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‘Extreme’ Computing and Other Linux-World Problems

Well another Independence Day has come and gone here in the land of stars and stripes, causing at least some in the tech blogosphere to turn their thoughts toward freedom.

“Digital independence day: Your guide to DIY, open-source, anonymous free computing” was the offering over at PCWorld, for example. “It’s Time for IT Pros to Declare Their Technology Freedom” was the thought du jour at CIO.

Unfortunately, for those of us here in the Linux blogosphere — where freedom has always been part of the plan — other headlines have had, shall we say, a moderating effect on all that enthusiasm.

‘NSA Classifies You as Extremist’

Linux Girl

“Use Tor? Read the Tails website? You’re on the NSA’s ‘EXTREMIST’ list” read one, for example — mentioning respected publication Linux Journal, no less.

“NSA is now targeting people for bulking up their web security” read another.

“Value Online Privacy? NSA Classifies You as an ‘Extremist,’ Collects More Than Metadata” read another.

Perhaps using Linux — or reading LinuxInsider, for that matter — should be considered an extreme sport from now on, Linux Girl humbly suggests.

‘7 Improvements the Linux Desktop Needs’

Well, at least we’re still free to put Linux on our desktops — though even that subject has been a contentious one lately.

“7 Improvements the Linux Desktop Needs” is the title of the article over at Datamation. Down at the blogosphere’s Punchy Penguin Saloon, it stirred up quite a froth.

“The seven improvements are interesting, but at this point in the development of Linux, hardly required,” Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone told Linux Girl over a fresh Freedom Foo Frappe, for example. “I would consider them ‘nice-to-haves.'”

‘The Push We’ve Been Waiting for’

Right now, “Linux only really needs that one big thing to push it into popular usage,” Stone added. “Windows maintains its dominance because of laziness, really — Windows is what comes on the computer, and for most people, it’s not bad enough to change for something else.”

Corporations, meanwhile, “are years behind where the actual industry is,” he said. “My own only migrated to Windows 7 last year.”

In short, “the Linux desktop doesn’t really need the stuff that most people seem to think it needs,” Stone concluded. “What it needs is a push, and Windows 8 along with SteamOS could very well be the push we’ve been waiting for.”

‘Gather and Find Some Standards’

Most of the requirements listed in the Datamation article are already met, Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. opined. “We have friendly distros — not only for system administrators or geeks — easy application centers and update managers.”

What would help Linux spread is for the developers of distros and desktop environments to “gather and find some standards,” he suggested — “always keeping the flexibility to change everything, as usual in GNU/Linux and not in other OSes.”

At the same time, “we need more critical mass and OEM support,” he added.

“How about: Take a break from adding new features and make sure all apps use the existing features as well as modern APIs?” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack suggested.

‘I Keep Several Machines Around’

“For me, anything I want to do in a desktop can be done in one or another Linux desktop,” Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien agreed.

“Where I can perhaps quibble is when one desktop does most of what I need, but is missing something I really like from another,” he added. “For example, in general I love KDE, but for many things involving audio, I have to switch to a different desktop.

“I like Unity as an alternative, but I really miss the panels and widgets I am used to on KDE,” O’Brien said. “So I keep several machines around, with different desktops, and use the one best suited to my needs at any given time.”

‘Some Seem Like Decent Ideas’

Compiz “already provides ‘viewport’ previews, which permits antialiased previews of virtual desktops,” noted Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza, reacting to one of the items on Datamation’s list.

“I used to use avant-window-navigator and compiz for a sort of like-OSX-but-better interface, with emerald for the eye candy,” he said, noting that Emerald is now out of date.

“I find the existing menu system to work fine, but people having trouble navigating can use a tool like gnome-do,” Espinoza suggested. ‘This is the same method of navigation every other major desktop operating system has adopted to make it simpler to find what you are looking for.”

As for the other items on Datamation’s list, “some seem like decent ideas, but I have to wonder if they’re not actually solved problems as well,” he concluded.

‘That Is in the Pipe’

“All of the latest and greatest features of graphical desktops are available to users of GNU/Linux,” blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl. “I have a virtual workspace switcher in Xfce 4 that does show me a thumbnail of the desktop as it is. I can run multiple copies of applications with different themes by setting up virtual machines and using the amazingly versatile X window system to display an application from one virtual machine on the desktop of another real or virtual machine.

