Why Linux still ‘sucks’

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has an interesting article about why Linux still ‘sucks’.

This is something I’ve been pondering about lots recently and written a few articles about.

The question, for me at least, remains unanswered. Should we be focusing on gaining market share and making everything work for Windows users, or just sticking to making great free software for us? Do we care that proprietary vendor lock-in devices like iPod don’t work seamlessly? Should we be putting effort in to making them work?

On the one hand, it would be great to say to someone “yeah, Linux will work with your iPod Touch,” but on the other we can’t control it and we’re always playing catch up (not to mention firmware updates which block other applications from syncing with it).

I’ve spent a lot of time recommending Linux to people, helping them put it on their computers, training them, explaining things and supporting it. However, some people just aren’t Linux people. They just don’t “get it.” Part of the reason is because they still have their Microsoft mindset, “why can’t I download some random program I found on the net and install it?”


So, should we be making Linux more like Windows to gain more market share? Or keep Linux unique and special?

11 thoughts on “Why Linux still ‘sucks’

  1. Are those two things really mutually exlusive? Isn’t linux supposed to do be able to do both of those if the community or even an individual so desires?

    From an outsiders perspective it would appear that a distro like Ubuntu is aiming to achieve the first goal, whereas any number of other distros are more firmly focused on the second, perhaps even shunning the first.

    It sounds like the people you describe who don’t “get it”, aren’t really computer people, and perhaps they never will be.

    I read something interesting recently about the tech service/support industry and getting people to report error messages correctly. The writer put forward the idea that these days pretty much everyone is required to use a computer at work, even though a lot of them may not like using it, may not want to and don’t actually know how to use it well. The writer said that *most* people who use computers develop a filter in their brain to remove all the unnecessary noise/data that is threatening to overwhelm them and focus in on a specific set of tasks.

    An example he gave was that when we first learn to drive, there is an incredible amount of information to process and it freaks you out. Over time your brain begins to filter out everything except what you need to see to be able to drive according to the road rules.

    In the same way, people who are using computers learn to do a set of actions to produce the result they desire, filtering everything else out. They don’t care how things work, they don’t particularly want to learn new things and find out ‘why’. If anything happens outside that set of ‘action, action=>result’, they panic and don’t know what to do.

    For most of these people – who I view as ‘Average Joe Windows’ – that the linux debate seems to be about, linux is way too far outside their comfort zone and probably will be until MS is no longer the default option.

    Personally, I think linux is something for people who enjoy technology, who like computers, and/or who like to learn.

    Also, as I’ve been looking a lot into the ebook/ereader industry lately, there are some shocking figures about the current literacy rate of people and the amount of books people read a year.

    It seems most people these days just don’t want to learn anything new that isn’t handed up to them in a passive manner (TV).

    This comic really hits home about the mindset of the general public.

  2. >>Should we be focusing on gaining market share and making everything work for Windows users, or just sticking to making great free software for us?


    >>Do we care that proprietary vendor lock-in devices like iPod don’t work seamlessly?


    >>Should we be putting effort in to making them work?


    >>So, should we be making Linux more like Windows to gain more market share?


    >>Or keep Linux unique and special?

    That would be an ecumenical matter!

    HTH, qian 😛

  3. Its an interesting problem, one that we have discussed on occassions.

    One problem, I can see, is that it is bloody difficult to know if hardware X will work with Distro Y. Trying to find a USB wireless N adaptor that will work with linux is not easy. Out of all the wireless adaptors for sale at a recent computer fair, only 1 said anything about Linux on the box. Getting that thing to work with my particular breed of Linux is another issue – it definitely was not plug and play.

    Don’t get me started on Digital TV tuners.

    In the perfect world, hardware vendors would provide the necessary application/drivers/etc to enable their devices to work with operating systems of all flavours. To take your Ipod example, Apple could (fairly easily, I imagine) take their UNIX version of iTunes and compile a version that works with Linux.

    But that raises another problem. Some Linux fans would not trust that proprietary software (I assume that Apple would not release itunes under a FOSS friendly licence). The average computer user just wants the thing to work. The (dare I use the term) “Stereotypical Linux zealot” wants a lot more – it must work, it must be completely open, it must be able to be modified to suit their own unique need. For commercial enterprises, filling that last niche is a quantum leap in thinking.

    More discussion over coffee?

  4. I wish I could switch to linux, but years of trying with various distros (I’m a 30-year IT veteran so I know a few things about computers and operating systems) has convinced me that linux is not ready for mainstream desktop use.

