Kasperian Moving Parts

kinda like Batman, but with a wife and 3 kids

Why Isn’t Desktop Linux “There” Yet?

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It’s a shame that my first blog post in months is something so antithetical to my normal posts as this, but 1) I haven’t blogged in forever (darned Twitter/Identi.ca/Facebook!!!) and 2) I just bought a MacBook Pro and am really happy with it thus far. So bear with me. Or don’t. I don’t care. If you’re in the mood for a good rant or are bored beyond belief or want to hear about how to get Ubuntu Karmic installed on a MacBook Pro (system 5,5), stick around. Otherwise, I’ll understand.

So, I’ve realized that I need to buy a personal laptop for a while now but have been putting it off because it’s expensive and a big ordeal. I don’t do anything that involves money quickly or lightly, so kicking down a big wad o’ cash for a laptop is not something that I can just do whenever I feel like it. For the last few months, I’ve been agonizing over what I should get and researching and pricing and comparing. I knew that I wanted something that stood out and looked good and felt good and was well-built. I’ve been using ThinkPads as my main laptop for the last decade or so, since it’s what my employers have provided me, and while they’re sturdy as heck and are well built and last forever, they’re not really all that sexy. I wanted sexy.

I also knew that I wanted some nice features that Apple provides stock that most of the other guys do not. Such as a backlit laptop keyboard. I was playing around with the idea of getting a Dell E6500, but 1) not horribly sexy and 2) that requires me to get a 15″ screen. Which is another thing I wanted… to not feel like I’m lugging around an Encyclopedia every time I take my laptop with me somewhere. For the last couple of months, I’ve been using an Asus Eee PC 1005HA netbook for this reason and while I absolutely loved the battery life on the little guy and the portability, the absolutely diminutive screen size is what finally did me in. Well, that and the horribly slow CPU. And the horribly slow GPU. And the really small keyboard size. And the fact that it doesn’t have an optical drive. And the crappy ath9k wifi drivers that keep disconnecting.

So I bought a Mac. Spent a bunch of time before then reading up on whether the MacBook Pros can play nicely with Linux (model 5,5 is what I ended up getting), and felt pretty comfortable that a MBP could be a really nice Linux machine. After waffling and being generally unsure of which one I wanted to get, I finally decided on a 13″ 2.26 Ghz MBP. I knew I wanted a smaller screen size than my previous PowerBook of 15″ and my current work laptop which also has a 15″ screen. So 13″ fits the bill nicely. I was really unsure about the CPU and was really hesitant to get a 2.26 Ghz CPU in the MBP, thinking that it’d be not all that much faster than the T7500  @ 2.20GHz Core 2 Duo I have in my work Thinkpad, but as it turns out, the 2.26 Ghz CPU in the MBP is really nice and fast–feels faster than the Thinkpad. Also, upgraded the RAM from 2 GB to 4 GB and I left the 160 GB drive in, planning on replacing it with a 250 GB 7200 HDD that I already have or maybe even a SSD if they ever get cheap enough.

I spent probably 6 hours or so on Sunday night getting Linux installed onto my shiny new MBP. Installing Linux was the easy part. Getting rEFIT to recognize it and boot into it was something completely else. Turns out that rEFIT does not play nicely at ALL with Grub2 (which is what Ubuntu Karmic comes with), so one of the things I did at the end that got it to work nicely was to boot off the live CD, install Karmic, chroot into my newly installed Karmic partition, uninstall Grub2, install Grub 0.97, and that seemed to do the trick nicely. The other hiccups I had were around getting the MBP’s drive partitioned in a way that OS X and rEFIT could deal with. I ended up resizing the main OS X partition and creating MS-DOS partitions from inside OS X’s disk utility and then just formatted them from the Ubuntu Karmic install process. But now I have a really nicely working OS X and Ubuntu Karmic dual-boot MacBook Pro. I realize my details are pretty sketchy here, so if you’re interested in more details, let me know and I’ll provide more info.

Since my day job allows me to write code for Linux (and don’t get me wrong, this is the best job I have EVER had and have never been happier), I occasionally need to use Skype to teleconference into meetings. And at least five times over the last 2 days, right in the middle of a Skype meeting from my Ubuntu Jaunty Linux laptop, things totally stop working. Sometimes the audio stops working entirely and I can’t hear the people on the other end anymore. Sometimes the video freezes. Sometimes Skype totally locks up the USB webcam and I have to kill -9 it and unplug/replug the webcam. Sometimes I can’t even see video on it at all and all I can see is a black box. Sometimes, it even works as it should and I don’t have problems (but those times are rather few and far between).

So, here’s my rant. I’m sick and tired of this crap in Linux. I have been a VERY vocal proponent of Linux everywhere for more than a decade. I’ve pushed it in every company I’ve worked for. I’ve insisted on using it everywhere personally. I have been searching for a job that would let me actually program on and for Linux for a long time and I now have one (YAY!). But I am absolutely exhausted of things that work on other platforms being unreliable, crappy, non-performant, crash-prone, and in general totally second rate or worse in Linux. In this particular instance, I unplugged my USB webcam from my Linux Thinkpad, plugged it into my new MacBook Pro, installed Skype and was up and running in no time. Skype did not crash, hang, hiccup, freeze, mutilate, spindle, or in any other way be anything other than an awesome application in OS X. And, as an aside, just looking through the preferences section for Skype showed that it was obviously given more love and care than the Linux version. And ya know what? I’m tired of it. I’m tired of even having to think about it. I’m tired of having to apologize for stupid stuff like this, get to a shell and killall -9 it. Or try to figure out what stupidity is causing it to happen. Or try to find workarounds so that PulseAudio can not screw things up for me. Or have to check my xorg.conf to see if I might have enabled something that is causing the bizarre Xv errors Skype spews every once in a while. I’m just tired of it.

Now, the focus of my frustration in this case is Skype. And I know that without even a moment’s hesitation, 90% of you are going to say “oh well, see, that’s what you get when you used a closed-source application! just use Open Source and everything will be better!” And to that I say: bollocks. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger Open Source advocate than me. But that’s not the point here. And that’s not the true issue at hand here. Open Source is great. Open Source is cool. Open Source is a whole heck of a lot of fun. Open Source is the answer to a whole lot of problems! But of this I am absolutely certain: it is not the answer to this problem. In this particular instance, and in millions more like it, all across the world, every day, people are going to need to run software that IS NOT OPEN SOURCE. You can try all you want to create the best, most awesome Open Source project to meet a given need, but you will never 100% fill every closed-source software solution need. You might get close. You might even have something that is “good enough”. But the bottom line is that there’s always going to be some piece of software that you have to run that you don’t have the source for. At least, this is true in the world that I’ve lived in for the last decade+.

Now, I am very aware that the Linux Desktop is SO much better than it was even 5 years ago. We have eye candy up the wahzoo. We even have some better applications from commercial companies. Heck, we even had the awesome World of Goo game (which I actually paid money for and LOVE)! We have much more feature-rich FOSS applications and desktop environments than we’ve ever had before. But what we don’t have is a stable platform that companies can count on being able to invest into and reap monetary rewards from. Yeah, like it or not, this is the real world and companies have to make money to stay in business.

We are a bunch of hackers. We love to tinker, to fiddle, to break compatibility in a heartbeat just for the outside chance that it might be better, to change quickly, and to do whatever we feel like. And that’s all fantastic stuff. But at the end of the day, we’re our own worst enemies. What makes Desktop Linux so awesome and fun and cool and quickly evolving is the same thing that keeps companies from investing in us–and even when they do, we end up breaking their stuff and causing Linux Desktop users grief. And we show absolutely zero possibility that this is going to improve any time soon. PulseAudio? Really? I’m so glad it’s the new hotness and is technically awesome. Your new hotness just broke an app I absolutely have to rely on. Guess how much I give a crap about your new hotness now, hm?

Anyway, I don’t have a solution to this. All I know is that I’m really liking my MacBook Pro, and I’m really liking OS X. Is it free? No. Is it Open Source? No. But does it just stinking work? Yeah, it really does. And it is such a drastic and refreshing change from the world of Desktop Linux that I am seriously wondering if I’m going to ever end up using that Ubuntu Karmic install I just slapped on the other partitions of this drive. I don’t think I’m yet ready to send out a jwz-like dissertation and farewell address, but I totally get it now. OS X is beautiful, and it just works. And I don’t think I’ll ridicule anyone for getting an Apple computer and actually using OS X on it ever again. Windows is still another story, but even there I can see what the allure is. You know… you get a computer to do stuff, and you want it to work. You don’t care what it has to do so that it works. You just want it to stinking work. Wouldn’t it be nice if Desktop Linux was like that?

[ UPDATE – 2009-11-20 ] – I’ve received a lot of really great comments on this post, but my initial intent at 1) venting/ranting, 2) comparing Desktop Linux to OS X, and 3) raising issues that I think we need to take a hard look at as a worldwide community were taken in a very different slant than I intended. FWIW, after having spent a week with my shiny little MacBook Pro, I am happily running Ubuntu Karmic 9.10 on it and have blogged again in an attempt to clear up some of the muddiness around this first post. To this end, I’m going to change the title from “I think I’m tired of Desktop Linux” to something less vitriolic for future viewers. And hopefully this won’t cause aggregators/planets to re-publish this. =:/

Author: Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper

My name is Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper. I am the ring leader of the amazing Kasper family. I am unashamedly a Christian Nerd. These are our stories....

