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Is Linux Desktop-Ready Yet...or Not?

Point-Counterpoint Special on the state of the union so far as Linux on the desktop is concerned

James Turner: "Linux is nowhere near ready for the desktop"

In the spirit of the new Linux desktop initiatives that have been announced over the last few weeks, I took another try at getting my laptop to run Linux tonight.

I had only two criteria:

  1. My DVD player needed to work
  2. My SMC 802.11g card needed to work

Well folks, I can report that Linux is as useless on an off-the-shelf laptop as it was six months ago.

To begin, I had to go through several hours of downloading, configuring, and installing to get my laptop to even begin to talk to the networking card. This involved running configuration scripts, compiling packages, and figuring out where things needed to be installed. And at the end of the process, it looked like I had actually gotten it installed. That is, until it started hanging the connection after 5 or 10 minutes of use...

The front DVD-wise was even worse. The distribution I was playing with, like most, took the safe route and supplied a version of the Xine DVD player that doesn't include the DMCA-violating dvdcss libraries. This means that all it's good for is playing unencrypted DVDs, like the Bar Mitzvah video your uncle Charlie gave you, but definitely not "Charlie's Angels II."

Sure, I could have (illegally) downloaded the libraries, rebuilt xine and maybe been able to watch the DVDs I wanted, but with the network cutting in and out, it wasn't worth the effort.

So what does Linux need to do to become a real operating system?

  • It needs to work for everything out of the box. This means no kernel recompilations. A server may be set up once and forgotten about, but people add and remove hardware from their desktops and laptops constantly. Really, in order for this to happen, we need to get to a single Linux distribution. That way, device drivers can be written and packaged up to automatically install and remove themselves, and be available in precompiled binaries that can be automatically downloaded from the net. In the current situation, you often find that your distribution doesn't have a precompiled version of the driver you need, meaning you need to build it from sources.
  • The major killer apps need to work seamlessly. Right now, browsers and e-Mail are in pretty good shape. But DVD playback and high-performance games are in abysmal shape. I want to be able to pop a DVD in my laptop and get an experience at least as good as with WinDVD on the same hardware.

So, in the spirit of getting things moving, I offer the following challenge to the distribution builders. The winner gets the official crown of "First Usable Desktop Linux". I wish I had millions of dollars to throw around like the X-Prize sponsors, but I don't. Maybe the folks at Sys-Con will kick in a prize if I guilt them enough.

In any event, here is the 4-point challenge.

  1. The target hardware in question is a Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204. (You can look up the specs on your own time.)
  2. The distribution must ask no questions during install that my mother can't figure out. (I reserve the right to have my mother do the install.)
  3. At the end of the install, my SMC2835W 802.11g card must be up and functioning, have negotiated a DHCP address and be active on the network. This means that during install I must have been asked for my WEP information.
  4. At the end of the install, I must be able to put a commercial DVD into the DVD-ROM drive and have the movie start and play without skipping or stuttering.

Frankly, I think my (non-existent) money is safe. I've been waiting for Linux to become usable by the non-geek community for years, and though it's getting closer, it's nowhere near the Windows level yet (sounds cruel, but it's true.) Telling people to buy specific hardware because Linux supports it places the Linux community in with the Mac folks, not the Windows masses. Linux needs to run well on any system that could run Windows XP. Out of the box. Period. No excuses.

Because if I have a hard time getting this stuff to work, imagine how my mom would feel?


More Stories By Mark R. Hinkle

Mark Hinkle is the Senior Director, Open Soure Solutions at Citrix. He also is along-time open source expert and advocate. He is a co-founder of both the Open Source Management Consortium and the Desktop Linux Consortium. He has served as Editor-in-Chief for both LinuxWorld Magazine and Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Hinkle is also the author of the book, "Windows to Linux Business Desktop Migration" (Thomson, 2006). His blog on open source, technology, and new media can be found at http://www.socializedsoftware.com.

More Stories By James Turner

James Turner is president of Black Bear Software. James was formerly senior editor of Linux.SYS-CON.com and has also written for Wired, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. He is currently working on his third book on open source development.

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Most Recent Comments
Hoser Joe 11/27/03 04:09:01 PM EST

"I'm just amazed at how X [also used in Linux] is over 20 years old , very mature and stable yet people still somehow think the new immature XP is somehow better."

Linux (as viewed thru X) still isn't up to the handling of some routine tasks. Maybe other languages aren't your thing, but XP can handle other languages such as Cyrillic, Hindi, Chinese, etc (read/send email, docs) but Linux can't do this simple trick. That's enough for me to say that Linux isn't ready. Linux can READ other languages and present the characters on screen, but the user can't reply in the same character set. This is a piece of cake for XP or W2K. Nice try Linux, but you've go a long way to go!

PS: don't send me a whole lot of abuse if Chinese or Cyrillic is the responsibility of the kernel, or Mozilla, or X, or whatever. To me it's all the same package, and the result is: it doesn't work as a desktop OS, regardless.

Donald 11/27/03 04:02:46 PM EST

Linux is the best OS around, but dont get me wrong, All OS are a work in progress, But tell me this. Why would you go buy a broken OS for $100 to $300 for the desktop system or even $500 and up for a server, that is going to put your Co. at risk of hackers, OR you could download LINUX install it, if you find a problem with it, Fix it. and it s FREE

Buy Somthing thats Broken
Get Somthing for Free And Fix it(Make it Better)

$$$ or no $$$

newt_eye 11/27/03 03:23:06 PM EST


I understand your points--I just disagree with some of your premises. Your whole point is that you were unable to take a laptop and install linux on it and end up with the system playing a dvd movie.

