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

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

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?


  • You know what the problem of those superior CLI commands are? they don’t, oh…what is the word for it, oh yeah, they don’t actually work. They don’t work because it was written by someone who had "kinda sorta the same hardware as you, but not really, oh and different hardware firmware". Try getting a broadcom wireless to WPA2 with those easy CLI commands…BWA HA HA HA HA!

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…Linux guys, you want a shot at the title? Then get a REAL ABI so that your users can just pop a CD in like everybody else, and there should be NO reason why you should HAVE TO go CLI. if you have to go CLI, then you have failed, because it means your GUI is frankly lousy. Most OSX and Windows users don’t even know they HAVE a CLI, much less how to activate it, and look at the numbers. You can think the CLI is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but the public at large WILL NOT use it. I repeat they will NEVER use CLI. You know what happens when a user runs into CLI? They consider the machine "broken" and bring it to someone like me and ask "How much is Windows Home again?"

    And THAT is why Linux is at a lousy 1%, heck I’ll give you 3% just to be generous. As someone who has worked in PC retail for nearly 15 years, I know of which I speak, and the sad fact is Win98 and Win2K have more home users than Linux, because of the broken driver situation and the falling back on CLI too much. There is NO reason a driver should have to be maintained by kernel developers, in fact that is pretty much the most backward way it could be.

    Make a stable ABI, dedicate some serious resources to making sure the GUI shines, and you have a real shot, because Linux security is top notch. But Until Joe average can actually buy hardware by just putting it into a basket at Walmart instead of studying like it was the GED, and can actually fix problems without getting a page and a half of Unix gibberish, well then don’t be surprised when Win7 and OSX kicks Linux. Your "free as in freedom" is "free as in worthless" if the users can’t get it to work. And you mark MY words, come 2014 when WinXP is finally EOL we will STILL be hearing "next year is the year of Linux on the desktop" while Linux hangs at a teeny tiny 3-4%.

    • Apple about this horrible and inefficient GUI thing. Think about all those people who jumped over to a Mac, some because of Vista, with a minimum $1K USD ticket to enter for a system that people love because of it’s GUI. Never mind it’s bolted on top of a Posix compliant Unix derivative. Or that people were paying $100+ premiums to have a seven year old XP installed, that Live CDs were available at no cost. Apple quadrupled their market for literally billions of dollars in revenue while Linux barely budged the needle.

      CLI fascists continually crow about freedom and choices right before the sneering goose stepping kicks in. Oh yes, freedom is forcing the user to conform to your idea of "acceptable". I see this in forum after forum.

      Some Linux users are like those caged bird who keep pecking at their reflection in a mirror while fooling themselves they are actually making progress.

      So sad.


    Funny, really. When doing ANYTHING, women ask their men, "Did you read the instructions?" "Did you look at the map?" But, with Linux, "RTFM" is bad advice? Hmmmm.

    Needless to say, I disagree with the hairy footed dude. People who fear the CLI shouldn’t even sit down to a computer. They really need to RTFM.

  • Great article….

    I don’t like this "command line seen as harmful" thing. GUIs are not inherently more useful than CLIs, it is just easier to fake user friendliness there, because you can literally paint it pink and purple, and write everything in large, friendly letters.

    When I have some problem, and I look at forums for answers, I think it’s much better to solve things with a couple of commands I can just copy and paste without even reading, than following one of those complicated recipes like "go to the second menu at the left on the top (assuming it is there) then select ‘options’ then open the icon XYZ, go to tab PQR hover over the third item double click the right button…" come on, is that really so good?

    When you have real problems GUIs are not really that easier and helpful, and they just get in the way of the fix. All fixes are bad and patchy and hacky, and CLI is the way for that.

    And the need of fixes is the real problem, and not going to the CLI to apply them. That is what we must attack. And most of the time who’s to blame for the need of something to fix? None other than closed-source products. It’s always the closed source drivers and the pirate programs and codecs… When you have 100% FLOSS, give enough time and you get 1, 2 or N distros with all of it working nice and smoothly. Try to integrate some closed source thing, and then you have problems. And who’s to blame? The FLOSS developers? No, it’s THEM, "the Man".

    The problem is that people like "Joe the user who is terribly afraid of _letters_", these people think it’s easy to complain to the "FLOSS dudes", while the companies, specially the mysterious ones that produce them but who reach us only by their proxies, the stores, they are not approachable, they don’t listen, they don’t care. But _they_ are the ones that should be receiving complaints.

    "Oh, Linux is so bad, it doesn’t even work with this new sound card that only has a Windows vista driver". This is a silly complaint. The noobs making it should really go read the Fantastic manual of Linux, live, universe and everything, and understand the problem before start whining.

    I’m tired of damn whiners. Go use Whinux, please, and leave us alone!… They are the ones who need to take an attitude.

    When people only have Windows available, they never complain about it. Because there is no alternative, and so It’s not Windows’ fault, it’s always "informatics’" fault.

    When I was younger I thought that when people had alternatives to try they would start to see flaws in windows… But unfortunately this is not happening. Windows is like the old lover, or your partner’s parents in a personal relationship. People always compare the new one to the old, and never dare considering how the old could change. The new one supposedly wants to make the user happy, and so the user complains, while the old one is inflexible, and so the user never bother to complain about it…

    Just closing: Android is cool, but I don’t see it much as a great victory for Linux… You don’t see Linux much when you use it. Maemo is the mobile Linux OS that has my attention. Maybe Moblin too, but I don know it very well.

    And write my words: 2012 will be the year of Linux on the Desktop!!!… 😉

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