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Old 02-04-2006, 11:05 AM   #1
lukeprog
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An Honest Report on my Linux Adventure


Tired of expensive, non-customizable, proprietary software, constant crashes and malware problems, I sought refuge from Microsoft in Linux. It sounded like a dream: free software for everything, totally customizable, virtually no malware, stable, secure, open-source, etc. And I was presently surprised to find most of my early fears were unfounded: MP3 and DVD support were easy to install, KDE 3.5 had a great GUI control center, the directory structure actually makes sense, communicating with printers is easier than in Windows, and more. I tried over two dozen distros, and discovered my personal preferences for Linux:

1. KDE
2. Debian-based (apt-get, etc.)
3. Easy OS install
4. Ease of use (automounting, etc.)
5. Compliance with Linux standards (no Linspire, etc.)
6. Selection of installed packages during OS install (most OSes install a gajillion things I'll never use, without asking)

I also found that many things I'd heard about Linux were untrue. First, free forum support is actually MUCH poorer than it is for Windows. Not because people are unwilling to help, but because:
1. There are infinitely fewer Linux experts than Windows experts.
2. 200+ Linux distros means that most very specific issues have never been encountered before, whereas every possible Windows problem has been encountered and solved at least a few times, even the most obscure ones.

Also, installing new software can be troublesome, as the answer is usually "Wait for your vendor to add it to the repository." Excuse me, I don't WANT to wait 6 more months to use Firefox 1.5, thankyouverymuch. (Klik sucks, BTW)

Also, Linux on laptops is a very iffy situation, and if you want to get one that works you have to pay hundreds extra for a Linux-verified machine rather than finding the best deal on PriceWatch.

The future: KDE 4 looks awesome. The distro population must be cut down, but it is growing wildly. We must not be forced to wait for distro vendors to release most new software. Hardware support must continue to improve.

I'm currently most interested in Linux to deploy in a public computing environment at my workplace, which is proving insanely difficult unless I shell out the cash for a proprietary solution. I'd like to dual-boot XP and Linux when I buy a laptop for school this July.

That is all. This is neither flame nor rave, just an adventure.
 
Old 02-04-2006, 11:19 AM   #2
saikee
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Many of your difficulties will disappear if you install a few Linux and find all things you want within a few Linux instead of sticking with one distro.

I think there are significantly more than 200+ Linux around.

From experience there are actually a lot of Linux experts around but they may not be interested in helping unless the questions are accurately put forward and described.
 
Old 02-04-2006, 11:25 AM   #3
Hangdog42
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To be honest, most of your criticisms of Linux are a reflection of your unfamiliarity with the system rather than a fundamental weakness of Linux. For example:

Quote:
Also, Linux on laptops is a very iffy situation, and if you want to get one that works you have to pay hundreds extra for a Linux-verified machine rather than finding the best deal on PriceWatch.
This is just plain wrong. Linux runs just fine on many, if not most, laptops including ones purchased for Windows. There is no reason whatsoever to spend a single cent more on a Linux laptop than on a Windows laptop. I will grant you that wireless in Linux is a mess, but Linux will run just fine on the vast majority of laptops out there.

Quote:
Also, installing new software can be troublesome, as the answer is usually "Wait for your vendor to add it to the repository." Excuse me, I don't WANT to wait 6 more months to use Firefox 1.5, thankyouverymuch. (Klik sucks, BTW)
Again, the reality is that this is a reflection of your unfamiliarity with Linux. I'm sorry but compiling source code is simply NOT that hard, and there are plenty of tools out there to help new users create packages appropriate for their system.
Quote:
2. 200+ Linux distros means that most very specific issues have never been encountered before, whereas every possible Windows problem has been encountered and solved at least a few times, even the most obscure ones.
Again, this is just plain wrong. At their core, every Linux distro is largely the same. They all use the same kernel and they all deploy slightly different variations of the same open source software. The major differences tend to come in the individual GUI tools that distros deploy to cover up the common command-line tools underneath.

