Polishing the Rare Gem That Is Linux

“Love is blind,” as the old saying goes, and that can be just as true when the object of love is a thing — an operating system, say — as a person.

Case in point? Linux. Fans of the operating system love it, perhaps even to the point where they can no longer see its — gasp! — imperfections.

Fortunately, the Linux community includes clear-eyed observers and thinkers such as Ken Starks, who recently penned a piece entitled, “What Would You Do to Improve Linux?”

Once FOSS fans got beyond the initial shock of the very suggestion, they had plenty to say — on FOSS Force, LXer and beyond. Down at the Linux blogosphere’s Broken Windows Lounge, Linux Girl got an earful.

The Ease Factor

Linux Girl

“I would make Linux more user-friendly for normal, garden-variety users,” Google+ blogger Rodolfo Saenz told Linux Girl over a fresh Tequila Tux cocktail.

“We are used to tweaking and making Linux our own, but the rest of humans — Windows and Mac humans, to be precise — want an OS that is easy to use and live with without the need to touch the OS from inside or use the terminal.”

How would that goal be achieved?

“More efficient software engineering oriented to the end user,” Saenz said. “Simple, yet difficult to implement in a FOSS world.”

‘Why Not Try to Look Professional?’

A unified software installation method is what Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone would add.

“Add to that OEM and software maker support, and Linux would take over the desktop overnight,” he opined.

“My opinion is that Linux is ready, and has been ready for some time, for the average person’s desktop computer,” Stone explained. “The only thing that stands in the way is availability of some software and its image as a geek toy. If the software was there and it came installed like Windows currently does, Windows would be a thing of the past.

“Oh, one more thing: I’m sure everybody loves the name ‘utopic unicorn,’ but try selling your boss on the idea that you want to put that one your server,” he added. “Why make things harder than they have to be? I love the names too, but why not try to look professional?”

‘Get Key People Together’

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack “would spend more time making things actually work together,” he told Linux Girl. “A lot of work is needed on the basic nuts and bolts.”

To wit: “It’s great that CUPS can automatically find a printer but pretty bad that in the case of some printers, it goes on to create a config that it then cannot use to access the very printer it autodetected,” Mack pointed out.

Similarly, “I think what this ‘ecosystem’ needs now is to get key people together — from more than just two distributions! — deciding some standards for the sake of the dissemination of Linux in the corporate and home-office world,” suggested Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C.

‘I Need Windows to Run X’

Applications were the main issue noted by Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien.

“Linux itself is fine as it is,” O’Brien told Linux Girl. “When you talk to people about why they don’t use Linux, you will always hear, “because I need Windows to run X…'”

People who can do what they need to do just as well in Linux as any other OS “are doing just fine, and that often includes people who are not hackers or even computer sophisticates,” he pointed out. “If my mother needs to read e-mail, surf the Web and get on Facebook, any Linux distro does that fine. But my wife, who needs to use Adobe Creative Suite for her work, cannot use Linux, even though she is a very sophisticated user.”

‘We Need People to Solve Problems’

There are “some real challenges with the Linux kernel,” offered Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. For instance, “ACPI hasn’t worked on my laptop since I upgraded from the 2.6.x line; some additional guarantees of support and assistance would be helpful.”

What’s really needed, though, “is a larger number of developers out there looking at the problems that people have and writing code to solve them,” Travers suggested. “Forget about high-level concepts like interoperability or dynamically working with other services — that’s not the issue. We need people to listen to users and solve problems, and ideally to do it for money, because that means you can have people doing it professionally instead of as a hobby.”

It’s that idea, in fact — “that we have the potential to make software development into a trade instead of a job” — that can “transform the market and bring Linux to the next level,” Travers concluded.

‘A Stable Driver ABI’

“How about a ‘roll back drivers’ button — a tool that will let you roll back bad updates a la System Restore and a simple way for a user to ask for and get remote help when something is wrong,” suggested SoylentNews blogger hairyfeet.

