Friday, May 11, 2012

Caitlyn and Linux Hardware Support

Only this morning I saw a post by Caitlyn Martin on tuxmachines.org. About "Linux Hardware Support Myths and Legends" . Funny as always - flaming, ranting and what not!

Come on Caitlyn, admit, Linux is still not ready for consumers. It's never going to be considering the control, complexity and its nature of development. We all love linux. We can tinker our way to use it at our homes and offices. We'll keep on using linux, and we are not sad or sorry if linux doesn't make it to the mass adoption. But your adamant post is laughable at the best. Numbers tell, if there was a pinch of truth in your statement linux desktop would have enjoyed comparable marketshare like the one from Redmond. But 1-2%!

You wrote, "Linux is compatible with more hardware than any other OS bar none. That certainly includes Windows. Try installing Windows 7 on some random laptop from scratch and see how much is missing or unsupported without third party drivers. My experience doing Linux installs for my customers is that a lot of off the shelf hardware "just works" and the rest needs proprietary drivers downloaded to make it work, just like Windows. There is, indeed, some hardware that doesn't work with Linux and years ago that was a real issue. The fact is that more and more manufacturers are supporting Linux well and other drivers have been adequately reverse engineered."

Partly right, linux does support maximum hardware out of the box. But that other OS supports all of the hardware, though not all out of the box. Besides, the maximum number of hardware that linux supports is not as good or simple as it is in that other OS. Compare the installation procedure and performance of modern ATI and NVidia graphics cards on linux with that other OS. Linux fails from a long margin. Moreover, the support is both complicated and buggy most of the time, and not feature-complete.

Caitlyn, please try any of the recent Northern or Southern Island ATi Radeon graphics card on your favorite linux box. Do the same on that other OS. Compare the performance and installation procedure. On that other OS, all you've to do is to pull in the software (just one executable file) from AMD and install it. Your favorite distribution with modern kernel and gallium drivers will readily support the Northern Island ATi chip out of the box. But the performance will be shoddy at best. Then you will search your distros repo or browse the manufacturer's website for proprietary drivers. Download and install the packages. Graphics still won't work the way it does on that other OS. Then you will look for vaapi wrappers, configure the media player settings, bla..bla..bla.. In linux it's not just a driver package, you've to fight with xorg, kernel, drivers, wrappers and decoders. After this big fight your distribution may play your 1080p hd stuff. But again, not as good as on that other OS.

Audio driver scenario is no different. The point is, Sound and Graphics support in linux is very complicated and is always in a catch-22 stage. Admit it!

Here's a copy of the discussion thread on her post. Just imagine how mis-informed and adamant Caitlyn is in comparision to the mature, practical and realistic Jack.

By Jack on May 10, 2012 11:21 AM

Having used Linux since the end of the 90'ies i certainly agree that hardware drivers are not really a big problem. But for some, it really is.

Therefore one should never claim "pick this or that distro - it works out of the box" unless one in fact has experience with the exact combination.

If you do recommend where you should not, you are likely to be the creator of a user very hostile towards Linux, thus a true credibility killer.

Another wrong thing to do is recommending Linux with the ambition to make a Linux enthusiast out of the victim. Recommend (and if possible assist in installing) Linux on basis of the potential users needs and capabilities.

Forget your own preferences - it's all about the potential user, as long as you are sure that you are able to assist.

Now, I've got some shocking news!!
There are no perfect Linux desktop environment, and there are no perfect Linux distribution. There are probably 20-30 distros and 4-5-6 desktop environments that are technically suitable and has the potential, but none of them are really there.

We, as enthusiasts, are able to tweak a distro or a desktop environment into submission. The regular users who just want a neat piece of equipment to work well are not.

Where are the distros for consumers? They don't exist.

By Caitlyn Martin in reply to comment from Jack on May 10, 2012 12:58 PM

Jack: I have some shocking news for you. Any of the major Linux distributions are consumer-ready. That's been true for at least a decade. Any of the major Linux desktop environments are consumer ready. That's been true for at least a decade as well. The current generation of desktops on Windows and even on MacOS are based on ideas that first appeared in Linux. See my recent article on the subject. If those Linux distributions aren't "really there" then certainly Windows and MacOS are even less ready for consumers. You are certainly right that there is no perfect Linux distribution or desktop. There is no perfect OS, period. Linux is in no way more flawed or less ready for consumers than the other options out there.

I see the second part of your comment the same way I see the articles proclaiming that Linux hardware support is terrible: as spreading more fear, uncertainty and doubt for no good reason.

