(Disclaimer: I'm a Linux expert, and as such I would rather not "evangelize". Here are just some of my experiences over time. I think Linux is not perfect for everyone, but for those who can use it to solve their computational problems, it is just great. =)

While the Linux operating system is very good on many fields - stability and flexibility on programming side in particular - there are still some issues with it that may hinder its public acceptance.

It must be understood that Linux is primarily a server operating system, intended not for graphical workstation, but servers that are managed and used over the network, often via command line interface. The workstation use has always been possible, but no one has really paid much attention to it - until recently. Linux is an optimal server OS, and highly recommended for that use.

Some problems that still trouble the workstation use:

Installation

Linux typically is not available pre-installed (often due to Microsoft's contracts with PC manufacturers), so users will need to install it themselves. While the installation has gotten surprisingly easy over the years (installation profiles, package dependencies, proper support for multi-CD distributions, network installation, etc etc), the installation often needs pretty good knowledge of the computer system in general - and setting things up may be somewhat challenging for the unprepared. One should never expect a Linux distribution to install "by pressing a button".

However, unlike some other operating systems, Linux needs to be installed only once. Personally, I use a Debian GNU/Linux package that I installed in 1997¹ and only upgraded it over time - it has survived three moves from hard disk to another, and two moves from computer to another. Computer components have changed countless times. Most Windowses would be coughing at this point. (Indeed, the copies of Win9x are completely hosed on both machines. I need to reinstall them one day to get a huge performance boost.)

Desktop environment

Linux desktop environments are generally considered "getting there". While Microsoft Windows' GUI is only sometimes illogical, there are still numerous causes for confusion for Linux newbies - both in KDE and GNOME, which are marketed as the ultimate newbie solutions. These issues are being worked on; As of writing, Sun Microsystems is conducting a very complete and scientifically valid usability study of GNOME.

Basically, the desktop environments are somewhat working, and some consider them superior to Microsoft's offering any day - but there may be surprises.

I have been told KDE is very good for newbies - very simiar to Windows and also consistent if you use only KDE applications.

Command line

People have become surprisingly command-line-scared, and many UNIX tools are traditionally command line based. This may be an unconquerable obstacle. However, the improvement in desktop environments alleviates this somewhat.

Application support

Linux does not run Windows applications very well, and much of the commercial software does not get ported to Linux. This is a fact. However, the native software is very wide and rich - The programs may not be exactly the same as their Windows counterparts, but they do work. Most people, for example, consider LyX a lot more versatile word processor than Word (and it will not even corrupt work files that much), even when it doesn't have the paperclip to help you.

There are some "application maturity" and patent-related problems, though. GIMP doesn't do CMYK, while, for example, Photoshop does.

I've also noticed that video and audio software is Just Not There. Yes, Linux has excellent media players (XMMS is cooler than Winamp, mikmod is one of the coolest tracker music players ever made, and I think mplayer has better keyboard controls than Windows Media Player). Some simple sound recorders (that work) and sort-of-working video capture (which isn't enough) are available... but I'll rather boot to Win9x to capture and edit video.

Hardware support

I have personally not had any hardware support problems (aside of minor ones, like the need to recompile a newer version of driver from sources), but it is a fact that driver support for newest hardware often comes somewhat late for Linux. Sometimes official support will never be available, sometimes there are only specifications. Sometimes, though, "homebrewn" (completely unofficial and completely reverse-engineered) drivers end up being much better than "official" drivers.

Also, Linux still supports really old hardware, while finding support for the "obsolete" or out-of-production devices for Windows may sometimes be somewhat challenging. (A personal anecdote: I never found a Linux driver for my Agfa SnapScan 310 parallel port model. Now, it seems that there's no working Windows driver for it, either - the situation was different in Win95... Maybe I'll just buy a new scanner.)

Fonts

X11 fonts have been somewhat troublesome over the years, particularly due to lack of antialiasing in the GUI toolkits, variations of DPI messing the font sizes, and that sort of things. Well, newest stable versions of Qt and KDE already do antialiasing, and GTK+ 2.0 will have good support for it, too - as a graphician, I can live with this font support already, especially now that XFree 4.0 supports TrueType "out of box".