The installation issue is two-fold: 1) laptops are notoriously proprietary in their hardware; 2) installation is not the same as being ready for use.

On the second point in particular, I have watched a friend spend days at a time trying to get Windows of several versions installed on laptops of several makes with very limited initial success. It was a frustrating process that would, by your definition, have meant that Windows 95, 95b, 98, 98SE, and 2K were all "not ready for the desktop."

What was necessary in general was to get the laptop vendor to supply proprietary drivers and do considerable telephone-handholding. In the process, my friend found numerous drivers on numerous websites which 'seemed' to be the appropriate ones but failed to function. Sounds not unlike your linux experience to me.

Again, I submit that the question of useablity is useablility when properly installed on compatible hardware. That's the system to test desktop readiness on. You instead tested "laptop installability," or "Toshiba laptop readiness for linux," or "James's ability to install on a Toshiba laptop," or something. OK--your distribution flunked laptop installability or Toshiba flunked the "make your hardware ready for alternative operating systems" test.

I hope you will figure out how to solve your installation problems so that you will one day be able to experience how truly fine some linux installations are as desktop systems.

Bob Robertson 11/27/03 02:29:38 PM EST

I have a Sony Vaio GRT170. This is a bleeding edge laptop that Sony has to pre-install WindowsXP on in order for XP to work. Special drivers, special screen ratio, special power management. XP out of the box won't run on it.

I guess that means that Microsoft Windows XP isn't ready for the desktop.

I'm using it right now with Debian Linux having used Knoppix as an installer. I had to give Knoppix a boot argument to turn off one of its hardware discovery methods, but other than that it correctly detected most of the hardware including the DVD drive and sound.

Breaking the letter of the law was required to view my DVD's, just like everyone else, but it plays my Japanese region code 2 DVD's right along with my American region 1 disks. It's better than buying a broken player from Akihabara to do the same thing.

Censorship is a fault which people naturally route around.


Matthew C. Tedder 11/27/03 01:06:29 PM EST

It is absolutely mistaken to conclude from your described experience that Linux is not ready for the Desktop.

I run a software company and Cyber Cafe. We've installed Linux on more variations of computer hardware than you can shake a stick at. Distrobutions like Mandrake and SuSE detect hardware properly far more often than does Windows these days. Laptops, always have been the most difficult--for any OS. Microsoft drivers are almost always available for any hardware but that doesn't mean it properly detects the hardware. And older hardware gets dropped.

I can tell you are not very technically inclined. Your networking issues are very likely not Linux's fault. Of course, you need someone to look at it and test a few things. A whole string of issues could be causing your troubles, but very few of those issues originate in the OS. ISPs filters and tweaked protocol settings can cause problems with various systems. Or, perhaps the wrong network card driver is installed....it happens. But it happens with Windows, too.

You know DVD playback on Linux is not legal, except under a few circumstances that apply to about 2% of users. Gentoo Linux Linux, however, does automatically install DeCSS code with xine.


HC Andersson 11/27/03 12:41:22 PM EST

Hey joe!

There is one Linux-distro whos ready for the desktop, LindowsOS.

Even my mother could add support for playing DVD-movies in LindowsOS thanks to their great Click-n-Run warehouse. (Lindows charge a small fee of about 10 bucks for legal DVD playback)

Nikos THemelis 11/27/03 12:41:08 PM EST

well i am a greek linux user..i must say that i'm writing this from my mandrake linux 9.1 and im very happy about this operating system except 2 things:
1.Im a complete newbie to linux,so i can say that anyone tha has ever used computer in his/her life can install,run and enjoy linux.but the frustrating thing,the bad thing about linux,the first ugly thing i mentioned is that you can work perfect with the applications you find with the installation of distro,but when you want to install another app.."oh god,i thing i install my new software, i open the kmenu or gnome menu but where is it?oh noooo i must search the whole os to find out where the software go!!"
2.The DVD issue,is a common issie that makes people that runs linux mostly as i do,to have windows in their computer (oh i rent Spiderman,too pity i cannot see it because i have linux on my desctop..."
3.a newbie user,just hates console.well i think that one thing that prevents linux to be accepted is the fact that someway you must dirt your hands with console work.(i have no problem with this i use console a lot) but 80% people i asked told me "what?console?like DOS?And for what reason i will move to an operating system that wants command knowledge from me?"(i know every linux geek will say that console is the power of linux.I agree,but i must say that is one thing that make linux ignored from most of the people at least in my coutry.So,the thing is for the average person to have an operating system that work easily and its completely secure..linux distros has the 2nd part still searching for 1st..)
I only wish 2004 along with Olympic Games to bring to the world peace and Linux to their PC's!!

Gerry 11/27/03 12:22:34 PM EST

The sole item I agree with is loadable, kernal and distro independant drivers.

If the various Linus distros provided for a single binary driver, I bet lots of vendors would support Linux directly.

It's irrational for a HW vendor to write a driver for every release of every distro.

To me, drivers are the "killer app" that will lead to desktop sucess. This actually applies to servers as well.

Killer app = binary drivers not dedicated to any distro or kernel.

