back to article Choice breeds complexity for Linux desktop

The success of the Everex gPC this month raises once again the possibility that Linux can make inroads into the desktop market. In stock at Walmart, initial sales of the gPC caused panic on a scale comparable to the recent stock market panic. Not only has the gPC sold well - it has also proved popular. It helps that gPC ticks …


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  1. Charles Manning

    "Does everything" does not apply to applications

    It is only really the kernel that "does everything". The phone applications are different from the desktop/supercomputer applications. Even the command line tools (ls, echo etc) are typically different: GNU vs Busybox.

    Fragmentation across platforms (phones vs desktops) is not much of a problem. Fragmentation within a platfform is much more of a problem, with two main fragmentation issues:

    * Distro configuration differences: These make it very difficult to deliver add-on binaries, drivers etc. Installing printer drivers is a real pain when different distros use different printer configuration methods. Installing USB devices is a pain when different distros use different usb handling.

    * Dilution of effort: Instead of having a choice of 10 applications that are 80% there, I'd rather have the choice of 2 applications that are 99% there.

  2. The Avangelist
    Thumb Up

    I would use Linux Desktop at the drop of a hat

    If you could comfortably get Adobe's back catalogue, solid wireless drivers, winamp and a dvd player running I would drop windows like a lead balloon.

    I downloaded the latest desktop ubunto release at the weekend and it really whoops the ... penguins ass.

  3. uniXbomber
    Gates Horns

    collateral software

    Users are more adaptable to changing environments than they use to be. The #1 complaint I hear, even from adults, is the lack of games for the linux environment. I happily point to the many quality games available in linux but todays games are all Massive-Multi-player-Online cyberworlds and these people want to connect to the same game that all their friends are in. They don't want to fight with an emulator and settle for a partially functioning game client. Some of these online worlds such as Secondlife and eve-online, to name a few, have answered the call and released native linux game clients, but more developers need to step up and support linux as a valid platform and not just a windows emulator. People what to hear that all the software that they want will run on linux, not that all the software they want has something similar in linux.

  4. Martin Lyne

    All you need

    If games ran smoothly with no need for extra things to be done to a basic install then I think more gamers would turn to Linux. Or if Microsoft improved their piracy protection. Or if you could actually buy machines with it installed that had a noticeably lower price, possibly bundled with a Win/Lin translation guide. Get the seeds planted at least.

  5. Jason Togneri

    Linux always misses the obvious.

    The obvious being: whether or not your "average, casual home/business user" is a computer-illiterate moron, the fact is that he/she wants a system with minimum technical setup and maintenence, and regardless of the technical aspects under the bonnet, it's Windows which presents this image. Maybe there's a Linux distro out there that "just works" out of the box as well as Windows (and I've yet to find it), but if there is, that concept hasn't been passed across to the unwashed masses. As much as it is about technicalities, security, and streamlined code, it's also about image and automation. "We" don't have the time or skill to fiddle with it - we just want to press a button and have it do whatever it's sold as, without worrying about dependencies and CLIs for doin' stuff.

  6. Will Hill

    That's Silly Spin.

    I'm always amazed when people turn good news into predictions of failure. The successful use of GNU/Linux in varied applications proves that it's easier to develop for, not that it's more complicated and doomed to fail. Everex's success with gOS proves that useful computers can be made more cheaply with free software than with non free. There will be more of this, not less.

  7. Syren Baran

    Not really true

    "It is not only fragmentation. Linux is also in danger of becoming the operating system that "does everything"."

    I think we´re talking about the kernel here, that runs pretty much everywhere. Pretty good thing i would say. While the kernel looks very different, depending what device you compile it for, all the features and drivers exist over all devices.

    But i think we want to talk about the OS.

    "While such broad flexibility could be a good thing, and will be welcomed by enthusiasts, it complicates development of Linux in the world of desktop software..."

    Now this is a bit wierd. I dont know how you define "Linux desktop software". I know GTK-apps and KDE-apps. Usually all of these can be developed and compiled on every Linux-distro. Or Solaris. Or BSD. Or Windows (with the appropriate libraries).

    The only complication i can see is deploying applications in binary form.

