Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is PCLinuxOS, Ubuntu or any Linux Ready for Desktop?

is linux ready for desktop?A search for "linux ready for desktop" brings millions of results on any search engine. The phrase "Linux Desktop Year" has been around 5 years now. Over the years, the question on its validity has been asked again and again. Fundamentally what does one mean by "Linux Desktop Year"? Is it that in that particular year Linux will rule the desktop world or Linux is ready to meet all the desktop requirements, or desktop users are convinced at this point to deploy Linux on their Desktops and Notebooks?

Widespread deployment of Linux has still not been possible. Proprietary distributions such as Redhat and Novell definitely don't see profit from desktops. Other popular distributions such as Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, Mepis, Mandriva and OpenSuse are getting attention of desktop users, but still the deployment has not been, so far, large enough to call a particular year as "Linux Desktop Year".

Linux is growing fast horizontally development-wise but deployment-wise it still nowhere near the popular OS, Windows. So, why does this situation still remains like it was 10 years back. Do the windows users experience some kind of cultural shock to switch to Linux? Why so when linux is free and great?

During these 10 years, both Windows and Linux have changed greatly. Windows XP (I don't count Vista, reasons you better know) is far far better than Windows 98, and PCLinuxOS 2008 is far more usable than Redhat 5. Now you can easily tune both Windows and Linux. You don't need to be a geek to install any Linux distribution and very often you get Windows preinstalled. But why people turn more towards Windows, if Linux is developing at equal pace or more?

The answer is clear - many of the OSS for Linux are just not ready for floor and Linux is sometimes found to be incompatible when it comes to configuring peripherals and devices. Sometimes you just can't get the job done and sometimes if you try to configure on your own it becomes just a workaround. Let me site some examples.

My friend Santanu, a Graphics Designer wanted me install a good linux OS on his home desktop. Without a second thought I installed PCLinuxOS 2008 MiniME and told him it's the best one can get for home use, but he have to spare one hour or two to pull in and install few packages from repository. He has got two internet connections: one is sify broadband and the other is Indicom Plug2Surf instant internet access devices. Unfortunately, none of them worked. Because both Sify and Indicom don't offer software for Linux.

linux desktop annoyanceThese days gadgets and PC peripherals (many of them are wireless) are growing in a greater pace and though Windows XP dates back to 2001 users are having no problem configuring their gadgets on XP and they get it hard to do even in the latest *buntu 8.04, Mandriva 2008 or Fedora 9. Knowledgeable people know it is no fault of Linux and the fact that device manufacturers are aiming at Windows world. But why will the lay-user worry about it.

Here is one bad experience I had with Linux. I could not sync my N93 Nokia mobile phone with any of the Linux distros. But any ways, I am living with that problem as I value security (Linux) more than Usability (Windows). Sometime back I had great problem in as simple a job as copying vcds onto my hard drive. With Linux it was like pushing a pea up Everest on your nose.

I am Linux hobbyist, I keep track of the distrowatch. I download and distribute latest Linux ISOs to anybody interested in Linux. When Mepis 7 was released I downloaded a copy sent that to a wannabe Linux user with a note that Mepis is one of the best usable, stable and great distros, popular for out-of-the-box experience and nice hardware detection capability. After one week I came to me and told that "WTF it could not detect his X3100 graphics card and the resolution of his monitor just sucks". Then I googled a while and came to know that Mepis 7 ships with an old xorg server (1.1) and to install the latest intel graphics drivers on Mepis one has to enable testing repo and pull in xorg 1.3, opengl packages and latest intel drivers. In fact, we did it and got the exact graphics resolution. My friend just annoyed - "Installation of the latest intel graphics driver is OK, but what's that xorg thing, in windows I just have to install only the drivers and no other things. Is linux all about integrating bits and pieces and make them work?" I had no answer I just handed him a Debian guide book and told him to meet me only after he completes reading the guide.

Windows users across the globe are in the habit of storing those good old apps. And when they shift from a newer version of Windows they are sure those old apps will work on their new platform. The great drawback of Linux is its utter lack of backward compatibility. For example, the Windows applications I had years back in 1998 run flawlessly in win98, Me, 2000, XP and even Vista, whereas you may not use a package written for Mandrake 8 in Mandriva 2008.

