posted by Ben Mazer on Mon 26th Jan 2004 19:52 UTC
IconLately, there has been a "Why linux isn't ready for the desktop" article every 3 days. Most of the time, these articles originate from a lack of understanding or acceptance of the open source system. I'd like to try to address some of the common arguments against linux here, and try to help people understand why linux probably won't be on your desktop for a while.

Keep in mind, I am a linux user (yes, on the desktop) so you will DEFINITELY see some bias here. I believe the points are still valid though, so think before you flame me.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed below are largely the author's opinion. You may disagree, and we look forward to any debate.

Linux isn't as easy to use

Isn't it? How many of you used linux as your first computer? I'm guessing very few. As we all know, "different" isn't "harder". I've been doing research on this topic, and I've taught brand new computer users on linux (GNOME) without any trouble. But this is not the point. The key thing to look at when criticizing open source is to remember that Open Source is still largely made up of volunteers. As much as they want to help you, you have no right to demand ANYTHING. For a very long time, people were still trying to get basic functionality in Linux. Now that that has been accomplished, people are finally able to devote their time to "ease of use". Linux is improving. I am a relatively new linux user (a year and a half), and in the short period of time I've used linux, It's improved leaps and bounds in usability. It's fine if linux isn't perfect for everyone yet, it's getting better. These things don't happen in a day, and whining every week is just insulting to the developers.

It's ok to criticize, though. People's comments really do help, but most of the articles simply say, "linux isn't as easy as Windows". If you have a specific feature that you think would help usability, submit a bug report to KDE or GNOME. You will be surprised at how quickly they may address your problem. Remember, "easy" is subjective, so help us all out by being specific.

I would go into more detail, but I am still conducting research. There are already lots of studies out there though, and many show that Linux is very easy for completely new computer users.

Linux isn't as polished

What does "polished" mean? In my opinion, it means that the inner-workings of the OS are hidden from the user, and a user is presented with an environment they feel is consistent. This is against the philosophy of linux, or at least has been for a long time. Linux is about being open, and letting the user tinker with everything. Saying that Linux shouldn't do that anymore is a hard thing to convince people of. Luckily though, this same spirit has allowed people to take linux, and make it whatever they want; in this case, "polished". Taking away "features" is a lot easier than adding them, and once again, I have to say, "patience". These things take time. No one in their right mind would say that Linux isn't moving towards polish. If you want to help, write something and give it to KDE, GNOME, or your favorite desktop distribution.

Linux is fragmented

In my opinion, this couldn't be further from the truth. Linux has one of the most tightly knit communities I have ever seen. There are a few sub-arguments that go with this "fragmentation". One is the oft-heard "There are too many distributions!". All I have to say is, Why? Why are there too many distributions? What is forcing you to use every single one? Nothing is. All distributions ARE united, so its not like there are 100 different operating systems. What unites linux distributions? For starters, they all use the Linux kernel. They all use the GNU tools. They all use XFree86. They all use glibc. You get the point. Maybe one or two distributions (embedded probably) don't use these things, but if 95% of the distributions do, I wouldn't complain. Linux distributions are united because they all use most of the same software. The only "custom" software is installation and package management. Installation is something few people will have to do, so it's not that important for compatability, especially if the "desktop" goal is to get it pre-installed on machines. Package Management isn't that important either, because all package management systems do basically the same thing. They manage packages. You just have to learn the new commands, and even then, "apt" is a prevailing system among distributions, so learning that is usually enough. Windows98 is different from WindowsXP. Things change, and if it's only slightly (like between distributions), it's not hard to adapt.

Some people say there should only be one or two distributions. This is illogical. Linux has a wide variety of uses, and its openness allows you to create specialized versions. Off the top of my head, I know we would need a firewall distribution, general purpose distribution, server distribution, embedded distribution, intermediate-level distribution,"from scratch" distro, etc, etc. It is ridiculous to say that I should use Fedora on a cell phone or Gentoo should be used by the complete beginner.

Also, it makes no sense to believe that everyone would like a certain distribution. People have different tastes, it's that simple. I believe most people realize this. Many people do not like Windows, so why be like it and give people "one size fits all"? It clearly doesn't fit all, and thats why many of you are switching, or looking to switch.

Now that there are "too many distributions", people complain that it's impossible to get a package for your distribution of choice. The only place this is a problem is in closed source applications. The beauty of open source is that all the developer has to do is release a source tarball, and let the package managers package it up for them. An online download system comes included now in almost every major distribution. Surfing to a website, and downloading by hand is becoming archaic. Is this different than Windows? Absolutely, but it is better. I use a smaller distribution (ArchLinux), and I have every piece of software I could want in the repositories. This exists, even though I have yet to see a website that distributes Pacman Packages.

Then there are people who do not see the point of both KDE and GNOME, and programs like that. They just say people should work together for the "greater good". This is simply unrealistic. Not everyone can get along. If society worked like this, we'd all drive fords (thank you to someone who made this comment), and all eat Chocolate Ice Cream. Competition is good, even if it sacrifices compatability. Because it is much easier to take two feature rich programs and make them compatible (freedesktop.org) than to try to take a program and add lots of features while keeping it stable.

Linux moves too fast

This is probably the argument that has the most validity. Linux moves fast. It's always changing, and always improving. The question is whether it is "too fast". Personally, I find this speed a good thing. Patches are quick, and new features are always being added (for free). But someone might rather have a system that only changes once every 2-3 years (like Windows). People say this isn't possible in linux, and developers won't be able to create applications because the APIs are always changing. Luckily, there is already a perfect solution for this, Debian Stable. You only have to upgrade every few years, and it is well tested and as the name implies, stable. Now, for developers, this won't be a solution, because you can only support a library that is two years old. This only plagues closed source developers though, because if the application was open source and really good, people would help you port it. This has been proven by the many forks of otherwise dead OSS projects.

Table of contents
  1. "Linux on the Desktop, Page 1"
  2. "Linux on the Desktop, Page 2"
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