Larry Povirk 11/27/03 12:15:02 PM EST

Stability isn't everything but it's certainly an important consideration. My windows machine at work one day started replacing the directory of zip discs with the directory of the previous disk, trashing all the disk contents in the process. The only suggestions anyone had (and these were some pretty heavy windows guys) was to turn off the virus software(!), which in any case didn't help. So it was reinstall the whole system or just live with it; I chose the latter. My windows laptop at home one day just lost a 500MB drive partition, and again it was either live with it or do a complete reinstall. Those are the kind of problems you never encounter in Linux, or at least i haven't in two years of constant 8-hours-a-day usage.

Alice 11/27/03 12:10:44 PM EST

Wrong premise, Mr. Turner. I'm afraid you make the same mistake all tech journalists make- you do not question why device drivers for Linux are so far behind their Windows cousins. Hardware manufacturers actively resist writing Linux drivers. They actively resist supporting Linux. The heroic coders who write Linux drivers do so with little or no assistance from hardware manufacturers, sometimes even facing opposition.

A real tech journalist should ask why is this? Why would anyone in their right mind ignore a willing, free labor pool? If they don't want to provide funding or staffing, I know that most Linux programmers would be happy with product specs, and some products for testing. What a sweet deal! Yet they do not do it. Why isn't every Linux writer asking WHY?

It would be trivial to build PCs and notebooks with components that are well-supported in Linux, even if they do not wish to provide official support. Again, they do not do this. Again, WHY?

If you would seek out answers to these questions, instead of crabbing at how you can't do what you want in Linux, it would be far more informative, and useful. Anyone can complain- how about digging deeper, and answering Why

Herman 11/27/03 12:10:06 PM EST

Linux is so easy to install, that you don't even have to install it at all. What can be easier than that? To understand this, get a Knoppix CDROM, put it in the drive and reboot - everything just works like magic. I haven't found a PC yet on which it doesn't work. Try to do that with any version of Windows. If you have installation blues, buy a PC with Linux pre-installed from HP for instance. People who complain about Linux installation are weenies who never installed Windows. Pick some random PC and try to install WinXP, then after a few hours of futzing around, plug in a Knoppix CD and reboot then tell me which is easier...

Teknofreak 11/27/03 11:56:28 AM EST

I dare you do the following:
Format your Toshiba's hard drive go to Compusa or Bestbuy and take a winxp package from the shelves, go back to your home/office and begin the instalation process on your new machine, at the end try to do with it what you are complaining about linux. Then get back to us and write about your new experience.
Best Regards

marke 11/27/03 11:35:35 AM EST

Concluding Linux isn't ready for the _desktop_ based on a single data point involving a _laptop_ is ridiculous. The glass is at least half full and you are saying it is empty.

Bill Baxter 11/27/03 10:05:06 AM EST

Just install the damn DVD libraries anyway, then Xine DVD playback is as good as or better than windows (since you'll be able to play DVDs from any region). The US Government are being stupid corporate whores, and it is your DUTY as a CITIZEN of the USA to defy them. Remember, illegal does not mean wrong.

jeffcobb 11/27/03 09:48:02 AM EST

I cannot speak to your DVD issues because it seems you are purposely trying to find a way to fail but here is a little heads up for the author and the networking problem. I have that exact same Tosh laptop and just recently switched to another because of the bizarre network problems the machine had. The laptop ran fine for nearly two years for both wirelessly and straight ethernet connections but then one day I started experiencing the 5-10 minute connection deaths you referred to. I tried both wireless and normal ethernet connections and the results were the same: after a predetermined amount of time, the connections would slowly die. For instance I could start an FTP session with another box on the LAN, start transferring something long like a CDrom image or whatever and eventually my tranfer rates would start to drop until they were 0 bit per second. A repowering of the machine would generally bring the connection back. I tried three distros and even (God help me) Windows 2000 and they all exhibited the same problem.

I guess what I am saying is that if you have the same issues as I had with that model (and it sounds like you do), no OS on the planet will fix the problem for you. IN this case I think the important question to ask is: Is your laptop hardware ready to judge any OS?

Remove the unreality from my address to reply.

janisk 11/27/03 09:22:02 AM EST

that's what you get for buying cheap gear and how about coming clean with your distro

Albin Pahernik 11/27/03 08:56:07 AM EST

Sorry, this article was a troll. *plonk*

(How could I tell?

"It needs to work for everything out of the box. This means no kernel recompilations. A server may be set up once and forgotten about, but people add and remove hardware from their desktops and laptops constantly. Really, in order for this to happen, we need to get to a single Linux distribution."

It's so tempting to go off on this guy, but it's just what he wants.)

Rui Miguel Silva Seabra 11/27/03 08:20:27 AM EST

So, you don't want to illegally (due to DMCA, EUCD, etc...) download the Free Software you need to view DVD's but you want the distribution makers to do it? Get out of here...

bilou 11/27/03 08:19:48 AM EST

For your WiFi card problem:

Please write SMC (http://www.smc.com/) and ask them to write a linux driver for your card just like they did for MS Windows.

For your DVD playback software problem:

How much did you pay for WinDVD ? The money you paid for your copy of WinDVD was patially used for paying the RIAA.
Maybe you should try to buy a commercial linux distribution, which will pay the RIAA back.

If you really want free and legal DVD playback with linux, please write the RIAA and tell them to stop there royalty claims about all DVD related stuff.

