdom of your choice. It never works (See Asperger’s Syndrome for further information on the personality type you are dealing with)

      By the way, I’ve got 25 years in IT, survived the OS/2 – Windows wars, do understand the power of the command line, but choose computers as tools, not religions. When it comes to computers, choose the combination that works for you, not someone else.”

  27. Anonymous

    You don’t pay for Linux with money. You pay for it in time.

  28. This should not be so surprising. ,

  29. I use operating systems the same way I use browsers: all of them at once. I have yet to find a single OS that does everything I feel it should to my satisfaction. In this sense, I consider myself something of a positivist; the way of thinking about or doing a thing that works best is likely the best way of thinking about or doing a thing. Of course, that’s purely subjective, but I believe that’s the point. Just as the gestalt of the system will change with every combination of hardware, software, and firmware, so the user experience will change from person to person.

    On the subject of distributions, what precisely makes one distro better than another? GNU/Linux is the Linux kernel, plus packages and drivers. A distribution is made by including a chosen set of packages, package manager, configuration tweaks, and OS installer with the distro maker’s kernel version of choice. In my mind, the most salient difference between distributions is that they use different graphics. My only reason for choosing one distribution over any other involves the amount of cruft I feel I have to remove: how long will it take to trim the packages and disable the kernel features I don’t need? And even this is unnecessary; I just tend to be an OS czar.

    For all operating systems, I think of them the same way in terms of stability. Aside from a true mechanical or electrical failure, plugging a particular device into your system doesn’t crash anything; a system only crashes when it runs code. If the developer of a particular driver has failed to account for a specific edge case that prevents the hardware from working properly, the fault does not lie with the kernel developer but with the driver developer. If the kernel crashes on account of the driver, the fault for the crash does not lie with the driver developer but with the kernel developer for not protecting their kernel against the driver developer’s bad code. But should the kernel developer and driver developer blame the user for installing the driver and crashing the kernel, even if the user installed either the driver or the kernel improperly? For me, this idea seems completely ludicrous. How was the user able to install anything improperly in the first place? An operating system is developed for users by users. Why should a developer ever blame a user for finding a bug? There is no enmity among scientists when a well-established theory is overturned in favor of a better one. I hold developers to the same high standard.

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  31. Kay

    I know how you feel! I installed Linux Ubuntu back in high scool my junior year just to mess with it. I am now a college student and even though Linux was fun and it taught me a lot about itself and computers in general, I am also fed up with it’s many issues relating to it working/not working.

    Right now I am having trouble trying to uninstall if off of my computer (which only has Linux on it) and reinstalling Windows XP. However, I am having trouble doing that and nowhere on the internet does it have the solutions for me to follow.

    Thank you for your post. For a moment, I thought I was the only person feeling helpless with Ubuntu.

  32. Please try linux mint 8 ( Helena ), out of the box the following that normally give issues work…..
    – Fonts are viewable ! ( not cranky )
    – Flash works even on x64 version
    – Iplayer & sounds work
    – OpenOffice installed.
    – Mint Grub comes with an attractive back splash
    – Simple non-nerdy start menu
    I must have installed 20 different distros over the last 2 years, XP was always my default OS, not anymore baby !

  33. Myke

    Andy: DITTO

    I’m also using 64-bit Mint too. Works flawlessly.

  34. Bernie

    Megga-Dittos: I too am in love with Helena..(Linux.Mint.V.8)…:)
    My Acer Aspire-8930G 64 Bit machine became “mute” running with Ubuntu V.9.10, and Ultimate Edition, but Linux Mint.V.8 corrected all of that, plus it features a beautiful looking desktop. If you enjoy being a masochist and giving away your hard earned cash to Mr.Gate$, fine, I’m staying with the Penguin!
    The Nobel Peace Prize should go to Linus Torvalds, Mark Shuttleworth, and the others, NOT to Nobama and Al-Gorelioni…

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