Seems, evangelists like Caitlyn are more of problem than solution to the badly integrated and ever-forking open source OS.

4 comments:

Shannon Black said...

Caitlyn (although she made me cringe at her blunt like answers after a few iterations with Jack) has alot of truth .. Linux is incredibly consumer ready depending what you want to do with it. If you want to do intensive 3D work or gaming work with a non-Nvidia and non-Intel graphics card you're gonna have issues .. why? because of ATi's quality of linux development .. so like she said in her article "it says more about your hardware than about linux" .. so you might say "well obviously that means its not ideal for consumers?" .. wrong, because general consumers that don't do 3D intensive gaming / work will have graphics drivers that work OOB .. my entire family runs linux and has not once needed to call me .. the internet mobile modem worked OOB, whereas on windows they had to call me to install the driver and extra software that connects the mobile to the internet .. then i had to explain the way they can connect to internet etc etc .. they've since updated Ubuntu 10.10 - Ubuntu 11.04 - Ubuntu 11.10 - Ubuntu 12.04 without my help .. your point is invalid .. Linux is as much consumer-not-ready as windows is .. when i first got a computer i didn't know what a driver was, yet my games kept crashing on my NVidia 440MX and i didn't know why. had to get a technician to look at it, he updated the driver. for me, showed me how to get my own drivers. then i new how to install drivers .. then one day the another game didn't work .. so i run along to him .. "sorry, your graphics card isn't really supported well, you'll need to upgrade the card" .. i upgraded the card. then suddenly i got blue screen. turns out windows had somehow corrupted my hard drive ..

bottom line is - you want to do power user stuff like installing drivers? you're still gonna have to learn .. a consumer shouldn't have to know about that .. but gaming? thats not even a feature on Linux truly yet as much its not a feature of Mac computers .. I think you're comparing apples to pears .. they're both Consumer ready for what they're good at. Linux tops are good at being a functional computer for work, web design, and the likes, windows is the same and gaming if you know how to install drivers, Mac's are good at doing whatever they say you can or can't do. As hardware manufacturers take more notice of Linux then you'll start seeing better support for more 3D intensive stuff ..

also Caitlyn was pushing her expression on why it is so important for OEM's to preload Linux Distro's, because then you know that it just works etc etc. Linux is great at what it does, the onus is now on the hardware companies to meet halfway

manmath sahu said...

Hi Shannon,

Thanks for dropping by and posting a nice reply.

But there're several concerns other than just Nvidia and ATI. Sometimes, you've to fiddle with config files even if the driver is installed (some sound cards). Besides, Nvidia and ATI chips are no more elite these days, they are very much common place.

Also, most of the time there're issues with laptop hotkeys. It remains unsolved. And power management is not always good on linux.

Thanks,
Manmath

Jack said...

It is indeed interesting observing the work of totalitarians and how they deal with dissidents. It somewhat reminds me of "the 3 great Josephs". *L*

I can name a lot of distros that works well for more or less most people, and I can name even more that will work very well for most people if they are willing to make an effort.

But that has really very little to do with "ready for mainstream/consumers", or how OEMs actually are able to sell to mainstream audiences. Sure, some are able to sell to already established Linux enthusiasts or generating sales by using Linux as an cost cutting factor, but the mainstream consumer market is an different matter.

My history with Linux is probably closer to 15 years than 10 years and according to my experience the worst thing I can do is to blindly push Linux without screening the potential user's needs, hardware and so on. I rather have a displeased Windows user than turning him/her into a displeased Linux user.

I don't really believe there should be all that many distros aiming for the consumers, and quite a few distros makes no secret that they are not at all aiming for that audience. So what's the problem in stating that as a fact when it actually is?

For oems, hardware shouldn't really be that much of an issue, simply because they quite easily can pick specs that is suitable, and I dare say - there's not really that much hardware they have to exclude.

On the other hand, for a distro to become "consumer ready" there's a lot that needs to be in place before even starting to consider the delivery (the iso image content and so on).

The separate parts of a Linux desktop operating system are in quite excellent shape. Kernel, the desktops, package systems and a lot of the software.

But is there really anyone with financial and/or organisational muscles who has compiled this into a package that aims solely for the consumer market - having everything ready, tuned and packaged for consumers?

The only distro I can think of as being even close is Ubuntu, but I still belive they've got a lot of work to do in order to get there.

manmath sahu said...

thanks jack for posting a nice comment. i totally agree with you.

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