Why Linux, for the average user?

This is a discussion on Why Linux, for the average user? within the A Brief History of Cprogramming.com forums, part of the Community Boards category; I've just spent the past 2 months setting up Linux and resolving its many incompatibilities with _everything_. And quite a ...

  1. #1
    Carnivore ('-'v) Hunter2's Avatar
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    Why Linux, for the average user?

    I've just spent the past 2 months setting up Linux and resolving its many incompatibilities with _everything_. And quite a few still remain.. such as the inability to both scale CPU frequency on my P4 Mobile CPU and play sound. WTF?

    I've heard: Linux is user-friendly to the right people, free, stable, and fast.
    I've found: Linux is user-friendly, if you like shells better than well-developed GUI tools.
    I've found: Linux is free, as long as your time is worth nothing. (fine, I stole that one)
    I've found: Linux is stable, if your hardware is perfectly generic, and you don't use any software.
    I've found: Linux is fast, if your hardware *happens* to have good drivers for it.
    I've found: -> Otherwise, just don't run any benchmarks.
    I've found: Linux is nifty in its own way, and has some nice features.

    I've heard: Windows sucks. Windows is unstable.
    I've found: Windows sucks if you want to run a shell script from a terminal.
    I've found: Windows is expensive, if it didn't come with your computer.
    I've found: Windows is unstable, if you install it on a piece of burnt toast in a fishtank.
    I've found: Windows is slow, if you have several major viruses.
    I've found: -> Otherwise, underclock your CPU and re-run the benchmarks.
    I've found: Windows is boring. I don't feel l33t when I use it.

    In conclusion: I haven't booted in Windows for a couple months now. I really don't know why; it's an excellent OS, which doesn't randomly crash MSN, which doesn't give me grief about playing a game at the same time as listening to music, which has GOOD (read: unbroken) drivers for my radeon card, which supports my LCD's native 1280X800 resolution without tweaking, which actually recognizes a click in time to drag the desired window before the cursor leaves the titlebar... for which all software *just works* after installing, and can be easily uninstalled...

    Why am I using Linux right now? I suspect it has something to do with the ability to shell-script, the transparency, desktop system monitors, and most of all, 3d-desktop. I really gotta say though, I've had it up to my ears with bad hardware drivers, incompatible kernel/drivers/software options, poorly documented configs, and insane build processes that whine about missing dependencies that are ALREADY FREAKING THERE, and IN THE CORRECT VERSION. And my old favourite, the lack of commercial-grade software. My gawd, are things rough around the edges! Even OpenOffice looks better and cleaner in Windows than in Linux. And things are *much* more tightly integrated in Windows, as far as the user is concerned, even if Linux often allows you to chain more diverse programs together to make nifty things happen.

    Maybe I feel l33t this way. Or maybe I just like to be a survivor. Or, maybe I'm just an idiot. Probably all of the above.
    Last edited by Hunter2; 07-02-2006 at 09:53 PM.
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    int x = *((int *) NULL); Cactus_Hugger's Avatar
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    When you open My Computer, and double click on "C:\", and Windows says, "There is not enough free memory to run this program. Quit one or more programs, and then try again." It's a folder... not a program ... >.> (And I had plenty o' free RAM & harddisk.) That's when you want Linux.

    I'll be honest though. Windows does more naturally, but only because (IMO) it's forced upon every machine. So driver manufacturers naturally turn to it first. I believe a lot of the Linux/alternate OS community has been pushing for hardware makers to release specs so they can develop drivers without having to reverse engineer everything.

    First, disclaimer. I have an old PC. It was new and a good PC, when it came out (1998). I run Windows 98, so I'm a bit outdated. I've had some experience with linux, but not much. (As much as one can get off a LiveCD (Knoppix)).

    Windows cannot multitask. I have a slow processor, so I can chew through cycles fairly quickly. Video encoding is one thing that can do this in a heart beat. But if I try to do anything else, the video software will get no CPU time worth mentioning.
    BSoD. Nuff said there...
    Windows is RAM hungry. I swear that it eats the stuff and doesn't give it back. I cannot run Windows for extended periods, end of story. It dies of lack of memory eventually.

