Sunday, September 23, 2012

Crack-smoking Linux zealots

It seems that every year, like the swallows flocking back to Capistrano, you get yet another burst of Linux zealots claiming that this is the year for the Linux desktop. As you know, I've said good things about Gnome 3 and its usability by mere mortals. Linux geeks whine about how they can't customize it blah de blah blah, but mere mortals don't customize their window manager -- other than setting the desktop background to a photo of their kids or grandkids, all they care about is whatever applications they're wanting to run. And from that perspective, Gnome 3 works just fine. But: An operating system is more than a window manager. And that is where Linux still is Utter Fail on the desktop.

Okay, let me tell you a story. I installed Fedora 17 on a 64GB SSD to manage my RAID arrays that serve data to my home network. For grins and giggles I installed Thunderbird and told it about a couple of my email accounts. I clicked through on a link in one of those email accounts that went to a page that had a video embedded. Well, that *would* have a video embedded, on Windows or MacOS. On Linux? Just a blank box and a message about a plugin that simply doesn't exist for Linux that needs to be installed, probably a Quicktime plugin. Now I'm sure you're saying, "but that's not Linux's fault, that's Apple's fault for patenting the algorithm used for that plugin!" But see, the deal is, end users don't care whose fault it is. All they know is that they can't see that embedded video with Linux, and they can see it with Windows or MacOS. BTW, same applies to playing MP3 files -- they simply won't play. Again, a patent issue, but Joe Sixpack doesn't care why his music files won't play on his Linux system -- all he cares about is that they don't play on his Linux system. End of game.

Now let's look at another issue, one where the excuse of patents does not hold. The SSD came out of an old Asus Aspire One netbook, which I'd put it in as part of an attempt to build a mobile GPS system, one of a couple of failed attempts that eventually ended up successful with the iPad, thus rendering the need for an SSD in the Aspire One obsolete. So I grabbed an old 160GB hard drive to put into the Aspire One to take the place of the SSD, and imaged it using the rescue disks that I'd purchased to put an image onto the SSD in the first place. Except it didn't boot. Okay, no big deal, I'll just haul a Windows XP rescue disk over there ... err... I don't happen to have one burned? No biggie, I'll just burn one. And since I have my beautiful Linux desktop sitting here, I'll just use that to do so.

So I pop the blank CD/RW disk into the Asus SATA CD/DVD writer, and attempt to burn it using the stock Brasero disk burner... and it's utter fail. Won't do it. In fact, locks up the system for 30 seconds because it locks up the SATA bus while not doing it. What the BLEEP?! So I go check Google, and it looks like Brasero has been broken on Fedora FOR YEARS, it'll write DVD's (sometimes) but CD's? No way! So I try a couple of other programs, and have similar results. Then I go down to the underlying 'wodim' program and again the same results. At that point I'm, like, "okay, maybe it's broken CD recorder hardware". So I pull out an external USB CD recorder drive -- one that I recently used on another system that doesn't have an internal DVD-RW drive -- and attempt to use that. Same result.

So maybe it's a bad disk? So I sling the disk into my MacBook Pro, erase it, and record it. It Just Works. As would have been the case, I'm 99% certain, if I had been trying to do this under Windows 7 -- it would have Just Worked.

And lest you think this is just my physical chunk of hardware and the particular version of Linux here at home, I have similar (lack of) success recording CD-R's at work on my Centos 6.3 desktop system. There, again, I have to record CD's on my MacBook Pro because Linux simply refuses to do it. Which infuriates me, because I could write CD's for *years* under Linux, but it's broken now, and nobody seems to care (at least, it's been broken in every release of Fedora since Fedora 10, which was, what, four years ago? Five years ago?), so ...

So let's recap: I can't view videos, I can't play music, and I can't burn CD-R's. I *can* do all of those things on Windows or MacOS. What Linux does well is serving data to networks. It does that very well, my Linux box serves as the Time Machine backup for my MacBook Pro as well as being the central data repository for the various Windows laptops I have hanging around. But the desktop? When it can't do simple desktop tasks that Windows and MacOS have done for literally years? Crack. That's my only explanation for why anybody would ever make a ludicrous statement like "this is the year of desktop Linux!" given the current state of Linux.


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