Beranger is right

December 12, 2008

I never thought I’d write a post with a title like THAT. I’ve read a lot of articles written by Beranger over the years, and at the moment I can’t remember a single one where I didn’t disagree immediately. But upon reading his latest post, with his announcement to switch back from Linux to XP, I can’t help thinking that he has a point.

Of course, in my opinion he’s also wrong about a lot of things. I don’t think that Linux has gotten WORSE over the past few years. In fact, installing and using the average Linux distribution has never been this easy. I also think there’s way too much yelling and profanity and bold text and supposed to be funny cartoons in his article for it to be taken seriously…but that has always been the case. And last but not least, I really don’t think that Windows, ANY Windows version, does a better job of providing a decent OS at the moment.

But I have become a bit frustrated with Linux on the desktop in the last months, for my own reasons. For example, installing and using Linux is easier yes….but maintaining it? Not so much. The focus has shifted from editing textfiles to using GUI tools…in my mind, not a good thing. They’re never as stable or as complete. I’ve hit quite a few “okay, that doesn’t work. So what am I supposed to do now?” problems lately. Also, it used to be that I could use a Linux distribution for 6 to 12 months and not hit one single problem. Not the case now. Ubuntu 8.10 was released with a bug that closed the CD tray as soon as you had opened it….and the latest two releases of Ubuntu would not install on the desktop of my ex, the last time because of a problem with the desktop effects.

I think the focus of the Linux distributions is wrong these days. It has shifted from stability and being feature complete to ease of use and worse, look and feel. I’m not against ease of use per se, but without stability it means exactly nothing. Easy GUI tools and a flashy looking desktop are useless if the stability of the system takes a hit. Mind you, Linux SHOULD look good. But things like Compiz, desktop effects, plasma…be honest here. They’re icing on the cake, not the cake itself. A default look should be clean, simple and more important than whatever you can add to it. Look at the KDE 4 desktop, where form rules over function. I don’t mind the way it looks, I don’t have anything against Plasma, or against widgets…but I’m not using it until Amarok and K3b are available for it. Right now, it’s useless for me.

Another example: gaming in Linux is still a disaster. Take Warcraft 3 for example. That’s an old game, so I’d expect Wine can handle it without many problems. Well, sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on the distribution, the wine version, the kernel version, and the nvidia driver version. I could play Warcraft 3 in Wine happily with Ubuntu 7.04 and 8.04, but not in 7.10 and 8.10. In 7.10 I actually had to patch the nvidia drivers and install the manually with every kernel update. 8.04 appeared and I was happy, because things worked! 8.10 came out and…well…black screen of death.

And yet another one, taken straight from Beranger’s article: “One of the major needs for a modern desktop, that is hibernation, is not of major interest for the Linux kernel developers, no matter Windows had this for a very long time. As a consequence, hibernation (suspend-to-disk) and sleep (suspend-to-RAM) is a constant hack under Linux, and once you got it working, you’ll never know whether the next kernel or the next distro release will break it or not (most likely, it will break it again).” I agree with every word of that.

Also, where’s the speed difference between Windows and Linux these days? It USED to be there. Windows booted faster but worked slower. These days, Win Xp still boots faster but has somehow caught up in terms of speed after boot…which is of course impossible. Instead, the Linux distributions have become slower, even the ones that are supposed to be small and fast.

That’s why I reinstalled XP on my PC…but just for gaming. I won’t make the mistake of letting Windows anywhere near the internet. On average, I find the Linux desktop distribution much less frustrating to work with than Windows, be it Vista or XP.

But…well, at the moment, it’s like I’m choosing the best of two bads. I’m very much looking forward to the day that KDE4 will be usable for me, to Gnome 3, to Windows 7, in the hope that I’ll get a stable, easy, attractive and fast Operating System.

A guy can dream.