Thank you for your attention.

zettberlin 11/27/03 07:59:39 AM EST

Are you trying to let your mom install Gentoo ???

As long, as you not believe, that free software includes maximum comfort at no price, you can BUY a commercial distro like Mandrake or SUSE, push the first CD into your Box, reboot and let your Mom have the fun to simply click through.

I installed Mandrake, SUSE and Redhat on dozens of very different Boxes and it never took more then 1 houre to setup a comfortable modern hi-performance OS.

On DVDs: you should be informed enough to know, that DVD-CSS is *not* a technical issue, to decode css on Linux is simply illegal and i have perfect understanding for the Distributors, that don not want to be sued by those Patent-Lawyer-Vultures that circeling every new Software, that comes out. AND i have the same understanding for all those, who download libdvdcss (whitch is, btw, a klick-and run kind of Operation in all commercial distros)

i am quite amazed of your installation-story, it is as far from reality as disneys peter-f***ing pan...

best regards


Jarrod 11/27/03 07:59:02 AM EST

My two cents on the original question...

9th of december Xandros arrives, 9th of december its ready.

Kevin Power 11/27/03 07:33:22 AM EST

I have gone through a similar situation but with an even older laptop, a Toshiba Protege 7020CT. I have to say that the purpose from the beginning was that I wanted a cheap laptop for our kids to have for school and a multimedia system for the van for those long trips. I first tested the unit at the resale store with Knoppix to verify the hardware ability, seeing sound work and the movie player xine work I new then that this unit was what I wanted. I loaded Mandrake 9.2 with no problems I then linked up the internal nic to my work network (static IP) and started to setup the DVD capability. The application I used where Xine and Mplayer. Xine need the decoder module for the ability to read DVD's that was easy enough to find in a RPM format. The only thing I notice was that the xv format was not being used and that the DVD play back was choppy. A little investigation showed it was a setting in the Xfree config file needed to be activated and away to the races again. I now have a portable DVD player and multi functional desktop laptop for my kids to use anywhere anytime.

phoenix 11/27/03 07:16:36 AM EST

So what does Linux need to do to become a real operating system?

* It needs to work for everything out of the box. This means no kernel recompilations. A server may be set up once and forgotten about, but people add and remove hardware from their desktops and laptops constantly. Really, in order for this to happen, we need to get to a single Linux distribution. That way, device drivers can be written and packaged up to automatically install and remove themselves, and be available in precompiled binaries that can be automatically downloaded from the net. In the current situation, you often find that your distribution doesn't have a precompiled version of the driver you need, meaning you need to build it from sources.
* The major killer apps need to work seamlessly. Right now, browsers and e-Mail are in pretty good shape. But DVD playback and high-performance games are in abysmal shape. I want to be able to pop a DVD in my laptop and get an experience at least as good as with WinDVD on the same hardware.
How do you qualify a real Operating System? Working from out of box? If its the first for you you should use something else.

For DVD playing and other driver problems you can blame hardware manufacturers too: they can not or not willing to provide GNU or any drivers. I disagree with any closed source drivers: Ive bought the hardware - I want to use it.

flacco 11/27/03 07:10:07 AM EST

excellent points in the article. linux DOES need work on the desktop, and exactly in the areas the author describes: hardware support, ease of installation and configuration, and ease of use in some areas (most notably multi-media stuff).

i'm probably the flag-wavingest linux supporter you'll ever find, but 18 months after buying my current desktop pc i *still* curse linux every three months or so when i try to get all the features of my radeon 8500 AIW video card to work. xfree86a year , gatos, ati.2 driver, kernel recompilation, special driver compilations that fail, nonexistent documentation...

some day it will get there - but it's a struggle keeping the faith in the meantime. no video capture no tv-out, no multiple X sessions, problematic DRI/OpenGL issues...

Rob 11/27/03 01:32:31 AM EST

I find it interesting how 2 topics have come up. Ease of use with Win (have to figure out how to do stuff in Linux), and drivers.

User interface is a lot like driving vehicles. Do you not drive a Mercedes TurboDiesel because you have only driven high end Ford's all your life? A lot is different between the cars, however the Mercedes is way better than the Ford in many ways (side from still being on the road in 20 years). It is also a lot more expensive. Linux is like getting the Mercedes for free or next to nothing. The people driving the Ford's have no concept of what they are missing and argue that their Ford is better, they often make excuses why to not even look at the Mercedes. The same thing seems to be true with Linux - it is too hard, too cryptic (heard that one 2 days ago), only geeks use it. They change their tune when I show them the articles on the Largo government. Unfortunately the Union was also brought into the mix. Unions may try to stop it because their workers won't want to learn something new. I don't think that is true, union shops change methods in other industries, why not in this one too. After all, windows is not that intuitive. Where else do you have to hit the 'start' button to stop the machine? Then there are the inconsistent actions. For example grab a scroll bar in Word and it moves the doc as you move the bar. Do that in Lotus (and some other software) and it doesn't do that. Things are broken in Windows, a lot of people seem to live with them and overlook it. With linux they seem to nit pick.

Drivers - Ever install hardware with XP? It seems like every manufacture tells you to NOT plug in their hardware, load their software then plug it in. Sort of like - whatever you do, don't let Microsoft load what it wants to load if you know what is good for you. With Linux I have none of that garbage to go through. Digital camera's, printers, USB drives and so on just work and work well in some cases in spite of the manufacturer's best efforts to make it not work in Linux.