“I can set up bibliographic databases for documents using LibreOffice — it is a suite, and one can have a database in one window and any document in another,” Pogson added. “I can copy and paste to my heart’s content. I have templates as well as styles in LibreOffice.”

The only thing lacking for Pogson in LibreOffice are chart styles, and “that is in the pipe,” he said. “Meanwhile, templates in Gnumeric are great for spreadsheets with charts.”

Bottom line: “The grumbling that GNU/Linux is not ready for the desktop is made by people who don’t know how to use the incredible versatility of GNU/Linux,” Pogson asserted. “OEMs and others should invest the time to learn how to use the capabilities. Ordinary users should not have to figure this stuff out.”

OEMs and retailers should also “be putting this stuff on retail shelves,” he added. “What’s holding them back is the dying carcass of Wintel that held all of IT back for more than a decade trying to shoehorn every user into the ‘one true way’ of doing IT at great expense.”

‘Demand Better’

Last but not least, SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet countered the Datamation article with seven suggestions of his own:

1. “A ‘help me!’ button: Too much assuming a user has skills to do tasks that are beyond them equals fail.”

2. “GET RID OF CLI!!! You use it as a crutch — learn to make REAL GUI (not screen scraping Bash) and then have the OPTION of using CLI. If ANY answer has only Bash as the solution? You are a failure, please go away.”

3. “System Restore: Windows has had it for 14 bloody years now — the user should NOT have to make backups of the system in case your patch smells or something goes wrong.”

4. “Rollback drivers: Again, it’s been 14 years and Linux is lacking features Win2K had. Really? that’s just sad.”

5. “Quit with the dependency crap: It ain’t 1993, space isn’t that big an issue anymore, just stop. I don’t care WHERE you put it, just fix it so if two programs need different versions of the same files you don’t get a mess.”

6. “Ditto with packing some ‘little’ program because you are calling on 13GB worth of dependencies. Either pack your program so it can run by itself or please go away — it’s just too much like java applet mess.”

7. “A real, functional driver subsystem: You don’t want an ABI? Fine, dazzle me, show me how you can get a functional driver subsystem without one, because that duct-taped mess you have now? It’s a joke. If drivers work on first install they should work for the life of that hardware AND the life of that distro. You’d laugh your behind off if Win 8 SP1 wiped out something as fundamental as Realtek sound or a major graphics chip, right? So why put up with it from your distro? DEMAND BETTER.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

17 Comments

  • Most of that "Demand Better" is crap.

    #1 is good. No issues with a help button.

    #2 is already done. The problem is that there are a LOT of things that a CLI always does better, and more efficiently than a GUI… And some things CAN’T be done with a GUI.

    #3 System restore is necessary for Windows due to the weakness of the system. Actual backups are much better.

    #4 Most system keep the entire kernel around for three versions (or as many as the admin wants). And that allows for a "rollback" of a lot more than just drivers.

    #5 "dependency crap" is there to optimize download efficiency. Why download 10 GB of libraries when you already have it?

    #6 is a renamed #5. Having separate libraries allows for modular updates.

    #7 is not a problem. Not having a fixed ABI for drivers allows drivers to be optimized and the kernel to improve. This is only a problem for proprietary drivers anyway. Tough. And Windows 8 DOES wipe out some drivers.

    • Let me critique your responce.

      1. Good to see that people agree that this is needed.

      2. There are TWO and ONLY TWO things that CLI does better than a full GUI. Repetitive tasks and scripting. With everything else CLI will get curb-stomped by a full GUI. Consumers do not want and will not tolerate having to use CLI.

      3. You’ve completely dodged the question. Windows has system restore because it’s a GOOD IDEA. Are you saying that having an "undo" function in word processors is also a bad idea and users should make backup copies of their documents every 5 minutes? If it is a good idea in a word processor, why is it a bad idea in an OS?

      4. That’s not the question. Where is the button that a user clicks on when the system updates their system and it makes a big stinky all over the sound system? Linux doesn’t have one.

      5. Answer: Because we get Dependency Hell. Which is why Windows implemented SxS 10+ years ago. Why does Linux continue to have problems I last dealt with in Windows 98?

      6. See above. Bandwidth is cheap. My time is expensive.

      7. Which is why Linux GPU hardware acceleration is nonexistent at worst and a sick joke at best. Why is it acceptable to have a driver model that breaks proprietary/closed source drivers? This is NOT just a problem for proprietary drivers as even open source drivers break and need to be fiddled with to work again. The manpower to do what you are suggesting does not exist, which is why every other modern OS uses an ABI so drivers can be written once and used for the life of the system. I know you probably have religious reasons for thinking breaking proprietary drivers is OK, but businesses and consumers will rightly tell you to take your Micky Mouse amateur hour coding and shove it because that sort of software behavior is NOT acceptable in the year 2014 when it comes to consumer and business PCs.