128 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Art of Being Dorian » News Flash – Linux Desktop Suck, Android is Not Linux and the Nokia N900s Dropping Out of Orbit

  2. I agree with Nuno Pinheiro and some others that say it’s a distro problem “mainly”, especially *buntu and their push for the dreadfull pulseaudio. I use ArchLinux and everything just works, except when some software that (following *buntu development guidelines) decided to use pulseaudio then audio just goes to shit, until I kill the damned daemon. I also can’t get networkmanager to work ever (yet), but I just use Wicd and net is rock solid on my eeepc.

    I disagree with Jason when he says that there will never be a solution unless everything freezes and we become just another OS, only open (but not free).

    The solution exists and is implemented, just check out how good KDE sound works (untill pulseaudio comes to mess it up). They made sound work, the right way, and the Freedom way, which is to say (let’s put ourselves in a KDE developer’s mind for a while): we dont’t want to force everyone else to use our favorite audio daemon, we don’t want to be forced to use anyone else’s favorite audio daemon, we want to preserve developer’s freedom to develop what they like, so the logical conclusion is we have a wrapper class daemon (phonon) that handles all our audio requirements and let the market laws (or popularity or whatever) decide which daemon is the best, all the way being unaffected (almost) by that decision and allways having great working sound.
    It’s a shame that everyone else, namely *buntu people don’t do the same instead of trying to shove pulseaudio down everyone’s throat, leaving everybody with a bad taste in the mouth.

    What could and maybe should be done is agree on standard wrapper daemons like phonon but generic to every desktop environment, kind of like dbus but for sound and video and the other basic needs of a destop. Thus having stability for 3rd party developers and hence users, all the while still allowing freedom for developpers to work on their favorite daemon without shoving it down evryone else’e throat.

  3. Someone mentioned it already. KDE needs some “Steve Jobs guy”. I wouldn’t restrict it to KDE. I’d say there is a need for a KDE focused distribution with a strong leader.
    GNOME has Ubuntu, lead by Shuttleworth. And it works quite nice. Only in the latest releases, tehy lost their focus. Thy use too much unpolished Software. And they support to much Software(-stacks) like KDE, XFCE, etc.
    I would really like to see a distribution, that focuses on KDE only. And focuses for the main use cases, and polish these as best as possible. The rest can/should be done in a community based repository. Best way to get there, would be to have a strong leader (having lots of money like Shuttlewort would help ;-).
    Besides of having a strong leader, Mandriva seems to try to get there.

    But is a something the KDE community could do to improve the current situation? I’d say yes. It would be extremely helpful, if KDE would send a a vision/goal – name it whatever. This could help to streamline our work.

    Of course this might reduce flexibility. But all in all it would improve user experience. At least for uses cases matching the ones in the vision/goal.

  4. I’m really mystified what people like about the Mac OS X interface… Do you really like tiny, tiny fonts, a ‘dock’ stacked full of icons without name, an unsorted mess of a folder that substitutes any working application-launcher/menu, windows that won’t be maximised, a file menu that lacks any visible connection to an application etc. etc. etc.? The list goes on and on.

  5. “Do you really like tiny, tiny fonts”

    I see no problems with the fonts.

    “a ‘dock’ stacked full of icons without name”

    It has as many (or few) icons as you want. And why would I need names, since I can tell the apps apart by their icons? That said, I normally use Spotlight as my app-launcher. Glancing at the icons is a lot faster than reading app-names (which may or may not start with the letter K, making it hard to distinguish the apps, since they all have same start-letter….).

    “an unsorted mess of a folder that substitutes any working application-launcher/menu”

    Um, what? Do you mean the Applications-folder? I see no problems with it. Commonly used apps are in the dock, rarely used apps I launch from the Applications-folder or through Spotlight. Why would I need an “application-launcher” or “start menu”? I hate those. But I do have a folder in my dock that contains a bunch of apps. That’s how you can mimic a “start-menu” if you want to.

    “windows that won’t be maximised”

    The window maximises to show as much content as possible. Why should it be bigger than needed? Why should I waste my desktop real-estate to show things that do not need to be shown?

    “a file menu that lacks any visible connection to an application”

    The menubar is one of the greatest features of OS X. It’s always in the same place, it obeys Fitts law… And yes, it does tell you which app it belongs to. The per-window menubars are a waste of space and usability-nightmare, IMO.

    So why do I like UI? Like I said, I like the menubar, I like the fact that everything just works, I like universal searching, I like smart folders, I like the fit and finish, I like the usability-guidelines that are actually obeyed, I like the fact that the UI’s are designed by people who design UI’s for living, as opposed to coders who think that they know how to design an UI.

    But this goes beyond the UI. It’s also about stability, apps and ease of use.

  6. “It has as many (or few) icons as you want.”

    Substitute that with ‘as many as I actually need’. And that is the problem. Most people put more than 10 application icons into the dock because using the applications-folder (which is, as I said, an unsorted mess) is so cumbersome.

    And then add to these 10+ application icons the notification icons etc. The dock is a very flawed concept.

    “But I do have a folder in my dock that contains a bunch of apps.”

    Spot-on. The app-folder concept doesn’t work, thus you work around it. Is that the famed usability of Mac OS X?

    “Commonly used apps are in the dock, rarely used apps I launch from the Applications-folder or through Spotlight.”

    The dock concept is flawed, the app-folder concept _does_ _not_ _work!, Spotlight is not really meant to do the job. Apple should have taken up the Quicksilver idea and built on that. In GNOME we have GNOME-DO which does exactly that.

    “The window maximises to show as much content as possible. Why should it be bigger than needed?”

    Because you want to _focus_?

    “The menubar is one of the greatest features of OS X. It’s always in the same place,”

    Yes, but the appendant windows aren’t

    “But this goes beyond the UI. It’s also about stability, apps and ease of use.”

    Stability, I grant you, is a trump of OS X. But ‘ease of use’; nah! Many things (like application installation) are far better-solved in Ubuntu than in Mac OS X.

  7. You don’t seem to say why it _does not work_. Shouting does not make someting true. Spotlight is meant to do that job and it does it well.

    Application installation in OSX is drag and drop. Updates aren’t always easy but most applications do automatic updates themselves.

    I don’t really care if you find Ubuntu more or less usable. OSX lets me get my work done and is more usable for me and that’s all that really matters for me.

    Apple have spent a lot more money on usability research than you have, don’t be so quick to say GNOME is better without data.

  8. “I see no problems with the fonts.”
    +1 with that kde/linux defaults with over grown fonts for no good reason. (apart that developer have bad eye sight).

    “The menubar is one of the greatest features of OS X. It’s always in the same place, it obeys Fitts law… And yes, it does tell you which app it belongs to. The per-window menubars are a waste of space and usability-nightmare, IMO.”

    This made sence in the first versions of mac wen screens were small but on big screens its bad for small screens its a good feature, but for big ones nope, it does look prettier as it cleans the UI of the application.

    “The window maximises to show as much content as possible.”

    I think the main reason for this is that esthetically they look better, full screen apps really look bad from that POV.

  9. “You don’t seem to say why it _does not work_.”

    Because
    a) It is not sorted (as I said). You cannot look for an application by category (office, internet…). You even have to adjust the view to an alphabetical list to find anything at all. You cannot It is just a simple, stupid folder.

    “Spotlight is meant to do that job and it does it well.”

    Spotlight is a seach-application, more like that search-bar on steroids whatsname in GNOME, not like DO.

    “Application installation in OSX is drag and drop.”

    Ha-ha. And what do you have to to BEFORE you drag and drop anything? You have to
    1. find an application on the web
    2. Save it to the desktop
    3. Double-klick it to load the image-file
    4. Find the according virtual drive icon on the desktop
    5. Double-klick the virtual drive icon
    By the way; how IS the user supposed to know that the virtual drive is in any way connected to the DMG he/she has downloaded? Who does tell him/her what to do with it and the DMG after the installation procedure? Believe me, they _don’t_ know, I ‘coach’ Mac-users. Most of them think they’ve installed the application already by downloading the DMG.

    Talk about superios usabilty, yeah.

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  11. Excellent thread.

    No really! Excellent thread.

    Before this thread descends into a hate fest, blaming skype, criticising osx, praising one distro and putting down others, let me say that you are still missing the point of the blog post. On the linuxhaterblog, one quote stuck with me. something like:

    Windows for Games, Linux for Servers, Mac for everything else.

    I can see why somebody will feel that way.

    We all use and love our linux boxes, but a few months ago, my daughter came to my room at 9pm with a forgotten homework assignment. Fired up openoffice and started collecting images to put into the doc. I got tired of trying to make it look like I wanted so moved to my wife´s osx laptop and pasted the doc and pictures into Pages and had it sorted within minutes. I *COULD* have done it on openoffice or scribus, but I had to get it done quickly before my kid tiredly fell asleep. There are other examples.

    For the record, I don´t run OSX, but Mandriva 2010 KDE4.

  12. I hope you’ve enjoyed your 10 years with linux and wish you good luck with OSX, obviously linux isn’t for you anymore, maybe you’re just getting a little bit old and don’t like to play with computers anymore… it’s a shame.