I'm also one of the people who feel that the distro population is NOT out of control. It simply means that Linux is being used for a myriad of tasks and uses that Windows can't be used in because MS hasn't configured it yet. As for hardware support, it will improve when hardware manufacturers pull their collective heads out of the dark place they are in and start providing hardware support. Believe me, Windows would be a nightmare if hardware vendors didn't support Windows.

I don't mean to be insulting, but your post really suggests that you haven't finished climbing the learning curve.
 
Old 02-04-2006, 11:42 AM   #4
lukeprog
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Hangdog42: I'd be overjoyed to find my criticisms of Linux are an issue of personal unfamiliarity (as was the case with all those early fears I mentioned). I hope you're right about the laptop issue; I've just read so many other places that it is a problem.

You're right, compiling source code ain't hard (./configure, make, make install), except when you have to hunt for dependencies that a relative newbie like me can't find anywhere, or when something distro-specific interferes with it being run (for example, FF 1.5 on Xandros).

As for the Linux forum support issue, I can't extrapolate that to everyone else, but I know I've come across many issues that don't seem to have been adequately tackled by the Linux community, or at least poorly documented online. For example, "DeepFreeze for Linux." You'd think it had been written up because (1) Linux is wildly popular and sensible for public computing that demands a DeepFreeze-esque solution, and (2) Linux (probably) holds the commands to do it without additional software. Yet I've been working with a dozen sources for over a month on this and still don't have anything working.

Certainly, I'm still climbing the learning curve. I learn new things about Linux every day, partly because helpful members like yourself respond and inform me. So, thank you!

Oh, a couple other fears that have been put aside recently: Windows fonts are useable, and decent free software exists for almost everything (though GIMP, OpenOffice, and others need serious work).
 
Old 02-04-2006, 12:34 PM   #5
justanothersteve
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lukeprog, your post is well thought out and mature (not another "linux is teh suxxor" type thread). I'd like to post my response to your original post and my apologies if any part of it is similar to handdog's reply or any reply posted as I type this.


Quote:
I also found that many things I'd heard about Linux were untrue. First, free forum support is actually MUCH poorer than it is for Windows. Not because people are unwilling to help, but because:
1. There are infinitely fewer Linux experts than Windows experts.
2. 200+ Linux distros means that most very specific issues have never been encountered before, whereas every possible Windows problem has been encountered and solved at least a few times, even the most obscure ones.
I disagree with some elements of this. There may be more "windows experts" than "linux experts" simply because there are definantly more window users than linux experts. I don't understand your conclusion about free forum support. Just speaking for LQ alone, I have not seen very many issues go unresolved here. Most of the members here are willing and able to help out with as much as possible. I myself check out multiple forums here just about anytime I'm browsing the net in boredom. If I see a post with an issue that I know how to resolve, I reply. If the OP replies back shortly after, I'll stick around for as long as I can helping out. There or many here like that.

As for the "200+ Linux distros" remark. That is, for the most part, irrelevent. Most issues are hardware and depending on kernel version, doesn't have very much to do with specific distros. The main issues I've seen that actually boil down to distros is their package management (source, apt, portage, etc...) and differences in startup scripts (rc.d, init.d, etc...). And since many of those distros can be eventually traced back to one (i.e. debian), I haven't seen an issue that can ONLY be resolved by someone experianced in solely that distro.

Quote:
Also, installing new software can be troublesome, as the answer is usually "Wait for your vendor to add it to the repository." Excuse me, I don't WANT to wait 6 more months to use Firefox 1.5, thankyouverymuch. (Klik sucks, BTW)
I can relate to this almost word for word. I am currently using gentoo and so I use Portage for my packages. As of last week, it didn't have an ebuild for Firefox 1.5 (or at least one a gentoo newbie like me could easily find). Being the way I am, I'm not just going to sit back and let my package manager tell me what version I can and can't have. So I installed it myself. Some programs may not be as easy as typing one command or clicking "Install" but it is possible to compile/install items that arent in your repository(ies)

