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Old 14th August 2002, 10:45 PM   #1
martinus Thread Starter
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Cool Linux ready for the desktop? This is not a poll. ;)

Wow! Have just installed KDE and I'm impressed!

seems linux on the desktop has come a long way since I last tried it - which was around 1997, and it was quite a tedious experience. My first contact with Linux goes back as far as 1993 when I was involved in porting it to Motorola 68K hardware. In those days X was a mere proof of concept for me, using TWM or some equally lightweight window manager.

Anyway, this time round installation was quite a breeze and KDE3 left me sitting with my mouth open. Actually, I expected heaps of problems, since I am using an unpopular ATA-66 controller, and my CD-ROM is connected to an ancient SCSI-1 card.

Indeed there was no way I could boot from CD. However, I figured I could use loadlin from an existing Win98 Installation - using the next best SCSI kernel from the slackware CD and I was up and running in no time. I knew I was on a winning straight when I saw the kernel booting for the first time, with kernel messages left right and centre indicating that all my devices were being recognized.

What followed was the compilation of a customized 2.4.19 kernel and some "maintenance" of the boot scripts. When I finally had KDE3 on the screen I just couldn't believe it. What a modern and powerful user interface. Everything's working and there's a lot of usable software in the menus. Konqueror appeared a bit lame, but with Opera I installed the same powerful browsing environment I was used to from Windows.

Having said that, I had to spend quite some time with google and experimenting to solve comparatively trivial problems. It starts with having to compile the nvidia video driver from source - adding a kernel module. Getting the mouse wheel to work proved to be surprisingly difficult. Not to mention the installation of Windows TTF fonts. Even the installation of a standard software package like Opera is not without pitfalls.

It has never been a question to me that Linux is the superior server solution. But the big question has been: is Linux ready for the desktop? I believe, we are closer than ever. And for geeks like me who are comparing a dual boot arrangement Linux/Win98 with NT4/Win98, the answer is "yes". However, I am not so sure about Joe Bloggs who compares a single boot installation of XP and Linux.

Will I switch over to Linux or stick with NT4? I am not sure. It'll take a lot of effort to get the Linux installation to the same standard as the NT4 installation. There is still so much to be done...

Big question for me is: am I unfair to Linux? I must have spent millions of hours in the past and late nights just to keep my Windows installations going, learning about weird concepts like the registry etc. Had I spent the same time on Linux, learning about XF86Config and the like, I'd probably say it's a lot easier to set up...

Anyway, this rant is getting too long. Feel free to post your comments, though.
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Old 14th August 2002, 10:58 PM   #2
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Until it can share a raid array with windows on a modern mother board, I won't be installing it again as my desktop. And as for plonking it on the other machines at home, I can just imagine the howls from my kids when they discover none of their games work.

But if it's as solid as you make out, then maybe they'll make some headway into the corporate desktop market. Gods knows they need some relief from the M$ monopoly on their IT bugets.
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Old 14th August 2002, 11:43 PM   #3
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The way I see it right now, is that it's getting 'ready' for the desktop by cornering in from two directions. One is that I'd say that many technically oriented power users would probably be able to cope with Linux. They'd be able to adapt, work out things that they didn't know, deal with the incongruities and idiosyncracies of Linux as they would when tweaking Windows. In this case, the user has to learn about Linux and understand how the little bits fit together, config files, etc. etc.

The second group is the complete newbie group - if someone knowledgeable installed and set up Linux and told them where to click for word processing, web access, etc. and that was the extent of their computer use, they'd probably be fine. Using KDE or something, everything is completely hidden so they don't need to worry about anything as long as they stay in their little zone. This can also apply to corporate desktop machines where a sysadmin can lock everything down the way it's supposed to be and there's no other access.

What I see as being a problem for Linux is the remaining people in between. The people that want more out of their computer and want to start poking around a bit more, configuring more, etc. I have a feeling that this comprises quite a lot of computer users. These sorts of people probably wouldn't be able to (or want to) deal with all the sorts of yucky bits that still pervade Linux. The confusing filesystem (/bin? /usr/bin? /usr/local/bin?), software installation, configuration, installing new software from the net (some things, nifty little utilities, things under heavy development, etc. are often only available in source form and this group wouldn't want to be anywhere near compiling stuff). All these sorts of things are usability problems that haven't been truly solved - just covered up in some part by GUIs etc.