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  14. Way back in the 1980’s, Sun was promoting display Postscript as the Unix display standard. Ugly bickering killed it off and we have relatively unevolved X-Windows, whereas Apple/NeXT developed a stunning graphics system and focused on desktop usability.

    There’s always time to get out of the 1980’s. No time like right now. Proprietary vendors and their paid hordes of “reviewers” and “bloggers” would have you believe that there’s a race on before the world ends in 2010. But, with roughly 5% market share, it’s ALWAYS time to start over. All it takes is one new distro with new ideas. Come on, do *I* have to do this??

    It’s easy to put strong server guts in your operating system with BSD-Licensed code. Apple did it, and Microsoft refuses to do so. But it’s harder to put a strong desktop on top of a solid server OS.

    At this time, my feeling is to never use windows, because it trashes your data, to use OSX because of the extremely high quality commercial apps available (namely iWork) and Linux for freedom, not having to worry what the latest Apple upgrade or patch will break!) and for the LACK of commercial apps.

    Flies in the ointment? An Apple upgrade (as in Snow Leopard from Leopard) is likely to break several hundred GNU apps installed via fink/dpkg/apt. Also, you can’t run OSX inside Virtual Box, whereas Virtual Box runs on all major platforms. And, there serious portability gaffes even in high-level libraries such as wx, which give developers fits.

    The biggest fly in the ointment (call it a dragon fly) is the fact that migration to web apps is making the actual operating system mostly irrelevant for most people, who can get a lot of work done on an iPhone.

    We are mostly geeks here, and shouldn’t forget about the “other 99% of people” out there.

  15. While I do agree that desktop Linux has much room for improvement, I feel that KDE4 is far superior to the other desktop environments out there, on any OS. My Debian Sid setups are pretty rock solid for being the Unstable branch of Debian; only screen capture has failed me consistently.

    Just today we’ve had to fight Windows shares not working when connecting with Vista, Mac OSX not working to connect to either Windows and Samba shares, OSX screwing up Samba permissions (they blame Linux ACLs), Windows 7 BSODs, OSX password changes failing to work, and Adobe license keys lost after an XP machine decided not to boot any more. How is any of this ‘just works’ better than my Desktop Linux?

    I agree that its difficult to build for a moving target, but unless there is a single distro it just isn’t possible. Releases are out-of-sync so one new release may have package x.1 while the next distro will release with X.2; which is distro to build for?

    Debian and RHEL release their Stable releases every few years, build to that if you need stability. Ubuntu takes what Debian will have and releases it, but its not gone through Debian’s testing yet and the Ubuntu teams don’t impress me in the slightest with their quality control.

    The software is Free and Open; if you want to use it (aka build against it) you should play by its rules. OSX has enough changes that new releases of their OS has left plenty of apps with issues at our office…

  16. “Substitute that with ‘as many as I actually need’. And that is the problem. Most people put more than 10 application icons into the dock because using the applications-folder (which is, as I said, an unsorted mess) is so cumbersome.”

    My dock has 9 icons and few folders (Documents and Downloads). I could have more and I would not have any problems. I know all the time where each app is located and I could almost launch them blindfolded, relying just on muscle-memory, since I don’t move them around. For the apps that are not in the dock (and sometimes even if they are) I just hit Apple-Space, type few letters and hit enter. You are not required to use the application.folder. And even if you do use it…. It’s not unsorted. You can sort it just like any other folder. Or do you mean that it’s not subdivided in to “utilities” , “games” and so forth? Well, those are just unneeded sublayers that make finding what you want more cumbersome. Is that app in “accessories” or “System tools”? And if you want to, you are perfectly free to create subfolders and arrange the apps any way you want to.

    Fact is that there is only handful of apps most users use routinely, and those can live in the dock just fine. And I bet that I can launch apps faster in OS X, than I could launch them by browsing a start-menu or K-menu.

    “Spot-on. The app-folder concept doesn’t work, thus you work around it. Is that the famed usability of Mac OS X?”

    It works just fine. In fact, the folder I have in the dock is not really used at all. I put it there to see if I could duplicate the functionality of start-menu. FWIW, I just removed it.

    And like it or not, the famed usability runs rings around Linux. I’m sorry, but that is a fact.

    “The dock concept is flawed, the app-folder concept _does_ _not_ _work!, ”

    It’s working just fine over here, so is the dock.

    “Spotlight is not really meant to do the job. ”

    Um, Spotlight is an application-launcher, as well as search-tool….

    “Because you want to _focus_?”

    Why do you need full-screen windows for that? Because the desktop-background distracts you? have you ever considered less distracting background? Really, I have never had problem concentrating on my work in OS X. Even if the app-windows are not full-screen. Insisting on full-screen apps is like blast from the DOS-days.

    And if you really insist of having app-windows that cover the entire desktop…. Well, you can always drag the app-window bigger *shrugs*.

    “Yes, but the appendant windows aren’t”

    So what? It does help that the menubar stays put. Menus are always where you expect them to be, you can’t overshoot them and they don’t waste space by duplicating it all over the screen. It also makes the app-windows simpler when you don’t have extra UI-elements cluttering the window.

    “Stability, I grant you, is a trump of OS X. But ‘ease of use’; nah! Many things (like application installation) are far better-solved in Ubuntu than in Mac OS X.”

    Try installing a Linux-app that is NOT available in the repo, and see how easy it is. My wife has used both Linux and OS X, and she thinks that OS X is easier to use, as does my inlaws.

    “Spotlight is a seach-application, more like that search-bar on steroids whatsname in GNOME, not like DO.”

    You are utterly wrong here. Spotlight is used for searching, yes. But it’s also used for launching apps. They even specificly mentioned launching apps when they demoed Leopard in one of the keynotes.

    And do tell me: how exactly is Spotlight bad for launching apps? You launch it with keyboard-shortcut, type few letters and it finds your apps. How exactly is that “not optimal”? It’s actually very similar to Krunner in how it works. Of course, one difference is that since in KDE most apps start with letter “k”, you need to type more letters to get to the app you are looking for.

    Now, you obviously hate OS X UI. And you have that right. But there’s loads of people who love it, me included. And I have extensive experience with Linux and it’s UI’s. So what are you going to do about it? Hit me in the face? Tell me how stupid I am to prefer OS X over KDE or GNOME or XFCE?

  17. It seems some people are trying to advertise updated OS X here. If you try so hard it seems it’s starts dying already. A lot of bull and no single real argument. Btw. does apple fixed problems with snow leopard and nvidia drivers? They cards were working noticably slower on OS X then on Linux.

  18. I am in agreement here. spending time making eye candy is pointless if none of the apps work. As a long time user of linux, i wish the devs would spend more time stabilizing the apps and less time on effects that have little impact on my user experience.

  19. I dont get it.

    What are you all complaining about?

    Linux is free. I dont mean ‘mean software’ bla bla bla, I mean it’s just free of charge. Nobody obligates you to use it as far as I’m aware. So what are you complaining about? You’re complaining that this thing others do for you for free, which you don’t have to pay a dime for, is not good? So what? Just stop using it and don’t make such a fuss about it. That’s what downgrades the community. People think you have to work for them for free, support them for free and even head their pointless critique. I use desktop linux sometimes simply because it is more convenient in some situations. If someone pushed you to use it or if you just use it to say ‘Yea I’m a h4ck3r!!’ or whatever, you suck.

    So if you want to leave, just leave, none will miss you. You weren’t giving anything back anyway. But if you do stay, please cut me some slack of pointlessly criticizing it instead of trying to improve it.

  20. Your experience is emblematic of the numerous stories out there about open source-types switching to OS X: you still get some of the benefits of OSS without all the hassle.

    Oh, and the hardware: I’m using an iMac. And it’s amazing.

  21. What to do? If the comparison is OSX it’s quite simple: build a distribution specialized to run on a hardware platform of limited carefully selected devices. Choose a long-term support policy for the distribution, which unfortunately will mean ugly patches for backward compatibility. If that’s not the idea of the complaint, then OSX isn’t what you should compare with.

    Secondly fire the current desktop users! You rise the dilemma about Linux users sharing another computing vision and hence not making your complaint the number one priority. There are just two options here: do as I wrote above get rid of them by brute force, or as a second choice make them share your vision. How can you ever make the majority to bend over to maybe satisfy the wishes of quite ungrateful interests? That’s an exaggeration, but the problem I see is that the Linux community consists of a diverse selection of priorities, and you can’t expect everyone to get in line.

    Just look as the discussion above about OSX. Some furiously defend every single feature of the OSX desktop. Apple as a company is very different from the culture of Linux. Jobs can stand up before a crowd and proudly proclaim “the new version has zero new features!” and the crowd responds in awesomeness “yeh!”. I’m not trying to ridicule OSX, but since this actually did happen not to long ago, it tells a lot about the relationship between the company and its users; they’re loyal to each other and by the company decided ideas far more than anything else software related I know about. Would that ever happen within the Linux community? Forget about it! Not even the kernel is developed without fights.

    Linux is more about technology than comfort. I even doubt that Linux would have been where it is today on the desktop, wasn’t it for it not being foremost a typical desktop system.

    I would however support the idea that more mainstream distributions adopted longer release cycles. It’s not for me, but I would make it easier for some, who doesn’t look for the newest and greatest and instead feel quite satisfied with a plain working station.

