Monday, July 14, 2008

Where Linux is the Weakest

I'm a hardy supporter of Linux based OSes, but I recognize there are certain weakness that keep those interested away from using as their standard OS. Here is my list of the main weaknesses of Linux on the Desktop.

It seems to me the main weakness is in the application arena. This, though, is a definite improvement from a couple of years ago - where a great deal of hardware didn't work, and if it did it often had to be configured by hand after scouring internet forums. Now, its pretty easy to get Linux distributions like Ubuntu up and running without problem or incident on many a laptop and desktop. In fact, recently it has been my experience that it is quite a bit easier than getting XP working from scratch. If you have a SATA hard-drive and you've misplaced your old hardware drivers, then good luck!

I also don't think the Linux Desktop looks shoddy, cluttered, and/or too techie anymore. The Standard Gnome or KDE interface is slick and streamlined, and few distributors feel the need to clutter up the menus with hundred of applications. Rather, by using best of the breed software, distributions like Ubuntu or Mandriva feel intuitive and well integrated.

So, as I was saying, the main weakness seems to be the available software. Now I'm not talking about the fact that Windows users have grown used to a certain set of software that they like. This of course is a problem in adopting Linux, but at least my experience has been that there is a whole new group of software to adopt and fall in love with. One of the easiest ways to help a Windows user transition is by promoting that they use cross-platform software in their daily use. So they should consider using OpenOffice.org, Thunderbird (I wish there were a decent Evolution port), Firefox, Pidgin, VLC, etc. Once they get used to this, then the transition will be much easier. Nonetheless this will only help so far. Here are the main software limitations as I see them.


Audio / Video editing software.

Being able to edit audio and video is essential nowadays. Youtube has given everyone an opportunity to present their creations to the world, and its obvious that an OS should not stand in their way. But Linux applications do not seem to be up to standard in this regard. Here are some examples:

Audacity - This is a great little program, and the fact that it works on both Windows and Linux has given it a great deal of exposure in both markets. But it is a fairly simple application without a great deal of features. That's fine as far as it goes - keep it simple stupid - but in my experience its really the only viable option for the linux user. Yes, I know, there are other applications out there (like Ardour, Jokosher, ReZound, Sweep, etc.), but I've found these to either be buggy, hard to use, or incomplete. The main problem with Audacity, though, is that it doesn't work with Pulseaudio - now a standard in many modern distributions. Its nearly unusable on my Ubuntu Hardy machine. In fact, when I want to edit audio, I install the Windows version of Audacity on Wine in order to get it to play well on my system! Not ideal!!

Ardour - Its professional powerhouse programs like this that linux needs! Very impressive and very full featured, but it doesn't have the capacity to import mp3 or ogg files (though ogg import is coming). If I were a professional audio editor, then maybe I wouldn't be trying to edit mp3 or other compressed file formats. But I'm not, and if I want to snip out a clip of an mp3, then I wouldn't want to use this program.

Now moving on to video...

LiVES - Looks like it could become a really good program, but its not their yet. It crashes a lot, and sometimes crashes so hard that it takes down my X server. This really pissed me off because I had a document in the backgroud that I hadn't saved in like 20 minutes, and all my edits were lost. So see if I try this program any time soon again.

Cinelerra - This is the best that Linux has to offer. Its very full-featured, but it is VERY unuserfriendly. I don't want to have to read a 200 page manual to make some quick edits to a video file I have. I want it to be fairly obvious. But I gave up.

Kino - Straitforward interface, but not very featureful. If all you want is to chop up a clip or attach a couple then this works well, but if you want to do anything more you probably want to look elsewhere.

Kdenlive - Looks like it might fit the niche that I want (avoiding the overly complex and the overly simple), except that I can't get it started on my Ubuntu Hardy box. It crashes as soon as the window opens. Oh well.

Gaming

This one keeps a lot of people I know back. Its a known problem, though, and I'm not sure I have anything interesting to say here. I think the great games will come to Linux once we have a significant market share.

Clunkyness

You know how some apps just feel clunky? They work (maybe even work well), but are not a pleasure to use... well, I'm thinking of three very important Linux apps:

OpenOffice.org - Having a pleasing office suite is essential if Linux is to be a viable alternative, and OpenOffice.org is by far the best we've got. And its pretty damn good. But it just does'n feel good to use it. Mainly it needs, it really needs, an interface overhaul (look to IBM's Symphony, guys). Also, I don't think it will really take off until the code base is something that developers can actually toy around with (right now, its like toying around with freakin' Godzilla)

Gimp
- Why, oh why, does this have to be so damn unfriendly? I recently recommended it to a friend of mine who was looking for a quick easy way to make a promotional poster. He had to call me every couple of minutes to figure out how to do pretty simple tasks. Although after toilsome effort he was able to get what he wanted, needless to say he was not convinced of the greatness of the program.

Evolution - I've already written a rant about Evolution. It can be found here.

Other Program Limitations

Uff, this has gotten a lot longer than I originally intended. So I'll finish up here by mentioning a couple other spots where the software in Linux could use some work: web development (Quanta Plus is as good as it gets), better support for mobile devices, and my own personal pet peeve: lack of portable apps.

3 comments:

kozmcrae said...

I don't believe GNU/Linux (thank you RMS) is merely an evolutionary branch on the OS tree of life. To me, it signals the end of proprietary, IP encumbered, marketed software. It signals the end of "this is your operating system, like it or not" pre-installed software, opportunityware, adware and 30dayware. With and end, there is always a beginning. Your descriptions are not far off for the most part. This is what applications look like, for a while anyway, when they are home grown. There are two obstacles facing Linux in this regard. Not that it's in competition with anyone, which in my view it isn't. One is the utility and stability of the application. The other is much more difficult. Users have been tainted by the acquisition of and presentation of proprietary software. The only operating system a person has ever used is by default the best operating system they have ever used. If they remember at all learning an OS or application, they will not be inclined to go through it all over again.

Linux is more than just a conglomerate of Open Source applications. It changes how we get our software. It changes how we participate in our software's development. It changes how we install our software, which is to say we don't surrender any of our rights. It changes how we protect our computer. To compare Open Source software on proprietary software's terms only, is to start the race with one foot nailed to the floor. The inertia proprietary software has gathered in the last 30 years will carry it onward for a good while, but I think it's already dead.

This country is finally coming to terms with the repercussions of its unabated rampant consumerism (it's knows as "bovine consumerism" elsewhere in the world). I don't believe in foisting Linux on anyone. That's a bad move. I do believe that people need to be alerted to the threat proprietary software represents to their freedoms and educated on their choices.

um said...

Thanks kozmcrae for your comments. I was feeling somewhat hot under the collar when I wrote the above piece, and I certainly neglected lots of things that should be kept in mind.

You are correct in your observation that much of what had to say was highly conditioned by my previous use of proprietary software and the gap that has ensued when I decided to stay away from it as much as possible. It is easy to get frustrated in a pinch when I'm having difficulty doing things that in the Windows world were fairly straightforward (I was steaming over video editing).

I do have some doubts about proprietary software ever really ending. I don't think it is just inertia carrying it along (though its a big part), but rather I think it is also carried along by something far more ineliminable: the lording of know-how over those without (generally for the sake of profit).

Proprietary software quickly crops up (almost) anytime there is a gap or need to be filled (or when some individual/company is trying to get the edge), and open source software will only fill this gap when others with the same know-how decide to implement an alternative (assuming there are not infuriating patent encumbrances in place). That said, hopefully proprietary software's overall place in the computer ecosystem will continue to diminish over time.

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