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The Dark Side of Linux

e4dee531-59e8-4072-8f27-bad5192ae65cMost people who read this blog will know that I use Linux. Not only do I use it, I recommend it to others quite often. Though I do point out some of the shortcomings that Linux have in my recommendations, most of the time it is generally accompanied with a short excuse that goes something like “Yes but if you configure blahdiblah there are alternatives bladhiblah” and so on. However, Even worse than a potential customer hearing the shortcomings about your product is a customer that has bloated expectations about it, then gets epically disappointed when trying the product out.

So here is my short talk about some of the things we all have to say truthfully about Linux:

No, Linux does not Just Work.

I’m sorry. Though many people would like to say “Ubuntu?” to me right now, it’s pretty much a-given that you have to know how to configure things, how to ask questions in IRC channels, and be brave to edit your system. You wanted free software? You wanted powerful software? You have to work things out yourself.  For this, I recommend that you become familiar with IRC (Internet Relay Chat).  By familiar, I mean you start your IRC client, and leave it running throughout the day. Every so often, pop in there and see what’s going on. You will pick up tips, you will hear things you might want to learn more about. This is the greatest learning centre for Linux in my opinion. In conclusion, make sure you are ready to learn more about your system. If you can’t be bothered, the Linux is not for you.

There is choice. Problem is that there might be too much choice.

Yes. You heard me right. People hear about Windows, Mac, and Linux. Want Windows? Sure, get XP, or if you like slow motion effects, try Vista. Perhaps you might want to wait for Windows 7 to come out too. Mac? Just get whatever is the latest in the store. Linux? *deep breath* Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu CE (Christian Edition), Ubuntu ME (Muslim Edition), Ubuntu Satanic Edition, Fedora, SuSe, OpenSuSe, RedHat, Gentoo, PuppyLinux, DamnSmallLinux, Debian, Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, Slackware, Sabayon, CentOS … hell, the website LinuxCD.org sells CDs (by sell, I mean just enough to cover the costs of some guy mailing you a CD) for over 1000 distributions. Yes, count the zeroes.  That’s a thousand. Choose a web browser? Firefox. Konqueror. Epiphany. Links.  Lynx. Or even a GUI? Most of the people using other OSes would say “What? I can choose a GUI?” Not only that, you can choose from lots of them: GNOME, KDE, CDE, Fluxbox, Blackbox, Awesome, Ratpoison, XFCE. Each has it’s little niche that gives it the zing that might please you. Only tried one? Feel like missing out?  Feel confused which to pick? Yes. Choice. Another problem is that applications are built for different GUIs (I’m talking in non-technical terms here for the majority of users to understand). This means that a program might look really good on one GUI but not on another. Solution? Use GUI-engines. I’m sorry, the first time user would usually think “Hey, ugly” instead of “Woo, time to install gtk-engines-kde”.  In conclusion, unless you’re a person who cares about what applications you use and why, and want your environment customised to please just you and only you, sometimes the huge amount of choice can be a bad thing.

Gaming sucks.

I’m not a gamer. It’s true. I played KingdomOfLoathing.com. Every so often I might try out a MUD (Multi-User-Dungeon – like a command line based game) – that’s basically typing commands like “east, north, kill monster, look, take gold, south, list, buy shoes”. Yes, there are games like that. I’ve made a blackjack game. I play solitaire on my phone. Once in a while, if boredom has played its last hand and I’m in the mood to try something different, there’s always Worms World Party and some sort of Space Fighter Shooter thing on my phone (yeah, it’s a PDA sort of thing). What about my computer? There isn’t even a games menu on it. I’ve got no Linux games installed. The only fun games I’ve tried on Linux (apart from MUD clients) are KTron and Kollision. Those are arcade-ish time waster games. I’ve played Solitaire on my computer too though.  I’m sorry, but with new games coming out like Starcraft (oh, wait, did that come out 10 years ago?) or Halo 3 (wow, I’m out of date), your Linux box is not your penknife.  True, I have got Counter Strike running on my computer via WINE, but WINE is-to put it bluntly- a hack. You are a gamer that can’t live without playing your stuff, Linux is not for you.

The learning curve is steep.

Yes, it’s a whole new world. To survive and appreciate this world you need to have the heart and mind to want to learn about it, use it, and explore.  Otherwise it’s not for you. It seems as though all great things come with a price. (Except that this one is free) You wont find your Microsoft Office here.  You won’t find your Internet Explorer, Microsoft Outlook, or Microsoft Paint.  Yes, you’ll find things which are a hundred times better than them, but at first it’ll be scary, as you’ll be out of your comfort zone.

Hit the ground running, the world is turning.

The very nature of the open-source model is a bit like the self-service checkout systems used at major supermarkets nowadays, says Jeff Atwood. In a nutshell, when you use a self-service checkout system, you are basically doing the job of what the store would normally pay people to do. At the same time, because you are watched by security cameras, you don’t do anything stupid. The big difference is that YOU are the person who wants to get everything checked out as fast as possible, not the normal paid checkout guy. This is a self motivation thing. The result is that you do things the way you want it, and you get it done as fast as you want it.

Similarly, Linux development is done with the same principles. The developers don’t always just make what the user wants them to make, they make what they think will be an improvement. If they decide they want it a certain way, they make it because it’ll benefit themselves, because they enjoy doing it, and because of this, they’ll do it damned fast. Being on a source-compiled Gentoo system, every week I update my system. This is extra maintenance work, but I’m always up to date on what’s new. Trust me, there is A LOT of new stuff all the time. The rate a which things progress is amazing. So if you can’t keep up with it, you’re going to be running on a very jumbled system before long.

You’ll have to go underneath the skin.

The average user has only used graphical applications. If you have no idea what a command line interface is, imagine a computer without images and only able to type in text. Use your imagination and think about a crappily done science fiction movie where computer “hackers” do whiz on their screen, or perhaps those screens you see on the Matrix movie. To really use Linux, you’ll have to learn these commands, how to use them, and so on. This makes the learning curve steep (see previous point), but is also uncomfortable for some users. I know for example I have lost 5gb of information by mistyping a command. In conclusion, you’ll have to learn a lot about how things work, otherwise you’d be clueless and lost on your system.

A Linux user is an independent user.

Don’t always run to your grandson (or other more technologically savvy equivalent) when you need tech help. You need to know your resources. Nobody is going to babysit you. Why do you think sites like JustFuckingGoogleIt or LetMeGoogleThatForYou were made? Learn to use internet search. Learn to look at mailing lists. Look at forums. Look at IRC logs and channels. Read the inline documentation in the config files. And always remember to ask the MAN. (manual) If you aren’t comfortable with doing things yourself, you’re going to worse than a stuck pig doing whatever stuck pigs do.

Well, that’s about it for some of the more darker insight into the world of Linux. This hasn’t been written in the ranting style of Linux Haters Blog, but addresses similar issues in an informational (correct usage of word?) manner. I Hope you found it useful.

Dion Moult

I've been developing software for well over 10 years, work as an architect (not the computer kind, the regular sort), and am classically trained as a pianist. I try to do the right thing when I get the chance in my field, such as through contributing to open-source communities and promoting sustainable living.

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