Linux *does* suck…

But not in the way and/or for the reasons you may think. Of course this is all strictly personal opinion and may not reflect any others using the software bundle.

Why does it suck?

There’s a culture of accepting something that’s “good enough” in the Linux world and this really doesn’t sit well with me. Especially since I know many of the developers involved wouldn’t tolerate the same acceptance in other projects/fields. There’s a reluctance to take a step back and ask “is this good or just ‘good enough'”. 

Above all else, there’s a severe aversion to the question : “Does it suck?”
There’s no reason to fear or hate this question irrespective of how much time and effort went into it. An honest answer can only make it better.

It’s never “good enough”. It should never be “good enough”, and if it ever seems to reach the “good enough” stage, you’re not working on it hard enough or you’ve overlooked something.

If it was just a matter of eye-candy, I wouldn’t even be making this post. What I’m after is much, much more in terms of usability and intuitiveness. For starters, there are things that need to be tweaked, adjusted, monitored, or otherwise involve some kind of user intervention (even if it’s just once during setup). Not much, but just enough to ensure fatigue for new adopters. It’s that initial hurdle that feels like Everest for grandma.

Actual productivity will arrive a bit later as familiarity sets in.

So what is it that I want?

Linux needs to suck less than Windows, in terms of usability and intuitiveness. And, possibly, suck on par with Mac.
(Welcome to my brain.)

If I truly had my way, I would go with a LFS distro of my own, but I don’t think that will be solving the problem for everyone else. Or even make everyone else understand that there is a legitimate problem (that is also part of a specific mindset as well as a technical hurdle). I’ll get exactly what I want, but there would be no way for me to maintain it for other systems or produce something production quality for everyone else on my own. Even worse, I would be repeating the same efforts carried out by thousands elsewhere.

Not a whole new distro

That’s already been done before and all it does is fragment the Open Source community. And what many developers seem to overlook is that they’re violating their own DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) paradigm whenever they embark on such a project. If you emphasise this in your code, then why violate it in spirit by embarking on a whole new distro to solve the same problems?

If you stop spending time on competing efforts (yes, even if you do share code, you are competing) and cooperating instead, a vast majority of these issues would have been solved already. What we need now is a layer or overlay on the platform to provide the additional usability.

I can understand, and do appreciate, that the majority of development going into Linux distros come from volunteers. Perhaps because of that, I almost get the feeling that the majority of development is carried out by tired day labourers. Often the responses to criticism do present an aura of frustration with, not only with the complaints and those who make them, but themselves as well.

There’s never enough time, never enough resources and never enough manpower to fix “every little problem specific to one user”. Well for every one user that complains, chances are there are a dozen others that silently reject the entire platform. That’s the real shame and it’s all the more reason to not repeat the same efforts and waste those precious resources.

Debian is already there… Just work from there.

Debian is the past, present and future of Linux

What basically amounts to the Swiss Army Knife of operating systems, I believe the project has truly earned the title “Universal Operating System”.

I’ve yet to come across any other distribution that is as stable, as secure and as easy to customise as Debian right out of the box. It’s no wonder why so many other developers have chosen it as a base system to launch their own distros.

It’s usually Debian in a skirt or Debian in a pair of pants or Debian nude…

The problem with Debian, again, is that it’s just “good enough” when it comes to most things related to user interactivity.  And I’m not even talking about the bleeding edge stuff. Everything else is rock solid, but that’s just the nagging point. You can get the system to do almost anything your heart desires, but you have to work at it.

To me, this is unacceptable because I know it doesn’t have to be that way.

Ubuntu, which is really Debian in a mini-skirt, gets the cake for trying hard in this area, but there are things to be improved. Mint, which is basically Ubuntu all dressed up (Debian in a mini-skirt + tiara and makeup) gets further along the way, but is still not quite up there.

In the opposite end of the spectrum is DSL (Damn Small Linux) which is basically Debian nude.

OpenBox, the saviour of Linux

This isn’t as strange as it sounds. There’s a great deal of flexibility and power in this deceptively simple software package, if only we bother to look a bit deeper.

OB is far more efficient when it comes to horsepower management (CPU, Memory, Graphics etc…) and incredibly flexibile in customisability. I don’t believe there are other window managers that quite match OB when it comes to balancing appearance and efficiency with performance and productivity. This is the ideal foundation to start any usability improvement project.

Linux needs friends in gaming & hardware

Hard-drive manufacturers and high-speed Internet service providers owe a word of thanks to the porn industry.

Likewise, Windows owes a great deal (and is owed a great deal) to the gaming, devices and hardware industry. The vast majority of drivers, API’s are specifically tailored for Windows and plastered as an after thought for Linux. Which would explain why detection is less of an issue on Windows (at least in XP).

Even Dell’s half-hearted dip into Open Source should be exploited, if it will yield results. Do you want “it just works” functionality on Linux with devices and hardware? Well, you can’t go to bed with the devil with having sex. This is no time to be prudish, so take off those knickers and get comfortable with the idea that you will be confronting and cooperating with the corporate world. Sometimes, that will mean proprietary drivers etc… Other times, a heart to heart conversation that may sway the argument in your direction.

The point is, don’t completely rule it out on ideological grounds.

Don’t repeat the same efforts.
Start with Debian.
Work on OpenBox.
Then improve the heck out of both of them.