  8. Martin Owens
    Thumb Down

    Thoughts from within

    Being involved in the community development process it seems that there is a big push towards not duplicating effort. Although being fork friendly is inbuilt by design because it allows the overthrowing of the dominant evil doers when they inevitably become evil from power. Instead of torvalds has also said the community with a power to fork keeps the project dictator honest.

    Same goes for the distros, this is a market of competition and it shows. The fedora community want to beat Ubuntu, openSuSE wants more users from PCLinuxOS and this pushes the technology of packaging and distribution forwards.

    The FOSS community isn't the fastest way to get software, evolution was never this picky about time scales. Yet the results it provides are much more solid.

  9. Don Mitchell


    You state that linux is behind windows for political reasons. I don't think you get it if you still think this is about some kind of conspiracy and not about market forces.

    Many regular users are interested in having a rich choice of applications, and windows is tops in that area, with Mac coming in second. In talking with people who are linux enthusiasts, its pretty clear that many of them are motivated by political, not technical reasons. They run linux as a protest against the commercial software industry, or to feel part of the politcial mass movement if open source (see for example Eric Hoffer's writings on the psychology of mass movements). Technologically, linux is not more sophisticated than the NT family of operating systems, even if you are a user who plans to program and exploit the API of your system.

    If a professional programmer has an idea for a new application, they are going to develop it for the largest market, which is windows. They might take the extra time and effort to port it to the Apple platform, for an extra 5 or 10 percent. And porting it to linux only gets them only another 1 or 2 percent, with the extra risk of the program just being copied and distributed without payment. When Carmack ported DOOM to linux years ago, he only sold a handful of copies and the rest were distributed by file sharing. You also risk being sued by Stallman's minions if you accidently violate one of the hundreds of different licenses lurking on scripts and libraries and include files used to compile your product on linux.

    There is also a long standing attitude problem in the "hacker" community. They are contemptuous of regular users. You only have to look at the hacker lingo to see terms like "luser" and "point and drool interface" to see what their attitude is toward anyone who is not "elite". Given that attitude and a lack of connection with customers, should you be surprised that linux applications are so far behind? Many in the academic and hacker community are jealous of the market share of Windows, but they don't actually care about the needs of customers, they just wish they owned that turf and had the attention.

  10. Oliver Wilson

    Choice is a Good Thing

    I don't understand this article at all; am I missing something?

    It seems to be of the opinion that GNU/Linux ought to be a nice friendly shrink-wrapped OS that granny can take home, but diversity amongst developers & lack of central control somehow hampers this otherwise easily-attainable goal.

    Frankly, I *don't care* if Windoze users think our operating system is too complex / inaccessible for them. I don't imagine that when RMS started writing bits of GNU, or Torvalds was tinkering with Minix, they were thinking "gee if this free unix lark takes off, that'll really stiff Bill".

    Diversity & choice are precisely *why* it's a good OS. If the author thinks that choice necessarily leads to complexity, he's entitled to his opinion, but I don't see how GNU/Linux is any more/less complex than the average Windows/MacOS box, especially after they get laden with badly written 3rd party crap.

    In fact, if you want to talk about supposedly complex systems and the unforeseen interactions/behaviours they exhibit, then I've got four words for you: BSOD.

  11. Mike Laverick


    Comments like

    "Although being fork friendly is inbuilt by design because it allows the overthrowing of the dominant evil doers when they inevitably become evil from power. Instead of torvalds has also said the community with a power to fork keeps the project dictator honest."

    Is the kind of stuff that people regard as a political. I once asked a lInux guy for some help. He made me feel like some evil stooge of Bill Gates for using Windows. He hardly knew me. But really laid in. I'm not the kind of guy to make snap decisions on personalities. But it was definitely off putting. As far as I can tell most Windows users, hate windows with a passion. But there use is not based on idelogical commitment - but a practical recognition that advantages outway the disadvantages....

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Gaming on Linux

    Well, World of Warcraft works fine on Linux. That's all I need.

  13. Morely Dotes

    I predict that Vista will be released years late!