Such tools have long been available in Windows, he noted.

At the same time, “most of these problems would probably go away if only Linux had what BSD, Solaris, OSX, iOS, Android, Windows, WinRT and even OS/2 have, which is a stable driver ABI, so that every time there is a kernel update, the whole thing wouldn’t fall down like a house of cards,” hairyfeet added.

‘Just About Perfect’

Blogger Robert Pogson saw it differently.

“GNU/Linux is just about perfect for end-users: ~100 percent uptime, little or no malware, $0, FREE … what more could an end-user want?” he told Linux Girl. “I don’t know any users who could not find a package/window/display/file-manager they liked going down the list of popular distros on DistroWatch. The kernel is very solid. I don’t have any hardware that doesn’t work with it.”

The one sticking point for any particular user might be “some application, but that’s an illusion,” Pogson added. “That application does something. There’s no problem finding an application that will do just about anything in GNU/Linux. Browsing, office applications, multimedia players … are all covered well. We could all use improvements in software applications, but I honestly don’t have anything that’s a show-stopper, and I do a lot with GNU/Linux.”

If anything, “Debian GNU/Linux has too many applications,” he said. “I’ve only tried about 2K of their packages, and there are about 38K I have not tried. Until you’ve tried them all, can you really say you lack something?”

‘It’s Ready for Users’

Pogson’s wish list for Linux is short:

“I would like to be able to set the default styles of charts/graphs in LibreOffice,” he said. “That’s in the pipe.”

“I would like to be able to use a new release of Firefox without having to set per-site zooms to suit my eyes and my monitor,” he added. “That’s a few seconds to set up.”

In short, “I’ve introduced thousands to the GNU/Linux desktop, and the only complaint I ever got was that it wasn’t that other OS,” he concluded. “Tough. Live with it.

“I will never forget the student who fell off his chair because GNU/Linux gave him a working desktop in just a few seconds without ‘wait, wait, please wait,'” Pogson added. “I will never forget the student who told me that other OS was ‘so slow’ with a new-from-the-box, 64-bit, dual-core monster.

“GNU/Linux is nearly perfect,” he said. “Enjoy it. It’s ready for users.”

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+.


  • MS and apple OS’s are no more user friendly than linux, they just have large marketing budgets telling everybody that thay are.

    Yes, linux has things that could be improved upon, but I’m not sure that even if every single flaw or issue was able to be redessed that we would see any drastic change on uptake.

    That might change if Ubuntu touch makes a good impression, it’s the only linux OS that might have a chance of raising awareness in the public eye that linux is a viable alternative (most people don’t really know what drives chrome or android or are even aware of Firefox/sawfish).


      Anymore you want to throw out there? BTW the ONLY arguments you will find against an ABI is 1.- Kernel devs want the "right" to break everything on a whim (thus showing its a hobbyist OS) or 2.- A religious issue involving the GPL because "ZOMG somebody might right a non GPL driver!" while ignoring the fact that every single forum tell you to buy Nvidia because their drivers? Actually work.

      When people would rather steal the other guy’s product than take yours for free the WISE man would say "what are they doing right that we are doing wrong" while the FOOLISH man says "Its everybody else’s fault!".

      Its been 20+ years and Linux is STILL below the margin for error. Oh and don’t bring up Android, its no more Linux than your TiVo and guess what? Google controls and makes sure there is no changes that break drivers therefor it has for all intents and purposes an ABI.

      • I ran Windows inside of Linux and I now run Linux inside of Windows. My experience is that for broad multimedia and connectivity (attaching cell phones and other electronics) support Linux cannot compete with Windows or Apple… It is just too BASIC.

  • Driver ABI is not a problem.

    The problem are people who think it is.

    If the driver is included as part of the kernel then any changes to the driver ABI will be handled. Only drivers that are NOT part of the kernel are handled.

    And that is a fault of the people that don’t want to accept that the driver is part of the kernel.

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