James Turner 11/27/03 01:24:59 AM EST

Microsquish Junkie? Um, got read some of my past articles, I'm first one in line to bash them when they make their (ever so common) oopsies.

On the other hand, I'd like to thank kwr2k for demonstrating one of the attributes of the Open Source community that hurts it the most, blind obedience and immediate ridicule and character assasination of anyone who dares to suggest there are ways in which it could be improved. This is a software development paradigm, not a cult (well, the FSF might be a cult, but that's a special case...)

More to the point, sure, I'm the first to admit that Windows has a lot of support for various devices and applications not because of Microsoft, but because of all the hardware and applications writers that support the Windows OS. It doesn't change the situation however. Consumers (and the desktop market outside the Enterprise and Government is a consumer market) don't give a damn WHY Linux doesn't support their hardware easily or run the software they want to run (or only run it if you jump through a bunch of hoops), they just case it DOESN'T. My side of the argument is not to in any way suggest Linux is inferior to Windows (Rob "I Know Ever Pimple on Bill Gate's Rear" Enderle does a great job of pimping that line), but to point out why Linux is a long way from being a mass market consumer Desktop OS.


Robin Miller 11/27/03 01:10:26 AM EST

I've been running Linux on my desktop for five years and I only compiled a kernel once just to see if I could do it. I play DVDs, I write, I have a wireless network, and all the rest. Funny thing is, I have a Toshiba Satellite laptop and even though it's one of the most challenging machines there is for Linux, I installed and now use SUSE 9.0 on it all day long without *ever* looking at a command line. Am I doing something wrong? :)

Pragmatist 11/27/03 12:58:27 AM EST

Lack of DVD support can be blamed on the DMCA which only applies in the United States where you wouldn't be allowed to decrypt a DVD yourself no matter how easy it is; even if no one makes a commercial player for the operating system you use, even if the DVD format went obsolete and you couldn't buy any commercial players anymore. This is not Linux's fault.

Also as previously mentioned most desktop OSs are not installed by the user, but the manufacturer or retailer, who will make sure it works with all the hardware on the PC they're selling. Out-of-the-box hardware support is lousy on some distributions and excellent on others. Shop around, they're free.

kwr2k 11/26/03 11:38:54 PM EST

Fact of the matter is that with all hardware written for Windoze, James has come to assume that its windoze that does the "smart" thing of working with the h/w where in fact it is the other way around. Actually this is the kind of BS that is getting Linux down ... being damned by the same people who understand it.
When I started using Windoze it was common task to "hunt" for drivers for this that and the other all over the globe (friends, relatives, office colleagues and the internet). Once I switched to Linux I don't have to ask. All drivers come bundled within. I *dare* make a claim that any (yes! a-n-y) other OS today does that including James's favourite OS from redmond (c'mon James admit you're a redmond junkie!).
As for comparing Mac and Linux, its really comparing apples and oranges -- pun intended ;-)

Steve 11/26/03 08:28:16 PM EST

IF anything, linux has become easier to install than windows. My 9 year old daughter installed it herself for the first time the other night without any problems. I have been using linux on the desktop for the past 3 years with no problems, None. Although things are different, think back to windows 3.11 and compare it to windows 2000, not even close to being the same desktop os but somehow we were able to use 3.11 as a suitable desktop at the time.

Trevor 11/26/03 08:24:18 PM EST

Funny...you say that it should work off the bat like Windows does. That may be the case with your particular laptop, but work in a computer store (as I do) and you begin to see the many headaches that XP truly has. From experience, I would personally say that installing Mandrake, Red Hat, SuSe, etc (all of which I have tried) is much easier than installing XP. I have had many occasion where people call our store because they don't know why their video card is only displaying 8 colours, or why their sound doesn't work. Or they try and play a DVD only to find that it doesn't qork because XP doesn't even come DVD capable (and then they have to find free DVD software or pay for something). This was a very narrow-minded look at one very specific situation that ignores many other aspects.

etc. 11/26/03 05:10:22 PM EST

Are there a growing number of Linux users who are running Linux on their desktops in place of Windows? Absolutely there are.
Does it follow that any of the the currently available releases of Linux (for the desktop) can realistically compete with Windows when the 'general' consumer picks an OS to run on their PC? I think definitely not.

I fully agree with folks on this thread who point out that today's desktop Linux provides all the basic apps/tools that a 'general' user would need. There's no question too that to get the same set of functionality on a Windows PC, you're looking at spending hundreds of dollars - possibly more to buy the added software (MS Office suite professional ed retails for $400 approx, and I don't think it includes any of the specialized tools like say Visio, Project, or FrontPage etc.). I will also point out that many of the basic MS apps for Windows are (IMHO) needlessly bloated with bells and whistles that most general PC users probably don't need or use. And of course, the security issues involved with running Windows on a PC should really be a serious concern, especially for users who have a fast 'always on' connection to the Internet.

There are no doubt several obvious/compelling positive reasons to go with Linux. Its stable, more secure, full featured, and configurable to the lowest level of detail you could want, to name a few. Indeed, if you are a computer enthusiast (let alone a someone who works with computers or software for a living), I have no argument with the notion that Linux probably should be the choice for your desktop - and yes, for that community of users, I'd say it Linux is desktop ready.

