I might use Linux, but I wouldn’t recommend it

I’ve been using Linux as my one and only operating system at home for about 14 months now (12 months with Mandriva and the last two with openSUSE). During that time I’ve successfully managed to kick my dependency on proprietary software. Switching to OpenOffice.org was a major help because the need for MS Office was keeping me on Windows, and since Apple are too full of themselves to release a mid-range system without a monitor or an operating system that doesn’t treat me like a moron, Linux was the obvious choice. But I’d be lying if I said I was in computing heaven.

One of the things to really annoy me of late is the I/O scheduler in Linux, and anything involving disk activity. Copying large files across the network shouldn’t hang my applications for long periods of time. A friend in the know says that Windows prioritises the focused Window whereas Linux treats all tasks equally. Maybe this is why the I/O scheduler is now “completely fair queuing” by default. So I changed it to “deadline” for a while to see if that helped. It actually seemed to make Firefox hang even more, so I’m now trying “anticipatory” for a while, and so far, it might just feel better (but only time will tell). My next step will be to do away with a swap partition altogether. I have 2GB of memory for goodness sake, so Linux shouldn’t need to swap anything (even though I’ve set “vm.swappiness = 10” to try to discourage swapping).

The other day I copied some files to my brother’s very new 8GB flash drive using Dolphin in KDE 4.1.3 and let’s just say that I was getting some pretty dirty looks. The kind of look that says “*this* is how good Linux is? are you insane?” The files would seem to copy very quickly for a short while (up to about 8MB per second) but then the transfer rate would progressively slow down (under 1MB per second) to the point where it would seem to be doing nothing, then speed up again. My own 4GB USB seems fine, so perhaps Linux doesn’t like his brand (I’m sure he’d have noticed if Windows had trouble copying to it).

Today I don’t seem to be able to press Ctrl-Alt-Right or Left to switch virtual desktops, even though the KDE 4 “Personal Settings” window shows that they’re still set to these values. I finally decided to give virtual desktops a try the other day because I had so many windows open I couldn’t make sense of it all, and since I was doing some web development, including using The GIMP for graphical stuff, I couldn’t see the Toolbox or the Layers windows in the taskbar. Turns out The GIMP doesn’t show these down there (very handy, even though they’re fully-fledged windows and not like floating palettes in MS Windows).

What a bizarre beast this GIMP is, especially the openSUSE version, where the File menu isn’t on the Toolbox and instead appears at the top of an empty image window the first time you start it (and all other image windows subsequently). To top it off The GIMP’s selection saving is quite peculiar if you’re used to Photoshop (you have to save to channel, then, if you want that selection back again, right-click on the channel in the layers/channel window – that doesn’t appear in the taskbar – and choose Channel to Selection). Perhaps I should try “gimpshop” but right now I’m too annoyed to be bothered. And it won’t remember my recently-opened files, either.

Of course I could go on about the obligatory nuisance that is Adobe Flash. Actually, I think I will. I’m using the 64-bit version of openSUSE 11.1, and the admittedly alpha version of Adobe’s 64-bit flash player, but do you think that a web browser in Linux could still manage to play a simple applet without turning itself into a grey square again? By all accounts this 64-bit Linux flash player is supposed to be good, but as far as I can tell, it’s no better than before. Maybe Flash is just an abomination since it’s always been so, but surely in this day and age a simple sound-playing applet on naxos.com can bloody well play a simple audio stream without kicking the bucket? And that’s another thing, finding all the annoying little packages that are required to play various media formats. Like previewing sound on Amazon.com, which appears to be a little flash applet. But since the whole world of media formats is one big sloppy orgy where everyone’s invited, including the dirty old troll who lives under the bridge out of town, it’s a frigging nightmare out there trying to get by.

