Still Not Ready for the Desktop? Stop Whining!

LOL Yet another argument over on about Linux originating in a whiny “it’s just for people who like tinkering” should be rebutted by a simple argument . . .

Ohhh . . . how I am getting fed up with this constant “Linux is just for hobbyists and tinkerers, it will never be a mainstream OS” bullshit . . . seriously, folks, I run Mageia Linux (currently version 4) on all of my three machines and I have little by way of complaints.

After seeing yet another set of whining comments over on OSNEWS, I really had to respond. And I think this response is important because it relates to the usefulness of OSes generally: Go with whatever suits you and gets your job done. Everything else is just hot air. Really. Start off with whatever version of Micro$haft floats your boat, if that is all you want. But if you stay with them each release, eventually you will run into problems. Already, with version 7.x, long-time customers were beginning to run into difficulties with older software which they needed to run for business or other purposes, then M$ decided to shaft them a little further by trying to turn their desktops into tablets with a touch-oriented UI.

Ditto with file formats. As if it were not irritating enough that M$ forced the execrable “ribbon” on the Great Unwashed, they also brought another format – *.docx – to term when it would be debatable that such a thing should be needed at all. The effects of these things are just what you would expect from a monopolising commercial entity.

After using virtually all versions of Windoze except 1.0 and the latest, I had already given up the fight long ago and moved over to a new distribution of Linux with a Windoze-like UI in the form of KDE. It is snappy on all of my machines and doesn’t get in the way of whatever I want to do, and it has a range of tools for manipulating all kinds of filetypes, mainly for free but I have repeatedly installed SoftMaker Office and had almost no trouble at all.

People seem to become very defensive when their choice of OS is questioned, never mind disparaged; there seems to be a substantial emotional investment in these things, which I am tempted to think is quite unnecessary. I think that at its core, this is really a Micro$haft problem. I say this because those who venture into the heady realms of Apple, Linux, BSD and others do so precisely because their experience with Windoze pushes them there. The constant frustration of trying to maintain a system in the face of so many attacks from the various forms of malware alone is truly enough to make anyone throw up their hands in despair and scrub the hard drive. It makes them think that there must be something different “out there”.

Whether “different” equates with “better” is debatable, but one constant problem with the computing space is lack of training or experience. For most people, for better or worse, the first computing experience is usually Windoze. People therefore become accustomed to whatever file formats or unique quirks come with that experience and for them, these features become “normal”. And indeed, they are normal – for Windoze. But you should be able to manipulate the same filetypes across a range of platforms without hindrance or glitch. You should be able to open a document file using a word processor under (say) Linux and pass it over to Windoze and have no formatting or other issues. An OS should be in the background and all of these functions should be managed by whatever program you are using. So I should be able to originate (say) a *.doc file on a Mac, edit it on some flavour of Linux and display it without deformation using Windows. Otherwise, the level of leverage exercised by any one platform would essentially constitute an attempt at hegemony and we would expect something like this from a commercial entity. Who is most guilty of this?

So having used and being still in the use of several platforms, I would say there is only one important principle here: Use whatever suits you. Use whatever gets the job done. Other peoples’ thoughts are not important. Make decisions based upon your own needs, wants and judgements. Maybe some flavour of Windows suits you but if Mac, Linux or something more exotic do the job equally well, why worry about it? You demonstrated to your own satisfaction, already, that you have everything that you need. But being prepared to be flexible of mind and willing to learn when you are presented with a possibly rather steep learning curve, and not giving up, will make you more the master of your chosen platform than fees paid to some snotty repair person ever will.

The accusation is often levelled at Linux that it is somehow “not ready for the desktop”. This is hogwash; it has been a perfectly functional “desktop” for years – I currently run it on my main machine, an ageing laptop and a reconditioned Samsung netbook and I can tell you straight, problems are virtually ZERO. Zilch, nada, zed. Got that? I am sitting here now with XP Pro virtualised on an Intel Core Duo, updating and then scanning with SpyBot while (on the host OS, Mageia Linux 4) surfing the ‘Net and preparing the text of this latest blog using the Leafpad text editor. I have a huge selection of software and due to circumstances discussed in previous blogs, have learned to make use of many of them for the preparation of different types of documents.

By the time I came to Korea, I had already arrived at the point of building my own PCs. It was therefore only a matter of time before I started to experiment, first with Mandrake/Mandriva, then with Mageia. I have seriously never looked back. I now realise that I am not tied to any one platform, but have a choice; and that the usefulness of older hardware in particular can be extended by the choice of platform. I can prepare teaching materials without having to spend a shedload of money for programs and best of all, I can use Mageia in English whereas M$ would have me struggle in Korean or some other language without good reason. And it’s completely free. No overheads, either in terms of time or memory usage, lost to protecting the system from malware, which is almost entirely Windoze-based in any case.

Perhaps the single most useful thing about using Mageia is that it simply does not get in the way. Free software such as Libre Office, VLC Player, various web browsers and other programs, which have been ported to different platforms, means that it is possible to manipulate and display files across platforms for free and without any problems, so what part of this is “not ready for the desktop”? Windoze is “ready for the desktop” and it uses the same software, so . . ?

Frankly, this pointless trolling about whether a particular platform is or is not “ready” or otherwise appropriate is a red herring; it all comes down to the user and the extent of their ability and willingness to learn. The computer is a servant, a versatile tool to do the owner’s bidding, it is not there to somehow run the owner’s life; how useful it is is up to you. When I first installed XP Pro on the original machine that I built here in Changwon, there was simply no way that it could be described as “ready for the desktop”, because it came with absolutely zero useful software. Got that? Oh sure, there were things like video editing software, but in those days I didn’t even have a useful camera to use with it. My Linux installation came of age, however, when I bought a new webcam and the system detected it immediately. From that moment, Windoze was dead on my desktop. I could run Skype on Linux, finally, with video! Windoze was legacy software!

So the message of my experience seems to be that adherence to a single platform is limiting. A competent computer user should be able to prepare and alter documents on any platform through a combination of key bindings and machine empathy, so let’s can the stupid “not ready for the desktop” shit. It’s time for these whiners to graduate from the playground!