    If you can use it on your system, and you don’t mind playing around with obscure config commands buried in odd places within the file system, fine, but for most users linux just does not work.

    And as for ease of use – such as using a gui for configuration changes – forget it. I still can’t get Ubuntu to work with my old Wacom graphics tablet without having to modify parameters in a conf file every time I do a system update – and even then the functionality is much less than I get from a default install of Windows.

    I want to spend my time doing productive work, not playing at system administration all day, so why should I bother?

    Yes Microsoft sucks, but people still use Windows because the competition hasn’t come up with a better alternative for the majority of users.

    I wish it were otherwise, but until linux developers submit to rules for centralising and standardising the operating system configuration – to take just one example – and recognise that users’ desire for gui-based user-friendliness is not an excuse to treat them as contemptible intellectual inferiors, it will remain geekware.

  5. Hi Phil,

    I think that this is the experience of many people. I guess the bottom line is that free software developers build free software for themselves, not to become the next Microsoft.

    That quote from Linus says a lot:

    The thing is, at least to me personally, Microsoft just isn’t relevant to what I do. That might sound strange, since they are clearly the dominant player in the market that Linux is in, but the thing is: I’m not in the ”market.” I’m interested in Linux because of the technology, and Linux wasn’t started as any kind of rebellion against the ”evil Microsoft empire.”

    They aren’t trying to prove anything to anyone, just just get on with it and build software that they want. When your focus is not on making it super easy for others, then it’s always going to be lacking. Sure, there are some companies like Canonical for whom the goal is to make Linux easy, but that’s the goal for most. Why should they care what you run on your machine? If you want Windows, then use Windows. If you want something different that works better in many ways, then try Linux or something else.

    I do think that it comes down to what you expect your computer to do. If you expect Linux to be a “free version of Windows” then you’re always going to be disappointed. People buy hardware for a specific operating system (i.e. Windows) and then complain that it doesn’t work in Linux, OS X, BSD, Solaris, etc. That’s crazy in a way. It’s like saying, “I bought this random carburettor for my car, but it doesn’t work!”. Well, duh. Linux does a great job (better than any other OS) at detecting and enabling your hardware – mostly without any support from the manufacturer! Having said that, some thing just won’t work well and that’s just the way it is – for now. It’s improving all the time. If you make the decision to use Linux as OS, then you should make hardware choices which suit that decision.

    But yes, it does suck that consumer buy random hardware (and especially vendor lock-in technology like iPhones) which don’t work on Linux. In many ways this is obvious to most IT people – not everything will work on all operating systems (even between Windows versions. Windows 2000 anyone? Windows XP 64bit? Windows Vista? Gah!).

    For me, Linux does absolutely everything I need my computer for. I make smart choices when I buy hardware and for me it’s by far the best operating system, bar none 🙂


  6. So I have dual boot system, Ubuntu 10.04 and Win 7. By far Win7 was the hardest to install, is hardest to maintain and the least reliable. The hardware that Linux automatically recognized and used would not work on win7 with out a lot of goofy HW trickery.

    I have win7 mainly because a handful of games (like Metro 2033) have better performance on win7 than Linux. But the difference is not great and in my experience, win7 crashes on run-of-the-mill games more often whereas the games that Linux/Wine runs, run well.

    I think this is generally the One Microsoft Way way. It claims to offer a cornucopia of wonderful toys, but in fact those toys mostly don’t work or work poorly and fail mysteriously (instead of messages, hexadecimal error codes, yippee). I prefer Ubuntu because what it does, it does well and without drama (and you virtually never have to reboot).

    I admit that a gui interface for configuration can be wonderful but only if the buttons that you need to press are actually available. Any truly creative person will need things that are not in the mainstream. Also, there times when one change-all of a config file eliminates a lot of incredibly tedious menu clicking.

    IMO, Linux is similar to math in that both are not particularly easy to learn but once learned, are easy to use, very powerful and when needed, indispensable.

    Incidentally, I have wacom cintiq which I use nearly every day with win7, winxp and Linux. The pressure mapping does require a little fiddling but it is not that hard to do and if you are particular about the mapping, then no matter what system you use, you have to tinker with it.

  7. Actually you should fix the installs to “just work” on most brands of laptops. Every single time I have to futz about to get brightness working, or the camera, or the microphone or the bloody trackpad. I would really really like to use linux on all my laptops. But I can’t stop my real work to put up with this bullshit. If you want linux to spread and you have skillz in these areas then fix this crap. Blame any typos in this message on my kubuntu 11.10 not admitting it knows of my freaking trackpad much less deigning to not use it as a mouse while I am typing. Nuff said.

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