That last slew of problems isn’t really Linux’s fault, but by George, you soon get to be intimately acquainted with them if you try to break free of Windows and all those evil Quicktime systray applets, Adobe updaters, pointless Java icons, and virus updates. Linux isn’t necessarily better in most respects, it just gives you different problems to deal with. The only good side is that you’ll at least have to adopt open file standards and your chances of being able to switch to a different OS one day will be greatly increased. If I’m not beholden to Windows any more then perhaps I could actually switch to Mac one day if Apple figured out how to create an OS acceptable to people with intellect. Like a decent Finder and the ability to really configure keyboard shortcuts (more than just redefining what the menu exposes). I’m sorry, Apple, but I simply must be able to press home/end to move my cursor to the beginning or end of the line. Ctrl-Left or Ctrl-Right is unacceptable. And forcing me to buy a system with a crappy screen with a locked-in hard drive and a crappy video card simply because I choose not to be price-gouged into a Mac Pro is no way to attract new customers (with a brain, that is).

I hadn’t intended to type all this tonight, but things have really been annoying me lately. Like my clipboard breaking every time I use VirtualBox, or not having back/forward mouse button support in Dolphin, or Pidgin periodically crashing whenever I receive a message from somebody (on MSN or XMPP), or not being able to read or play audio CDs, and Kontact not being able to auto-complete recent email addresses. I didn’t have any of these problems in Windows, but I did have a very healthy systray, and I had to have a virus scanner. Which is a bit of a deal breaker, really. Unless my problems mount up in Linux, I think I really do have the lesser of all evils. But it’s not such that I would be confident in recommending somebody switch to Linux. Assuming they’re stupid, I’ll just recommend they buy a Mac. And if their relationship with Windows has reached the point of separation, and they have a brain, they’ll just have to work around Linux’s issues themselves. I simply don’t have the time or the patience any more for this kind of crap.

21-Feb-2009: While I think of it, other things that are broken include K3b not being able to eject the DVD after burning, and the power management for my Dell 2407WFP-HC 24″ monitor not working, forcing me to switch it off all the time, to the point where the switch is now busted. Thank goodness for the “5 years advanced exchange” warranty on it. The default focus-stealing prevention is a bit too eager, I think. Clicking on a newly-inserted medium in the device notifier would load Dolphin, but wouldn’t actually focus the window or bring it to the front; you have to click on the glowing entry for it in the taskbar. If I just clicked on it in the device notifier, that generally means I want to open it! I just checked and the “Focus stealing prevention level” is set to “low” so I guess you have to choose “none” to fix this and really get annoyed like never before!

8 thoughts on “I might use Linux, but I wouldn’t recommend it

  1. Glad you found your Linux of choice. Ubuntu is usually a good choice for new users. But personally I’ve been using Debian using 2003-04 and I’ve not had to reinstall it once (well, I did install it on my laptop and desktop separately but you get my point).

    Using the Debian “testing” repository is a great way to keep a stable, yet up-to-date system. Give it a go when you’re more comfortable with Linux.

    Also many people swear by Slackware, but it requires a lot of manual configuration and doesn’t have too many GUI system admin tools so you’ll have to edit config files by hand. But it does give you a fairly good idea of the ways of classic Unix.

  2. Well, I’m not going to resist the GNOME-based Ubuntu any more. Yesterday I rsync’ed my home folder to an external USB drive and clonezilla’d the entire disk for good measure. After one more rsync, this drive is getting formatted!

    I installed the 64-bit version of Ubuntu onto a spare 10GB partition I was saving for just such an occasion and just about anything I had previously noticed to be broken in my various KDE4 experiences was working fine. CD audio, no problem. Disk access, much faster than openSUSE (and silent!). Rythmbox even has an option to browse by genre/artist/album now, which is good. So, Ubuntu here I come. Wish me luck.

  3. sorry to hear that you’re having so many issues with linux, but good jobs trying to work things through. like some people have said before, i think that kde 4 is not exactly the best choice right now and it might be the cause of a few of your problems. in my opinion, kde 4 is not exactly as solid as kde 3.5 or gnome.

    i think ubuntu would be a good choice, its a very robust distro and works well for both linux pros and amateurs. so if you’re willing to put the time in, i’d say try it out!

    best of luck to you!

