Monday, December 1, 2008

My Problem With Linux

As we all know there are those of us that are avid Linux users. I think it is safe to say that all of us have extensive experience with computers though there are a few things we (individually) don't know about certain programs, languages etc. I have been using computers since I have been about 3 or 4 (some of my earliest memories are of using computers). I usually find it easy to figure out computers and when I am presented with a new system and/or language it usually does not take me long to figure it out.

Having said that I will now express my problems with Linux. Part of this is not the actual operating system or structure but rather the society and culture that had grow up around it.

First: Interface. I am a fan of GUI's and having learned computers using macs you might say that GUI's are my "first language" when it comes to computers. I can do text and I can do it very well, but navigation and visualization are ALWAYS easier for me in graphical interfaces. With Linux the default interface is text within the command prompt. While text and the command prompt can be used in both Windows (with NT 4 and higher) and Apples the default is a graphical interface. While Linux does have a graphical interface that for most things works like the other two, if anything ever goes wrong the answer I always get starts with "Open a terminal..." So already I am out of my element when it comes to trouble shooting and doing anything of any consequence.

Second: Culture. This is sometimes arguably the worst part of dealing with Linux. The operating system I can deal with on some level but the people that I look to for help just make things worse. As a case study: Recently I had a problem with printing from a Linux machine. So I went to the department computer support web page. They had instructions regarding printing in Windows, Linux and Mac on department printers. The instructions for Windows were four steps long and were fairly straight forward which involved point and click and a scroll through a list of printers. The instructions for Linux were longer, technical and frequently made reference to things I had never heard of. And this brings me to my second point, the culture around Linux. There is an expectation from the "help line" in the Linux community that you should already know everything about Linux if you are going to use it. That is they expect you to be a computer programmer and have memorized a list of commands and prompts, just to print a single file. So you are expected to be an expert in Linux to do anything at all, even if it is as simple as printing and changing the volume on your computer. And whenever I have to deal with any of these seemingly simple things and I have to ask for someone to explain them to me the answer is "Open a terminal...type in ./lpr -P/abs/root/terminal/file/random/cool/tophat/googlywoogly/hikeupyour //folder/stuff/
and then do a kprint from file kerboubloulus and check your boulbous file for list of ticket to ride lyrics and find third backflip to steak sauce while running alsamixer with ktrepidation, and it should work." Even for someone like me that has been using computers for a while it is hard to follow and know what to do. In the modern world of specialization and focusing on specific fields of study, I don't want to have to be an expert at Linux to print a single file. I want to use computers for research and will even be doing some hefty coding but I really don't care about learning all the nuances of Linux just so I can print and/or even find a file on my computer.

To use an analogy, if operating systems were like cars, then all I want is a car that can drive me from point A to point B and is reliable. It may be cool that I can get a car where I can manually adjust the compression ratio, or control the fuel mixture from three separate gas tanks and be able to inspect my car for micro cracks in the body while I am driving. That may be cool, but that is not what I need. Also if I go to buy a car I don't want to walk into a warehouse full of car parts and be expected to pick out and put together all the things I need. I may need a specialized car for a specific purpose but I also don't want to personally pick out the style and function of air conditioning vents for the front AND back seats. I just want something that works without requiring a degree in mechanical engineering.

So I hope I got my point across as to why I have problems with Linux. Though looking back over what I wrote I may have gone off on a tangent or two, but still my point remains, Linux has problems that will have to be overcome before I at least will be a fan.


  1. I agree that Linux is hard to use. I have been learning Linux now for close to 4 years and I still commonly learn very useful things that are needed to preform everyday tasks efficiently.

    That being said, for dealing with data there is no substitute for a command line. I can't imagine trying to preform data analysis on our simulations without terminal commands to download, upload, sort, and modify data files. So while Linux could use more user-friendly GUI's (which I think Ubuntu is pushing the community to provide), please don't ever take away my terminal.

  2. (You know I had to reply to this.)

    Well Nick, I agree your issues are *real* issues that need to be addressed. This is why I keep saying Linux isn't ready yet. However I would you keep a few things in mind:

    1. Linux is really progressing. I'm worried many here's view of Linux comes from a couple years ago at BYU or from Red Hat which is now a couple years old. A lot of real progress has been made in the last couple years and if you could just wait a year or two more you would be impressed.

    2. Try preloaded Linux. I have one of the Ubuntu Dell computers and lets just say I don't have wireless, print, etc... problems. One reason why Mac and Windows "Just work" is their hardware was manufactured to run on Mac OSX or Windows. Dell pre-installed Linux is beginning to really show those perks.

    3. Culture, well that is a problem, but this again is one of Ubuntu's strengths. Ubuntu has a very well received forums where most people are much more helpful then those who say: Open a terminal. Ubuntu people are trying, though they slip to, to give people help without needing a terminal.

    4. Seriously, not now since I still think it has a ways to go, but wait a year or two and try Ubuntu again. I promise you will be shocked at how far Linux has come.

    I promise all of you, Ubuntu in a year or two will be a car that can take yu places you need to go in a nice smooth way. It is free to try, so why not. (In a year or two.)

    (By the way, Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 which will come out in early 2010 will probably be pretty nice too, but I a betting Ubuntu will still be #1 in terms of end user experience.)

  3. As two your 2nd comment: Linux will not take away your terminal. :)

  4. Nick you can have your terminal and you can have it until they pry the keyboard from your cold dead fingers, but way back in the 1980's Apple came up with a GUI to control volume on a computer and it seems that most laptops and desktops have had that nice little feature ever since. But for some reason certain distros of Linux have excluded that little nicety from the standard fare of user interfaces. So it is a little annoying when something is standard everywhere else in the computer world and suddenly you are forced to use an operating system where they tell you "Oh you can do that in a terminal..."


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