More to be added later...

Finally, an inspiring quote for newbies who consider Linux for workstation use:

"The Linux philosophy is 'Laugh in the face of danger'. Oops. Wrong One. 'Do it yourself'. Yes, that's it."

Linus Torvalds

I would say that Linux as a workstation OS does work - I use it all the time as a workstation OS! It's not yet "foolproof and easily understandable", though, so if you are computer-phobic or have a three-minute attention span, do not touch it yet. (But if you ever want to overcome the computer phobia, try it. =)


¹ Admittedly Debian's install has become much easier, but back then it was really horrible. We did not have any of this "official ISO image" rubbish. However, after I got everything set up, I had this "wow... it just works and is wonderful compared to Slackware 3.2" feeling =)


Thanks to CentrX for all suggestions.
Comments? Additions? Success stories? Please /msg.

Before you freak out and downvote me because you think this is another stupid anti-linux rant - read what I have to tell. These are my experiences with Linux, this supposedly free, stable and secure OS which has recently been hailed as the best thing since sliced bread. If only it was.

First, let me state for the record that I am not a newbie when it comes to computers. I've been using them since I was five, mastered BASIC by second grade, Pascal by sixth, I've had my own BBS, I run a computer club, I build my own computers, I've written for several computer magazines here in Sweden. I'm currently trying to get better at C++, having spent the last two months learning the basics.

Anyway, my first experience with Linux was about the time that Mandrake 8.0 was released. Having never really used Linux before, I was often told that I had no right to criticise it - While I always keep a relatively open mind, I've personally always considered Windows the superior OS, and have been unafraid to say so, something which has gotten me into a few verbal fights. So, when I suddenly had a perfectly good PC to spare - an old Dell Optiplex workstation - I decided to give Linux a shot.

So, I downloaded two ISOs off the Mandrake site - not warez; you probably know this already, but most Linux distributions, or distros for short, are best acquired this way, through free download. It's very legal. Anyway: burned the ISOs to CD-R, chucked the first disc in the CD player of my Dell, rebooted. No go - my guess is it didn't support booting from CD, and there was no BIOS setting for it. Oh well; I made myself a boot floppy disk, and started the installer that way instead. Install worked well, but the DrakX installer ran in 16 colours (UGLY) and even though I ran it in simple mode, I had to partition my hard drives more or less manually. Well, Windows 2000 does that too. Anyway, the installer ran its course, I selected a few packages that seemed interesting. Mandrake seems to come with everything, including the kitchen sink, and a GUI for the sink, and an SDK for the GUI, and console tools to remote-install the SDK on your neighbour's toaster oven. I'm not really kidding - there's really that much stuff. And they say Windows is bloatware! Of course, the stuff in Mandrake is all free software, which I could have downloaded from the Internet just the same.

Eitherway, the installer ran, and the computer eventually rebooted itself. I'd set the network to use DHCP (which works on all the 10-odd computers in the house), but Mandrake, upon startup (a long list of all the services followed by OK or FAILED) announced that DHCP was a no-go. "Oh well", I thought - "going to have to configure it for static IP once it finishes booting". Booting took a very long time, and once finished, I was presented with a butt ugly ASCII art penguin, some info about my system, and a login prompt. Nothing else happened, which was weird, as I had chosen to automatically log in earlier. Anyway, I use the root username and password to log in, and then type in one of the few commands that I do know: startx. I'm greeted by a screenful of error messages, none of which mean much to me initially, although after looking at them for a while, I discover that it's simply failed to initialize the GUI. No support for my graphics card? Funny, even Windows 95 supports it - it's a Number Nine Visual Technologies Imagine128. My Linuxy friends later told me that Mandrake 8 indeed supports it. So why didn't it work? I had no idea; as Mandrake set up all the graphics stuff automatically during the install, it should have worked. Anyway, I fdisked the machine and installed Windows XP beta 2 instead. Not only did it boot faster, it booted period. Today, that computer is running Windows 2000 Professional - my mother is using it to work from home, which involves handling a lot of Macintosh documents. However, Microsoft Office 2000 supports most of those formats, so she's had no complaints.