    Longer release cycles has however not so much with OSX to do. Don’t forget about how different users are. As already exemplified some can’t stand the OSX desktop, me included. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it only means it not for us and it doesn’t make us any more productive.

    My impression is that it’s easy to forget the implications if complaints like this became the main focus of Linux.

  22. “It seems some people are trying to advertise updated OS X here. If you try so hard it seems it’s starts dying already.”

    The original blog-post was that the poster uses OS X instead of Linux, and then some other people (me included) chimed in with similar stories. Is that “advertising”? I really don’t care that does someone now decide to start using OS X or not, I was just telling my experiences regarding this thing (like the original poster was doing as well). If someone prefers Linux, fine. I really have no issues with that. I’m even paying member of the local LUG! I WANT to see Linux succeed!

    So you are now complaining about “advertising” OS X. So, should I then start complaining how various blog-posts in PlanetKDE “advertise” Linux?

    “A lot of bull and no single real argument.”

    What sort of arguments would you like to see? On OS X I have better apps that give me better results, period. Plus those apps are more enjoyable to use. I have better UI which does not have all kinds of weird glitches. I don’t anymore have to spend my time fixing all kinds of issues since things just work. Hell, I can even plug in my external screen to my laptop, and the OS automatically detects it and selects correct resolution! And it does that without me doing anything. When I plug in an external HD, the OS asks me “I just noticed that you plugged in an external HD, would you like to use it to back up your system?”. Why doesn’t Linux do that? Seriously? Does Linux finally have working fast user switching?

    I have no agenda to push here. I was reading PlanetKDE, when I noticed this blog-entry which seemed to mirror my experiences, so I decided to chime in. And when and/or someone else does so, it’s “advertising”? Should we just remain silent?

  23. I’m using Linux now, but earlier I used some versions of OS X and Windows.

    When I used OS X… heh it was a pain sometimes. Imagine you upgrade your system, reboot and guess what? It won’t load. Ok, time to reinstall. Of course you copied your precious data before… if you didn’t forget. I too often run in to things that do not work like broken Thunderbird. Such things shouldn’t have place in reality – it works wonderfully on Linux and on Windows and it’s very important app! There are some Apple made apps, but they’re look like toys and are rather rarely useful – that’s why I wanted to have Thunderbird…

    While some people here are Apple marketing guys they simply lie. Those guys who designed UI probably had no idea what users want. Both, Linux and Windows have much smarter UI (probably because they listen to their users) and if you use Linux you can choose from dozens of desktops environments.

    When you choose Linux or Windows you’re not forced to use Apple hardware which is usually crippled when compared to normal PC’s. Try installing OS X on custom hardware. It’s a pain! While Linux and Windows have no problems with this. If you choose Linux you have support for entire hardware out of the box.

    However, the biggest Linux advantage (next to repositories – you click on some app and it will magically install!) is its performance which OS X can only dream about (it’s using old and crappy QNX kernel with some hacks to make it work on newer hardware and ’emulate’ POSIX which is supported natively on professional systems like Linux or REAL Unixes).

    Another great Linux advantage is freedom. You’re not forced to use Snow Leopard and get a headache, because of its problems like BSOD or nvidia cards running slower then on Linux or Windows. You can choose from many Linux distros and receive wonderful support.

    Btw. they say OS X is easy, but this isn’t true. If something breaks down after upgrade and you can’t login to your system no more, so it doesn’t deserve to be called “easy to use”.

    P.S. some people here are advertising new version of Leopard. I hope they fixed problem with loosing the data…

  24. @Janne

    Linux has far more better apps then OS X. However, you’re just advertising OS X here, so farewell.

    @KimTjik

    Very well said.

  25. Agree with the first post. I read too often when someone says they’re down on Linux but then you learn they equate Ubuntu with Linux as if it’s the one true Linux. My impression is tinkering with it can be like tinkering with Windows. You can only go so far or do so much before you run into things you can’t or shouldn’t touch. All my boxes are FreeBSD and I constantly play with them but never complain about the desktop because I pretty much do whatever I want. If I don’t like Gnome I use something else and modify it like crazy.

    I’m sure you can do the same with any Linux distro.

  26. I find your rant to be misplaced. The idea that OS X is better just because it seems to work for certain things compared to others on one Linux distro is flawed logic. That is exactly what Windows users say when they can’t get program X on Linux. We have a Mac here and at first I thought it was pretty good. Then as I started checking things out more closely I found it has numbers of flaws, nothing to boast about aside from its integrated desktop apps (which are rather dumbed-down in fact).
    Snow Leopard is mostly a bad joke by Apple to make up for the rushed release of Leopard with its numerous problems, instabilities, and stuff that is broken out of the box (that’s why it only cost ~$30 for an upgrade). After looking at Mac, programming on it even, there is no contest. Linux is definitely better in so many ways that really matter for me. If it is a problem for you, then fix it or go away. Become a better part of the solution if the solution you have so far is not satisfying. Whining about a minimal number of apps that don’t run 100% is not helping anyone.

  27. Kaspar,

    I hear ya.

    And I can pretty much guarantee that whatever it is you can’t get to work on Linux, there will be a community full of people telling you its your fault, and that your an idiot.

  28. “Linux is free. I dont mean ‘mean software’ bla bla bla, I mean it’s just free of charge. Nobody obligates you to use it as far as I’m aware. So what are you complaining about?”

    So, we are not allowed to criticize since it’s free? With that attitude, it will never get superior quality. Being free is not an excuse to offer inferior product, IMO. Sure, you can do it, but don’t be surprised when you get under 1% of the users.

    I want Linux to succeed. So of course I criticize if I see something worth criticizing. How would things get better if no-one ever said “you know, this thing could really be a bit better….” Of course I also value my time, so I use OS X as my main OS.

    “So what? Just stop using it and don’t make such a fuss about it. That’s what downgrades the community. People think you have to work for them for free, support them for free and even head their pointless critique. I use desktop linux sometimes simply because it is more convenient in some situations. If someone pushed you to use it or if you just use it to say ‘Yea I’m a h4ck3r!!’ or whatever, you suck.”

    So how exactly would it be better if users just silently abandoned the platform? If those users actually tell why they are leaving, there’s hope that things will get better. If people just silently left, then suddenly developers noticed that all of their users and most of the developers have vanished like fart in the wind.

    “So if you want to leave, just leave, none will miss you. You weren’t giving anything back anyway. But if you do stay, please cut me some slack of pointlessly criticizing it instead of trying to improve it.”

    How do you know what people have done for Linux? I have spent quite a bit of time helping people use Linux. I have spent A LOT of time discussing ways how to improve KDE. I have submitted bug-reports and wishlists. Hell, I have donated a wallpaper to KDE:

    http://kde-look.org/content/show.php/Dreaming+of+Summer?content=97859

    But maybe I should just STFU, take my ball and go home. After all, that would be better for everyone, right? KDE would be better off without my bugreports, my wishlists, my comments, my contributions and my frigging wallpaper?

  29. “Linux has far more better apps then OS X.”

    Well I beg to differ.

    “However, you’re just advertising OS X here, so farewell.”

    This isn’t your blog, so who exactly are you telling others what they can and cant say here? And last time I checked, this discussion is about Linux and OS X. But according to you I’m not allowed to say that “I think OS X is better”?

  30. I wanted to thank you for this thoughtful blog entry, especially coming as it does from someone with a substantial amount of development experience on and for the Linux desktop. I think you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head regarding some of the pathologies of Linux desktop development, and I enjoyed reading this, and the more insightful comments in this thread.

    Sadly, like any comments page on any arbitrary web site since the dawn of Time, this one has attracted a large number of moths who have very clearly *not read a single God-damned word you wrote* beyond “I think I’m tired of Desktop Linux”, and immediately went into a “Circle the wagons! Defend the Hive!” sort of ultra-defensive siege-mode. Would anyone care to place bets that the self-righteous bleating from some of the most obnoxious posts above comes from folks who have not contributed a single line of code to any open-source project ever? Yeah.

    And so we point fingers elsewhere, apparently under the delusion that users will tolerate any sort of broken functionality as long as a suitable excuse is available. Software freedom is an important cause, and it is being severely hamstrung by poor execution. I spend a fair amount of time in the #ubuntu help channel on Freenode, and can attest to the frustration of many new users (precisely the sort we might hope to lure away from closed platforms) who give up and go home because we somehow can’t get wireless or accelerated video to work consistently across an upgrade. Sure, there are driver issues, absolutely. That does not mean the problem doesn’t need to be solved.

    Anyway, this ran rather longer than I intended, sorry. I hope OSX continues to work out for you (I’m mostly heading in that direction myself). Success in your future development work!

  31. @Janne Nobody said you can’t complain, but don’t blow things up into something they are not in the process. Linux on the desktop works damn fine for me, for my needs, and for quite a few people. A general sweeping statement to the effect that desktop Linux does not work because of the deficiencies of a few applications is so off-base. Then at the same time exclaiming that OS X is so much better in effect. This all shows a lack of knowledge and experience with these systems. A good close look at OS X and you will see it has a number of cracks in its seemingly perfect veneer.

    If you want to help, try getting those of us who can program on Linux and make improvements the money to do so. It is easy to criticize Linux when the other guys have multi-millions of dollars to throw into their OS, yet still seem to keep stealing ideas from Linux in the process and have ridiculous problems that all their professionalism is supposed to have cured.