Quote:
Also, Linux on laptops is a very iffy situation, and if you want to get one that works you have to pay hundreds extra for a Linux-verified machine rather than finding the best deal on PriceWatch.
My primary system is a laptop loaded with only linux (gentoo atm). I don't dual boot because I don't want to get sidetracked by windows. I have put FC4, Ubuntu/Kubuntu, Debian, Slackware, and Gentoo on this laptop and EVERY single one of them picked up EVERYTHING except my integrated wireless card. Took me a whole 10 minutes to get my wireless going. This is just a run-of-the-mill HP laptop from walmart and it installed linux just as easy as my server that is comprised of pulled-parts from every make and brand. Since I have such success running linux on my laptop, I regularly browse the Laptop forum here to offer assistance when I see an issue I can help with.

Quote:
The future: KDE 4 looks awesome. The distro population must be cut down, but it is growing wildly. We must not be forced to wait for distro vendors to release most new software. Hardware support must continue to improve.
KDE is a great desktop enviroment IMHO. The distro population is holding its course steady and true, Linux is about choice and choice of distro is included regardless of 10 distros or 1000 distros. We must not be tied down to our repositories, We must ensure that we assist others in learning how to compile from source when push comes to shove. Hardware support must continue to improve, and it is (albeit at a snails pace).

Quote:
I'm currently most interested in Linux to deploy in a public computing environment at my workplace, which is proving insanely difficult unless I shell out the cash for a proprietary solution. I'd like to dual-boot XP and Linux when I buy a laptop for school this July.

That is all. This is neither flame nor rave, just an adventure.
Linux doesn't "Just Work"(tm). I realise some expect it to automatically detect and install every piece of hardware known to man, but that just isn't feasible. I can understand how frustrating it must be to get it set up, but once you do get it set up correctly, you probably won't much use for forum support aside from "My linux box has been running for 149 days without a single problem. Is everything ok? Is someone hacking into my system and fixing it so it will stay up?"

None of this is a counter-argument, simply my personal opinions.


EDIT: You may be making the public-computing aspect of linux harder than it actually is. Once the system is configured and the proper privs are set, everything should be a cakewalk. If your intentions is an internet terminal, lock firefox into full screen mode (there is an extension that does this).

Last edited by justanothersteve; 02-04-2006 at 12:38 PM.
 
Old 02-04-2006, 01:42 PM   #6
Hangdog42
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Quote:
As for the Linux forum support issue, I can't extrapolate that to everyone else, but I know I've come across many issues that don't seem to have been adequately tackled by the Linux community, or at least poorly documented online. For example, "DeepFreeze for Linux." You'd think it had been written up because (1) Linux is wildly popular and sensible for public computing that demands a DeepFreeze-esque solution, and (2) Linux (probably) holds the commands to do it without additional software. Yet I've been working with a dozen sources for over a month on this and still don't have anything working.
Well, I can't comment on what other problems you haven't found solutions for, but from looking at your DeepFreeze thread, it looks as if the advice you got there was good and put you on the right track. One thing to keep in mind is that Linux isn't Windows. To a certain extent, a stand-alone program like DeepFreeze isn't really needed because the OS already has the tools needed to carry out the DeepFreeze functions. The outline of the script you posted is a perfect example. If you implement that script to run at the time a user logs in, you have your solution and everything you needed was part of the OS.

As for Gimp and OpenOffice, it pretty much depends on what your needs are. If you are a professional graphics designer, then yes, odds are Gimp isn't going to replace Photoshop. However for an amateur like myself, Gimp does all the image manipulation I need. The same goes for Open Office. I've been using it as my only office suite for about six months now and have run into exactly one situation where I had to use MS Office (it was a farily complex Word documentwith lots of drop-downs, and after editing it in OO, Word wouldn't open it). In fact, when I started my consulting business a few months ago, I decided to use all open source software to run it. So far that incident with the Word document and the fact that my accountant insists on Quickbooks are the only reasons I have booted into Windows in months. And I've saved literally thousands on software costs.