Anyway, upon returning to my IRC server of choice and telling my story about the failure of Mandrake to work on my PC, I get KILLed by an IRCop for "saying bad things about Linux". How come so many Linux fanatics can't take criticism? Something's wrong with the computer, they say. Something's wrong with you, they say. Something's wrong with Linux, I say. Instantly, they turn hostile. A bit later I get GLINEd for a day for "mocking the penguin". Gotta love the Linux community, really. I suppose if Slashdot comments are anything to go by, the ones on that IRC server weren't atypical.

time passes ...

One day, quite recently in fact, I find my old Pentium II box, sporting 256 megs of SDRAM, a TNT2 Ultra graphics card and two nice hard drives, sitting in the basement. "Wow", I think. "This would make a great DHCP/FTP/Counterstrike server for our next LAN party!". I'm just about to install Windows 2000 Server on it when a random thought surfaces in my mind. There is another OS, one which failed to work last time I tried it, which can also do DHCP, FTP and HLDS stuff. Linux. And this time, no "non-standard" graphics card to thwart my efforts!

Said and done, I download and burn Mandrake 8.1. You might wonder why I chose Mandrake out of the many distros? Well, I was going to go with Slackware but when I suggested it, my Linux-using friends told me I should try Mandrake first due to its newbie-friendliness. Vaguely remembering the last time I did this, I decide not to waste the time making a boot floppy; I chuck the CD-R into the drive, boot the P2 up, and voila, it says Linux Mandrake on the screen! DrakX starts, and this time it's not in 16 colours - everything looks nice and pretty. Still, I opt to run it in simple mode. Like the last time, everything (seemingly) works peachy, and after some waiting, some hard drive repartitioning, and some more waiting, the system reboots and something called Aurora - some kind of GUI for the startup process, apparently - fills my screen. It's not very good looking, styled like a MacOS ripoff, and messages flash by faster than I can read them. What's the point? Eventually (this takes AGES, much longer than first boot of any Windows I've ever used) I get the ugly ASCII penguin again, but this time it's only visible for about one second. Something starts up which calls itself the First Time Wizard. Nice - letting me set basic stuff up before starting the GUI or whatever, I think. I choose KDE as my desktop, that's about the only constructive bit of the wizard - the rest is just requests for my personal data. Not even XP tries to get me enter stuff like that on boot! And if it did, people would be accusing Microsoft for spying on them, andor invading personal privacy. Anyway, I hit the Next button to get past all the stuff that I have no intention of entering, then I reach the e-Mail settings, and I hit Next to get past those, too. Another window then opens on top of the first one, asking me for network info. I set it to DHCP (you'd think I'd have learned something from the last time, but nooo), enter the proper settings for my network, but when I'm almost done, the wizard restarts. This happens four times total, I then have to click Finish on FOUR wizards because they'd just loaded atop each other. This returns me to the E-mail page, which gives me another network setup wiz when I press Next. Annoyed, I cancel my way out of both wizards and is greeted by KDE starting up. KDE, as I understand it, is the piece of software which handles the top layer of the GUI. Anyone but me feel uncomfortable using and OS that's basically a core surrounded by thousands of third-party applications? In Windows, it's Explorer, Notepad, Control Panel .. everything that comes with the OS, even the "lock screen" functionality, is built into the system. All made by Microsoft, partly by the same developers. All tested, tested, tested. Quality Assurance. At the risk of sounding like a Microsoft PR guy, I like the unified user experience that Windows offers. Are these foreign concepts to Linux developers? I wouldn't know, I don't know any, but it takes a lot of sloppiness to miss an obvious bug like the network setup wizard spawning multiple times. Not that there aren't some obvious bugs in Windows - but not as many as I found in Mandrake.

