Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Denial is more than a river in Egypt

A Linux fanboy asks, "Why do so few people use Linux on the desktop? After all, it's superior to Windows."

My response is: Are you joking? Surely you're joking, right?

First of all, people don't use operating systems. They use applications. And most end-user applications run on Windows. If, for example, I want to manage a ESXi server, I have to use vSphere Client to do that. And vSphere Client runs on... err... Windows. As does pretty much every other specialty application on the planet that people use, or even many non-specialty ones -- try viewing WMC or QuickTime videos on Linux. You can't do it. They simply don't work. You can (illegally) hack your Linux system to do this by copying components from Windows, but really, how many end users are going to do this? And they certainly aren't going to do it in a corporate environment, where systems are locked down to prevent end users from installing illegal software.

Secondly, as I've repeatedly pointed out, the Linux desktop environment is a mess. It's like if the Soviet Union had not fallen in the early 90's, had seen Windows 95, and decided to create a Soviet version of Windows 95. It's clunky, creaky, overly complex, makes little sense from an end user perspective, and things that are easy on the Mac or Windows are ridiculously difficult to do with the Linux desktop. For example, to assign one of the side mouse buttons to the window switcher on Windows or Mac is a simple tool in the Mac control panel or Logitech mouse manager on Windows. To do so on Linux, on the other hand, is an adventure.

So anyhow, what inspired this rant? Well, simple: I was annoyed at the slow speed of the QEMU console used by KVM and Xen. This appears to be an issue with QEMU's console driver, it does the same thing with both KVM on Fedora and Xen on OpenSUSE. QEMU's console driver screen-scrapes video memory, then stuffs it into a VNC session, but does this so ridiculously slow as to render it basically unusable. I know it's possible to do virtualized console drivers that operate quickly -- VMware does it *over a network*, for cryin' out loud, install ESXi on one of your spare systems and point vSphere Client at it from a Windows system on your network if you disbelieve me -- but apparently nobody in the Xen or KVM communities cares, since this has been a problem for literally years. I guess it's because Xen and KVM are typically used to virtualize things like web and email servers, where nobody cares about how fast the console is.

The workaround is to a) use ssh if you need CLI access to the system, and b) spawn off a vnc session if you need GUI access to the system. For example, for my Fedora guest, I have this line in rc.local:

su -c "vncserver -geometry 1440x900 -depth 16" egreen > ~egreen/vnc-log 2>&1 &

From there on, I access it via a VNC viewer from my Macbook Pro or from the Linux host system.

[flame on]
This problem has been there since the beginning of the QEMU project, but nobody cares to fix it because, well, it's "good enough" to get in and start vncserver, so what's the problem? This disregard for end user experience is the #1 reason why Linux is a sad also-ran in the desktop operation system competition. Even netbooks have switched away from Linux to Windows, because the end-user experience with Linux is so pathetic that even Windows -- sad pathetic WINDOWS -- does it better. It's the whole XKCD 619 problem. It's not because Linux doesn't have the technical capability to have a decent end-user experience, it's because nobody *cares* because what exists is good enough for geeks and if you point out that end users don't like it, you get oodles of pushback from the Linux fanboys about how you don't *really* need feature X because there is workaround Y. Denial is more than a river in Egypt, folks. I've been using Linux for 15 years. My name is in the Linux source code. I've written at least half a million lines of userland code for Linux in the past 15 years and while my kernel contributions are minor driver contributions, they're there. And my desktop is a Mac because I find the Linux desktop environments to be so clumsy, clunky, and annoying. Q.E.D.
[/flame off]

So anyhow, that's my gripe of the day. I'm sure I'd get some pushback from Linux fanboys on it if they bothered reading it, which of course they won't, because they're too busy making sure Linux runs well on 4096-core processors. All I'll point out is that refusing to admit you have a problem is a guarantee that the problem will continue. The Linux community is like a drunk that refuses to admit he has a drinking problem. Linux has a user interface problem, people -- and like the drunk who won't go to rehab because he refuses to admit he has a problem, Linux's user interface problem is not going to get fixed as long as Linux geeks continue to insist they have no problem.

-- ELG

No comments:

Post a Comment