posted by Scot Hacker on Mon 17th Dec 2001 17:34 UTC

"... And Into the Fire..."

So what did I do? I went and made things worse. I decided to switch to Linux full-time. What was I thinking? I had dabbled in Linux enough to know that, while I appreciated many of the benefits of open source software, there were also deep and intractable problems in the open source development model that resulted in a terrible user experience. But I did some reading, learned that Mandrake was considered to be the most user-friendly of the distros, and went for it.

After a few false starts, I had a running Mandrake box. But contrary to its reputation, Linux was crashing and freezing on me left and right. I had made the mistake of thinking that Linux had evolved enough by then to offer dual-processor capabilities as sophisticated as Be's. Wrong. Moving to a single-processor box fixed the stability issues, and I was free to explore the OS.

While I staunchly disagree with RMS et al. that all software must be free on principle, it's very inspiring to become immersed in a global community effort of volunteerism and charity, not to mention the contagion of revolutionary zeal. And it felt good to be able to download and use pretty much any software I wanted. Everyone likes free beer.

So while the politics of Linux felt good for the most part, virtually everything about the user experience drove me bananas. It was impossible to cut/copy/paste between apps cleanly without banging my head against disagreements in the CLI / Gnome / KDE models. Nothing in the desktop experience felt finished or composed. RPM software installation was an endless hell of conflicting dependencies (yes, I know apt-get is much better, but my Debian experience as a whole was far worse than the Mandrake experience -- don't get me started). In some cases, not even continuous correspondence with the app developers themselves could figure out why I couldn't get their software installed and working. I was spending more time wrestling with the desktop than I was actually getting work done (some Linux zealots appear to believe that wrestling is the whole point).

Don't get me wrong -- I don't mind having to use the command line. In fact, I'm very comfortable in bash and tcsh, and don't have much interest in using an OS without a Unix shell. But I'm not at the command line most of the time, and my guess is that very few users are. The rest of the time, I just want to get my work done cleanly, quickly, and efficiently, with mature apps that work the way I expect them to. I like all my apps to follow a coherent set of human interface guidelines. But Linux apps are not developed under a single roof, and lack a consistent vision of how things should look and act. Bio-diversity is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of open source software. It is what will keep Linux thriving no matter how depressed the tech industry gets (unlike Be), but it is also that which practically guarantees that the Linux experience will never feel internally consistent.

Despite my complaints, I did manage to get the Mandrake box set up as a PHP/MySQL web server running betips.net (which I sadly had to move off its former BeOS web server because BeOS was never really up to the task of full-time serving). I also set up a Samba network / print server on the Linux box.

So where did that leave me? BeOS was dead. I couldn't deal with the politics of Windows and had sworn never to own a Passport. I had given Linux a four-month opportunity to impress me on the desktop, and it had utterly failed to do so. It wasn't that there weren't enough apps, and I don't mind compiling software. In fact, I like getting guts all over my hands from time to time. But I don't like being forced to strap on a tool belt and wrench around when all I want is to get an app installed and start working.

Table of contents
  1. "Out of the Frying Pan..."
  2. "... And Into the Fire..."
  3. "Smells Like Home Cookin"
  4. "A Lot To Like, First Impressions"
  5. "Networking Nirvana"
  6. "CD Burning, Disk Images"
  7. "Applications"
  8. "iMovie, iDVD"
  9. "Browsers and E-Mail"
  10. "Power Editors"
  11. "Community"
  12. "The Bad and The Ugly"
  13. "File System Shoot-Out"
  14. "Application-Binding Policies"
  15. "Alien Filesystems"
  16. "Miscellaneous Moans and Groans"
  17. "All Told, Life Is Good"
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