    Personally, I can program on Linux and have been looking for a job programming on it for a long time. To hear some fool complaining about it when he has a job working on it and then getting OS X instead. That is in serious bad taste.

  32. “Then as I started checking things out more closely I found it has numbers of flaws, nothing to boast about”

    Just curious: what flaws did you discover?

    “aside from its integrated desktop apps (which are rather dumbed-down in fact).”

    There’s nothing wrong with dumbing down. Complex apps that do everything are usually hard to use. “dumbed down” apps might actually enable the user to achieve more, since the apps are easier to use and more accessible.

    “After looking at Mac, programming on it even, there is no contest. Linux is definitely better in so many ways that really matter for me.”

    I’m happy that Linux is working for you. But I can’t help but wonder that if Linux is so much more developer-friendly that OS X, then why isn’t Linux filled with great apps? For example, http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.html (written by one guy). Or how about Delicious Library (http://delicious-monster.com/)? Or Pixelmator? If Linux is such a programmer-heaven, how can OS X boast such great apps with extremely refined UI’s? Some of which are written by single, part-time developers (like Scrivener)?

    From what I have heard from Mac-developers, they feel that Mac is more or less a developer-heaven. But of course Mac-developers would feel like that, just like Linux-developers would prefer Linux.

  33. “Linux on the desktop works damn fine for me, for my needs, and for quite a few people.”

    Of course it does. It does have large number of users. But I would say that most of those users are not “typical” users. They are developers and experts mostly. If you look at “normal” users, I would say that Linux is next to non-existant to them. Like what happened to my in-laws.

    And it should be noted that among power-users, Macs have been getting more and more users, since it offers a great UI over UNIX.

    “A general sweeping statement to the effect that desktop Linux does not work because of the deficiencies of a few applications is so off-base.”

    The shortcomings are not limited to just few apps, but just about everywhere. Even the “base-UI” feel glitchy on occasion. It’s not just the apps, it’s also the desktops and the distros.

    “Then at the same time exclaiming that OS X is so much better in effect. This all shows a lack of knowledge and experience with these systems.”

    We all have our favourite OS’es and systems. Why do you think that if I prefer OS X, it “shows a lack of knowledge and experience with these systems.”? Why couldn’t the same be said if someone prefers Linux over OS X?

    I have used Linux since 1998, and I have used Macs since 2005. So why can’t I say that “I prefer OS X because X, Y and Z”? What makes me disqualified?

    “A good close look at OS X and you will see it has a number of cracks in its seemingly perfect veneer.”

    OS X is not perfect (no system is). But I would be interested in knowing what sort of problems are you referring to here?

    “If you want to help, try getting those of us who can program on Linux and make improvements the money to do so”

    Do you mean monetary contributions? Well, how much money should I invest? What guarantees do I have that y pet-peeves get fixed and features implemented? And in a way that I would use them? I think it would be cheaper for me to use OS X instead.

    “It is easy to criticize Linux when the other guys have multi-millions of dollars to throw into their OS”

    That argument doesn’t really fly anymore. Linux is a multi-billion dollar business these days, and lots of companies are investing in it.

    “To hear some fool complaining about it”

    There’s no need for name-calling.

    “when he has a job working on it and then getting OS X instead. That is in serious bad taste.”

    Um, no it isn’t. Different people use different OS’es. Just because someone chooses an OS that is not your favourite OS and he even mentions that fact publicly is not “bad taste”. It’s just fact of life. Or am I or someone else obligated to use Linux, because there are lots of people trying to make it better? By that logic I should be obligated to use every single OS out there, since they all have people working on them.

    In this discussion some people have told that they think Linux is better than OS X. And I’m not complaining that it’s “bad taste” for them to say that aloud. They have the right to use whatever works for them. Just like I have the right to use whatever works for me. And bad taste has nothing to do with it.

  34. @Jason ‘vanRijn’ Kasper

    Ohh, sure.. guess I did read it wrong, sorry about that… But yeah, your explanation makes sense and in those points I do agree!

  35. Hey everyone! You guys are awesome. Thanks for commenting! There’s a couple of key points that I want to make at the start…

    1) I’m not the LInux programmer who had enough with Linux and left. I’m the Linux programmer (for the last decade+ and am still one today) who realizes that all the pain, blood, sweat, and tears that he and countless others around the world have donated are not getting us where we want to be (i.e. have as viable, accepted, and widespread a platform as OS X or Windows). We have a core problem and a bunch of you got that point, but many did not. =:)

    2) This was not really a “that’s it, I’m done, bye” rant. It was more a “wow, THIS (OS X) is what we’ve been working for in Linux for the last decade++, and after all that time, we should be here, but we’re not and we should really look at why that is and fix it!”

    3) This is not about distros or bugs or freedom. It’s about more than a decade of personal and community work to build an awesome platform and still not having significant market share, 3rd party development, or outside-our-community interest. Why? It’s certainly not a technical reason. Our platform is every bit as technically capable as OS X or Windows–in many cases, more so. So why have we failed and why are we still failing? Clue: we have a fundamental flaw in our platform and it’s what defines us and motivates us and drives us. How do we fix that? Can we fix that?

    Anyway, I’ll respond to a couple of comments. If I miss you, I apologize. =:)

    @Yunkwan: exactly! Basic things like sound and video absolutely must be and stay stable for any desktop environment. They’re not on Linux, flat out. Why? It’s certainly not a question of technical superiority. Alsa by itself, with dmix, worked perfectly well 5 years ago. Why do we not standardize and leave it alone and keep making it more stable? Why do we insist on adding more layers on top of it and making things worse? If you really want an interesting point of view on this, talk to the Adobe Flash Linux guy(s).

    @Smoothie: Yes, ALSA is a good, solid foundation. Then why has it been broken horribly by layers that we keep adding on top of it? You say I can fix this problem by adding 3 lines in my ~/.asoundrc? Guess what? I did that 5 years ago to get dmix working. And then I did it a year and a half ago to get pulseaudio working. And guess what? That still doesn’t fix the problem. Skype, Flash, and a whole bunch of other applications (yep, even 100% free/open source software) still has problems. And here’s something to think about: do you honestly think for a second that 3rd party developer XYZ really wants to have to think about or care about its users having their software broken and having to know about ~/.asoundrc? Hint: NO. =:) There have been some really enlightening interviews with 3rd party developers who make exactly this point: “Gee, I’d LOVE to port my application to Linux, but I just couldn’t get sound working reliably.”

    @Dion Moult: Hey there! Yep, you’re right in that there are challenges with wifi, bluetooth, and such. Most of that is due to the fact that vendors provide drivers for Windows or OS X but just don’t care about Linux and don’t provide drivers for us. And Desktop Linux had gotten TONS better in this regard, and I’m just about positive that I (or any other really knowledgeable Linux hacker) could sit down with you and get your hardware working well with Linux. But that’s exactly my point… we need to get Linux to the point where 3rd party companies care about Linux and proactively provide software and drivers for us. This comes back to my core issue: we have a fundamental flaw in our desktop model that is preventing this from happening, and it’s the same thing that’s been stopping it for the last decade+ and I see no signs of this flaw being addressed and fixed.

    @Pau Garcia: Yep, there’s a lot of polish that will make Desktop Linux better and I absolutely love the steps we’ve taken and continue to take in that direction. I firmly believe that KDE4 is absolutely the best in this area and we’re only getting better as we go along. But there’s a fundamental problem deeper down in the stack than this kind of polish.

    @istoff: Nice points! And if the core pillars that we have now are what we all standardize on and use for the next 5 years (give or take), then this would give me great hope. =:) The problem is that we’ve been “ready” like this, with really solid pillars, for the last 5 years, at least. Why have we not progressed past where we are? It’s for exactly the reason that you fear: somebody decides that they can do it better and we start all over again. Here’s to hoping that now that we have all the awesome technology in place that we have in today’s Desktop Linux, we can be content with it and not keep changing our core infrastructure.

    @Diederik: You have absolutely hit the nail on the head. =:) I’ll quote you because you did an awesome job of phrasing it: “> WRT the Linux Desktop, I agree there’s a lot to do yet. and I think there is a lot *not* to do, which is imho sort of where this is post and aseigo’s response is about. The constant hacking and tweaking means Linux is always on the move, and never “here”.”

    @Thomas Zander: Heya! =:) Absolutely right. You totally got it! =:) “What I recently realized is that I’m stuck in an upgrade-in-hope-off cycle. Meaning that some software sucks majorly and the next *distro* release may fix it. But that new release will naturally introduce loads of new problems and there you go cycle! ” And, to this point: “In short, it *is* possible to have a grand designer, an architect for the whole desktop. Any distro can do that right now. If they have the guts to tell their users what is better for them, and mean it.”, I’ll say this: this will never fly across the board. This is why we have so many distros today. =:/

    @Tom: Hey there! =:) “So things getting better is still accelerating it is just a hard transition and painful.” Yeah, I agree. And what would give me hope is if we could get off this cycle (and it’s been going on, pretty much non-stop for a long time now) and all agree that what we have right now is good enough and stop changing things. Here’s to hoping that happens. =:) Also, yeah, I suck… I know I got all excited about my Pre/WebOS and then kinda didn’t do anything with it. I need to start playing with it more and blogging my results. Truthfully, I’m a little tempted by the Samsung Moment (Android). It feels like the Android has more going for it, more momentum, and certainly more apps and developers.

