It’s been a while since my last entry and from the slew of responses, I wonder if I should apologize at all to my imaginary readers. Well, they’re MY imaginary readers. I imagine them loyal and understanding.
I’ve been using Linux (the Ubuntu incarnation of it, with gnome as the UI – I found Unity insulting as it certainly is far from ready and it reminds me too much of Vista) for maybe a month and a half or two, after about 20 years of Windows and even more using computers in general to work.
Weeks one through three were traumatic, requiring at least two full re-installations of the operating system because I managed, as a very novice user that knows enough to be a threat to himself, to royally screw things up.
After that, it’s been smoothER sailing, but this experiment has been anything but smooth per se, and at this point I’m torn because it has carved a serious dent into my productive time. I must note that I was aware that I would loose a number of hours to getting accustomed to familiar things being in different places than where I had expected, but I didn’t expect the amount of time devoted to “settling-in” being so huge.
To add insult to injury, as a novice, I also lack the tools normally gained from experience to resolve problems quickly so, for example, a recent printing problem (printer suddenly stopped printing for no apparent reason and without manifest error messages of any kind) stole about one hour of my precariously-scarce time. It didn’t take longer because that’s what took for the problem to resolve itself “magically” – I didn’t do anything besides scour whatever forums I could think of, looking for a solution.
Almost two months into my little experiment (which I hope doesn’t end up being just that) I have serious doubts about this operating system’s ability to ever reach the masses. The reason, from my still ignorant perspective, seems to be that the labor behind it is volunteer-based. In a world where bread doesn’t just magically appear on the cupboard every day and banks, credit cards, and grocery stores expect to be paid with money, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand where, in the priorities food-chain, volunteer work falls (that is, unless you manage to hire an army of coders suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome).
This is unfortunate, really, because in a world dominated by Microsoft-based desktops (and you’d have to have your head up your ass to disagree with this), it really is refreshing to use an operating system that’s not only stable, but doesn’t consume 2GB of RAM just to show you the desktop, doesn’t require a CPU capable of running all of NASA’s programs from the 50’s to the 80’s to play minesweeper, can be configured and backed-up with the simplicity inherent to just copying a handful of TEXT-based configuration files, and, at least so far, is impervious to a plethora of spyware, virii, and other non-sense, among other advantages that my lack of experience surely prevents me from seeing. (And for those among my imaginary readers that will quickly point that Linux is a powerhouse in the servers sector, yes, I know; but I’m not talking about servers here.)
The applications I’ve installed so far (Libre Office, Wine, and a few others) are all sprinkled with inconsistencies and, granted, so are Windows-based apps, but here it’s much more noticeable, and the length of time for which people have been reporting bugs or requesting features that still haven’t been implemented just confirms what I said before: developers have to eat and giving code away doesn’t put food on the table (some of them quite basic, such as cut/insert-paste in Libre/Open Office’s spreadsheet program – you can do it with a mouse, but not with the keyboard, and mousing around is quite inconvenient when you have to drag and drop a bunch of rows over a document that has thousands of them!).
Linux doesn’t belong to anyone, or at least that’s what I keep hearing, but the very existence of various camps (Ubuntu, Debian, KDE, RedHat, and a SLEW of others) makes it extremely hard for a user to even get to the point of considering it as an alternative to Microsoft’s offering. It’s a no-brainer to walk into an Apple store if you’re fed-up with Windows. Those who’ve converted years ago probably lost touch now with the strain that choosing a Linux flavor can put on someone. After two months of using it and contless hours reading over the past weekend, I still can’t fully comprehend the difference between basic components such as distributions, desktops, and windows managers. The difference between distributions is anything but clear. Are they different Operating Systems? Are there specific apps that will run on one but not on the other? And what about KDE and Gnome (to mention just two)? How come there are some products that SEEM to be specific for one or the other. To add to the confusion, you can apparently run either KDE or Gnome on most distributions.
I am an experienced user (computers ARE my job) and I hardly recall EVER being this confused in my life. Visiting the various distributions’ web sites is useless. I have never read so much useless fluff. As a user I would be hard-pressed to care less about the philosophies and the beliefs of the community behind each. I respect them and think it’s great that they all have mission statements and goals and ideals, but again, as a potential customer, all that information is utterly useless for me. Guys, please allow me to put this in perspective: buying a car is easier than choosing a Linux distribution.
I “landed”, and can’t imagine a more appropriate term, on Ubuntu because two people suggested it, and I remembered the name, so I figured it was a popular distribution and will likely give me little or no grief, but after two months of using it in my main computer, and considering how many other distributions are out there, at this point I’m wondering if I made the right choice. And I’m only wondering because I don’t know enough about the other distributions to tell whether they would solve the problems I have (pulseaudio and skype have a rabid tendency to misbehave and, although just a cosmetic problem, compiz just doesn’t work smoothly with nvidia hardware, so I’m using metacity).
My user experience, in general, is characterized by compromise. I’m taking it in stride but, objectively speaking, I’ve had to choose to be content with less perfect results than I had when using windows. I realize all too well that Libre Office is not MS Office (I used Office 2000, which was great), that eVince is a far cry from an old version of Foxit Reader, and that grscan2pdf requires about twice the amount of keystrokes and mouse-clicks to scan a document into a pdf, just to name a few, but when compromise becomes as pervasive as in my case, I can’t help wondering if I did the right thing.
Chances are I’ll keep wondering because I don’t know if it’s really worth it to spend another two months researching whether other distributions would resolve the handful of issues I have or whether they would replace those issues with new ones, and, you know what? Time is money and this, my faithful readers, is costing me dearly, so I’m also wondering if I should perhaps consider going back to XP and not have to bend over backwards in order to get work done because, after all, most of the development tools available for Linux (python, apache, mysql, etc.) are slowly and surely showing up in Windows flavor as well.
Right now, I think I’ll move in the direction of trying another flavor of linux (Debian doesn’t seem to be plagued with the pulseaudio problems that seem to be a routine part of Ubuntu, and having used Windows for the past 20 years, one of my main reasons for leaving the Redmondites behind is stability and reliability. Ubuntu doesn’t seem to have much of either; at least not while I’m using it.
As far as Linux, as a desktop for the masses, I think it won’t happen until some entrepreneurial soul packages a really water-tight distribution, with the most popular apps ready for a positive out-of-the-box user experience and charges a fraction of what Microsoft does for the same and, most importantly, TREATS THIS AS A BUSINESS and not as an after-hours activity.