Truly Honest Linux Opinions

Without a doubt, this is one of the most honest Linux articles I have read in a very long time. Up until now, we had either Linux fans such as myself giving our perspectives or the Windows reliant blogger giving his latest top ten why Linux is just too difficult to be switched over to.

Speaking for myself, as someone who uses Linux on most of his desktops/notebooks each and everyday, I see the Linux situation as follows.

Is Linux too difficult for the average user?

It’s basically, like teaching someone to go from an automatic to a manual transmission based car. There is more to it, but the advantages are readily available. This said, it is NOT for everyone. But with a pre-configured system…I have seen it work for people from all walks of life time after time.

It’s too difficult for most people to install and setup.

Actually, if the user is able to install the distro as the dedicated OS rather than foolishly trying to trust it to dual-boot cleanly, it is brainlessly simple to install. The trick, is that most people do not install their own operating systems. Yes, I said it. Most people are not installing Windows. It is either pre-installed for them, with drivers for most of their stuff ready to go…or they hired a tech to do this for them. In my experience, I found the same to be true with Linux. My mom’s bookstore used Linux boxes for years at the bookstore. If maintained just like one would maintain any business’s computers, the setup runs just fine.

Software is not plentiful, presents a learning curve and codecs are missing.

No, yes and sort of. That about covers it, right? Well the truth is the software is out there, but is not really presented in the best light possible in my opinion. Yes, Yum, apt-get and other methods of installation are really not all that bad, especially with fancy GUI front-end methods of installation. But when you live in a world of MS Word, Quickbooks and Outlook – knowing where to find solid alternatives is something that comes with time when switching to Linux. Sadly, no set of repositories is really so complete that you will not end up on Google looking for yet more alternatives to those legacy apps. They often exist, but finding them is a learned art in some instances.

Then there is the perceived learning curve. Clearly there is no real learning curve with switching from Outlook to Evolution or Outlook Express to Thunderbird. But what about going from a Windows based publishing program to Scribus or Windows Movie Maker to KINO? You bet there is a learning curve there! And taking up for the Windows user, it can be amazingly frustrating. I say this as I think back to my early Linux days…

Finally, we have the perceived “missing codecs” for MP3s, etc. Well, assuming something like Ubuntu is coming into play, the perceived level of difficulty comes down to how the user is first trying to play the music or movie. In a Windows world, the licenses have all been paid and the user is ready to play just about everything out of the box with the exception of DVDs. Yet with Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, the user may not be alerted to why the MP3 or other restricted licensed format is not playing when it is tapped to do so.

If I am trying to play an MP3 in browser for instance, Ubuntu may not play the media without really explaining why. Yet if I download an MP3 from Amazon, then try to play it by double clicking it, I will be alerted to needing to install “restricted codecs”, which sounds really scary and would certainly turn me off if I did not understand what was going on.

Personally, Fedora has the best approach to this as that distro actually will provide you a means of staying legal here in the States by being able to purchase the license to play those restricted formats. Yeah, it must seem like a raw deal to have to pay for something that Windows and Mac seemingly provide for free, but the truth is those OS’ already paid the license fees. So it makes sense that the Linux user also have the opportunity to do the same should they choose to. And both restricted codecs and DVD playback is indeed available for purchase at the Ubuntu store. Time to put the money where are mouths are.

Unmanaged, Linux is for geeks – managed, Linux is for anyone who wants what it offers.

Unpopular amongst Linux purists for years now, I have been steadfast in my belief that Linux is about personal choice – not making your operating system a political statement. This means the freedom to choose to install open source and proprietary software so long as all licenses (closed and open source) are adhered to.

Over the years, I have switched a number of people over to Linux while leaving others to their existing operating system. Different strokes for different folks. There is no single answer for everyone. This being said, I have found with total honesty that managed by someone with an understanding to an operating system’s inner workings, any OS can be made very usable for most people. This means Windows, Linux or OS X. I have found that the OS is only as valuable as the person managing it. Sometimes this means the end user, more often than not, this means the local repair tech.