    @patton: Yep, you got it right on! =:)

    @nuno pinheiro: Hey there! =:) Exellent comments. I’ll highlight this though: “and apart from disabling pullsaudio every time I remember to do so I really don’t do anything special.” There’s the issue. Why do you have to do that? Because it’s broken. Because distros are constantly putting things that are broken in and forcing users to work around them. Distro-specific problem? Maybe. IIRC, Ubuntu won’t let you remove pulseaudio anymore (removing it will also remove half the apps you have installed, iirc). But pulseaudio is now considered a standard (it comes with every distro, by now except ancient RedHat, right?). Look at this from outside our little hack-happy Linux community. Why would anyone want to invest money and time into writing software for Desktop Linux when stupid stuff like this keeps happening (and this is not something new and this has been going on for a decade+, and that’s exactly my point). =:)

    @Ky: Again, I’m not “abandoning all that we are working/fighting for”. I’m still working/fighting for this stuff too. What I’m saying is that we’ve been working/fighting for this for a LONG time and I think we have a fundamental problem as a world-wide community that will always prevent us from “getting there”. Would be nice to address that and fix it so we can stop laboring/fighting in vain. =:)

    @Tom: Of course I installed Kubuntu. =:) In this particular case, it’s not a Kubuntu/Ubuntu problem. It’s about more than one thing (video layer, sound layer, kernel layer) being broken.

    @Janne: Hey there and thanks for the comment! =:) You make a good point about UI polish being lacking. And that is happening, has been happening, and is continuing to happen. KDE4 is IMHO the best example of this. KDE4 totally rocks in this department and we’re only getting better. But I’m more concerned about more simple issues: can a user get Skype, Flash, Songbird, VLC, Totem, Kaffeine/Xine, all working flawlessly, out of the box, across our broad Desktop Linux platform. Absolutely not. There might be shining examples of this working consistently (sounds like Mandriva does a really nice job of this and I know OpenSUSE did a pretty good job of it in the past), but that’s my point exactly. If, like nuno, you have to rely on the user to debug problems with the basic sound/video stack and tweak his/her ~/.asoundrc and know to run pa-suspender or even go so far as removing pulseaudio entirely… we have a problem. =:) And I know I keep harping on sound as my example here, but this is a really, really important one!

    @Mike Arther: Hey, good to see you! =:) I wholeheartedly agree. I think this is an awesome statement: “Desktop Linux (and specifically things like KDE) need a strong Jobs-type figure who is a perfectionist and doesn’t let things be released until they are done.” I’d only add that for this to be truly effective, it would have to extend all the way up and down the stack with particular focus on our core technologies (sound, video, etc.) and cover all major distros. I do not see that ever happening, which is exactly what makes me sad and was what prompted this blog post.

    @Rodrigo: Excellent points! I like this: “But aside from the instability of KDE on Ubuntu, PulseAudio is unstable in all distros I know of. I’ve just removed it since it appeared on my system. I don’t need PulseAudio, I am happy with ALSA and PulseAudio really give a lot of problems with Skype and other softwares…” One of my core points, exactly. =:)

    @Luis: Really nicely worded. I like your model and I agree that it’s about the only one I could think of that would help to address this problem. But such a thing goes directly against the core of the Linux ethos. =:/

    @kyberlinx: “The solution exists and is implemented, just check out how good KDE sound works (untill pulseaudio comes to mess it up).” I agree. However, there is no way that all software for LInux is going to be written to the KDE, Qt, or Gtk+ stacks or even the gstreamer, pulseaudio, or jackd levels. Therein lies the problem. We all love freedom and choice and lightly-controlled anarchy, and that prevents a problem for 3rd party developers who might otherwise be interested in writing software for Desktop Linux.

    @Janne: “But this goes beyond the UI. It’s also about stability, apps and ease of use.” EXACTLY! =:) I’m not talking about UI polish at all here. It seems some of the later comments have devolved this into a “Mac OS X UI sucks” discussion which I have no interest in. This is not about the OS X UI.

  36. @Jack Straw

    I tried reading your comment, but my brain couldn’t parse the text. I’d say, according to that, your post sucks and is not even close to readiness.

  37. osx is boring for hackers … see you back on linux desktop within a half year 🙂

  38. @Jason Kasper
    Think we made huge progress in that last years, dough changing anything from usability side in linux is a huge fight and pain and well you know. And its incredibly frustrating to be fighting the “polishment” war every day and seeing the people that do get it going away, I have puten an enormous amount of personal effort into making it work, I know alot off good people that has done the same, in the end I agree with you in many respects, think I did from day 1, there is no absolute reason we can’t do better, in fact we have did in many aspects, I’m sure we all agree linux desktop rocks in many many ways.

    In fact I think the most valuable lesson I have learned so far over the years in this fun game is that if you truly work on improving something you have a pretty good chance that you will make it work, and if you do it in an open atmosphere the chances just double.

    Now we are not going fast enough, specifically on the downstream side, but in hour specific ecosystem the kde one its soooooooooo much better than what it was say 4 years ago, huge “rocks” that stood in our way to do stuff that improves the user experience are now incredibly easy to tumble.

    @ all others most of the “killer” features you described for osx work out of the box on my Mandriva, (I really wonder how bad some distros are)

  39. @Mike Sipior: Heh. You rock. =:) Your comments, all of them, are spot on. =:) I was sorely tempted to copy/paste them here again, but I’ll let them stand where they are. Thanks for 1) getting it and 2) taking the time to comment. =:)

    @Janne: You rock too. =:) Thanks for the comments and discussion!!! I think you’re spot on too. =:)

    @Carpman: ROFLMAO. =;P

    @a11: Heh. Now you honestly bring up a REALLY good point. What I’ve always loved about hacking on Desktop Linux is that there’s so many itches to scratch and it’s so easy to do so. I’m kind of curious to see if I’ll 1) find any itches to scratch in OS X and 2) I’ll find easy ways to scratch them. I have no doubt whatsoever that they’ll be harder to scratch. Let’s just take alt+click dragging and alt+right-click resizing for instance. I’ve found afloat for OS X, but it is NOWHERE as nice as KWin’s functionality (and it only works with some OS X apps???). So I’m sure there will be issues. And I’m not saying “that’s it, I’m done with Linux”. I’m more saying 1) wow, OS X is actually really cool and I think I’m going to play with it for a while and see if it’s something I can live with, 2) this MacBook Pro is awesome sweet hardware, 3) it sure would be nice if after the decade+ of Desktop Linux hacking I and countless others around the world have done, if we had the same 3rd party app developer attention and market share as OS X does. But again, I’m not leaving. I’m just questioning whether I’ll actually run Linux on this awesome piece of Apple hardware I just bought. =:) Oh, and it’s REALLY nice to see a whole bunch of 3rd party apps that I can run on OS X really easily. And the attention and focus given OS X and apps written for it is in STARK contrast to those for Linux. Just look at the difference between Skype’s preferences dialog between OS X and Linux some time, by way of the first example that pops into my mind.

  40. @Jane

    I find your posts very funny. You’re completely missing the points and what you write is just your subjective feeling (or looking at things from OS X fanboy perspective).

    [QUOTE]This isn’t your blog, so who exactly are you telling others what they can and cant say here? And last time I checked, this discussion is about Linux and OS X. But according to you I’m not allowed to say that “I think OS X is better”?[/QUOTE]

    Where I said this? Last time I checked this discussion is about some third party apps and about advertising OS X.

    [QUOTE]Does Linux finally have working fast user switching?[/QUOTE]

    You’ve got to be kidding me. Afak it supports it since years. You’re ‘really’ a Linux expert.

    It’s really hard to call OS X an Unix. It’s rather its parody.

  41. A very nice post about subject what is very tense for many. I am currently writing this from Windows 7, even that I have almost exactly same feelings about it as you just wrote about Linux desktop usage.

    I just like to take one phrase from your text: “But what we don’t have is a stable platform that companies can count on being able to invest into and reap monetary rewards from. Yeah, like it or not, this is the real world and companies have to make money to stay in business.”

    We do have such platform. There is a standard made for Linux OS and it is LBS, a Linux Standard Base. It is stable, updates regularly and with good time between them. Problem is that many developer does not know about it. They believe that every distribution is different operating system. They do not understand that the Linux kernel is the operating system what they only need to care and trust the LSB to deliver stable API for Linux OS and all the system software. I have not seen more than few closed source software to actually use the LSB. Otherwise they are just trying to keep up on multiple distribution with their own rules.

    I had two days ago a need to install Skype to this Windows 7. It was not nice touch at all. Fighting with sound system and firewalls. And even now the Skype/Windows X (any windows) likes to control the sound for me. Even that if I configure Skype to not control automatically sound levels, it does it.
    We have laughed enough with my friends that Skype is not a software what just works. Or any VoIP like TeamSpeak and so on. It is not nice that you have a chat on the night and after that you quit the application and you shutdown the computer. And next evening when you need to join to conference call, the VoIP software does not work at all.

