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Why Desktop Linux is nowhere, part 2

Posted 01-19-2009 at 02:32 PM by AGer

In Part 1 I was frustrated by the low adoption of Linux. I have the pleasure to recall some (just selected few from very, very many) reasons for that.

Desktop Linux is nearly nowhere in terms of hardware support. For the vendor side, this is natural due to low adoption. Hardware vendors do like Linux since they understand that money saved on OS and software can be spent on hardware, but supporting Linux is not a competitive advantage and nonsupporting it is not a shame.

For example, Motorola provides no Linux software. There are workarounds for communication, but I would better use Windows and a genuine Motorola program to upgrade the phone itself. Companies like Motorola do not make errors like that. If Motorola thinks it is safe to ignore Linux, then it is so.

AMD (ATI) is opening their drivers and this is good, but if you look at it as a choice between "we must hide our dirty secrets better" and "let somebody else do that dirty Linux drivers", it does not look big any more. I expected something like that to happen since the 690 chipset because integrated graphics is likely to appear in a budget server, not having a proper driver is annoying even if you do not need it, and Linux adoption on the server is good. Thus this opening is a desktop Linux success, but not a big one.

I write "nearly nowhere" because supporting Linux is already something positive, that is, Linux is not considered a toy for geeks mentioning which may harm you reputation as a solid vendor. Thus, a USB hard disk or a router is very likely to state it is Linux compatible.

For the Linux side, hardware support may look quite adequate, unless you do not look from the desktop user perspective. For example, consider Slackware.

Just after installation, the huge kernel boots, but the doc recommends a generic one. The recommendation comes with examples how to make initrd for a couple of file systems, but it is not explained how to find out what modules are necessary in other cases and how to find out dependencies between modules. The Linux way to solve this is to look for docs, how-tos, and Google. Compare that to the Solaris way - a java app examines your hardware and tells you what is supported (and how it is supported) and what is not.

Since there is already a running kernel and all hardware is identified, a desktop user expects that the system should tell him what modules to put on the initrd.

Now, remember how the hardware support used to be - learn your hardware and compile your kernel. Few modules, fast boot. Since Linux can find all the hardware, why does it refuse to create a kernel configuration exactly for what is found? It is OK to configure the kernel if you have a couple of hours to spare and are interested in the kernel itself, but if you just want it to be not so huge and initrd free, that is normal from the desktop user perspective, it is too complicated.

So, increasing number of devices that the kernel supports is not enough to claim that the hardware support is OK.

Finally, when I did a quick distro review late last year (how can I be sure Slackware is the best if I do not try others?), I experienced hardware problems like I never saw before. Knoppix starts booting from the DVD but claims that there is no DVD later. Debian does not have eth0 and Gentoo does not have Real Time Clock. In both cases the necessary modules were loaded. Mandriva live CD cannot start X unless X is configured manually from another console. Is it how the hardware support is improving?

After hardware, I will cry about soft... not software, yet, but the soft skills of Linux. It will be Part 3.
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