I really don't mean to belittle your experience, but a little time, patience and a willingness to accept different ways of doing things will ultimately be very rewarding.
 
Old 02-04-2006, 05:23 PM   #7
Richie55
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I can see where people are coming from here, I think that when people first use linux they expect it to be windows... it isn't and I have found it has taken me a long time to get into the linux frame of mind, and in many ways I an still doing so. When linux is up and running KDE it looks so much like the windows desktop, but then it works differently. But now I find linux more natural then windows.

My though is, forget everything you knew about computers when you start to use linux, its different, its good, when you think you are never going to understand how things work... think how long have you been using windows? How long has it taken you to understand it to the depth you do? How long have you been using linux, its a good comparison to make. I had been using windows for about nearly 15 years (i still have windows v1.3 on 3 720b floppy disks!) then I moved to linux, I've now been using linux for about 2 years and I'd say I'm at the same level of knoladge as each other.... so which is the harder to use?

Last edited by Richie55; 02-04-2006 at 05:25 PM.
 
Old 02-04-2006, 05:58 PM   #8
amosf
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The percentage of windows users who are experts is very low. There are just a lot of users. I spend time on windows forums and the quality of advice is very poor.

Most linux users use one of the (few) major distros. Use one of those... In any case most distros are similar internally and so I find I can aid people with other distros on many things...

You want new software, then install it. You can wait if you want, same as with MS, but you have the choice. I installed firefox 1.5.0.1 in about 10 seconds after downloading it a couple of hours after release... You just need to get out of the windows rut.

The future? Nothing wrng with multiple distros. You are just used to having the one. Pick a good distro for what you need and go with it. Hardware support? Write to the manufacturer...

Software support? Talk to the software makers...

Linux on a laptop. Do some research. Get one with compatible chipsets.
 
Old 02-04-2006, 06:23 PM   #9
frob23
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This review is fair enough. I may not agree with everything you say but I don't need to agree with everyone's opinion anyway.

Very specific answers are not always found on forums but can usually be turned up in mailing lists. Google is great for this because most mailing lists are web searchable and google cross-references a lot of them. I have found really obscure answers and even patches to kernel source code by looking into the mailing lists.

And it depends on what you call an expert... there are many more MSCE people than kernel developers who participate on public forums... for example. I would not consider that a fair comparison.

Anyway, you're right about a lot of things. Linux is fairly easy to setup, configurable to whatever your needs may be, and once setup a breeze to use on a daily basis.
 
Old 02-04-2006, 06:25 PM   #10
sundialsvcs
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I'll be happy to take your tale of your experiences at face-value and consider them to be quite valuable ... I hope that as you continue in your quest you'll continue to "spill your mind" right here. Any kind of feedback is going to help someone, and it may well be that as one gains experience, one loses sight of just what it means not to have had those same experiences (yet).
 
Old 02-04-2006, 07:26 PM   #11
haertig
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My personal dissertation on how I moved to Linux (holy crap, this thing ended up being long!):

I switched to Linux seriously about five months ago. This was after a good 20 to 25 years of serious Unix programming, various languages, on a wide variety of Unix platforms. Although I was never an official Unix sysadm, one picks up quite a lot as an application developer. Often times I was asked for help by the official sysadms - how bizarre is that? Add to that a strong Windows use, but not programming, background dating back to Windows 3.1. I was always the one everyone called to "fix their Windows box". Install/configure firewalls, setup networking, fix broken programs, get some new piece of hardware runing, get rid of spyware, etc. I was no Windows expert, but certainly better than most out there.

Over the last year or two I started to realize that I was losing grasp on Windows. TOO much spyware, TOO many ways to get it all screwed up. You do something as benign sounding as sticking in a music CD and, bam!, your system gets rooted, owned, and unstable. I developed a general lack of desire to put up with it all.