I submit however that this is NOT true, and Linux is not desktop-ready for the general user. My view of a general user - say myself, is a person who sees his (or her) personal computer as a commodity appliance (just like his car, refrigerator .. etc.). Of course, I consider my PC to be an advanced appliance unlike some of my other utility items, but the bottom line is that I plunked down a couple of thousand dollars on my PC because for I use it for several very specific things (email, paying my bills online, using the web to shop/research products to buy, online news, educational resource for my kids, doubling as a music system for my CDs .. etc.).

So can I do all of these things with Linux running on my desktop? Absolutely.
But before that, am I willing or even able to go through the steps of installing Linux, then configuring it to work with my monitor, my modem, my digital camera, which might include downloading a few drivers and checking online resources on the web to install/configure them correctly, then maybe downloading and installing a few additional apps or tools that I might need but didn't come with the base distro on my CD? Not-a-chance.

But why you ask? Linux is a free download, so are any additional drivers I might need, and there is truly a wealth of free online resources to help me out with any troubleshooting I need to do. So why not go for Linux and save maybe a thousand dollars to boot you ask?

Again, as a general user, my simplest answer would be time and inclination. I'm not a PC enthusiast remember? I don't want to spend hours 'figuring it out' for myself on the web. I just want to get the thing to work and be done with it. And I want the comfort of seeing the 'certified with Windows logo/stamp' on any peripheral I buy (however misplaced you think it may be), so I know that what I'm buying is 'supposed' to work with my PC and not have to tweak my Linux distro every time I want to get a device to work with my PC. And by the way, while I sure like 'free' I'd prefer to pay and know what I'm getting or at least know what I can expect.

If you think this profile doesn't describe a huge majority of PC user community, then go hang out at your nearest computer retailer and have a chat with some of the shoppers browsing the aisles.

So bottom line in my view - if Linux is to have any chance of getting accepted as a mainstream desktop OS, being 'close' to desktop-ready won't nearly cut it. And there's a long way to go yet .. but that I think is a separate discussion.

Thanks for letting me share my $0.02, and have a great holiday folks.

Rob 11/26/03 04:37:53 PM EST

Is Microsoft ready for the desktop? Lets do what Microsoft loves to do, compare something with the competitor's old version. So lets look at Win 3.11 or even Win 95. Were they ready? Not just no but heck no! Even XP sucks if you do much with it (albiet it is much better, should have been what they called 98). Change certain registry items and whammo! Windows is useless (and you are screwed at least for a good while). Windows requires a lot of very skilled technical help (try finding a driver for say a HP scanner, or realizing it is the HP driver that is bad and there is a fix for it), for the home user they end up reloading windows. How is that "ready for the desktop?"

With Linux you can almost always recover. In fact I often recover word and excel documents through OO that M$'s own software refuses to work with even though it wrote the file out. I was shocked when Excel simply returned nothing on the screen - nada! The file was there. Gnumeric gave errors but the data came back. Saved it and Excel was happy again. Same with some Word docs though word usually shows something.

I often edit word docs and send them along with nobody even suspecting that I used OO or star office. My machine runs until I reboot it, I can't seem to do that if I run it for more than a week (unless I'm not doing anything) with XP. Black screen or it simply won't respond. I'm not talking about a home made machine, I have XP on a commercial off the shelf machine. Linux runs on anything I have tried - COTS or garbage can parts. It just works. It may be slow due to swapping if I have very low memory, however it never fails.

I'm just amazed at how X is over 20 years old , very mature and stable yet people still somehow think the new immature XP is somehow better. Worse, longhorn is a complete rewrite they say and somehow I'm sure it will "be ready for the desktop" when it comes out despite being very immature and untested.

James Turner 11/26/03 04:15:53 PM EST

A few comments,
First off, thanks for all the great feedback that's been offered here. Always nice to see an intelligent discussion (even if you're all hosers who disagree with me (major smilies))

Two points I'd like to make. First off, I don't think I'm making an unreasonable set of requests. Most laptops sold today have DVD-ROM drives, and a lot of people use wireless network cards. To expect to be able to use these functionalities without a ton of customization doesn't seem to me to make me a "high maintainence" user. Rather, I think it puts me right in the "sweet spot" of users that Linux needs to aim for.

I totally reject the "you need to buy the right kind of computer" argument. Isn't that the kind of BS we hate from Microsquish? "Windows XP is out, gotta buy new hardware to make it work..." One of the big benefits of Linux is that it will run on older or less "beefy" hardware. Don't make me have to go buy a brand new computer just to be able to get everything to work.

Right now, too much of the Linux install experience resembled the following skit:

ME: Hi, I'd like to have a tank of gas please?

ATTENDENT: Well, let's see. You're driving a Honda. They use gas that requires a special filter. You'll need to drive to AutoZone first and get it.

ME: Hi, I'd like a gas filter for a Honda.

AUTO ZONE GUY: Well, we don't stock the premade filter for a Honda, because we don't get enough call for it. But we've got some of the parts, and you can get some at Sears, and some at Pep Boys.

Several trips later...

ME: Hi, I've got all the parts to build my gas filter, but the GAS-FILTER-HOWTO says I need a #7 philips head screwdriver to put it together, and my car only comes with a #3.

AUTO ZONE GUY: Well, I've got a #7, but I can't sell it to you because the Digital Mechanic Copyright Act has made it illegal to distribute in the US, so you'll have to fly to Norway and bring one back.

One flight to Norway later...

ME: Ok, I finally put my filter together, can I have some gas now?