      • Take the Hairyfeet Challenge and post it to YouTube. the challenge has been posted here enough times so it should be easy to find. I can pass the challenge with Win2K (from RTM to EOL without a single driver fail) XP (ditto) and the same goes for Vista/7/8 to current.

        The challenge has lasted for 7+ years now with NO DISTRO able to pass, NONE. The closest was a poor sad individual that had to use a copy of Scientific linux (which states on its home page its NOT FOR HOME OR BUSINESS but for research labs) and even then he STILL couldn’t keep functional drivers for wireless and sound LOL!

        You know what the definition of insanity is? Its failing for 20+ years and then blaming everyone else. You’d laugh if Windows went back to using VXDs and .INI files right, well guess what? Those are high tech compared to the 1970s unix fail that Linux uses for drivers. Ironically the OS closest to UNIX, the BSDs, have an ABI because they saw the other way DOES NOT WORK. Funny how Torvalds "genius" driver design is used by NOBODY but him.

        Linux was at 1% 10 years ago, its at 1% now, its a hobbyist OS that is going exactly nowhere and it all comes down to users like you refusing to stand up and demand better. If you want to have numbers so pathetic that Vista actually has triple the users? Go right ahead but you have nobody to blame but yourself. As it is now Linux is unsuitable for anything but servers and embedded, servers because the hardware is ancient, embedded because they only write the drivers once and then never update.

        Oh and don’t even bother wasting my time by bringing up Android, Linux is to Android what Linux is to TiVo. Linux on the desktop is what we are talking about and its frankly a bad joke, end of story.

        • Don’t have to prove it.

          I have used Linux on the desktop ever since about 1995.

          worked better than SunOS, which worked MUCH better than any Windows based desktop. Never had a virus. Never needed to "restore to a checkpoint". MUCH better security design.

          • #2 – A CLI is better at anything a GUI has not already been programmed to do… And that doesn’t mean just "Repetitive tasks and scripting".

            #3 – "Windows has system restore" which is only useful as a backup… Unfortunately it also screws up your system when you have had to add a lot of patches. Then you have to redo a lot of work.

            It also doesn’t help if your disk goes south… The only solution is a real backup…

            A "system restore" should be part of the filesystem, support, not a separate feature. It is then just a "filesystem checkpoint", which also saves a lot of disk space…

            #4 – doesn’t need one. See "filesystem checkpoint".

            #5 – What "dependency hell"? That is a term defined by Windows administrators for Windows installation problems. UNIX/Linux never had a problem with it since shared libraries were added (somewhere around UNIX v7 and System III). After all, that is when version numbers were used for various libraries, somewhere around 1985?

            #6 – So why does it still take a number of hours to days to perform a Windows installation?. And still screws up wireless connections? The last Linux installation I did took a bit over an hour… Only requiring a final target configuration for networking.

            #7 – that is up to proprietary vendors.

            Drivers that have been added to the linux code base get updated when the interface changes. That is one reason Linux supports more devices than Windows – even for those devices that are no longer supported by their vendor (they may have gone out of business, merged or otherwise disappeared). And there are a number of accelerated video drivers there.

            The manpower does exist, otherwise the drivers would never get updated, yet Linux drivers DO get updated (updates have been rejected when the developer of the update doesn’t provide the updates for their driver and other drivers too).

            One of the problems is that "life of the system" is defined by the user, not the vendor. So Linux support for many devices continue long after the vendor support has disappeared. Remember the old Cirrus Logic video? still works in Linux. How about the 3c509 ethernet? Last time I checked, it still worked with Linux. The last reported support for Windows was Win2000… And you can’t get any from the vendor… 3Com doesn’t exist.

            As for not acceptable? More and more companies are moving to Linux even in the presence of your objections. Cities and even entire countries. Government agencies as well. Quite a few DoD applications have dropped Windows, NASA has dropped Windows from the ISS as a platform due to the problems it causes. Windows has quite effectively been wiped off the supercomputer market as "not acceptable".

          • Anecdotes and bullshit, quit wasting my time. My copy of Windows 7 has never failed and never had a bug therefor Windows 7 is completely bug and error free!

