Friday, November 03, 2006

The continuing usability issue with Linux

I found this on Slashdot of all places:
Your entire post misses one of the main facts that Linux zealots regularly overlook: [Typical User]: "I do not have the time, nor the inclination, to figure out how to set the clock on my VCR. I don't care. What I do care about is watching this movie. That's it. I just want to watch a goddamned movie. Why do I have to (set my clock / install and configure WINE / use the console / download dependencies / switch to root) in order to (watch my movie / play my video game / change the way a program behaves when it starts / get this stupid thing to execute at all / look at the files in directory XYZ)."
You're right, it -is- a matter of laziness, but most of the time, it is -not- on the part of the user. There are ways of solving these problems in Linux. I've seen it done. But *nix geeks don't want to solve them; they want to continue to lazily assume that everybody is a Linux expert so that they can say that the usability failures in their software are the user's fault.
Let me add my twist to that. After reading about how Novell has "sold out" to Microsoft, and reading RedHat's response to what Novell did, I decided to wipe Suse 10.1 off of my main home machine and install Fedora Core 6 in its place. I'd already burned a DVD ISO of FC6, so I dropped it in the machine and booted it up. It passed the DVD inspection test. I started the installation. I selected the general install with Gnome as the desktop. I modified the disk manager's selections to re-install on top of root (/) and /opt, but to leave /home alone. Everything proceeded without error up to that point. The installer re-formated the two partitions, and got ready to install the software. That's when disaster struck. In the middle of installing an RPM (readline) the installation stopped because either the RPM was missing or corrupt. No amount of fiddling could get it past that point.

OK. Plan B. I had also downloaded and burned the Suse 10.1 Remastered DVD ISO (the 10.1 installation with all the fixes rolled in since the initial release). I figured that since it had 10.1 installed on it before, then I'd be that much farther ahead installing the remastered version. Version 10.1 initially came out with a few faults, such as the Zen updater not updating. Dropped in the DVD, booted into the installer, stepped up to the point where I could select packages, and the installer couldn't see the packages (or the DVD drive). I'd seen this problem before with older Suse versions (10 to be exact), and I was in no mood to try and find the magic configuration switches for the boot loader that would allow the DVD to be seen after boot.

Plan C. I grabbed my SLED 10 DVD and booted it up. Everything worked fine, except that SLED absolutely positively does not want to honor prior disk partitions. SLED wanted to delete everything and use its own layout. The only other SLED installation I have is on a Boxx system where I work, and I just let it take over. I refused to do that here because I wanted to keep /home untouched. I keep my information on /home, so that I can wipe the installation off of root and /opt.

Plan D. I went back and grabbed my original Suse 10.1 DVD from the boxed set I purchased at Best Buy, knowing full well I was in for a long period of downloading patches and updates. But at least it installed and behaved on the system. What do I have to look forward to? Adding the ATI driver URIs to the updater so that I can go and install the ATI drivers for my ATI 9700 PRO AGP card.

I also have Ubuntu that I could install, but I have a long standing aversion to Debian that Ubuntu has yet to totally erase (or Knoppix 5, for that matter). I could have installed FreeBSD 6, but it's a year old (having been released November 2005), and that would have caused yet more problems as I fumbled around trying to get it to work on a dual-boot system using Grub.

I'm not sure I'm a Linux geek any more. Yes, I can pull out my old Slackware 2 installation, or Yggdrasil, or Redhat 3 (remember InfoMagic?), but that doesn't mean anything any more. Yes I've got Linux running on six systems (three at home, two SPARTA notebooks, and a Boxx at AT&T). In spite of all that current experience I have to agree that the world isn't ready yet for Linux, at least on the desktop. My own experiences support this in large part. And switching between distros (as well as versions in the same distro) is getting progressively painful as time goes on. It's enough at times to make you want to stick with Windows.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking as someone who hates Windows with a passion, and prefers a *nix environment, I definitely feel your pain. Several years ago I came to an agreement that Linux was junk, and just became a hard-core UNIX user. That meant IRIX, AIX, Solaris, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and such, depending on the machine/purpose. What got me to switch back, was having the sudden need for an x86 desktop (my "primary desktop" during most of this time was an SGI or a Sun system).

    While I prefer FreeBSD whenever I have a choice, Linux just has better all-around 3rd party support on x86. (For example, VMware doesn't care about FreeBSD, and nVidia only has 32-bit drivers for FreeBSD) The problem was finding a Linux distro that I could tolerate, since I've always hated the RedHats, found Slackware too bare, never got the hang of Debian, didn't want to screw with my system 24/7 on Gentoo, etc.

    Aside from horrible distro management performance issues (I'm sorry, but an Athlon64 with a 10krpm SCSI hard drive should be *very fast*, not *very slow*, at package management), SuSE 10.x has actually made me quite happy. My only real annoyance is that I hate being totally beholden to the maker of my distro for 3rd party software updates. That's especially true since it means I don't get major version updates until the next major distro version. (well, unless I want to break my distro with 3rd party package sources, which I ultimately did)

    These days, I think hardcore users just need to bite the bullet and run Gentoo, if they actually want things to work like they want them to. I certainly almost did myself, but stopped at the last minute because I actually needed a functional machine *now*, not 3 weeks of tinkering from now.

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