After a brief wait, KDE starts up with a bunch of desktop icons and what looks a bit like the good 'ol Start Menu. DHCP obviously didn't work, as typing ping 192.168.0.1 in xterm gets me a network unreachable error. So, where can the Control Panel be? I look through the menu. Hmm, Configuration, Settings, Programs, System.. linuxconf seems like a logical name for the Control Panel, but it turns out not to be. I find lots of stuff which looks like it's for configuring various parts of the OS, all in different menus, neither has anything to do with the network. And each one requires me to enter the root password to get them started - very annoying! I now understand why a lot of people prefer to be logged in as root all the time despite the risk of ruining the entire system by some mistake. Oh well .. eventually I find it: something Mandrake something, I forgot the name but it's clearly not part of KDE or Gnome but rather a util which the Mandrake folks put in. I change the network config to static IP, leave the wizard, and then try to ping again. No worky. I reboot, and it works. Weird, why do I need to reboot for that? Windows 2000 never required me to, not as far as I recall, anyway. Having to reboot for simple network configuration changes is pure Windows 95 flashback for me. Still, I'm happy that I got the net working, since this means that I can get on IRC from my new Linux box! I start up kvIRC, a really crappy IRC client (why did I get five kinds of command consoles which all work the same but just ONE - crappy - IRC client??) which nonetheless manages to connect. "Get Xchat!", the Linux people on IRC tell me. Said and done, I use some weird Mozilla-based browser named Galleon to get to the Xchat homepage. It works, but every page I look at seems to be missing fonts. The binary download for Linux is one relatively small rpm file, and Nautilus (aka Windows Explorer, only for Linux) shows it with a different icon. I double-click it, unknown filetype. Now what? The people on IRC tell me I should go to the console and use a util called rpm to unpack it. However, when I try, it complains about missing dependencies. This is annoying to me, as 95% of all Windows programs I've used come with all the DLLs and other shit they need. Linux apps don't? Still, I am committed to getting Xchat installed, so I ask for some help on IRC. Use something called the Software Manager, they say, and after a few seconds of looking through the menus, I find it under packaging. A somewhat initiutive interface pops up and asks me to configure a source for security updates - aha, this is Windows Update with manual server selection, I think to myself. I select a nearby server (ftp.sunet.se) from the list, look through the other settings without changing anything, then click OK. Adding source, it says. One hour later, it's still adding source. Slightly annoyed, I xKill the program, and start it up. Nothing asking me to add more sources, instead it is showing a progress bar with something about CD 1 - I assume it's going through the file listings for each CD, determining what's where. However, at 82% on CD 3, the program completely freezes. After waiting a few minutes for it to reawaken, I kill it. Repeated attempts to run it, reboots, even changing to Gnome and trying it from there, it always freezes at 82%. Now very much more annoyed, I go to explore Gnome only to have the web browser crash on me - the error message generated is not totally unlike a standard Windows "application bleh.exe has generated a fatal exception" .. however, the Linux message cites a bug in the application as the problem. Wonderful.

Had I not been so bloody tolerant, I'd have uninstalled Mandrake there and then - there are far better ways to waste my time than to try to get working an OS the components of which crash andor freeze more often than Windows 98 ever did. Stability? Where? Annoyed, I turn the computer off and head back to my trusty Windows XP box. I speak to Linux fanatic Steve B (prolly not on E2) about my problems, and his solution is deliciously simple: "Throw out that Mandrake trash! Debian is the only distro I'd consider." Fine, so how to install Debian? Is it hard? "No", he says, "it's all text menus". Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Again, how to install Debian? Steve tells me I make a few floppies, then the installer installs the basic stuff from those, finally connecting to the Debian FTP/HTTP sites to download the rest. Wonderful, I think - no more wasting CD-R's! My enthusiasm is dampened slightly when I learn that the "basics" consist of 17 floppies. Seventeen? Talk about 80's flashback, I haven't installed an OS from floppies since Windows 3.1! Still, I download and "burn" the floppy image files, then chuck the first one, strangely but somewhat suitably named rescue, into the drive, and reboot. The machine POSTs, then prints: SYSLINUX 1.78 YYYY-MM-DD: Boot Failed. Wonderful.