    "A recent report from Forrester forecasts 2008 as the year when Vista - not Linux - will start to erode the current dominance of Windows XP. Forrester estimates that about 40 per cent of corporate users in the USA and Europe will have moved to Vista by the end of next year."

    Well, gee whiz, how hard is that to predict? 2008 is the year when Microsoft says they will *stop selling* XP. If the only Windows that's available on OEM PCs is Vista, guess what corporate buyers will choose?

    Now, the day Dell announces that buyers will have a choice on *all* new Dell PCs between Vista and Ubuntu is the day we'll find out if Microsoft can compete against the world of free (as in beer) software.

  14. Darren7160
    Thumb Up

    Not because it is cool...

    Which, if I think about it, it is... but that isn't the reason I am running Ubuntu-64 on my shiny new laptop. I am running it because I am tired of every new computer I ever buy not being "quite enough" to run the latest and greatest operating system from MS. It seems that I am always behind the curve unless I am willing to pay a couple of hundred more than I am willing to pay.

    My $500 Acer 5100 chokes on Vista! With a dual core Athalon, 1 gig of memory and I am sitting here watching my HD light more than I am the screen. So, I load up Ubuntu and WOW. I can access the internet, get my e-mail, and do just about everything else I want at blazing speeds.

    Hopefully as more computer companies load Linux on their computers the customer will not have to worry about drivers for wireless adapters, graphics cards, etc.

    Then as we get more users we can start getting support from hardware vendors to support Linux.

    Hey. Now that I think about it... it is COOL to be able to run my laptop instead of watching the HD light.

  15. Glen Turner

    Linux and new applications

    Someone wrote:

    If a professional programmer has an idea for a new application, they are going to develop it for the largest market, which is windows. They might take the extra time and effort to port it to the Apple platform, for an extra 5 or 10 percent

    That's an odd view. I can think of only two non-game applications of recent times which have required binary programs on the user's PC -- Skype and Google Earth. Both have Linux ports. All of the other recent massively successful applications have been web-based (Facebook, MySpace, Google Maps, etc) or have simply released specs and let the Linux community write their own clients. Web-based makes sense from the programmer's financial point of view, since the programmer can capture the full value of the program and the initial distribution price of the product is low.

    Of course, the operative lie is "non-game". Buying a Linux box means no computer games. Perhaps not a problem for a household that also owns a console, and certainly not a consideration when buying a machine that barely has enough grunt to display a pixel, let alone move it.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    hi there, i'm a software engineer

    and even I can't be bothered to learn how to use linux. I know it is supposedly technically superior, I know that it can work very well when set up correctly - but I don't want to have to download the f'ing code and build the _whatever_ because I haven't got the daily build from the wiki page or the particular version of the binary. I could write my own drivers if I wanted but I don't because I want to use scanner or a printer or a pda or a wierd usb weather device from China - and play a game immedately with the latest nVidia/ATI drivers. I work hard, I work long hours, I earn my money and I want to use the gaming rig I built myself to its full potential. As soon as I can do that with linux, I'm there.

  17. Phil

    re: gaming on linux - WOW

    I love Linux but it simply is no where near where it needs to be for the average user (computer illiterate)

    Anonymous Coward says that WOW runs fine on Linux. I don't doubt it does, BUT,

    Was it a matter of installing a linux distro and everything worked.

    Clicking on say Nvidias driver page and running a simple install to get the graphic drivers to work, putting in the WOW DVD and running a setup program?

    Or did it go something along the lines of, you install a Linux distro, then find out you had to spend ages working out how to get the correct monitor details into xorg.conf to get your desktop running at the required res, then find out you needed the kernel headers installed in order to get the nvidia drivers to install correctly, then have to install and configure wine in order to run your WOW.

    Only then you find out that the sound doesn't work properly and realise that in order for you to get sound, you have to move various mixer sliders that bear no resemblance to what the average windows user expects to find when using a sound mixer. If your lucky, your end up with stereo sound for your game. If your unlucky, you've realised you spend top dollar on the latest X-fi card only to find extremely limited Linux support that only a few people (that know what their doing) manage to get working.

    Bearing in mind most average computer users I know, panic at the thought of having to upgrade their XP graphics drivers.......