            See why your anecdotes are worthless? Either put up or shut up, the challenge is 100% free, takes less than 4 hours start to finish, and is easily replicated. You won’t though because IT WILL FAIL and I know this as I’ve personally done the challenge with the top 5 distros and ALL FAILED.

            So don’t waste my time with lame anecdotes, show your prove or don’t waste everyone’s time with BS.

          • I can trivially make tests that all windows distributions fail as well.

            They failed the supercomputer market after all.

            They failed the financial stock markets as well.

            They have failed the phone markets too.

            They have failed reliability tests as shown by NASA and the DoD.

            Biggest joke of all was that "Windows for Warships" garbage – that resulted in ships having to be towed back to port.

            Windows. Not fit for any purpose.

          • Anecdotes and bullshit along with an attempt to move the goalposts, quit wasting my time. All you are doing is showing that Linux isn’t suitable for purpose because if it was? you’d do the challenge to prove me wrong.

            But you can’t because the driver model is a broken pile of garbage and the OS isn’t even a match for Windows XP. Either put up or shut up, with every post where you try to dodge all you do is point out Linux is a failure.

          • Not all Windows drivers work either. MS DOES change the API, and drivers that are not updated are then broken.

            Not changing the API means the kernel has to be limited in its usefulness.

            It also means the kernel cannot evolve very fast as each change breaks all the previous drivers. And that is true for all kernels. Linux has chosen the path of faster evolution.

            That choice is also reflected in the number of places that Linux is usable where Windows is not.

            The fact that you can’t accept that is your problem.

          • You are trying to move the goalpost AND change the subject, sure signs of fear. If you are confident in Linux PROVE IT or stop hiding behind bullshit and anecdotes! The challenge is simple, verifiable, and only simulates HALF, I repeat HALF of the Windows lifecycle. If you think I’m wrong PROVE IT or stop hiding your fear of the truth with BS and changes of subject. So you won’t even have to bother using the search button here is the challenge..

            Take ANY mainstream (not LTS, because even Ubuntu advises against mainstream users using LTS) from FIVE years ago, this simulates a 5 year typical lifecycle. This BTW is less than HALF a windows support cycle, so I’m cutting linux a break. Lets say you use Ubuntu, that would be Ubuntu 9.10 and can be downloaded from their archive. Install it on ANY PC, desktop or laptop (NOT VM as that isn’t real hardware and comes with special drivers) that has a wireless card. Wireless is required because more and more mainstream users are ditching wireless and nobody wants a laptop that doesn’t have wireless, do they?

            During this phase you are the system builder so CLI (which is usually required because Linux driver support is poor) IS ALLOWED. Once its installed you are no longer the system builder but THE USER, so like a windows user you are ONLY allowed to use the GUI. You then get to "enjoy the freedom" of using nothing but the GUI (because if you can’t even update the thing without CLI you’re no match for windows are you) of updating to current…with ubuntu that is SEVEN RELEASES, just FYI. You will film this and post it to youtube, you only have to upload the final install process of each release and a pic of the device manager showing working hardware and a working wiFi using WPA V2, but the complete video should be hosted on dropbox to prove you aren’t faking it.

            If your OS can’t pass a challenge THIS simple and easy, simulating just half the support cycle of Windows? Then its a hobbyist OS, plain and simple. lets see your proof or quit wasting my time.

          • Red Hat is a MINIMUM of $300 a year for a support contract… YOU FAIL SIR.

            And if providing even HALF of a Windows OS functionality is "stupid" and something YOUR OS CAN’T DO then I’m sorry but its a hobbyist OS, right up there with Haiku and Minix…is that what you are claiming now? Put up or admit your OS isn’t fit for purpose, your choice. The entire challenge is free, takes less than 4 hours, can be done on any PC you have lying around or you can always add a partition to your current junker. Put up or admit failure, your choice.

          • Didn’t think you would accept anything.

            And RH is only 300 if you want 24×7 support and that was not a MAXIMUM.

            Support goes from $49 on up.

            And you can’t get that from MS.

            It is stupid when you have to pay about $25,000 (and higher) to get support for databases, office suites, languages and development systems, web services… I seem to remember $12,000 was just for a database system with support. And now just web support is $12,000 alone, and $3,800 to renew, per year.

            AND have to pay for anti-virus protection, reinstallations, bricking, constant reboots (though that seems to be FINALLY getting better), disk defragmentation (again, FINALLY getting almost as good as when UNIX/Linux has had for the last 20 years), poor security design…

            But then, I didn’t expect you to accept any evidence.

