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Teeth-Gnashing and Tongue-Lashing Over Desktop Linux Foot-Shooting

By Katherine Noyes
Oct 19, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Well the good news about Linux continues to come fast and furious.

Teeth-Gnashing and Tongue-Lashing Over Desktop Linux Foot-Shooting

No sooner did we cover the London Stock Exchange's abandonment of .Net in favor of Linux than word came out that Washington Post computer security blogger Brian Krebs has warned that Windows isn't safe for online banking.

His recommendation? Linux-based Live CDs instead.

Beating the Malware

"Even if the Windows installation on the underlying hard drive is completely corrupted with a keystroke-logging virus or Trojan, that malware can't capture the victim's banking credentials if that user only transmits his or her credentials after booting up into one of these Live CDs," Krebs explained.

The community's reaction? More than 400 comments on Slashdot just a few days later, not to mention discussions on OStatic, as well as on LXer and beyond.

Linux, you're on a roll!

'Bad Techie Attitude'

Of course, the news can never be *all* good.

Sure enough, also making a big splash on the Linux blogs in the last few days was a post from Computerworld's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols last Wednesday entitled, "Five ways the Linux desktop shoots itself in the foot."

Lack of vendor support, lack of marketing, too much "bad techie attitude," too much infighting and not enough developer cooperation are the bullet items Vaughan-Nichols lists, drawing more than 250 comments on the site by Friday -- along with roughly the same number on Digg and scores of others on Linux Today and elsewhere.

'More Times Than I Care to Count'

"Every time i've ever posted on ubuntu's forum, ive been treated very nicely," protested Anonymous in the Computerworld comments, for example.

"Really?" shot back another Anonymous writer. "Because I've seen 'RTFM NOOB' more times than I care to count."

Further debates were conducted on each of Vaughan-Nichols' other points as well, so Linux Girl knew it was time for action.

'More of a FUD Issue Than Anything'

"Linux does indeed have some vendor support: You can buy a Dell with Ubuntu preloaded," Slashdot blogger David Masover told LinuxInsider.

"I agree that more could be done, but this is presented as 'Linux's Fault,' which is usually the mark of someone who Doesn't Get It," Masover added. "If someone thinks this is a good idea, and that there's profit to be made, go start a company that sells Linux support, or that sells boxed Linux OSes with support."

The point is really "more of a FUD issue than anything," he added. "When was the last time an end-user called Microsoft for support? When something goes wrong with your computer, do you talk to Microsoft, or do you talk to your local geek?

"The biggest advantage for Linux would be to ensure that there are more local geeks who know enough about it to help," Masover asserted.

'Be Honest'

The question does, however, reveal one area where Linux really is shooting itself in the foot, he said, and that's "where individuals advocating Linux do more harm than good."

Specifically, it's critical that advocates "be honest about whether Linux is an option," he advised. "Do NOT, under any circumstances, wipe the OS and install Linux as a 'favor' while setting up a new computer, unless it's with their express permission."

As for the infighting, that exists everywhere, Masover noted -- "it's just more visible in open source."

Smooth Full-Screen Video

The lack of developer cooperation is a problem, Masover agrees.

"Linux could use more of a lot of things, and usability testing is one," he noted.

Yet "the largest real, technological issue with the Linux desktop that affects me is this," Masover asserted.

"The problem is, I do have smooth full-screen video, just not in Flash, and that's really something only Adobe can fix -- which is yet another issue that is not Linux's Fault, which Linux has no power to do anything about," he said.

'I Disagree With the Main Premise'

"I disagree with the main premise of the article," Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told LinuxInsider. "The problems listed here boil down to two basic issues: not enough corporate backing and not enough developer unity in certain areas."

The "bad techie attitude," on the other hand, "is less of an issue than the article makes it out to be," Travers said.

The fundamental problem, however, "is that some folks are trying to use Linux as a substitute for Windows, and they want to see a Windows-like Linux desktop emerge as a unifying force to crush Microsoft," Travers asserted.

'No Unified Desktop Market'

Yet "this won't happen, because as Microsoft knows -- and as many desktop Linux advocates forget -- there is no unified 'desktop market'," he explained. "Instead, there are various desktop markets -- home, small office, corporate desktop, etc. -- each of which has a different set of needs.

"Often folks want Linux to work like Windows, which is a problem because Linux shouldn't try to emulate that product," Travers asserted.

In short, "Linux will conquer different desktop markets at different rates," Travers concluded. "It will take time. I predict the consumer desktop market will be the last to fall."

'Why No Puppy or DSL?'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet had a different take. Lack of vendor support? "Don't matter," he said.

"Folks frankly have NO clue as to what an OS is, much less what is on the thing," he explained. "Better to blame the OEMs for putting shoddy rehashes of distros, some of which barely work, on these devices.

"And why no Puppy or DSL on netbooks?" he asked. "That would be IMNSHO much better than some bad Ubuntu rehash."

Of course, "most OEMs aren't gonna want to deal with the problem that has plagued Linux from the start: lack of drivers," hairyfeet asserted. "Until device manufacturers can put a 'Linux 32/64' folder on the driver CD and put a little fat penguin on the box, support for desktop Linux is gonna be an OEM nightmare."

'The Linux Desktop Sucks'

As for the elitist attitude, "that he got right," hairyfeet agreed. "We have all seen 'that guy' with his 'LOL Lexbark LOL Windblowz' stuff.

"I personally think the elitist is an offshoot of the RMS zealot," he added. "Both like their OS to be a niche -- one because 'it shows we are sticking to our freedoms man!' and the other because 'easy is for noobs and lusers!'"

Finally, the developer cooperation point is "missing the forest for the trees," hairyfeet asserted.

"I'll probably be shot for saying this, but the Linux desktop sucks," he opined. "Sure, the desktop looks pretty on top, but dig even a tiny bit deeper and you end up with either badly designed GUIs or -- worse -- you have to go CLI, which is a deal breaker for Joe Public, who will NEVER EVER use CLI.

"I should be able to spend my whole computing experience without EVER touching CLI," he added. "I can in Windows, I can in OSX -- why can't I in Linux?"

'Slow but Steady Progress'

The fact remains, however, that "in spite of the chaos, GNU /Linux makes slow but steady progress against monopoly," blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider. "The diversity seems an obstacle to some, but it is a great barrier to malware. The chaos becomes strength."

The GPL and other free software licenses, meanwhile, "work to keep costs down," and "in the market, it is very hard to beat a free lunch," he noted.

In short, 2009 "is the last year anyone will have a hard time buying a GNU/Linux desktop from a retailer," Pogson predicted. "The niche has cracked wide open and will be a canyon next year."

Then, of course, there are the netbooks and the Android phones, Linux Girl would hasten to point out. Vaughan-Nichols' points notwithstanding, with the explosive rise of portable, Internet-connected devices like these, is the consumer desktop really going to be worth worrying about?


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