    Linux: Has symbolic links. I love symbolic links. Windows, AFAIK, is like the last stronghold that seems to be anti-symbolic links. I think they're there in 2k/XP, but if they are, they ain't easy to make. Not so with Linux.
    I love the filesystem layout in linux. No more C:\, G:\, etc. (And no more danged backslashes - things are a pain! Ever type'd a network address in C? "\\\\Computer\\share\\folder\\AHH" I heart forward slashes. And the ability to mount a device anywhere I darn well please. /usr takes a bit of getting used to, and I'm not sure which is better: /usr/bin or C:\Program Files? (though /usr/bin is easier to type...)
    I love shells. I love bash. (I have bash in Windows too... but it's slow.) Shell scripts pwn batch files any day.
    And Linux gives you at least +10 to your nerd rating. +25 if you can make it coexist with Windows. It makes me feel 1337. Just gotta get a hard drive install one of these days. (Sucks to have <8GB. Trying to get Linux jump boot off an image in a FAT32 partition, then mount /usr and friends off network shares. (Probably not smart for stability, but I've got a net drive with >150GB...))
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  3. #3
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    The main problem with Linux hasn't changed since it's inception. It's driver support is very poor. Once you get a system set up with proper drivers (asuming there are drivers for your hardware), it becomes very usuable.

  4. #4
    Dump Truck Internet valis's Avatar
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    Actually linux has excellent device driver support when it comes to exotic or new hardware. For example multi-processor support and processor architecture.
    I've installed linux on a lot of machines and the only issues I've ever run into are wireless network card support (which I managed to sort out after much work) and a fake raid driver in a crappy compaq server (which I used FreeBSD on to solve the issue). I have heard asus is pretty bad though.
    I can understand why your video stuff doesn't work well (ati is horrendous when it comes to drivers), but with my nvidia geforce 5700 fx ultra I get higher fps on natively linux games (unreal comes to mind) than I do on windows.

    Windows works so poorly running as a normal user I can bearly stand to boot into it. I just run into so many problems trying to set things up right--no symbolic link support either, they have junction points but I wouldn't consider them equivalent. Trying to run a shell is hardly worth it. Drive letters. Explorer runs at ring 0. Things require tweaking (or don't work) when run by non-administrator. File setup results in multiple copies of libraries and no good way of finding an app or running something without an absolute path. Little configurability and no reiserfs or ufs. The registry. The windows api. Threads aren't light weight. IFS (although I have no experience working with a filesystem on linux).

    I definitely understand why it's preferred over linux (the average person shouldn't have to fiddle with xorg.conf to get a damn visual interface among other things), but once I learned how to use linux, I find I rarely run into issues.
    On a side note--what distro were you running hunter?

  5. #5
    and the Hat of Clumsiness GanglyLamb's Avatar
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    Linux was the ultimate solution for my old laptop which I reassembled from 2 different laptops ( of course the windows versions that came with these originals didn't want to run on the modified system ).

    I had the choice , install windows XP that will probably recognize all devices ( or most of it ) but will take up a lagre amount of disk space, install windows 98 SE where i wouldnt find any drivers at all for.

    Or install a small linux distro that fits on the 4.8 Gb harddrive and still have lots of space to do something that is actually usefull ( processing, storing data etc ).

    I ended up installing Ubuntu (5.04) , all devices were immediately recognized and after the installation I had everything I would ever need on this laptop. I could play some music, do some wordprocessing and I could program ( the only thing I had to install afterwards was some IDE that wraps around gcc - Anjuta - ).

    Another time linux came to the rescue was when suddenly windows didn't want to boot again. And said that my whole C and D partition was empty. All those fancy tools like fixmbr, scandisk etc etc couldnt help me. I just inserted Knoppix, and did my backup before formatting the hard drive ready for a clean install of Windows.

    Since then I have a dual boot system , with Windows XP and Suse. Now I just use XP to program in C# ( since Mono isnt complete yet ), and to play games.

    So the question why linux for an average user ... here an average user will take his computer to a store when there is something wrong with it. So they just pay and have their system back in perfect shape. And I bet that 70% of the time, those "failures" are due to some kind of error or whatever caused in a Windows OS.