Availability of good applications is a killer in Linux desktop. You don't have an Adobe Photoshop for Linux and bet GIMP, though good, is not a photoshop replacement. Adobe don't see profit from building applications for Linux, and working in Photoshop on top of Crossover Linux is always a pain. No doubt Linux has its share of applications such as K3b, GIMP, OpenOffice, Nvu, Planner, Xine, Amarok, Ktorrent, Devede, Acidrip, etc., but they seem like a tradeoff. We have NeroLinux but that's not as powerful as its windows counterpart, we have OpenOffice, though in many ways better than MS Office it lacks in speed. Moreover, people are so familiar with MS Office contextual menus that they find it hard to operate in OO.o. Again, it's also no fault of Linux, just the software manufacturers don't aim for Linux world - but why a lay-user will care about it.

Getting and installing new software in linux is quite easy when the desktop is connected to the web. And it's really a dependency hell if you are doing an offline installation. Let me tell you one example. The windows systems administrator of my office has a dualbooted (XP and RHEL5). He browsed VLC website and downloaded two packages of VLC - one for XP and the other for RHEL5 . While installing VLC in XP was like a breeze, he could not install VLC on RHEL due to some dependency problem as he was installing the downloaded package offline.

We know this type of modulation and dependency in packaging helps Linux integrate more punch in less space, and it's a good thing. For example my fully loaded PCLinuxOS just takes 2GB of space whereas the Windows XP installed on my friends notebook with similar set of applications weighs 6GB. But it does not matter these days when the harddrives have gone beyond 100GB and become cheap. Moreover, why should an average user worry about the modularity of an OS?

Windows users are so much familiar to those shortcuts such as startkey+e (to explore), startkey+r (to run a program) and startkey+f (to search the desktop) that they don't see its replacements in Linux. Well linux has some shortcuts but many times they don't work.

Booting to a desktop environment is sometimes a sucker. In windows world even if you don't have a graphics driver, sound card driver or ethernet driver you have no problem in booting to a decent desktop, but in Linux it has seen sometimes like a hell of a problem in booting. My friend broadcom wireless driver on his Ubuntu notebook and rebooted only to find the system freeze with an error message: [ 2402.220000] bcm43xx: MAC suspend failed. His immediate response to it was: What a F*cking thing it is. What's this bcm43xx has to do with booting?

Linux lovers say if you are doing installation/uninstallation of packages inside the native repository taking care of the dependency things very much, you won't fall in trouble. But they are wrong. I have tried it myself even if there is no error message in installing/uninstalling, sometimes the system breaks. It seems that the while system was not thoroughly tested.

Unlimited freedom vs. Utter user annoyance: Linux unlimited possibilities for tinkering the system, desktop environment and applications is both a good and a bad thing. But when it comes to desktop users it's definitely a bad thing. For example, in Windows you can't change the essential system files by Add/Remove utility, but in Linux you can remove whatever you like in CLI program manager or GUI tools such as gurpmi, synaptic, etc. Due to lack of resource and division of effofts across multiple flavours, most the desktop distros are not well tested. If you go on tinkering with the packages and desktop environment, and almost anything, the chances are that you will break the system and won't be able to land on a working desktop. Greatness of Windows lies in the fact that it does not allows you to do some extreme tweaking. It's good. At least you can't break the system. I have broken Linux multiple times, but never windows. Of course, Windows is prone to viruses and malwares. But Microsoft has focused in this area and Vista is less prone (though a resource hogger) compared to XP, and Windows 7 will be revolutionary in this regard.

So to increase its desktop deployment, Linux should restrict its users from arbitrary freedom to tinker like the way Windows does.

After all these annoyances, if some people think that Linux is ready for desktop, then may be, users are not ready for Linux. May be users are very comfortable on their windows platforms, they are in tight schedule and they can entertain the change in migrating from one platform to another. May be Linux still demands that extra configuration from users that was not supposed to be.

Some desktop linux distros such as Mepis, PCLinuxOS and Mint are focusing to offer zero-configuration Linux distros. It seems the goal is very close but certain roadblock is still there.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

The true answer is "It depends".
As general purpose desktop OS, the answer is "Hell NO". But if it does serve your limited set of demands then "may be yes".

manmath sahu said...

No, it's not a "Hell No". For home computing Linux is OK to much extent but for serious productivity it's not really ready.

Fabrice said...

I said exactly the same thing on my blog ... 2 years ago :
Linux ready for Desktop ? of course not !