  18. manasclerk

    I'm an idiot who's using Linux desktops

    I'm an idiot (duly noted by all the programmers I've worked with) and I have run my entire house on Linux desktops, now interspersed with Mac OS (including OS 9). I'm running Mepis and found that the "between Mepis releases" updating and installation of software to be a breeze. It's actually easier than on my MacBook. The initial installation was a breeze, and has gotten better as time went on. I bought a Playstation to game on, so I never really missed the games.

    So you don't have to be a technical whizz to run Linux on your desktops and laptops any more.

  19. Mike Street

    Give it a Try

    A lot of the anti-Linux comments are way out of date. It's like complaining that Windows ME is rubbish - it just isn't like that any more.

    The difference is, most user never install Windows, so of course they think it's easy. I have, many times, and it wasn't. YMMV. I don't find Ubuntu Linux any harder to install than XP, maybe easier. I haven't tried to install Vista.

    And Ubuntu forums, at least, are very patient with new ex-Windows users. I know some others aren't, but then some advanced Windows forums don't treat noobies too kindly either.

    What may save Windows in the end, curiously, is Open Source Software. MS OSs & applications are increasing in price, but you can get Open Office for Windows (for example) for free which saves a bundle over MS Office. If MS improve their licence checking, and I hope they do, fewer users will be able to run cracked versions of their software and will go OSS for the applications instead.

    I didn't want to be illegal, I didn't want to pay MS prices, so I am on Ubuntu. It's not perfect, but it is very usable.

  20. Jean-Luc
    Paris Hilton

    Good point about easy-to-care-for basic box

    I agree that the future of Linux is more likely to be found in the PC-for-grandma space in the near term. I've just moved my desktop to Ubuntu and it is a breeze to install software and keep the system updated. That's because it is an apt-based distro. Apt deals seamlessly with all prerequisites. Kinda like a system & applications-wide Windows Update that works, minus the reboot nagging. Very, very smooth, totally unlike what people associate with Linux configuration work. Kudos to the Ubuntu community!

    It would also definitely help if some of the Linux enthusiasts could get that giant chip offa their shoulders. Freedom in software also means freedom to choose Windows, if you so desire. Try being nice to us poor benighted Windows slobs, for a change. If you don't know how to, try emulating some of your more polite brethren's helpful postings.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Freedom anyone ?


    I think there is something missing in most of the commentaries, some of you will call it the political bias but in fact it is mostly a philosophical one.

    This all Linux thing is about freedom, freedom of choice mostly, that is why if you choose to run windows or os X, it is fine with me and with most of the community, I agree there are zealots, but then you can find them everywhere.

    There are so much uninformed comments in this thread, it is difficult to debunk them all, I'll just try to adress two of them:

    First of all, unless you want the latest drivers from NVidia, they will be available in your distribution's packages, you will just get a message stating that since this is a proprietary driver, the community will not be able to support it.

    The second one is about the support you can get, in fact it is second to none, most of the participants are willing and able to help you even on very technical subjects, of course it will be very easy to find a lot of counter-examples, but most of the time the problem comes from the user unable to ask the correct question: "My sound is not working" is not very indicative of the problem, so there are further questions which are asked and responded to.

    I understand perfectly that coming from a Windows background, some people expect to just put some kind of drivers disc in the cd-rom reader and click next a few times, but it just does not work like that in Linux; either all your hardware is detected and functionnal straight out of the box (so to speak) which is the vast majority of cases, or you have to digg a bit further and then the community kicks in and will resolve most of your problems.

    There are also some material which just don't work at all under Linux, that's why there are huge hardware databases which will tell you wheter your material is supported or not.

    But once again all of this is about personnal choice, if you feel more confortable with Windows or OS X that's fine, if you want to take the Linux road it's fine also.

    A final note I run 150 seats all under Linux (thin client based with RDP access to the few remaining windows applications) all by myself and none of my users has any technical background (we are a local government administration), how many windows sysadmins would be required to do the same with fat clients? I don't really know but my gut's feelings is : a lot more!

    Have a nice day

  22. Hugh Cowan
    Thumb Up

    Ubuntu forever.....!