    So linux for an average user is probably not for the near future. Most average users probably don't even know that Windows is an OS and that it is not the only OS out there. If linux would come with assembled pc's just like windows does ( or have a dual boot system as soon as it is sold in stores ) I think
    Linux would gain alot of popularity , or at least people will know that there is something else then Windows.

  6. #6
    Cat without Hat CornedBee's Avatar
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    You have to make a distinction between setting up a computer and using it. Sure, setting up Linux is a lot harder than setting up Windows. But most "average users" I know wouldn't dare setting up Windows either. They might manage, but they'd be afraid of it, and their install certainly wouldn't be optimal.

    Once the system is set up properly, there's little distinction. My mum has used Linux on my computer. I just configured her account with KDE's Redmond skin, some Windows-like behaviour, put everything in the right place and it was absolutely no problem.
    And my own account remained completely clean.

    So if the computer comes with a completed and working Linux installation from the store, there's no reason why the average user shouldn't use it.
    Until they're surprised they can't install that little app they just downloaded, anyway ...
    All the buzzt!
    CornedBee

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  7. #7
    Supermassive black hole cboard_member's Avatar
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    2 months? What...
    Please tell me you were busy at work.
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    Linux is a good server operating system but is simply not ready for desktop. Most of the programs for it are written by people with no idea how a user interface should be designed. Take Blender or GIMP for example.

  9. #9
    (?<!re)tired Mario F.'s Avatar
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    Wow, you just named two of the most successful linux programs in the same sentence where you talk about poor design.

    Is there anything I can do for you before something bad happens?
    The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”
    The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.


    Originally Posted by brewbuck:
    Reimplementing a large system in another language to get a 25% performance boost is nonsense. It would be cheaper to just get a computer which is 25% faster.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mario F.
    Wow, you just named two of the most successful linux programs in the same sentence where you talk about poor design.

    Is there anything I can do for you before something bad happens?
    Try getting someone to learn how to use GIMP or Blender and see how long it takes them. Then give them Photoshop and Maya.

  11. #11
    (?<!re)tired Mario F.'s Avatar
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    I can do that... Or maybe "poor design" is not only mostly a matter of taste and habit, but also on most circumstances... irrelevant when the features is what counts.
    The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”
    The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.


    Originally Posted by brewbuck:
    Reimplementing a large system in another language to get a 25% performance boost is nonsense. It would be cheaper to just get a computer which is 25% faster.

  12. #12
    int x = *((int *) NULL); Cactus_Hugger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CornedBee
    But most "average users" I know wouldn't dare setting up Windows either. They might manage, but they'd be afraid of it, and their install certainly wouldn't be optimal.
    I concur there... I was installing Windows XP on a laptop - installation finished smoothly, and it booted to desktop. Next step? Updates, updates, of course. (It sadly didn't come with any service packs... had to go online. Was infected in <3sec.) Tried launching Windows update, and bam, explorer crashes, fresh out of the box. (Yet opening IE and pointing it manually to Windows Update worked. Go. Figure.) It was all good several (and I mean several - SP2 took forever to install - if anyone says you can install XP in <2hrs, they lied.) hours later, the machine clean of any malware.

    And I forgot to mention drivers. I use Win98, as stated above. Windows 98 is basically screwed nowadays with drivers. When I buy hardware, I check beforehand. A good deal of my hardware is using drivers intended for Win98SE (and working fine). My grandparents sent me a thumbdrive as a gift. (GeekSquad one - recommend against. Currently using PNY, which is good, but the tech support isn't the best.) Of course, it refused to work on windows - but worked (with no addition drivers) in Linux. (They're all mass storage devices... why must I get a driver for each camera, disk, etc... >.>)