ATTENDENT: Gee, it doesn't fit in the fill hole, I think you built a filter for a May 1999 Honda, this is an August 1999...


Herman 11/26/03 04:01:46 PM EST

As always, it depends on your HW. I am a sole user of Linux in a sea of Windoze boxes and have zero interaction issues. I think the complainant used a) bad hw and b) a bad distro.
The qustion is not whether Linux is ready for the desktop - it is whether Windows is ready for the desktop. I think that after 8 years of trying, Windows is still not ready, way to immature and full of security holes...

Neumar 11/26/03 01:42:00 PM EST

I agree to Kent.

It is ready for the desktop it's not only related with technical features of the SO, but it's also related with the market's players rules.

Linux is ready, but there isn't drivers for some hardwares! It's a time question!

"When the doors of the perception will be opened the things will appear as really they are ... infinite".
Linux has been developed to meet the real user's needs in a efficient way, with scalability, security and stability.
Linux is great itself
... because it works, becouse of the community,
... because its intention is not the money, it is the computing, ... it is the beautiful of de code!

My mom loves linux. :)

(I'm sorry if my text has errors. I'm learning English.)

[email protected]

Fun 11/26/03 12:02:32 PM EST

To Fun,

The topic is misleading.
I have followinging idea :
- Linux Desktop is ready and juming into the market
- Linux Desktop is young but improve itself rapidly. I use it year by year ad see its become good. But I can't say that it is good enough, it still have some area need to be improved.
- About driver, I see that most of new hardware provide Linux Driver. May be some specific missing but it will be improve lately. Please look at Window 2000 first prompt, lack of driver support but now it is no problem.
- Product knowledge and experience can make trobule. But you now SUSE Linux Desktop 9.0, it is so easy. Red hat LInux also is easy, just few click then complete. Easy too.
-... May be notebook issue. 6 years before, I have one experience to install Window 95 for my sister. I hard to find driver from internet. I remember that I have use one whole day to complete the installation. It is not because of window 95 problem, it is because of hardware is so specific and hard to find for that band name notebook.
- Window 2000 lack of driver issue
- IBM & Oracle the large IT company replace their Window Desktop by Linux Desktop. Can I say that Linux Desktop is not ready??? So interesting.
- Now, most Linux distributors such as SUSE (Novell - good support company) work close to user now. So may direct purchase their LInux Desktop/support service. It is good idea.
- So I can say that this title "Is Linux Desktop-Ready Yet...or Not?" is ***misleading***.

Kent 11/26/03 11:42:44 AM EST


>Windows has the same problems; it's not going to
>install for Mom without a bunch of questions (and
>the entry of a long-winded registration number)
>and finish will all features working properly on
>every laptop on the market.

Should be ". . . with all features . . .".

>Likewise, installation/configuration of Linux
>is not a suitable measure of the usefulness of
>Windows on the desktop.

Should be " . . . usefulness of Linux on the desktop".

Kent 11/26/03 11:37:20 AM EST

In the "4-point challenge" the author writes:

1. The target hardware in question is a Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204. (You can look up the specs on your own time.)
2. The distribution must ask no questions during install that my mother can't figure out. (I reserve the right to have my mother do the install.)
3. At the end of the install, my SMC2835W 802.11g card must be up and functioning, have negotiated a DHCP address and be active on the network. This means that during install I must have been asked for my WEP information.
4. At the end of the install, I must be able to put a commercial DVD into the DVD-ROM drive and have the movie start and play without skipping or stuttering.

But this challenge has to do with the installation/configuration of Linux, and nothing to do with the suitability of Linux on the desktop. Windows has the same problems; it's not going to install for Mom without a bunch of questions (and the entry of a long-winded registration number) and finish will all features working properly on every laptop on the market. Installation/configuration of Windows is usually done by someone other than Mom and is therefore not a suitable measure of the usefulness of Windows on the desktop. Likewise, installation/configuration of Linux is not a suitable measure of the usefulness of Windows on the desktop.

Your wireless card may "just work" in Windows, but only because it has been designed to work with Windows (not because Windows has been designed to work with the wireless card). Don't fault Linux for not working with a wireless card that's not designed to work with Linux; fault the wireless card manufacturer.

The same goes for playing DVDs. Don't fault Linux; fault the manufacturer of the DVD that uses "the Law" to prevent DVDs from working in Linux.

The point is, Linux is ready for the desktop. The problem is that computer manufacturers, peripheral manufacturers, and etc, are not yet willing to do their part to make the Linux desktop experience as smooth as the Windows desktop experience.

Now, is Linux ready to be installed/configured by the average desktop user? Most emphatically, "no". But then, neither is Windows.

David L. 11/26/03 11:32:49 AM EST

The title lead the people to answer the wrong question.
I can say that Linux Desktop is really ready in the world.

For some people, it is so easy to install Linux Desktop. For some other, that not easy to do. The point is people haven't enough knowledge or a beginner in specific product.

For most of people, such as my sister, they may have problem to install Microsoft Window. Can I say that Microsoft Desktop is not ready for the market?

The other example, 15 year before, I don't know how to install UNIX server. Can I say that Unix Server is not raedy for the World. UNIX is so power on that period (1988).

This is experience missing and knowledge missing.
Use Legal software or not, it is so depend on people. People use Legal software, not because of the software itself. Many people use Microsoft Window to view illegal DVD. I only can say that that people is wrong.