    You can say what you like about Linux but at the end of the day I use it for what I want and don't waste time checking for viruses and Spyware. I use XP at work and it is so slow and unresponsive compared to Ubuntu.

  23. JamesH

    Friendly vs unfriendly

    Just for background, I run Windows and Linux at work. Linux (and my partners Windows) at home,and I write software for embedded platforms, the latest of which is Linux.

    I've been impressed with the latest Ubuntu, it installed easily at home, recognised my USB wireless adapter, and was generally easier to install than the Windows with its USB wireless adapter. Excellent. Nice one Ubuntu.

    It still isn't granny friendly enough though. I have problems setting up Bugzilla - its all very well proclaiming the benefits of the apt system, but you still needed to trawl the instructions to get configuraton files set up correctly. OK, so Bugzilla is a techie app, but its not the only app out there that requires a little extra work.

    As for community help - I think there have been improvements - at one point, the equally balanced Linux gurus (a chip on both shoulders) were doing the whole community a massive disservice with their attitude. It's getting better though, unlike the documentation, which as a devleoper, really sucks big time, and where, although not perfect, the Windows world has a big lead. Its not surprising - I don't like writing docs - but I get paid to do it, unlike most open source developers, who have better things to do with their unpaid time than write docs.

    Anyway, got a Scrum meeting now. In precis - its getting better all the time, but now quite there yet.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Complexity isn't too much of a problem

    If flash and nvidia and ati can have a unified installers when it has to integrate with various browsers and linux systems I doubt complexity is the issue.

    The problem is apps. Linux does the complex IT stuff really well - hence it does well at the back-end where there is expertise and people expect complexity. It also does well in embedded where the functionality has been tightly defined and a lot of effort put into shielding the user from complexity. It also does well at the OS level - I much prefer KDE to windows as a gui.

    Where it falls down is the non-IT apps. Games are a case in point. WoW might work but what about Lineage2? Most non-IT people don't use the OS very much, they use apps, so they don't care how good the OS or the gui is. What they do care about is whether they can use their apps easily. If a single game or a particular piece of tax software or photoshop doesn't work, it makes sense to switch OS so you can get the job done.

    Most people just aren't very price sensitive so paying for patent-encumbered software isn't a problem for them. Perhaps when DRM becomes more prevelant they might change their minds.

    Personally I love linux - but, I have to have windows as well because my company's vpn software is windows-only. An online game I play is also windows only and even if it did run under wine I would probably still run windows natively for performance and game stability.

    I see games as key, since games are what get computer systems into homes (despite parent's good intentions). Personally I suspect having a good directx compatible interface available would be more useful to games writers than a complete windows emulation environment. Its relatively easy to re-do file access for a different platform but re-writing for a different graphics and sound system is much harder. We need to make porting easy, not remove the need to port software - that was OS2's mistake.

  25. andy rock

    @phil RE: re: gaming on linux - WOW

    "Clicking on say Nvidias driver page and running a simple install to get the graphic drivers to work"

    yes, i imagine it was. that's what i do. that's what pretty much everybody who uses the non-free drivers does. IT JUST WORKS. the _graphical_ config utility does all the fiddly bits for you once you've installed them.

    i suspect if you have got experience of said binary drivers, it's from a loooong time ago when they were a bitch to install.

  26. Robert Long

    @Don Mitchell

    I've been using Linux for all my Desktops for years now and I can assure you that Linux developers have a lot less contempt for users than Microsoft has.

    Most Linux (and most Mac) developers at least do care about the quality of their output. I'd rather that than any number of empty, but oh-so-user-friendly, promises from Bill Gates.

  27. Chewy


    As Mike Street says installing Ubuntu is no more difficult than installing XP, if anything it was quicker as the XP region settings aren't as simple as they should be. The only thing I ever had issues with were wireless drivers but that has also been the case with XP because of sloppy 3rd party drivers (BSOD). One thing that favours Ubuntu et al is that I don't have to do the massive patching I do under XP.

    I'm not attacking Microsoft as some things they do very well (.Net framework etc) but its an outdated view that you have to compile Linux applications yourself - something I've never had to do thanks to Ubuntu.