Anonymous said...

Pay attention. "Hell NO" was applied to "General Purpose Desktop OS". There are only two possible answers there: Yes/No. The "hell" could be omitted from it.

Where I tend to disagree is the productivity in biz environment. In work settings, you can narrow down exact functionality set for your PCs and find the applications to do it. Once you've done that, Linux is "productivity" ready.

At home, I want to be able to throw just anything on it. Any piece of electronic gadget or the latest game or whatever. This is where Linux is not ready yet (not that the other choice if trouble free). Eventually, it is getting better.

manmath sahu said...

fabrics,
I read your blog. You are very very right on that issue. Really device drivers is problem area in Linux.

kozmcrae said...

"He browsed VLC website and downloaded two packages of VLC - one for XP and the other for RHEL5 . While installing VLC in XP was like a breeze, he could not install VLC on RHEL due to some dependency problem as he was installing the downloaded package offline."

How could he have downloaded the package if he was offline? Either way it sounds like he was applying a Windows method of installing software to a Linux installation. If you download VLC from their web site, then you are installing software outside of your distributions repository. If you don't know enough to expect trouble with that method, then you shouldn't be doing it. For all users experienced or not, your distribution's repositories should be the only place to get your software. If you absolutely must install software outside of your distribution's repositories then make sure you have done your homework and know how to deal with all the problems you will encounter.

I guess it looks like Linux will never be ready for the desktop no matter how good it is because people can't seem to NOT expect Windows. You can't have it unless you are willing to break the bad habits you learned from Microsoft.

manmath sahu said...

dear kozmcrae,

getting internet connection to home is still expensive in the third world countries especially india and pakistan.

you wondered "How could he have downloaded the package if he was offline?" Many people in this part of the world use cybercafes for downloading software, checking email and chatting. Likewise my friend download windows and linux versions of VLC somewhere else and then took them home for installation.

thanks for your comment

aejaz said...

It's still a pain to use Linux as a desktop.
I tried Fedora 7 and it threw the HAL daemon error. HAL does not start and so no network is detected and if no network is detected I cannot connect to the Net to find updates.
And then the installation takes forever.
The Booting-up itself takes around 5-10 minutes which is annoying.
And then I tried Ubuntu which took half-an-hour to boot! Also it makes the whole computer slow. At least Fedora was fast.
Finally I tried Mandriva 2008. Downloaded it and ran the liveCD. Tried installing it and you know what happened? The install stuck in the install stage. Nothing moved. Mandriva was the worst experience I had.
But my hopes are still not dashed. I'll try others. OSS is the future of OSes.

aejaz said...

It's still a pain to use Linux as a desktop.

I tried Fedora 7 and it threw the HAL daemon error. HAL does not start and so no network is detected and if no network is detected I cannot connect to the Net to find updates.
And then the installation takes forever.

The Booting-up itself takes around 5-10 minutes which is annoying.
And then I tried Ubuntu which took half-an-hour to boot! Also it makes the whole computer slow. At least Fedora was fast.

Finally I tried Mandriva 2008. Downloaded it and ran the liveCD. Tried installing it and you know what happened? The install stuck in the install stage. Nothing moved. Mandriva was the worst experience I had.


But my hopes are still not dashed. I'll try others. OSS is the future of OSes.

alpha1 said...

The idiots who are at helm of Linux distros assume automatically one thing:

"Their users have unlimited access to internet"

No wonder we have to go to repositories and download via stupid package managers.

You bet - the windows way of having a setup installer is the most convenient way to get new programs.

Which brings me to this:
Can you un-install stuff from your linux without getting worried about whether it will "break" some other program?

alpha1 said...

Oh and by the way ...
the funny (and ironic) thing about using online repositories (which our linux helmsmen don't get) is that:

Say you load linux on a PC, and you have mobile broadband or wi-fi.

Most distros cannot work out of the box with mobile BB / wi-fi (including Windows).

But to make these stuff work - you need to connect to online repositories to install stuff that would enable the OS to connect to internet.

But then ... do you get the catch 22?

So the next assumption which the linux advocates assume is that everyone has atleast a wired internet connection available!

manmath sahu said...

Alpha1,
I agree with your points. The situation is just too chaotic... But at the pace linux is growing seems it will some gold mine. I mean it may bring about some radical changes to the concept of stability, performance and security.
Thanks for dropping by.

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