on Dec 7, 2006
Ubu Roi is talking about the way Windows XP crashes and Linux doesn’t. He poses a question:
The “worth it” part is something every user must decide for themselves, although I think the key to making that decision is knowing what you’re getting into. What we’re talking about isn’t just a jump to a different interface. The leap from Windows to Linux is nothing like the leap from Windows to something like Mac OS. This isn’t about getting used to new uses for the right mouse button or a new way of having your hard drive arranged. Linux is a whole different beast.
My wife had the same problem a couple of years ago and installed Red Hat. It was much harder than I think either of us anticipated. This is not because Linux users sugar-coated the thing for us, but mostly due to the fact that we’d been spoiled by consumer operating systems and had no idea maintaining an OS could be so infuriating and complex. Note that installing it was no sweat. The process is streamlined enough now that you can pop in a copy of Linux and (assuming you’re using some recent, mainstream flavor) be up and running in about the same time it takes to get Windows onto a new PC. No problem.
The challenges arise when you go to use the thing. There are heaps of programs out there. A/V players. MIDI sequencers. Image editing software. Tetris clones. Disk defrag programs. Emulators. 3D modeling software. Web servers. Text adventures. Databases. Firewalls. Source Forge is a goldmine of software for free, some of it just as robust as stuff you see in the store. However, you can’t just run an installer and use the software.
Some authors don’t think it absurd at all to release their software as source-only, as if compiling a huge project with complex dependencies was something everyone can be expected to know how to do. More sensible authors release binaries, but because Linux flavors are multitude and divergent, it can often take quite a bit of tweaking to get the thing to run. There is no way around it: That nice GUI desktop may look and feel and perhaps even smell like Windows, but as soon as you need to add some software you’re going to need to pull back the curtain and interface with the thing in a console window. You’re going to need to assume root privs, and then muck about letting Linux know that this program is okay and should be allowed in. Sometimes this is easy. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes it is flat-out impossible. Always it is ambiguous and documented with an experienced user in mind.
When the installation guide tells you: Make sure you gramble the ZPQs before you homuk with the framframs under /bin unless you have NDL enabled, in which case just invoke the dooligan. You had better be ready to work at figuring out what all of that means. You will need to have a lot of time to kill, because unraveling these instructions is going to take a while. My wife was only ever able to find two types of help, when she found any at all:
- Welcome to Linux! Here is how to open the console window.
- Here is how to recompile Portugese Linux to get it running on an old Sony walkman, using only a 10-digit keypad as input.
But let’s say you get it installed. You’ll install some software, only to find it requires OTHER software. You think foraging for Codecs for Windows Media Player is annoying? That is little league stuff now. The author of the software you’re trying to use may just assume you have, and build his program to depend on, other software which you do not have. The author may or may not tell you where to get it, and if he does it may be a dead link or upgraded to a new and incompatible version. But if you do manage to gather all the required parts, you will still find yourself messing with obscure little text files to adjust settings, specify directories, and give it little hints about how it should behave on your particular and wholly unique incarnation of Linux.
Her Linux experiment ended when she went to put Unreal Tournament on the machine. One of the versions I have came with both Windows and Linux binaries, and she wanted to play a little Deathmatch. All she needed to do was install the drivers for her graphics card. All she had to do for that was… recompile the kernel. Now, this is the fault of NVIDIA, not a shortcoming on the part of the developers of Linux, but this was still a reality that she had to deal with. In the end she decided that Linux was asking too much of her and went back to Windows.
This was three years ago, and I like to think that ATI and NVIDIA have gotten their act together when it comes to Linux drivers, but this sort of thing is still a reality that you might face, and you need to be aware of it.
Despite all of this, I don’t discourage anyone from giving it a try. If you have two machines then I highly recommend sticking Linux on one and seeing how it suits you. When it comes to stability and security, Linux is king. How much usability (particularly in the short term) are you willing to give up to get it?
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.