For me, this largely means Linux as it has proven to be a massive time saver for me to manage. See, I retired from the PC repair industry sometime ago. And for many folks, this meant breaking the Windows XP habit for alternatives as my days of babysitting needed to come to an end.

But there are more than one alternative to Windows XP. It just depends on what the user was needing from their computer. Vista, OS X and yes…Linux each had their place. Once remotely managed and locked down, I have found that all three alternatives worked great and I was able to do remote access when needed for minor issues. Yes, despite my dislike for Vista, it can be made to be secure enough for most people.

My break down for who ended up with what came down to this, mostly.

  • Photographers/Artist types – I just kept them with OS X for reasons stemming to color handling and Photoshop where GIMP was not really working for their needs.
  • Legacy program users – While virtualization is great for me, I try to keep things native whenever possible for others. So this means in some cases, switching from Windows was not something that made sense. And in these cases, despite my own feelings, Vista fit the bill as it ran the client’s legacy programs in compatibility mode.
  • New or casual users – Despite being a big fan of Linux, switching people to another OS is a pain in the you know what. So I found that it is just easier to avoid any learning curves by only switching casual PC users. Not because Linux does not offer enough software, rather because I choose not to dwell on the differences that are involved with going from one program to another. Call me lazy. Casual users are super easy as they are generally using a web browser, email client and maybe the word processor. Games and new software discoveries are just gravy bonuses that happen on their own. :)

The key is whether they are wanting to learn to use it or if instead, desire a managed solution that is is a better fit. In my opinion, this is no different that Windows or OS X in that respect, as tech support is always being sought after to some degree.

The only thing I wish to see happen, is more efforts to bring in software…but to do so more from the approach rather than merely presenting it as the “here it is – go for it” approach. But that is just my take as an existing Linux user. Perhaps others prefer to handle things using alternative methods. Regardless, being open to all of the OS choices has provided me with the strongest level of success I could have ever hoped for. Too bad most people will never realize how powerful adding Linux skills to their IT tool bag can truly be…

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  • Josh

    True, I’ve found that a linux live cd can be one of the most powerful tech tools in my tool kit. I always try to have a few handy.

    Originally a Windows user, found out about linux in ’98 “Caldera” anyone? Rediscovered linux mid 2004-5 and have settled with OS X personally as my primary machine since having many problems with my PC hardware.

    Still running Linux in a VM and have windows on my Gaming machine. Linux definitely has a power of appeal due to it’s customizability and things like repositories.

  • James P

    Good, balanced article. The trouble with new converts is that they will try to evangelise! I dabble with Linux, and enjoy trying out distros on my ageing laptop. When XP is finished, I may well grasp the nettle – like many people, I just need that push.

  • Brian

    Well I had Ubuntu 8.10 on my desktop is was working great till it could not shut down . Looking at the logs I was seeing corrupt bios errors which I found very strange since this system ran Vista with no issue’s. This motherboard is not of bad quality is it MSI k9N Platinium running the AMD X2 4800 with 3 GIG of Ram and 8600 NVIDA GTS with 1GIG of video memory. The Bios has been updated to latest firmware so I guess it is just one of those things.

    That was a serious issue on the power management side, it was very depressing I really like Ubuntu. Linux is not hard and it is decent alternative to Microsoft.
    Ubuntu currently runs on my girlfriends HP 530 with no issue in fact it runs better then XP or even Vista when they were installed on that laptop.
    So for me it seems Ubuntu or Linux is not for every pc , there is still loads of bugs to be worked out before they take over the OS leadership from Microsoft.
    I will place Ubuntu on my HP 6325 NX Laptop it is a low end one with Sempron processor so that should be a good fit.
    So there is my feelings I still like Linux but there is still some serious hardware issue’s out there that need to be addressed.