Last point is Linux Desktop is mature enough for the working enviroment. That's why Oracle and IBM (the big IT company) will replace all internal Window Desktop by LInux Desktop.

Such as now, I use Linux Desktop to comment this topic without any problem.

Nils Valentin 11/26/03 11:19:46 AM EST

I thought it would show me e-mail address for anybody who wants to contact me directly .

Here it goes

[email protected]

Nils Valentin 11/26/03 11:15:15 AM EST

Dear Mr. Turner,

Dont get me wrong, everything following is my personal opinion, but I thought I would like to comment on your article.

I believe that you make the wrong conclusion yet and to fast. I am unsure how you come to the conclusion that Linux is not ready for the desktop.

First I believe that perhaps a Toshiba or most Japanese notebooks contain some sort of custom made tools which kind of challenges Linux drivers unneccesary.

I myself was using until recently a Dell Inspiron 2600 (which is by now almost 12-18 months old). I was able to play DVDs in a remarkable smooth way without any recompiling.

What I want to say is that it might depend on the hardware you have choosen to use (or been given by your employeer;-). I had the opportunity to choose the hardware myself and I read through a couple pf pages before I bought it. Dell seems to be up to state in this case. Other makers might also be o.k, but as soon as it contains custom made hardware (especially Toshiba and NEC)then you call for trouble !! - Please bear this in mind.

I am using regularly Suse, Red Hat and Mandrake with Suse as my favourite.

I was able to download install all necessary drivers from the internet precompiled in a RPM format.

Assuming you now how to use the rpm command and how to read the manuals then you are able to walk your way through this. ther are homepages available describing what is required and even offering the links directly to the downloads. Suse is already eagerly precompiling KDE3.2 and I download and install the latest almost every 2 nd day and I can clearly say that KDE3.2 is going to rock. If you know your way around the rpm command than you will be able to add the extra features required to your Laptop.

I am right now using Suse 9.0 (new version) and Its easy to see what they did during the last year is a marvellous step forward. I am using the distribution on a daily basis like I have used a windows environment. Since October 2003 I have completely switched to Linux and the answer to your initial question must be a loud and neverending OOOH YES. Linux is definitely ready for the desktop marcet.

Its the user who makes what is Linux today. There are hundreds of Linux applications out there which you might never have heard of, which do excatly what you want to do and by the way Linux has more than one DVD player software (Mplayer, Okle, Xine etc.)

Anyway ist getting longer and longer. I would appreciate if you review Linux have a look around in the web once more and I am almost sure that you will agree that the article should be rewritten (and by the way get a Wireless card which is supported ;-)

I hope I didnt hurt anyone, thats not supposed to be, I just raised my voice - one in a million ;-)so to say.

If you need information where to find necessary precompiled files for the necessary codecs then please let me know they are quite a few (around 20 I believe it was).

Best regards

Nils valentin

newt_eye 11/26/03 10:46:45 AM EST


If you ask the wrong question, you're almost guaranteed to get the wrong answer. The question was is linux ready for the desktop. You morphed that into, "Is linux ready to play dvds on my laptop." Different questions with different answers.

Nube 11/26/03 10:03:55 AM EST

I don't think that any Linux distro is ready for the average home user, but it's getting close. For a business desktop or specialty uses it's fine... in fact I have a better time using my Linux machine for web development, Internet and Email than my Win2K box.
The probem today is the same that it was a year ago...
Until "Anybody" can download or purchase a disk, stick it into their machine and be up and running with a fully functional, easy to install, self-configuring system Linux will not find a place on most home users desktops.
I love Linux, but I'm not about to completely replace my Windows just yet.

Rainer Lehrig 11/26/03 09:53:33 AM EST

Some time ago I bought a notebook. I verified that the model was compatible with Linux. The model selected is Asus L3800C. It would have been possible to get it preinstalled with Linux. But I did it by my own. There was no problem with SuSE Linux. No problem with network, acpid, sound, 3Dgraphics, CD-Burner ...

mplayer had to be reinstalled because of the legal issues. But now I have no problem.

The only commercial software I have installed is:
StarOffice and TextMaker http://www.softmaker.de/index,en.htm
I just ordered CrossOverOffice because I want to run a PLC programming software.

The main applications I use were included in the distribution.

I use Linux for the Desktop and more
Yes it's ready

Tina 11/26/03 08:33:34 AM EST

I do think that those applications that you need but aren't around today would be well served by running Windows apps on Linux. Wine can handle the little stuff and for most everything you can run Win4lin(www.win4lin.com). Overtime more and more applications like James needs will become available probably faster than you think.

Ike 11/26/03 08:29:39 AM EST

I think that Pragmatist hits the nail on the head. Most people using PCs aren't bleeding edge they just need the basics. I also think that as the users demand more features that the things James the "no guy" will get his DVD players and the like.

Pragmatist 11/26/03 05:27:13 AM EST

The "no" position seems to be answering the question "is Linux ready to meet my needs on my desktop?" rather than the more important question, "Is Linux ready to meet most people's needs on most desktops". The vast majority of people will buy a computer with an OS already installed and configured properly for it, and the computer they use at work will have been set up by an IT proffessional. Also, unlike Windows, the average Linux distribution with no additional software purchases, supports full featured word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations, as well as the standard web, email and messaging clients, distracting games, and multimedia players. That's not all, of course, but that's what most desktops are used for.

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