An example of this is in Linux pacakge management. On the surface, the little conceptual model that vendor_X has made up (for example RPMs, or even more specifically Mandrake's Software Manager) are all fine and dandy, but as soon as that model breaks, or you need to step outside of it for some reason - perhaps the RPM neeeds to be --forced or there are no packages and you need to install from source, the whole facade comes crashing down and leaves the user stranded in the bare reality that is unknown, unfamiliar, and very difficult to understand. These sorts of things are solvable - to use the packaging example, Apple has done a great job with 'bundles' in MacOSX, which are sort of like tars of directories containing the software, which also function as the executables themselves (I'm not all that clued in on the specific technical stuff - google for it). These are part of the base operating system, and work through all the levels up. So you don't have to worry about your facade falling down, because there is no facade. It's simple, easy to understand and logical right down to the bottom level. To install a program, you copy the bundle to wherever you want it and double click it to run. It's that simple. And in their implementation, access to the technical specifics are just as easy as navigating as if the bundle was a directory - you're not limited in any way.

Designing systems from scratch with usability always in mind keeps these sorts of problems from occurring. This is the sort of thing that Apple, when working on a complete overhaul of their new OS was able to dictate, and do. This lack of central UI-centred planning and vision, combined with the resistance to change of so many Linux programmers means that for the forseeable future, these sorts of issues will continue to be addressed with band-aids to hide underlying complexity and create fake conceptual models for the user to live in (which, like I said, always end up crashing down somehow). As long as many Linux developers continue to seem to be unaware that user interface design is about so much more than a pretty GUI, it's going to be very difficult for Linux to capture the people in between the very technical power users and complete newbies.

Depending on who you are and what your perspective is, my little prediction's not necessarily a bad thing. However, I've used Linux for four years now, and still use it on my server. I no longer use it on my main workstation because I just couldn't be arsed with putting up with all the crap I've got to slog through in order to get things going properly, and to just use my computer as a tool in an everyday manner. For people like me, that's a shame, because I love the community around Linux, the great software that's being developed for it, and many other things, but the UI issues just frustrate me.
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Old 15th August 2002, 12:40 AM   #4
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BF, I can hear the kids screaming myself. The gaming aspect is why I would install a dual boot installation, in the same way I do it with NT4.

In the corporate market, I am sure if you broke the dominance of MS Office and IE, you could bring the overall IT cost down. But the risk distribution would be different, and the heads of the IT management could be on the block. At the end of the day this is more a problem of the corporate hierarchies in our society, and documents that the open source movement is to some extent incompatible with our system of corporate hierarchies.

funky, interesting thought. I think you are right with your analysis that it is the group of advanced users in between the newbies and the pros that is loosing out. That is probably the group that most of us are in - maybe with one toe in the pro area.

What really gives me food for thought is the statement that a wholistic user-centric solution can only be the product of a centralistic software development organisation. A similar point was raised in the Halloween documents - not that MS is doing so much better in terms of usability, but that only proves that the reverse conclusion (a centralistic organisation will automatically produce highly usable software) is not true.

Well, I'm logging off now for the night - still thinking about this point...
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Old 15th August 2002, 12:49 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by martinus
not that MS is doing so much better in terms of usability, but that only proves that the reverse conclusion (a centralistic organisation will automatically produce highly usable software) is not true.
I would agree, but beware extrapolating MS to every other UI minded software design. IMO MS aren't very good at UI at all - not nearly as much as others purport them to be. Unfortunately many Linux people seem to be copying MS's philosophy of 'cover all the complex and incoherent bits up' rather than 'make it simple from the start', (perhaps due to lack of exposure to other ways of doing things). However, looking at other operating systems such as MacOSX and BeOS, you can really see where it's paid off. Anyway that's drifting off topic a bit, so I'll butt out now.
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Old 15th August 2002, 12:53 AM   #6
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people don't want an operating system
they want to be able to do "stuff"
this is where linux loses out
because its too complicated to use
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Old 15th August 2002, 12:59 AM   #7
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Linux underneath is alot simpler than Windows underneath. I do most of my work from the commandline so I find it alot easier, faster and more productive than Windows.

I think the first step to improving usablility in Linux is standardising the package system. Quite simply it has to be the deb format and the apt package management system. If youve never used apt and you dont like rpm then your missing out on alot. apt-get is the most user friendly process of installing software on linux, and with a bit of work on the post install information area it could be better than window imo. Im sure someone could build a decent gui frontend to it for the gui users too.

There is a fine line between improving linux for the average user and ruining what linux is all about aswell. Im not sure if you meant it but it seemed like you were suggesting that all these apps in development and only available as source are a bad thing??

We still havent seen a concerted effort by some distibution or company to create a linux distro that merges ease of use with the power of Linux. Things like Lycoris and Lindows try to mask the functionality with little gui apps that hide everything from the user and end up giving them a system that doesnt work because too much has been left out.

