Three and a half years ago, I was as wrong as it’s humanly possible to be

Roughly three and a half years ago, I wrote a blog entry titled “Why Linux has failed, and why Linux will fail again”:http://virtuelvis.com/archives/2004/01/linux-failed. Roughly two years ago, “I switched”:http://virtuelvis.com/archives/2005/07/ubuntu — to the operating system I claimed had failed, and would fail again. Linux. Ubuntu to be precise.
Recently, Mark Pilgrim blogged about his “first year with Linux”:http://diveintomark.org/archives/2007/06/02/one-year-with-linux and Sam Ruby followed up with his “May 2005 switch”:http://intertwingly.net/blog/2007/06/03/Life-on-Linux.
So, what has my experience with Linux been, and how does it relate to my previous issues. Let’s reexamine what I wrote about Joe Phobic:
bq.. Joe has:
* Never customized windows. Not even changed the default resolution.
* Never touched the control panel.
* Never used the command line.
p. During my 2005 switch, I:
* Never had to customize Gnome itself. I made one customization to Nautilus, to prevent it from opening a new window for every folder I selected
* Never touched the control panel, save perhaps from setting the screen saver, and resetting the resolution when I replaced a monitor
* I _did_ use the command line. But I was in no way forced to. I did so out of choice, and I did so to reconfigure X after I had rather royally hosed my own xorg.conf (but I’m not Joe Phobic, either).
… so it’s pretty safe to assume that my assumptions about whether Joe Phobic could handle this was wrong. Elaborating, saying something about what I _didn’t_ write back then:
* Ubuntu came preinstalled with all of the applications Joe would need. He could be as phobic as he wanted, because he had replacements for all of his applications
* The cost of switching window manager to Gnome from Windows is for all practical purposes zero. He doesn’t have to relearn much, save for icon positions.
* There’s more, I’ll get to that later.
Further, I wrote, while having spent some time on a system, trying to locate a simple calculator:
bq. This is where Linux fails. Miserably. Linux is about freedom. A different kind of freedom. It’s freedom to choose to use any one of seven text editors to perform the same task. It’s the freedom to choose any one of several ridiculously complicated Window Managers. It’s the freedom to choose any one of two or three IDEs. It’s the freedom to install lots of perpetually unused servers.
… and, the money quote …
bq. Windows is all about freedom. Windows is freedom from complicated choices, it’s freedom from having to learn something new, something not really relevant to the task you want to do.
I will spare you the pain (or amusement) of giving me an embarrasing reward for being silly: The undersigned is hereby awarded the price for “Most embararssing remark about operating systems, freedoms and choices”.
In July 2005, when I switched, I spent a full four to five hours getting a Windows 2000 system that hadn’t been booted for three months back into a usable state. I spent lots of time trying to kill update managers that caused nothing but network congestion and high CPU use. I spent time dismissing dialogs. I didn’t feel free then. Nor did I feel free the time before that, when I hosed my Windows registry, because I yanked an IDE cable from a running system. I learnt a lot about restoring, no make that finding various ways of failing to restore a system whose every copy of the shackles called the “Windows Registry” had gone missing in action.
Neither did I feel free when I, a year after switching my work machine over to Linux, tried booting it, because I needed a firmware update for my mobile phone. Updating this phone’s firmware required Flash to be installed, and it required MSIE to be the default browser. So, after having gone through roughly the same update dance as I went through with the Windows 2000 system, I thought resetting the browser to MSIE would be trivial. Not so. It took manually editing the registry. It took uninstalling _every single_ third-party browser on the system. It involved downloading a shoddy third-party application. It took a lot of cursing. And I presume it also took luck to get this working. And some more cursing. And boy, did I feel free.
And I am free. Like Mark, I love apt, update-manager and its siblings to death. I don’t compile software (Ok, I’ve done it once, to get a CVS version of some spec-related tools working). I have exactly two applications that aren’t updated with the rest, “Komodo Edit”:http://www.activestate.com/products/komodo_edit/ and “Opera”:http://www.opera.com/. And the latter one is by choice, because I run internal versions, and as such there is no point in me using the repository versions. That leaves it down to _one_ application not automatically managed, updated, and taken care of. Across operating system upgrades. With all of the user data kept. I also (apart from a few text editor) have only one of each application, but they fill distinctly different needs, and I have all the software I need out of the box.
Linux has given me both freedom _of_ choice, and freedom _from_ choice. Windows never offered me “of”, and it only ever pretended to offer me “from”. On my personal computers, I only have Linux installed. I keep the XP partition on the work computer around, just in case. I don’t expect to boot it often, I hope I don’t have to boot it often.