I mean the the whole gambit of utilities, drivers, devices, interface, usability, environment, installation… everything.

This, I believe, is the path to a Linux platform that doesn’t suck.

8 thoughts on “Linux *does* suck…

  1. If you stop spending time on competing efforts (yes, even if you do share code, you are competing) and cooperating instead, a vast majority of these issues would have been solved already.

    I don’t agree with this statement at all. Competing while sharing code is the most efficient way to improve code. Trying to get everyone to agree on one way to do things wastes more energy.

    Ever hear the expression about too many chefs in one kitchen?

    Which do you think would get you the best recipe most quickly?

    A) Take ten chefs. Have them all sit in a room and work on only one recipe together. They all have to agree that that one recipe is the best.

    B) Take ten chefs. Have them all work under one head chef who has an idea for a recipe. None of the underling ten chefs gets any final say in the direction of the recipe.

    C) Take ten chefs. Ask them to come up with their own recipes. They can look at any of the other nine chefs’ recipes and duplicate and modify to their hearts’ content. At the end, you try out all of the recipes, and one or two will just naturally rise to the top as being the best.

    I’m going to go with C)

    Clearly you’re not.

  2. Linux saved my life once.
    Well, all the files on my computer.
    Windows went crazy and tried to destroy my precious files one crisp Winters evening, when all of a sudden I remembered that I had a no-install version of linux lying around.
    I tried it and managed to retrieve everything.

    But I never switched to Linux.
    Even though it saved my life (of which I was, and still am, very grateful) I just don’t feel secure enough to use it day in day out.

    The guy talking about the chefs is just making me want to eat.
    Curses on you!

  3. @ubuntucat
    Competing while sharing code is the most efficient way to improve code

    Except there’s a pride issue involved that prevents sharing even though the code is free.
    What forced the creation of DragonflyBSD from the FreeBSD 4.x branch is also what is creating the fragmentation in the Linux community. “Some” things are shared. Often the sharing stops when it comes to ideological differences.

    In C)…
    There’s a sense of “the way I’m doing it is better, so I’m not taking those things into this”. Which has less to do with what the user wants and more to do with what the developers want. If the user wants it different then he/she needs to customise and there goes the usability.

    The developer always seems to get top billing. If that doesn’t improve userbility and intuitiveness to the next level, then it’s time to switch to B) and set aside what they want and work on what the users want. The user is the “head chef”.

    There’s only one thing they need to agree on…
    “What does the user want?”

    Linux saved my life too!
    I still say hi to it on a regular basis because of it. :P

  4. An additional comment for ubuntucat.

    There’s no need to get defensive or offended.
    “Clearly” I’m trying to help the Linux community. Tradition doesn’t always follow over intact as time passes in many cases and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  5. It is my personal opinion that the happy medium between ubuntucat and yourself – sharing code and cooperating, while still developing different distributions – would be the ideal. That way (ideally!) the same problems wouldn’t have to be solved and re-solved over and over again, but simultaneously each distribution will appeal to a slightly different niche of users. Thereby everyone gets the flavor they want, and the extra work involved in repeating implementations over and over is minimized.

    Of course, if I’m going to make a decision off this exchange alone, I’m going to go with your calm and rational response over the defensive retort. :P

  6. P.S. I absolutely love Debian/Ubuntu, Fedora/RedHat, *BSD, and Gentoo; all for varying reasons, but I honestly think the open source community would be less without any one of those. However I do agree that a little more in the way of collaboration/cooperation would go a long way to furthering the open source community on a whole, too. When you have hostilities between open source implementations (exhibit A: see the first comment), it’s rather difficult to do anything in tandem.

  7. Ah, but then we have a multitude of different distributions that already cater to a large variety of niche users.

    The problem I see is that there are so many distributions that target the “mainstream” user. I see a whole lot of the same problems, again, re-solved over and over in this bunch.

    Fedora/RedHat does offer a very strong contender for the desktop market and any improvement project will greatly benefit from both products, but in terms of stability and security, my money is still on Debian.

    Though RedHat (which in-turn was based on Slack) has fathered more distributions than Debian, a proportionally greater number of the Debian based distros survive to this day. I think that’s a testament to the stability and flexibility of the core distribution.

  8. The problem I see is that there are so many distributions that target the “mainstream” user. I see a whole lot of the same problems, again, re-solved over and over in this bunch.

    That’s a very good point. Granted there are certainly distributions that don’t really market themselves to the “mainstream” user (I’d love to watch my mom try to install and configure Gentoo), but you’re absolutely right that there are countless distributions all clamoring for a slice of the same market share.

    One thing that comes to mind, though – and which doesn’t necessarily contradict your point – is that what is viewed as the “problem” and its subsequent “solution” varies from person to person and group to group. Of course, this also assumes a certain amount of catering-to-one’s-audience, which as you mentioned in a previous comment happens a little less often than it should; it’s often built to the developer’s specifications, and his/her “windows does it this way? well I can do it even better” complex.

    I think I’m just rambling at this point, so I’ll wrap up: Debian is indeed a god among mortals, though the other distributions certainly have strengths where Debian isn’t quite as robust. So I guess, to a certain degree, I agree that there should be a movement away from “unique distribution features” and toward “singular distribution problem solution”. The details I leave up for (likely endless) debate, mostly because I’m not sure of them either.

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