It would be nice if one day everyone was comfortable with compiling and installing things from source....
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Old 15th August 2002, 1:12 AM   #8
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Geo your comparing apples to oranges
You can't compare rpm to apt-get, they are completely different in what their purpose is.
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Old 15th August 2002, 1:47 AM   #9
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There's no working media player for Linux yet.

Hence Linux isn't a viable desktop platform.

So far the best distribution for me is Slackware, as it's the most UNIX like distribution. It's a lot simpler than other distributions, and if you have any grounding in DOS, I recommend it.
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Old 15th August 2002, 2:19 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by hast
Geo your comparing apples to oranges
You can't compare rpm to apt-get, they are completely different in what their purpose is.
Care to back that up? Both are package managers arent they? Both install software from their respective package formats onto an OS. What do you see as the difference with respect to the high level goals of a package manager?

Im not so much talking about the specific details of the package format, rather the way they install software and handle dependancies etc. apt-get is much more user friendly and does a better job.
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Old 15th August 2002, 2:21 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by geoffwa
There's no working media player for Linux yet.

Hence Linux isn't a viable desktop platform.

http://www.mplayerhq.hu/homepage/
http://xine.sourceforge.net/

Is it viable now?
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Old 15th August 2002, 9:27 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally posted by Geo
Linux underneath is alot simpler than Windows underneath. I do most of my work from the commandline so I find it alot easier, faster and more productive than Windows.
That depends what you mean by simpler, I guess. For the sort of things that most normal people would encounter in their day-to-day activities (filesystem, configuration, etc) I wouldn't say Linux is simpler. Besides, we all know that Windows isn't the pinnacle of operating system excellence, so why always compare Linux to it - better than bad does not mean good, it means better than bad. I don't for a minute think that for most users, the internals of Linux and the command line are easier and more efficient (that's an entirely new discussion altogether), but even if they were, should all work suddenly cease, since it's attained the lofty goal of being 'better than Windows'?

Quote:
There is a fine line between improving linux for the average user and ruining what linux is all about aswell. Im not sure if you meant it but it seemed like you were suggesting that all these apps in development and only available as source are a bad thing??
There's not necessarily a fine line if you don't look at the problem in a Windows-esque manner of a diametrically opposed situation where simplicity, ease of use, and logical conceptual structure is balanced against control, configurability, and power. Like I said in my above post, OSes like BeOS and MacOSX show that it is possible to have a coherent user experience, and have power and configurability under the bonnet at the same time.

As for software that's available only in source form, I wasn't for a minute implying that that was a bad thing, rather it's one of the things that keeps Linux out of that 'middle segment'. Interpret and pass judgement on that as you will.

Quote:
It would be nice if one day everyone was comfortable with compiling and installing things from source....
I bet car mechanics say the same thing about fixing engine blocks, but frankly I can't be bothered doing that OR compiling source. I've got work to do
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Old 15th August 2002, 10:44 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by Geo


Care to back that up? Both are package managers arent they? Both install software from their respective package formats onto an OS. What do you see as the difference with respect to the high level goals of a package manager?

Im not so much talking about the specific details of the package format, rather the way they install software and handle dependancies etc. apt-get is much more user friendly and does a better job.
yeah, apt-get is a program to solve dependencies and install software
and rpm is a package format
if you like what apt-get does, then you can get similar programs that work with the rpm format (ie apt-rpm, urpmi, mandrake software manager, etc, etc)
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Old 15th August 2002, 10:53 AM   #14
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rpm is also a program. That was what I was talking about, I even stated that.
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Old 15th August 2002, 11:18 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by funkychild

I bet car mechanics say the same thing about fixing engine blocks, but frankly I can't be bothered doing that OR compiling source. I've got work to do

Whats the difference between typing "./configure; make install" and clicking next half a dozen times. 99% of software compiles and installs without a hitch and is ready to go. Remember we are talking about the middle section of the market here, this surely isnt above them.

To be honest I think it is more a case of inertia than any real flaw in linux usability. (That is not to say there isnt usability problems in linux, there certainly are and you would be crazy to claim there isnt). But I think the middle section of the market have spent some much time and effort learn the idiosyncracies of windows and they feel the are knowledgable about windows that they dont want to move to linux for 2 reasons, 1. They dont want to have the learn things over again, and 2 they dont want to feel like a newbie again.

If people in the middle section of the market can become proficient enough in windows to "want to start poking around a bit more, configuring more" then they should also be able to learn the way linux works. Fact is however they dont have to so they wont, Windows does what they need so they dont see any reason to go through the learning cycle again. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Personally, I dont care if Linux never becomes very popular on the home desktop, the corporate desktop is a much more important goal, and I think its about ready for that.
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