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Is Linux Ready for Desktop?


Over the years, this question is raised again and again. AFAIK last year was declared as "Linux Desktop Year" (or is it current year?). I got a nice baseball cap from Novell on LinuxWorld San Francisco, which says "Your desktop is ready." Recent additions to Linux desktop includes nice visual effects, similar to those in latest Mac OS X and Windows Vista. KDE is celebrating 10 years of existence.

If you search for "linux ready for desktop" on Google it will tell you there are about 15 million pages on that topic--some telling it is ready, some telling it is not. So, where is the truth?

In this case, truth is very subjective. As the Russian proverb says, "what is good for Russian is death for German"--a colorful equivalent of "tastes differ." For me personally, Linux on the desktop was ready a long time ago, and Windows on a desktop was never ready for me. Let me tell you why.

I have been using Linux since about 1996-1997; it was an ancient Slackware distribution with kernel 1.0.9 installed on a i486 box with 16MB of RAM. I remember using X Window, IceWM as a window manager, Netscape for local intranet and email, and of course terminal, vim, and Midnight Commander. My biggest problem was inability to use the IDE CD-ROM drive, because that kernel didn't support it. I solved it by switching to the 1.1.50 development kernel.

By that time, I started to realize the "cultural" difference between Linux and Windows. Windows was (and still is, to my mind) a "we-tuned-it-for-you" software, with (mostly) good defaults and an easy learning curve, but with a severily limited capability to change anything or to see how things are working behind the curtain (like a black box). Linux was more of a DIY, a Lego style--stick the pieces together and you get what you want if you have enough construction skills. Change it in any place from the top to the bottom, and see how it works on any level.

Another allegory is appropriate here. Windows is a standard mass-production house where you can change the color of walls or perhaps a floor coating. Linux is the house which you have to build yourself, but make it roofless or perhaps underwater if you like to.

Now, after 10 years, this difference is diminished. Windows has more options and tunables, Linux comes preconfigured with a lot of "default" settings. Still, there is much more freedom in how you set up your Linux box, compared to Windows. And that's what I like on my desktop. After ten years, I'm still using the same window manager--IceWM--because I can configure it in a way that's convenient for me, not for the average Joe that Microsoft interface designers have in mind.

I haven't touched the subject of available software. In short--the situation is always improving, and currently pretty much every app I need is available for my platform of choice.

I'll tell you in later posts why Windows is (still?) not ready for me...


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