  • robert

    Matt’s article cuts through the prevailing OS polarization issue to provide a fresh and appreciated perspective. Thank you Matt!

  • rocknblogger

    Great post and very fair indeed. I also thought that the original article that you referenced was fair indeed and not slanted one way or the other. I myself prefer Ubuntu for 90% of my computing needs. Probably more now that I set up a Virtual solution with Windows XP running inside of Ubuntu when needed. So what it boils down to for me is booting to Windows to check and make sure that websites or blogs that I am working on look right in the various Windows browsers and to play games.

    I too have switched a number of people over to Ubuntu and like you have not even bothered to switch others for that same reasons that you stated.

    Among friends and family I am the go to guy when something goes wrong with their computers and I must say that the only Ubuntu calls I get are “How do I do this?” types of calls, as opposed to “I don’t know what happened but I can’t…” types of calls. You also touched on the subject of people NOT installing Windows themselves so they don’t realize that drivers and everything else that needs to be done in order for Windows to work the way they expect really is quite a bit of work and is not guaranteed to function properly when your done without further tweaking and configuration. If more people had to do their own installs, you might see a larger percentage jumping to Ubuntu.

    Clearly I’m not a Windows hater. I think that WIndows XP and Vista are fine OS’s even if they do fall a bit short on stability and security. And unfortunately the longer you use them and DON”T do maintenance the worse these things get. That is one of the things that I appreciate so much about Ubuntu. I have a fairly powerful PC that I built myself so to me performance is fine in either platform. But for Vista and many Windows programs you really do have to have a fairly powerful machine to not run into stability and resource problems. Another plus for Ubuntu.

    However I would love to have some more options in Ubuntu when it comes to software. I certainly would not mind paying for Photoshop or MS Office or other products that are polished good looking functional and easy to use. I know that’s heresy in some Linux circles but if there were some more commercial options it certainly would not hurt the cause.

    Well I’ve said enough and taken enough space. Thanks for the great post and I certainly would love to see more of this caliber on this subject.

  • AdrielK

    Xandros recently acquired Linspire/Freespire and their CNR approach to acquiring alternative apps (with prepaid commercial codecs, etc. Have you had a chance to similarly evaluate? So far I have an impasse with Xandros transfering my FreeSpire/CNR committment,

  • Kiffin Gish

    Linux is too important to ignore and within no time it will be catching up and passing us by.

  • denii

    I have the disk to install it to a computer that has the blue “screen of death” with a flashing line at the top but haven’t been able to get it to work. So if I can figure it out (if it will?) I will let you know. Anything someone can help me with would be greatly appreciated!! It would be my nieces first puter. PLEASE?!! Thank you Denii

  • James Barr

    Can’t use Linux because they don’t support winmodem.

  • Alan Monroe

    Just my opinion, but I think the main thing holding back Linux is that it doesn’t have a single unified GUI to develop to. It’s disasterously fragmented across multiple desktop environments, multiple window managers, multiple widget sets, and XWindows itself simply isn’t all that great to begin with. Also see

  • Chip Black

    Functionally, I haven’t found Linux to be all that different than Windows; not faster, no fewer updates, … maybe a little simpler. A year ago my (out of date) XP desktop crashed. The firewall and updates had been annoying me for some time and it was crashing too often. I got piss and shoved a free Ubuntu CD in and rebooted. It installed dual boot like a dream. Once installed I thought the set up and menus were quite intuitive, and more flexible than Windows.

    A week or so before that I’d ordered a Dell notebook that had Vista. I didn’t care much for Vista, but decided maybe a good firewall is supposed to be annoying for awhile. Still I got impatient and one day shoved the same CD in and installed dual boot on the notebook. It went on like a dream again. Since Linux isn’t as much of a hacker-target as Windows is, the Ubuntu firewall isn’t as annoying. And, I like a clear desktop. So the fact that Linux doesn’t impose lots of icons and … what have you is more pleasing to me. IMO, it’s at least as pretty as the Mac OS. Windows has worked better for me when I want to watch movies or display them on TV. Linux works well enough when you tinker it. But, if I take my notebook to church they give me a different TV every time, and Windows handles the adjustment more reliably, with less confusion than Linux does. Working all day long is easier on Linux because there are fewer interruptions from the firewall and anti-virus programs. Other than that, I wouldn’t say one OS is any better or worse than the other.

