Sunday, February 20, 2005

Linux for the home user

I'm annoyed that Linux is so difficult. Much twaddle has been bandied about in the popular computing press about Linux as a replacement for Windows for the home user. "There is no reason you should ever need to open the console or mess with any DOS-like weirdness" they're saying. True enough, straight from the box, many Linux distros will give you all the office and media tools that you will regularly need. It's great in a corporate environment, where hardware has been chosen with Linux in mind, there is noodle-for-hire on retainer and everyone connects to the web over a LAN. For the untrained home user, who is perforce his own SysOp, it is a different animal. You just try getting your USB ADSL modem or cheap inkjet printer working! 3D acceleration? dream on.

Now don't misunderstand me. I enjoy being patronised by Microsoft's 'helpful' and friendly interface as much as the next thinking person. What Windoze does have in it's favour, though, is a huge library of drivers that will probably run just about any PC you install it on. When you do need to download a driver from the manufacturer's site, you need merely double-click on the filename and it extracts itself and installs. Not so, Linux. For example, SuSE 9.0 has in its library drivers for the ATi Radeon 9000, 9200, 9300, 9400, 9500 and 9700. Guess which model I own? Where it is possible to find Linux drivers for your hardware, they will not be supported by the manufacturers, who may go as far as denying their existence, even when you've just downloaded them from their website. There will be instructions, of course, posted on the many Linux fora. Many many instructions, each new set subtly or radically at odds with last. And there will indeed be much DOS-like weirdness.

I look forward to the coming of the day when a non-Microsoft OS is my boot-up of choice - I so loathe homogeneity - but Linux is still too much of a wild frontier for anyone who cannot commit the time and head space required to learn its obscure secrets.

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