    EDIT:
    Take Blender or GIMP for example.
    Acutally, I've tried both. Blender I never picked up, but I spent <10min with it. (Tryed Maya too, same result.) I just need to spend more time. But the GIMP? What's wrong with the GIMP? Even a graphically challenged person like me could pick it up, and make things that don't look like chicken-scratch in MSPaint. And it's free to boot. (Unlike Photoshop.)
    Last edited by Cactus_Hugger; 07-03-2006 at 11:55 AM.
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  13. #13
    Carnivore ('-'v) Hunter2's Avatar
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    I definitely understand why it's preferred over linux (the average person shouldn't have to fiddle with xorg.conf to get a damn visual interface among other things), but once I learned how to use linux, I find I rarely run into issues.
    On a side note--what distro were you running hunter?
    @Valis: That's probably why I'm still using Linux... but there are still outstanding issues with the setup. I suppose a large part of the problem is that I'm running it on a laptop; otherwise, I wouldn't be bothering about CPU scaling at all, or half a dozen other things that currently don't work quite right. I'm running Slackware 10.2, though at this point I don't think it's very recognizable anymore as Slackware. I've tried Mandriva before (advertised as one of the most user-friendly ever, at the time), but just the thought of it gives me heebie-jeebies. *shiver*

    >>2 months? What... Please tell me you were busy at work.
    No. Been figuring out crazy X.org problems, hardware problems, software problems, everything.

    And of course, trying to make it do cool stuff Gee, that might explain it...

    So if the computer comes with a completed and working Linux installation from the store, there's no reason why the average user shouldn't use it.
    Until they're surprised they can't install that little app they just downloaded, anyway ...
    That's true enough, I suppose; it's the second sentence in that line that gets me though. About 40-50% of anything I download needs tweaking before it'll build/work.

    Come to think of it, there *are* quite a few nice features to Linux. I can't say I've ever run into the problems in Windows previously described, but then generally I have it only run with 1 user (superuser), without even a password or login screen. I've never needed symlinks in Windows (mostly those seem to be cheap workarounds for incompatibilities between slightly different library versions, or distribution-specific filesystem architectures), or a shell. In fact, symlinks are often quite annoying (problem is greater for new installs of unfamiliar distros), when you're browsing the filesystem and suddenly realize that you've been going in symbolic circles. Guess there's a plus and minus everywhere.

    @MarioF: While I recognize that GIMP and Blender are hugely popular, I really can't deny that the UI is butt-ugly. Maybe that's because I'm using Fluxbox though.

    EDIT:
    Of course, it refused to work on windows - but worked (with no addition drivers) in Linux. (They're all mass storage devices... why must I get a driver for each camera, disk, etc... >.>)
    Windows 98?.. But seriously, I've found that the vast majority of the time, it's the other way around. Take for example, my laptop's 5-in-1 card reader. It's been at least 1-2 years now, and *nobody* has been able to get it to work with Linux. And I can't get my touchpad to work either (except as a PS/2 mouse with no scrolling). Or my hotkeys. Or my printer/scanner, or PDA. Jeez.
    Last edited by Hunter2; 07-03-2006 at 12:13 PM.
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  14. #14
    (?<!re)tired Mario F.'s Avatar
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    I struggle with Linux. Even to install some new software. However this is, I know, a problem easily solved... I need to RTFM.
    Once I do, I'll probably be left with just the same problems you guys describe... compatibility issues.

    However, as far as installation procedures are concerned. No Linux or windows installation I've seen beats the SuSE installation procedure (at least the 8.0 Pro version which I own. Dunno about the others). I have a fully functional system in a few minutes. And KDE 3.0 is anything but a complicated UI.

    I think what really separates Windows and Linux is habit. Some of my friends cruise on Linux while talking to me and eyeing the secretary next office. I can only match that multi-tasking on windows.
    The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”
    The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.


    Originally Posted by brewbuck:
    Reimplementing a large system in another language to get a 25% performance boost is nonsense. It would be cheaper to just get a computer which is 25% faster.

  15. #15
    Carnivore ('-'v) Hunter2's Avatar
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    >>a problem easily solved... I need to RTFM.
    I love oxymorons.

    ATM, I have my UI set up very nicely, two extra mousebuttons switch desktops, nice usable/clean-looking theme in fluxbox and all vital apps are installed.. so for most intents and purposes it's fully functioning, and in fact I like it better than windows, except for the lack of a decent file manager (Konqueror doesn't count. That thing took the Windows path, and then went several hundred miles further up the WTF highway.). Still working on setting up new apps though, and every app I install takes an inordinate amount of time to resolve dependencies and incompatibilities between version 0.15.2.7.1.234.2 and 0.15.2.7.1.234.3 of a given library.
    Just Google It. √

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