    First you check out the hardware, are the plugins connected to jacks. Is the Mic muted. Is the headset volume control correct. Then you run to check the software configs and you can not find anything wrong. Then to Windows Sound Mixer and still nothing. You restart computer few times without any help. Mayby even reinstall the sound drivers and no help. Then you just give up and say that you can not join to the meeting. You go to sleep after you shutdown the computer because you believe the hardware is broken. Then on next day you try the software again, and everything just works.

    That has happened too many times for me and my buddies, on Windows. And biggest problems as well for VoIP software like teamspeak on Linux is that it demands the server and it is anyway hard to install. Getting the server running as service is painfull same way. But at least the sound works and settings are not changing mystically like someone would do it by purpose.

    I have not used Mac OSX so much that I could say I know it enough for all kind situations. For me it is complex as well, but it works mostly, just like a Linux for me. I use Mandriva myself and I have not had problems with PulseAudio, dont know why but it has just worked as it is meant to work. But I would place so many things just for the reason that I have used so many distribution that I might not even notice if I need to configure something.

    On Mac OS X (What I just reinstalled two months ago to one G4 iBook) the usage is easy because nice default settings and sets of applications. That is one key to get good desktop. But on Mac OS X, I just can not understand how people actually finds the software for free. I use google, different sites, Apples suggestions etc. And all the time I get only shareware or other way expensive software for it.

    I know there should be a lots of applications, I follow weekly different Mac forums and sites but still I can not just get it how to use it by a cheap way. I noticed that when using Mac, it is much easier when you have a Visa or any other credit card what you can use to buy software and hardware.

    On Windows, I can find lots of software what does only half of the things what I want and other things what I need is done with other software. Only because of few games I use Windows. There is nothing demanded purpose otherwise than just having a hobby feeling to follow it’s development, usage and so on.

    And I must say that I have tweaked many desktops with Linux for basic users, who does not even know what mouse right button does or what meaning is with Ctrl/Shift/Alt buttons, even that those have explained many times. For them the Linux Desktop really is great when someone comes and talk to them and just configurates it to them. Then you can just leave them alone. They do not care about fancy stuff, they just want to get their tasks done. Just like on Mac. That is one great thing on Mac OSX that the basic setups are great and little nice things are more like “magic”. Just like on KDE4 that you can configure it to be very simple and still expand it’s features because the configurability.

    The Linux and Windows seems to suck as Desktops when there is a advanced user in the control. Normal users does just fine with KDE but when it comes to the hardware it is as lost as with Windows. Macintosh is just great if you have the money… It is almost on every situation. If you want to have simple driving experience, just rent the car and when something happend, you can drive it to repair or you get new one. No need to take care itself of it.

    I really love the Mac OSX. Everytime I use it just feels nice. But same time I just cant stand it’s way to do things, because a) I do not really know all b) I always wait some kind connection between all applications.

    But what makes me always think about Windows 7, Mac OSX and Gnome when comparing to KDE. Is that when I sit front on my own KDE desktop. I get sometimes feelings that “Oh, this Mac OSX/Windows is just so easy and great” and just few seconds later I notice I use KDE.

    What I really miss for Linux, is that it would be very easy to compile software for all distributions, like the Suse’s service. So there would not be a times when you notice the software is not on the repositories but you need to compile it yourself, what is not a problem for me, I like it as well.

    The Mac OSX style to install software is sameway nice and evil. The “Drag’n’Drop” installation is just great. But I can not stand the some installation where is the wizard what you need to go trough. Or that the installation window might be different looking.
    There is just so many things what makes Mac OSX so great and nice but it is like holiday… it is always nice to come back home using Linux what is familiar 😉

  42. Thanks for the answer. Glad it was Kubuntu 😉

    Those few guys (Jonathan, Thomas, Harald, Scott etc.) did an amazing job with all the constraints they have (tiny tiny team, Canonical being Gnome focused etc.) and with project Timelord they are on a great track.

    And to all the OSX fans: It is not like Snow Leopard is the first release of OSX. OSX is quite nice since Tiger, but only really great since Snow Leopard and that took them over a decade of total development time from a billion dollar company support.
    KDE does not have those resources and focus, but it is producing amazing reults and I am sure with Kinetic and QML (and Open Source SkypeUI 😉 KDE4 will rock more than anything for anybody (already does for me. I know it has been this way forever, but now the pieces fall together on all fronts, which hasn’t been the case so far (Kernel realtime, BtrFS, Gallium/OpenGL|CL, Qt 4.5 and 4.6, PulseAudio which will work someday )

    I for one am happy with what I have right now and I think it is a good bet for the future and yeah, I’m stubborn.

    PS. Too bad, you haven’t played with WebOS. I would still be interest in a long term usage verdict. Did it deliver or is it just average?

  43. Hey again, Tom. =:) Yeah, I totally agree. Jonathan, Thomas, and the rest do an absolutely phenomenal job with Kubuntu. Absolutely enjoying it, and they do a seriously good job at keeping up to date with KDE releases. And I’m really hopeful that PulseAudio actually will work someday. That would be swell and really important. =:)

    Mmm, well, I think part of the problem is that I’m working 100% from home now, so a mobile phone of any sort is really not something I use on a day-to-day basis. So finding the time to hack at all is hard to come by and motivation to hack on a phone that I use maybe 1 day a week is even harder. The phone itself is really, really nice, and WebOS is excellent. I don’t have any real complaints at this point. =:)

  44. @Jane: I wasn’t referring to you and… well I actually hadn’t read the whole thing, I started reading this out thinking it was just some random linux bashing.

    Well, this isn’t, and Jason is actually a KDE contributor, to my surprise. So giving a second opining, well yes, I do see those problems, specially the hardware issues.

    About linux’ very poor closed source applications, I think you all know the reason for it. You can’t expect that such a small market (little more then %1? maybe 2-3% max?) gets much attention from those developers. Fot that we need to go… so , changing my opinion, we do need users and we do need to hear their critique so we can grow stronger and better.

    Sorry if I was too harsh.

  45. I think you didn’t get all my points correctly. I’m really glad you found an operating system that makes you happy.

    But I think that some conclusions are strongly wrong!

    First of all, I didn’t mean that PulseAudio is broken. I just said I don’t need it and since it adds a lot of unnecessary complexity, I removed it. I did not tried to make it work or maybe it was already working, but Skype doesn’t work great with it according to some sites I’ve researched at the time.

    But I understand that it may be more powerful and I think it is great that some work is having being done on it. I just think that distributions didn’t have a strong reason to include PulseAudio by default. I don’t need PulseAudio but I guess some people will, so it is good that there is a better alternative to ALSA for those people.

    But I can only remember of sound issues related to Skype and Adobe Flash and I think both of them are bad written software.

    You think you know the reasons why Linux didn’t get popular, but I strong believe that your reasons are wrong. No operating system is perfect, currently. All of them (and other kind of softwares too) have tons of flaws and I must congratulate the open-source community for delivering generally higher quality software than proprietary alternatives, except from some rare cases…

    Take for instance the web development area, that is my main work. I don’t think there is some platform as good as Ruby On Rails out there. .NET? Java? PHP? Perl? None of them can be compared to Ruby on Rails. There is no company supporting Rails or Ruby. They are all community-driven and they are awesome work…

    I think there are a lot of reasons why Linux don’t get market share and I don’t think that having the sound system working instantly on any Linux would have any importance in making Linux increase its market share.

    Market share is important because of support. Both hardware support (drivers, etc) and software support (imagine “Microsoft Powerpoint for Linux”, or just Skype).

    But I am pragmatic. Linux community won’t change very much and I don’t think it needs to. I really like the freedom to choose everything: distribution, display manager, window manager, settings, etc. That is me, but I really like Linux because of this. Competition has proved to be very good with this respect.

    I really think that we should invest most of our energy on standards. In all aspects. The problem of closed source software (including drivers) is that you get a non reliable system. I have experienced some bugs with proprietary NVidia drivers, for instance. You will never know if there is some driver spying you also. You need to rely on the vendor. This is not a problem to me, since I rely on everyone but it is a problem on critical systems.

    On the other side, companies won’t be happy to spend time porting their software/driver for Linux and open their source so that other companies will take advantage of its investment.

    But certainly hardware vendors would like them to work on every operating systems and hardware platforms… That is where standards come to help.

    Everyone can use a pendrive or a hard-disk based video cam because they use USB and mass storage device, both well known standards. Manufacturers don’t need to spend their time to build drivers for them.

    We should invest our time in defining good standards for all kind of hardware, if we want greater market share. Also, if we developed advanced free open-source circuit schematics for all kind of hardware, new manufacturers would appear and drivers would already be available and products would be cheaper.

    This is a pragmatic approach that would work better than what have been trying until today. It certainly takes a lot of effort, but maybe we could get this in another way. Maybe the community could raise funds to buy some of these projects from well known good vendors and continue from there.

    From the software part, I don’t think it worths investing on a Flash Player alternative because HTML 5 is near with native video support from browsers, that will probably work much better (what else Flash Player is useful for, by the way?)

    In the Skype world, we need a really good open-protocol and reference software that worked at least on Linux, Mac and Windows. I must be really fancy and works spectacular to make users change from Skype, but this shouldn’t be so hard to achieve. We would also need a supporting company or funds for maintaining the servers and infrastructure.

    After all, when we have well defined standards, we should not need to care very much about market share. It wouldn’t care how many are using Linux, since it works for you and you can communicate equally well with another friend that is using Windows or Mac.

