posted by Anthony Hicks on Tue 8th Apr 2003 16:17 UTC

"Linux Minus"
Like all things, there is a downside to everything. Linux's minus's aren't too many from my point of view, but I'll cover some here in order to show that I don't consider Linux to be absolutely perfect (despite what some of the above might indicate!).

  • Steep Learning Curve: Linux, like Unix, is inherently more difficult to learn than say Windows or OSX. Many people might argue that this is a good thing for one reason or another ("It's more configurable" is a common reply to this point), but either way you go, if you're coming from a Windows world to a Unix or Linux world, you're going to have to basically toss out everything you've learned and start over.

    Miss your C: and D: drive? Tough! You're C: drive is more commonly known as /dev/hda1 now, and D: might be /dev/hda2 or it could just as easily be /dev/hdb1.

    How about the registry? Well, if you liked the registry, then you'll hate the hundreds of little configuration files laying around your Linux system waiting to be tweaked.

    Did you hate the command prompt? Well, then you'll hate the Linux console! But you'd better get used to it because as far as Linux's GUI configuration tools have come, you'll still end up in a console a lot of the time.

    These points aren't to indicate that one shouldn't switch to Linux by any means. It just means that if you have a "Windows or bust" mentality, then you should probably stick with Windows. The command line interface that is the terminal, or "console window" isn't still around because old timers love it; It's there because you can often be far more productive in a console than you can with a GUI interface.

    To contrast this statement, I certainly wouldn't say that a console based image viewer would be easier than a GUI one, but for more file-oriented work and data-based work, a console can often do a lot more with a lot less effort than a GUI based system. If you walk into Linux with this fact in the back of your mind, you'll probably pick it up a lot faster than someone who thinks that command line interfaces are outdated and purposefully difficult.
  • You define your world: No, this isn't some Zen saying... What I mean by this is that Linux doesn't dumb everything down the way Microsoft does. It assumes that you, the user, know what's best for you, and Linux doesn't try and guess what you want as Windows tends to do.

    This puts a little more pressure on you, the user, as you have to be aware of how you want things to function, and you have to learn how to make that happen. The biggest difference between Windows and Linux (and I'm focusing on Windows here as that's where most people considering a switch are coming from) is that there's not a GUI for everything.

    This is changing rapidly, but for the foreseeable future, you will have to delve into text-based configuration files on occasion. It's not a big deal, and it's really a lot easier than it sounds, but be prepared to have some patience as you learn to use the console, and learn what files are used for specific purposes. It gets a lot easier once you realize that when you are using a GUI to configure Linux, it's just changing these text-based files for you.
  • Vendors will not talk Linux with you: Ok... So some will, but generally speaking, unless the company in question specifically states "We support Linux!", you're not going to get much help from them. In fact you're more likely to have them refuse to help you as soon as you tell them you're using Linux and not Windows!

    I'll give you an example:

    I have a DSL connection to the Internet, and I share that connection to the rest of the PC's in my house via a LAN network I've setup. Whenever I've had to call my DSL provider for details on their network (DNS address, News server address's, etc.), I quickly found that if I mentioned anything other than Windows, they'd stop being helpful, and immediately switch to their "I'm sorry, but we don't support that" mode.

    >From a support standpoint, I understand this. It's hard enough to train everyone how to troubleshoot Windows questions, but once you throw Linux in the mix, terms and programs are no longer the same. You need new concepts and new verbiage to describe the same problem from a Linux perspective, and quite frankly, most companies aren't taking that extra step right now. They will... Linux is young, and as more people start using it, these companies will be forced to support it, but right now, Linux is not widely supported by most hardware manufacturers.

    >From a users point of view, my opinion is "It doesn't matter what OS I'm using; Just answer my questions!". Linux uses the same information that Windows does in most cases, it just is inserted and handled differently. For example, in Windows your DNS entries go into a nice little GUI-based entry form under "DNS Server addresses". Under Linux however, such entries are made in the "resolv.conf" file, which is located in the "/etc/" folder. My point is that they both use a DNS IP address in these areas, you just don't enter this data the same way you would in Windows.

    My advice is this: When speaking with Vendors and/or troubleshooting items with service reps, remember to talk in Windows terms when talking to "Windows people".
  • Programs still don't share data equally: By this I'm referring to the fact that Linux apps are still maturing, and as such, they don't always play nicely together. A great example of this is copying and pasting text between apps. Sometimes you can (more often than not these days!), but every now and then you'll run across an app that just won't "talk" to the other apps on your system.

    In fact I've ran into this recently with Adobes' Linux version of their Acrobat Reader program. Like its Windows counterparts, you can select and copy text out of the PDF's with the viewer, but if you then try to paste that verbiage into say a KDE-based editor, the copied verbiage will not appear.

    This problem is getting better as the UI developers begin to work towards a set of common standards, but the fact that you still will run across applications that don't want to talk to one another is evidence of the fact that Linux is still a maturing OS. It's not yet quite as refined as the Windows line of products in some ways, and it can be frustrating when you come across an example of this fact. As I pointed out earlier, this problem is decreasing rapidly, but it's still likely to be a problem, albeit a small one, for the next couple of years.

Goals: My goal when I set out was to end up with the best Linux distribution I could find, and then customize it to compliment my personal work style and habits. Once done, I should end up with a highly usable system that looks cools, and is rock-solid from a stability point of view.

As such I began reviewing Linux distributions about 3-4 months ago to come up with this "Windows killer" system. For me this meant that I wanted the most modern versions of programs I could get, while maintaining compatibility with my existing Linux apps, and of course I required that KDE 3.1 (or the newer 3.1.1) be present as my GUI interface.

I also have a short list of "must have" items that I wanted to make sure were either included with the distribution or were easily added on at my discretion. Among the list of items that were on this "must have list" are:

  • Ximian's Evolution email client
  • Mozilla or Phoenix (both are web browsers)
  • Wine capable
  • Xfree system capable of driving my dual monitor displays
  • Anti-aliased fonts

It's worth noting at this point that none of the Linux distributions I tried were successful at setting up my dual-headed system. It seems that every installer naturally assumes you only have one display (even though Xfree's been dual-head capable for quite some time now!), and thus only configures one card (the card it configures is apparently based off which card your bios is set to boot from). In most cases, this resulted in me booting into a one-monitor display the first time, and then manually configuring my XF86Config-4 file in order to get both displays working. I quickly found that it pays to keep a working copy of this file around which can then be copied over and modified as needed, rather than starting from scratch with each distribution.

This isn't to scare you away from having a dual headed system, but rather to let you know that if you do run such a system, you'd better be prepared to edit some text! Hopefully future Linux distro's will have the ability to correctly sense and setup a dual headed display in much the same manner Windows currently handles it. For now though, it's more of a manual process to set this up.

Ok, with that out of the way, let's start with the first distribution that was considered for use as my desktop OS, Yoper.

Table of contents
  1. "Intro, Windows"
  2. "BeOS"
  3. "Mac OS X"
  4. "GNU/Linux"
  5. "Linux Minus"
  6. "Linux Distros: Yoper"
  7. "Linux Distros: Redhat 8.x (Phoebe)"
  8. "Linux Distros: Mandrake 9.1 RC2"
  9. "Linux Distros: Ark Linux"
  10. "Linux Distros: Vector Linux (Soho 3.2)"
  11. "Linux Distros: Gentoo Linux (and other source based distros)"
  12. "Linux Distros: Suse Linux, Conclusion"
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