  28. Mr C

    to Jason Togneri and others

    People there isn't just Ubuntu around,there are others like Linux Mint ,it's comes with everything out of the box,with all codecs,nvidia graphic cards.No need to install anything extras.Why are you people complaining that is so difficult to install stuff on Linux .Windows also doesn't have everything out of the box either,tell me can you watch Youtube,watch divx,avi and ddv's out of the box on windows?No,ther you also have to intall it separatly.So stop bashing Linux with that Anti-Linux talk.Of course you can't get everything running on Linux also because it's free software and Open Source.If the same programs for Windows wouldn't be closed source ,i am sure most of them could to be ported to Linux as Open Source

  29. MacroRodent

    Red herring

    Article: "A quick scan of a Distrowatch more than illustrates the simple point - yes I know I like Linux - but which version?"

    Oh please. Sure there are thousands of distributions, but 99% of them don't really matter for compatibility, since they are used by a small niche (many by little more than its creator and his friends) and a beginner is unlikely to encounter them, or they are minor variants or clones of one of the major distros (Red Hat, Suse, Debian, Ubuntu) and thus compatible with its "parent".

  30. Carlie J. Coats, Jr.

    Re "hi there, i'm a software engineer"

    And I'm a software systems architect. I don't want your narrowmindedness working on any of my projects.

  31. Phil

    @Andy Rock

    If they've improved that much then great, a good step in the right direction. I run Gentoo myself so haven't had any recent first hand experience of one of the popular installs.

    That said, a good friend recently commented (Aug 2007) that he has spent the last week trying to get "mandriva linux spring free 64 bit" working.

    He said, "Seems the retail versions (with discovery pack) have the updated Nvidia drivers installed, the free downloadable versions seem to come with generic ones? (which don't allow the 3D desktop or graphics acceleration to work?? )

    That's a full day and a half spent trying to install drivers using command line interface, for some reason beyond me... after a lot of googling I found instructions yet the required commands in "root" seem unavailable?"


    Linux has superior applications

    Like GIMP, Audacity, OpenOffice, XINE, mplayer, Kino, and thousands of others. And of course Firefox, VLC Media Player, Blender. But you can get the latter 3 on Windows, too.

    Forgot t o mention they are free and automatically updated.

  33. Robert Belcher

    Reality check

    Hi, I'm a "family support engineer". Nobody ever calls to say that their Windows/Linux/Mac OS (and there is one of each in a rather extended family) isn't working! They all say "Hey my computer dosen't work. It worked yesterday". And they all call!

  34. Richard Lloyd

    Legacy library support is often poor

    One thing that's bugged me for a while about Linux is that all the major distros seem to have a policy of only providing current libraries and "legacy" (old) libraries going back only one major release!

    With the speed of Linux development, this can mean that installing a Linux a mere 18 months later can mean that some of your older software will at the very least need recompiling or at worst (no source code?) won't work at all.

    Although now very much a niche player, HP's UNIX (HP-UX) had it right - if they ever shipped a shared library with an OS release, they would *always* ship that library in future releases, even if only a few apps from 5 or 10 years ago used it (yes, you even get X11R4 shared libraries with the very latest HP-UX).

    I think this is one of the big issues for Linux ISVs and why they are indeed hesitant about entering the Linux market. Yes, one workaround is to link against archive libraries, but you'd be surprised how few apps out there do...

  35. Andrei Bujaki

    "...does not apply to applications By Charles Manning"

    What is really funny for your post regarding fragmentation of linux platforms is that almost sure you never used or tried a linux distribution .The so called fragmentation does not exist or exist in some minds .All ~ 200 distros use the same GNU toolkit and in almost 90% of their aspects are identical.You will find that first time when you will study a program source code a tar.gz.In about 10 years of day by day use of linux i never founded a single aplication what does not work in any distro .

  36. lucmars

    gOS is still a desktop

    The emphase about Google apps is just a wise marketing as well as the emphase about iTunes. At a first glance there're three keys explaining this success story:

    - targets the hype apps and devices

    - cheap

    - still a computer (not a diskless or a thin client)

    Nonetheless gOS is a desktop.

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