    I should be upfront saying I had favored open source cross-OS applications, and had been using Open Office, Gimp, and Firefox for years. So I was primed to have a trouble free migration as far as applications go.

    After I’d been using Ubuntu for several months, I got a book I’d recommend: Ubuntu For Non-Geeks: a Pain-Free, Project-Based, Get-Things-Done Guidebook
    by Rickford Grant

    It’ll walk you through the installation, and gives you little projects to show you how to use & customize the OS and some of the most popular applications. It’s a reasonably easy read for the non-geek.

  • Dave C

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Cliffystones

    Yours is a very well thought out assessment of the situation. I use Linux primarily myself, but I’m still hesitant to “convert” friends and relatives. I will do so only on a case-by-case basis. I even restored XP to one of my oldest friends laptops, as he lives over 1000 miles away and I would be unable to support him properly if he had problems.

    To me the biggest negative with Linux is that in one way it is the opposite of MS/Apple. With those guys you get one choice, their way or the highway. With Linux, you can’t see the forest for the trees. Anyone who doesn’t believe me can just check out “distrowatch”. It’s mind-boggling!

    I think it’s great that there are so many people with so many project out there, but there seems to be a lot of “duplicity” in those efforts. And trying to find the right distro for “brand-x”, “model-y” PC (especially laptops) can be a daunting task.

  • Matt Hartley

    Thanks everyone, really great comments coming in – glad we can continue such a productive dialog on this. :)

  • Matt Hartley

    Brian: Yeah, in some rare and annoying instances, made for Windows boxes have some highly odd BIOS configurations that can make Linux nearly impossible.

    It’s a lot like trying to install Windows on a PPC Mac – not going to happen smoothly if at all.

    When buying anything pre-installed…Ubuntu included, you will find that it runs REALLY well overall including power management. In short, most Linux frustration can be traced back to designed for Windows hardware such as many OEM machines.

    Build a desktop with Intel or NVIDIA in mind, nearly every motherboard known to man and you will see things go smoothly.

    With notebooks, buy pre-installed whenever possible from sources like System76. This gives you dual-core Intel CPUs, 64bit Ubuntu AND natively working 802.11n wifi. 😉

  • Brian G

    This is one of the best linux articles I have read for quite some time.

  • Robert N.

    I’ve played around with Linux over the years, installing it on a second pc, double-booting, etc. Currently, I’m running Fedora 10 under the Sun Virtual Box (safer than double-booting). For every day use, though, it’s gotta be Windows. The wealth of software, free and otherwise, can’t be beat. I use mostly freeware. It’s not only free of charge, it’s also free(er) of jargon, gobbledygeek, and pretense.

  • zack

    Dude u hit more than just the nail on the head linux is an amazing os mybe if ur gaming and all. U have is windows or mac compatible games it may not be a good choice if ur a casual user want a free os that looks good and is all around almost virus proof get linux I don’t see windows with purpose built oses but that’s what linux does an and has desktop distros that can compete with windows

  • Anonymous

    Wine is kind of iffy.. I would rather go for parallels or a virtual machine, yet i haven’t found anything similar to that. So I’m stuck to Wine..

    Wine doesn’t work with most apps in the first place, you will most likely get a executable bit error, which pretty much makes the application useless.

    And intensive games are very laggy even on the best machine in the world, Unsure why though.

  • Matt Hartley

    TBH, I seriously thought about it. But based on past experiences with it, in contrast with other options, at the time of testing it needed more time in the oven. Bugged out often for me. Can’t recommend that. :)