    Competition is good and I don’t want Windows or Mac to disappear. They should continue improving and pushing Linux forward as does Linux certainly does for the opposite.

    And I still believe that, although you are not inclined to admit, Ubuntu is really bad in integrating KDE and other kind of software. Ubuntu is really unstable as it is. You would enormously benefit from trying Debian unstable instead of Kubuntu. You have a bit more trouble to get things configured but once you get it is tremendously stable, which I couldn’t achieve with my recent experience with Ubuntu/Kubuntu.

    And differently from what someone has said, there is really no fundamental difference between Kubuntu and Ubuntu. The repository is absolutely the same and you can choose between Gnome or KDE in each of them with exactly the same result.

    And I want to state once more that I didn’t said that PulseAudio was broken. I said that its installation broke skype for some people and I don’t use it because I don’t need it.

  46. I can see where you are coming from to a certain degree. I have been using Linux for about ten years myself my first distro was Mandrake 5.3 and it was hard to install, video and the mouse would be screwed up after I got to the desktop, frequently sound wouldn’t work and I was quite confused and frustrated!BUT! It was so darn exciting! Tasting something new for the first time in years. the concept of OSS and the how interestingly different Linux and KDE 1.0 looked and worked really intrigued me! and I feel this way to this day, I simply cannot go back permanently to Windows and I have no interest in ANY Apple products.
    I just enjoy it for what it is and what it can do now and what it will do in the future.

  47. Jason, I agree 100% with your blog post, even though I predominantly use Linux. If more Linux users recognised or admitted that desktop Linux is far from perfect it would actually benefit the OS. Admitting something could be improved is not a sign of weakness or defeatism, it’s a sign of confidence.

  48. === Thoughts on Desktop Linux ===

    There are a lot of issues here. Lets look at them in turn.

    === Hardware ===
    With Apple you buy into a hardware platform. Apple controls everything from hardware all the way through to retail. The hardware that you pay a premium for is designed to work with the software and vice versa. The number of permutations of hardware that need to be supported is very much under control. Minimum quality of hardware is also under control. Support for older Mac hardware is eventually dropped my newer versions of OSX. This model works quite well.

    With Microsoft – They are the market, If hardware doesn’t “Just Work” with windows then that is the hardware manufacturers problem. Since hardware is a free market minimum hardware quality is really quite low – hardware problems can be worked over by producing drivers that work around the problems, whatever gets the product over the line. Typically when you buy into the Windows platform – windows comes with hardware designed for use with Windows. This model works quite well.

    With Linux – It is very hard to find hardware that is designed with linux in mind (in the desktop market anyway – server market is a different thing). Most people start with a random collection of hardware designed for Windows (or MacOS) and expect it all to “Just work”. Some hardware companies offer some level of linux support for their hardware. Some provide the necessary information to the linux guys to get their hardware to work with Linux. Many companies do not do either of these things In which case the hardware needs to be reverse engineered by a third party in this case low quality hardware can particularly be a probelm as hardware bugs make the reverse engineering conciderably more difficult.

    In the current market I can’t see Linux being able to realistically being able to take Apples or Microsofts Approach to hardware. Apples approach requires a conciderable amount of capital, and Microsoft is probably the largest barrier to another company taking Microsofts approach. Linux must find it’s own unique solution to the problem.

    I think one thing that could be done would be to create a Desktop Linux Reference platform. Such a thing would be intended primarily for OEMs and should indentify current hardware that should “just work” for Linux.

    How should linux tackle the hardware problem? How can we get hardware that is designed for Linux?

    === The Distro System ===
    This seems to be a natural outgrowth of the way that Linux works it has it’s advantages but also it’s problems. In particular software seems to be Source compatible but not nessesarily binary compatible between distros. This means when cross platform software project X releases a new release. Windows Users get a shiney new binary package that they can just install. MacOS users get a nice new shiney binary package that they can install and use. Linux users can either take the source code provided and build their own or wait until their distro packages the program (usually with the next distro upgrade). Most people are keen to upgrade to the latest versions of a few pieces of software that they use.

    I think there are a few solutions to this. The first is simply that a single distribution gains pretty much all the desktop market and that is what everybody ends up supporting (this is perhaps the most likely solution). The second solution is that all major distributions become binary compatible – there is a desktop version of Linux Standards Base that is supposed to address this but I am not holding my breath.

    A third solution I would propose is that we make building from source a lot easier. No harder in most cases for the user than hitting a button. With modern Computers and Hard-drives users can afford to have a compiler and header files installed. Source build systems like cmake should be able to pull dependencies into the system either also from source or from the distros native packaging system and be able to build to either a tarball or a native package format. Users shouldn’t be made to build everything from source but they should be able to build from source for updates they want and it shouldn’t be any more difficult for them than installing a binary package. (if Aaron reads this – a great small test case for something like this would be able to install source based plasmoids through getHotStuff since it would be relatively controlled).

    Can we make it so that a peice of software can be given to the user and they can just use it on any linux distro?

    === The Patchwork Quilt ===
    The Linux platform is the result of many independent software projects all being patched together into a whole. Each piece is ultimately replacable. This kind of flexibility is great however it does not replace the need for having at least one of each type of component that does everything that the user needs and those pieces that do work all need to be able to work together at the same time without any problems. The easiest way to do this is to choose only one of each and just support that – This I think is part of the reason that Ubunctu has been doing so well and why i support them only really supporting Gnome on the desktop even though I am a KDE user.

    What is stopping KDE from providing a desktop that is able to the things that the vast majority of users want to be able to do and do so reliably

    === Sound ===
    A couple of years ago I had a computer that had an integrated sound card that supported hardware mixing. Had this been my first linux Computer I would have never believed that there was a problem with Linux and sound. I could mix OSS apps with Arts (if I remember correctly) and alsa and even jack. The fact that were different incompatible sound systems didn’t really affect me. I suspect that a lot of early soundcards did support hardware mixing. Now I don’t think that onboard soundcards with hardware mixing actually exist. And well we are now stuck with multiple incompatible sound systems. In my case my current hardware is supported by jack and that’s it – the bad side of this is that it’s hell to set up proberly on *buntu and it limits what applications I can use. On the other hand the sound system is a lot more stable and manageable overall. The fact that I can run phonon on top of jack has been a huge help too (thankyou phonon developers)…

    Quite a few years ago now Apple completely cut backwards compatibility with all it’s audio systems forcing developers to rewrite those parts of their applications completely – the end result seems to be quite good. Would it be possible for Linux to do the same?

    Windows Vista and Windows 7 does not support hardware acceleration of soundcards. The reason for this was that the quality produced by most manufacturers was having a significant impact on the quality of the windows platform. Does ALSA support hardware acceleration should it perhaps not?

    === Kubuntu ===
    I use kubuntu and for the most part it works well for me (the part where I set up jack is the exception). I feel though that it is way too bleeding edge for most users though. I think the situation will improve as KDE 4 matures as a platform (the core is mostly there – we are still waiting for some of the applications though)….

    === Developer Man Hours ===
    I started using KDE around version 3.0 I was at least testig gnome before that since version 0.13… At that point the KDE ecosystem looked quite healthy, it seemed that a lot of people were producing components and applications, and the fact that this seemed fairly easy to do did make me exited. Today the situation doesn’t look so healthy – there seems for instance to be a lot less happening in kde-apps.org… How can KDE encourage more developers?

    === Linux is not Apple ===
    Being realistic Desktop Linux is not going to become like Apple. It resources and native strengths and weaknesses are very different. But that is to say that the current problems will most likely not be solved in the way that Apple solves these problems not that Linux shouldn’t look at what Apple is doing. Too much control over what Opensource programmers can and can’t do and they will leave and make something elsewhere. What does need to happen is that more concideration needs to be made for the whole experience not just each individual little component.

    What is the best way to go about al this?

  49. @Danni Coy: Hey there! Wow, man, you really made some nice suggestions and points. It’s going to take me a bit to re-read through it all and digest it. But I think I agree with most everything you said. The strength of Desktop Linux is its biggest problem: it moves too fast and is never “here” long enough to be stable for long-term 3rd party application developers, etc. Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for the time you put into your comments. Extremely well-written and thought out. =:)

  50. I’d like to see a greater emphasis on stability. Maybe not as fun but necessary. Then again too old of an kernel means poorer hardware support. Maybe a more conservative approach to changes would be in order. There are too many regressions between releases.

    Wish I could have an ubuntu upgrade go smoothly even once. Because of sound issues I upgraded and had other new show stopping bugs pop up. Apparently they were known for a long time before the release. Mandriva seems to be in a better state then kubuntu currently is. I had my 3g modem working in seconds with draknetcenter in kde which worked as well as ubuntu gnome networkmanager (wont work at all with kubuntu kde network manager). Suspend won’t work properly with mandriva tough. Also I’m used to the Debian way of doing things. Guess there’s always something.

    Still in my experience debian unstable is no where near as stable as ubuntu releases are. Testing maybe, but not unstable or experimental.

    I too use skype which didn’t work properly with jaunty. Getting everybody else to switch to ekiga isn’t an realistic option for me. I’ve tried.

    Still won’t be switching from linux any time soon. Don’t really like the competition any better, even when there are issues left to solve.

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