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6 Comments

  1. Same here. I switched a few months ago and I’m happy so far (knowing my windows partition is one reboot away). Browsing and developing. no problems. I’m also using Komodo Edit and Opera. Btw: Opera feels more sluggish under Linux and I have problems with Flash from time to time. But no major problems – and Firefox is one click away. One thing, that really bothers me though: there is no multi messenger replacement that is nearly as capable as Miranda. I tried heaps of them and they all suck in one or the other way. ATM I’m using Gaim and LICQ (from time to time to send files). Nothing beats Miranda as a comfortable tool. It really disappoints me. But then again, I can spin the cube using Beryl and I’m happy again. Who needs desktop effects anyway. But they are so damn cool and people keep asking “Is it Vista?” – just to hear, that it is not even Windows. 😉

  2. Joe Phobic

     /  2007-06-06

    Despite your personal “successes” at operating linux, you are still right, linux has failed and will fail again.
    Joe Phobic doesn’t want to use developmental builds of browsers like you. Joe Phobic doesn’t want to update apps from a repository, he doesn’t even know what a repository IS. Joe wants a tech support phone number to call when some idiot comes over to play on his machine and hoses his xorg.conf file. Joe wants to use the same versions of Microsoft Word and Excel that he already spent years learning.
    But most of all, Joe Phobic wants freedom from computer crap, like configuration problems and testing applications to see if they work. The only thing you can offer Joe is a newer, bigger pile of computer crap.

  3. Asbjørn Ulsberg

     /  2007-06-06

    Boy, is that three and a half years old discussion interesting to read now! I especially fancy my own comment, where I say:
    bq. What one could probably (want to) see, is companies like Dell offering PC’s with pre-installed ISL (Incredibly Simple Linux) for a discount over the same PC with pre-installed Microsoft Windows.
    Wow, what a nail hitter that was. 🙂 Okay, I got the name wrong (it’s not “ISL”, but “Ubuntu”), but other than that, I have to say I pretty much nailed it. Now, it’s just to wait and see if this can significantly increase Linux’ user base.

  4. I am not in the habit of answering trolls, but I’ll make this one exception.
    Joe Phobic: Here is the beauty of it — Joe Phobic doesn’t have to know. Every once in a while, an orange icon shows up in the notification area (That’s “The tray” for you windowistas), telling him there are software updates available. He doesn’t need to know about “the repository”, “configuration crap”, “xorg.conf” or anything.
    As for the “Microsoft Office” argument: I don’t buy it. At all. The two applications are sufficiently similar for people to be able to painlessly switch between them. This is no more different than switching to a Toyota from a Ford. Knobs and buttons are sometimes in different places, but all the important controls, like steering wheel, gear stick and pedals are where you expect to find them.

  5. Joe Phobic

     /  2007-06-07

    I’ll try out your MSOffice anti-argument on my dad, Grampa Phobic. He wanted to buy a Mac, so he went into an Apple store. After trying out MSOffice on a Mac, he thought it was dissimilar enough to the Windows MSOffice version he was used to, so he abandoned the idea of switching. I told him that the Mac version worked just like the PC version so he should give it a try. He said “That’s asking an awful lot from an 80 year old guy who is pretty set in his ways and doesn’t have enough lifetime left to waste learning new tricks.” I told him that the minor pains of switching would be more than worth it, once he was liberated from the usual windows troubles like viruses and security problems. He wouldn’t buy it.
    You have failed to convince me that linux offers anything better. It is merely different. People don’t want different, they want better. And to the masses, better means simpler. Linux is not simpler than Windows or Macs. And when things go wrong, there is nobody to call for tech support.
    Unfortunately, you are operating from a terrible misconception, it is known as “the Curse of Information.” As a computer expert, you see things from a position of expertise, you think that what is obvious to you is obvious to everyone. But you are wrong. What seems obvious to you, novices and everyday average computer users find incredibly difficult. But you cannot put yourself in their position, you cannot see through their eyes, no more than you could erase your memories of all the expertise you learned through years of study and experience. You just don’t know what people really want, you fantasize that people year for some hypothetical “freedom” but that’s not what people really want. This is why linux fails and continues to fail: people like YOU are writing it.

  6. Joe: If gramps Phobic is happy with his Microsoft Office version and wants to continue using it, he is not the average Phobic. Microsoft makes new versions, and when you buy a new computer, you get the new version. Joe Phobic doesn’t install Windows 2000 with Office 2000 on the new Windows Vista machine just to get the familiar interface – it is far too difficult.
    So, when gramps go from Office 2000 on his old machine to Office 2003 preinstalled on the new one, he won’t even know where to start typing. The interface is totally different between the two versions.
    OpenOffice, on the other hand, is pretty close to Microsoft Office 2000 or XP GUI-wise …
    I am also running Ubuntu for half a year now. It’s just better. I’m more productive at my computer now, than I ever was with Windows.