A bit of checking, it turns out just to be a faulty floppy disk. Replaced, the Debian installer starts up and runs, happily writing the floppies' contents to my hard drive, now re-partitioned (again). Having rebooted, it asks me if I want to set up a PPP connection to download the files. I sure as hell don't, my Internet connection is via LAN! So I tell it no, and it asks me for a proxy server. I have none. It then proceeds to try and download the files, and of course fails, as there's no network configured. I am very certain the installer never asked me for my network settings, but nowhere in the installer as it is after the reboot will it let me set them. I try to cancel my way out, resulting in the installer shutting down. I angrily reset the machine, only to be greeted by messages that the file system was not cleanly unmounted, and that fsck (I thought that was a dirty word, but it apparently means file system check or something) has failed to repair it. Not knowing how to repair a Linux file system manually, as it tells me I have to, I just start the entire install process over again by booting from the rescue floppy. All goes well, but this time I spot a Configure the Network item in the installer just before reboot. Having run it, I find that Debian, unlike Mandrake, does work with my (industry standard = Microsoft) DHCP server. Houston, we have Internet! NOT, because there's no network card setup - this Debian Linux can't autodetect stuff, so I have to wade through a long list of kernel modules to find the one which matches my network card. Luckily, I eventually find the right module and everything works. A couple minutes later, the installer has finished downloading stuff off the net, and another bit of configuring ensues. Now it wants to know all about my mouse, monitor, and so on - but this time, it needs I/O ports, monitor sync rates and accepted resolutions etc etc .. now I'm REALLY having flashbacks to the eighties. Why does an OS made in 2001 not autodetect things, if Linux is superior to Windows why does it not have features which have been in Windows practically forever? And we're not talking unneccessary stuff, either; requiring the user to know what kind of mouse he has is one thing, requiring him to know the I/O port adress of his CD-ROM is a totally different matter. And no, /dev/cdrom didn't work. Again, I'm annoyed.

Still, probably more due to luck than skill, I manage to get through the questions. Wonderful, now it wants to test the settings. The screen flashes for a bit, then an error message tells me it couldn't initialize the mouse, citing "no such file or directory" as the error message. I re-do the process a few times - each time entering ALL the settings again. Why can't I be allowed to just edit the mouse config? After all, it was what failed, there's really no need for me to enter my monitor's parameters all over again each time. Still, but no matter what type of mouse I tell Debian that I have, X refuses to start. For the record, this is a completely standard Logitech PS/2 mouse - optical, but that's never been a problem before, and it wasn't in Mandrake, either. Still, no matter what I do, X refuses to start. Rebooting, of course, doesn't help. The Linux geeks on IRC are as clueless as I, some say I should edit the config manually, but I'm already on my way towards the unfortunate computer, Windows 2000 disc in hand.

I didn't install Windows, though. Figuring I must have made some stupid mistake the first round, I gave Mandrake another chance. I set up Gnome instead of KDE as the default desktop this time around, and did everything logged in as root so I wouldn't have to enter the password a thousand times to do basic things - even installing an IRC client requires root access in Linux! .. this second time around, I didn't get five network configuration wizards, and it took me slightly less time getting things up and running. Also, the Software Manager did not freeze while adding sources; instead, it froze at 82% of doing something with CD 3. Again, and again.

I take this opportunity to experience what happens when one types rm -Rf /* on a Linux machine. Bah, even that was boring, though the Kernel Panic messages which ensued were kind of funny, in their own sick way.

Windows 2000 Server installed without a hitch in two hours. Another hour for Service Pack 2 and security updates. 10 minutes for the IIS Security Checklist. And it runs fine to this day. It will be a long time before I bother with Linux again. I know, I probably made some stupid mistakes along the way - if you find them in the text above (it's pretty detailed after all), please point them out and msg me so I will know better how to do it the next time I have a spare PC and lots of free time. I really would like to get Linux up and running, but frankly, at this point I don't see what's so fucking great about it.

Thanks for reading.

NOTE: This write-up is a repost of one I wrote, and then had nuked, some time ago. The first revision was written when I was still pretty frustrated, so it turned out very much more biased than I wanted it to be. It also had a very bad title. At the advice of dem bones, I had that write-up nuked and I re-wrote it to make the one you just read. If you have any comments, please msg them.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.