          • So the ONLY way you SAY you can pass is by paying over $500 for the 10 years? How much is Windows again?….$89 on Newegg…yeah thanks for playing.

            Again lets see this proof, otherwise you are just slinging BS and anecdotes. My Windows has never gotten an infection and never crashed so Windows never gets infections or crashes…isn’t anecdotes great?

            The challenge is there, time to put up or shut up. Why are you so scared? why is such a simple challenge, half of what Windows gives every person who buys it, frighten you? Afraid it will prove to you that you are dealing with a broken OS? DEMAND BETTER.

          • I can easily show you with basic math how "let the kernel devs handle drivers" is like "many eyes" a complete and total myth, ready?

            You have right now around 250,000 drivers out there for Linux, new hardware probably adds 3k-4k a month and you have MAYBE 500 kernel devs worldwide who have the years of experience in low level coding required to debug a low level driver…starting to see the flaw here? if you pumped the kernel devs full of speed so they did NOTHING but work on drivers 24/7 (and in reality the amount of time they spend on drivers versus the kernel is pretty low, probably 25% at best) then in a perfect scenario you’d have the drivers for a particular piece of hardware looked at by a kernel dev about once every 10 years for a max of 3 minutes! and this isn’t even bringing up the facts that 1.- the kernel dev most likely won’t have the hardware on hand to test, 2.- Will have little to no hands on exp with said hardware, and 3.- has little to no incentive to spend any real amount of time trying to fix a driver he/she will never need for hardware they will never own.

            The "let the kernel devs handle it" like "many eyes" worked when the entire Linux OS could fit on a single floppy, but this ain’t 1993 anymore and the amount of drivers compared to the amount of devs you have to do the job isn’t even a joke, its just sad. also remember that nearly all these devs are being paid by SERVER CORPS that needless to say really don’t care if your phone or USB sound ever works because its not what they are paying the devs for.

            In just the past five years you have had the entire sound subsystem ripped out, you are in the middle of replacing Xorg, and the wireless system has been getting several rewrites…if you were to have the devs just spend 3 minutes on each sound driver making sure they work with Pulse for example they wouldn’t be doing anything else for the better part of a year!

            So I’m sorry but the current driver model just doesn’t scale and this is why Linux drivers are so much lower quality and stability wise than Windows and OSX. Thanks to its driver ABI I have taken Vista RTM drivers and used them in both Win 7 and 8, that is 8 years of working drivers WITHOUT requiring a developer to drop everything and do rewrites on the driver…try that with Linux and see how far you get, the driver model just doesn’t work.

          • 500 kernel developers? you must be joking.

            The last number I’ve read of was over 10,000.

            Yes, 50 or so top kernel developers. But they are backed by many projects developing and maintaining drivers. And each project may have a thousand or more developers contributing. Then there are the mailing lists for major subsystems, with thousands subscribers, the kernel janitors that carry out cleanup operations, those that are just learning, and then there are the vendors that also contribute.

            http://www.zdnet.com/who-writes-linux-almost-10000-developers-7000020717/

            Then there is the fact that a single driver can handle entire families of devices – 15-30 devices from different vendors may be handled by a single driver. The shared development reduces the cost for all…

            As for "sound ripped out", nope. Hasn’t been ripped out. Distributions may change which drivers they use, and how they are used… but the only thing I am aware of that has been dropped has been support for the 386 processor. Depreciated maybe – but until there is agreement that all the functions of the old have been taken over by the new (and work for the same devices), nothing has been dropped.

            Xorg is not a driver. It is not even part of the kernel. It is just an application. So the wireless got rewritten.. so what. Development and improvement continues.

            A general purpose kernel only needs a bit under 5MB now. That CAN be trimmed to under 1MB by removing features not needed for the application. Linux does run on processors without a MMU, or floating point.

            Only 8 years? I still have drivers that support devices going back to 1995. Drivers that there are no vendors for, yet the hardware still works. The driver still works. That is the advantage of having the driver part of the kernel… the developers continue support.

            Whether you like it or not, Linux has far more developers than MS can muster.

          • No.

            And as I said, I don’t expect you to accept the proof.

            And not scared. Just don’t like all the vulnerabilities, and illegal activity MS does.

            I already know Windows is broken – the proof is in every catastrophic failure in security.

            I did demand better. That is why I use Linux.

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