  4. Nick: triple booting to work around a few dumb “features” isn’t really a recipe for long-term sanity. Apple should really be adding some kind of preference pane to enable non-Apple keyboard shortcuts and other conveniences to encourage more users. I’d be more likely to buy a Mac if I didn’t have to use the mouse or some annoying keyboard shortcut to get to the end of the line all the time (and coding anything means you’ll be moving that cursor around a lot!)

    JD: I have been avoiding Ubuntu because I haven’t liked GNOME, but I’m slowly beginning to think that if everything else works fine, and my only problem is a GUI file manager that insults my intelligence, then that might be a deal worth making. I think it’s high time operating systems went 64-bit, so I’m going to give that version of Ubuntu a try. Surely it’s got to be up-to-scratch if Canonical are willing to support it?

  5. It seems like all these problems are happening because you made bad Linux choices (no offense, you probably didn’t know):

    1. OpenSuSe is total crap…I reviewed OpenSuSe 11.0 for my now defunct linux podcast and if i recall, it scored worse than Fedora and Ubuntu in almost every category. Go to Ubuntu. You’ll be happy you did. As a side note, Mandriva is crap as well.

    2. KDE4 (your Dolphin issues and that 3D Settings issue)…OpenSuSe 11.1 is still using KDE 4.1…I’ve used KDE 4.1 quite extensively and i don’t believe it is/was ready for mainstream. You shouldn’t judge on the usage of a “bad” product. Use KDE3 or GNOME or reserve judgment till whatever distro you choose goes to KDE 4.2 (Which i think is a HUGE improvement).

    3. GIMP…Dunno what to tell you…It’s not photoshop… :)

    4. Flash/Adobe…You seem to be running into a few problems with Flash, and it’s because when you installed, you chose 64-bit…I don’t know much about 64-bit opensuse, but if it’s anything like the 32-bit version, it’s crap. Also, anyone will tell you: “If you have 4GB RAM or less, running a 64-bit OS is pointless and nothing but a hindrance”

    5. Random issues…About half of them are the problem of KDE 4.1, half are the problem of Opensuse/Mandriva…I’m running on Debian (with GNOME)…I have no problems with virtualbox, i’ve only had Pidgin crash once (and it was my fault), i can play audio CD’s just fine…and i use Alpine’s web interface for all my email so…can’t say much about Kontact

  6. “I’m sorry, Apple, but I simply must be able to press home/end to move my cursor to the beginning or end of the line. Ctrl-Left or Ctrl-Right is unacceptable.”

    In Cocoa textfields, you want Control-E for end of line and Control-A for the beginning. There are a range of these – they come from Emacs.

    As for “I’m sorry” and “is unacceptable”, I’m sure they’ll be heartbroken in Cupertino.

    Really, stop fussing and moaning: just use whatever you like. Or, if your needs are not encompassed by one OS, dual (or triple) boot. Or run different OSes in virtual machines to suit your particular needs.

    As for Darwin, he was a biologist endeavouring to explain biological life, not a technologist. And the success of Microsoft Windows doesn’t prove that it’s in some way superior to anything else, but that you can do good business – at least in the short term – if you do the right deals and get a firm grip on the gonads of others on whom the distribution of your product depends (in this case the original equipment manufacturers). Any shady businessman could have told you as much long before the mid-nineteenth century.

    “… choosing to accept Windows … benefits success.”

    Really? Got a Tom-Tom, for example. What does that run on? Clearly the makers of that didn’t feel that “accepti[ing] Windows” by licensing the appropriately named WINCE would benefit their success.

    MS has a comfortable position in *some* sectors of the tech market at present. That’s partly down to doing the right deals at the right time, but may well change in future. It’s also losing money hand-over-fist in others right now.

  7. Choosing Linux demonstrates an intellectual choice to choose an alternative path in order to demonstrate a belief. At the end of the day choosing to accept Windows proves a Darwinian posit that the easiest/logical path is indeed accepting a physical environment that benefits success.

    Would you rather gorge on Windows and it’s plentiful fruit or instead struggle to climb the first branch to prove someone else’s point.

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