I tried Fedora Core 3 a little over a year ago. Not bad. This is cool. A few issues here and there, but with a strong Unix background I was able to adapt. I asked all the standard newbie questions here on these forums back then. But I found myself drifting back to Windows as my desktop. Oddly enough, the Windows desktop was used 95% of the time to pop up a terminal emulator so I could work on various production Unix servers.

About five months ago I started thinking, 'ya know, I'm really not liking Windows very much anymore. I'm getting sick of trying to keep up with all the security flaws and everyone asking for advice for their totally hosed up systems. The kids were getting older, messing with IM, wanting to install all kinds of questionable (in my mind) programs, etc. I, who felt I knew more about Windows and security than average, was starting to become afraid of using my own computer! It was almost a daily checklist: Did I install the latest patches? Did I check various security forums to keep up on current threats? Did I check to see what the kids might have installed? Should I convert their admin level accounts to standard user accounts? (nope, can't do that, 85% of the programs wouldn't run).

I ended up making a bunch of different images of the Windows boxes with Ghost. The plan was to let the family screw it all up, and I'd just restore from images. I made images of fresh clean installs, current installs that I thought might be dirty, etc. I do daily regular backups as well.

---

Then I built myself a new box. Gave Windows a dual-boot with a paltry 6Gb ("Just in case I needed to go back to Windows (tm)", and started researching Linux distros. It was quite foreign, even given 2-1/2 decades of low-level Unix experience (Solaris, HP-UX, System V, SunOS, AIX, ... you name it, I've probably worked with it). Having a strong leaning towards commandline, I wanted something I'd feel comfortable with. GUI's are fine, but I really like knowing what to do WITHOUT one. Research led me towards Slackware being closest to my personality, Gentoo was a strong contender too, and then there was Debian. I have no problem compiling and installing from scratch, but I wasn't sure I wanted to have to do that for everything, so I set Gentoo aside for possible later investigation. It was tough chosing between Slackware and Debian. This based on research - what I *thought* I knew about these distros, not practical experience. I went the Debian route because I wasn't 100% sure I wanted to give up all hand-holding like I thought I might have to with Slackware, and boy, that apt-get thing sure did look appealing! So I'm a Debian person currently. I must say that I feel much at home applying my Unix experience to Debian. The layout feels "normal", I can find files by guessing their likely locations based on my Unix experience, etc.

My first attempts at getting Debian installed were quite comical. I tried Sid, and the installer crapped out on me. Research let me find that there was some fatal bug in the installer that had just popped up. "Unstable" it was, so I thought. Hey, but I found I could fix it by downloading verion 3.2.6-5.349alpha from some CVS repository in Botswana, patching that with something downloaded from a guy named Guido in Argentina, and compiling all that (on my non-working Linux system?) using the older gcc-3.3, or something like that. I could follow what was being said for the most part, the terms weren't new to me, but I was starting to question the depth of my Unix experience and how it might apply to Linux.

Wait, maybe I'll try Sarge! That's supposed to be the stable one. Nope - wouldn't recognize my sata drive. OK, how about the older kernel? I read somewhere that that might work due to some sata compatibility mode. It did - found my sata. Unfortunately ethernet was DOA. This Linux transition might be getting harder than I first thought. But I could boot with Knoppix and Ubuntu LiveCD so I knew I still had a chance.

Enough of my trials and tribulations. I got it installed, with help from folks around here. Asking poorly worded and typical newbie questions. Eventually you learn how to ask questions and how to help yourself with Google searches. You learn how to find someone with a related, but not identical, problem and apply lessons learned to your own situation. It's not long before you find yourself offering help to others.

Then you do something like install MythTV from scratch, compiling everything, and your Linux knowledge grows by leaps and bounds. You start knowing where all the logfiles are instinctively, what commands to run to troubleshoot, you gain the confidence to manually hack the source code files to make things work on your personal system, etc. If something blows up on you and your system locks up or something, you've already lost that instinct to reach for the power button and try to reboot, like you would have done in Windows.

I must say that now, five months later, I know more about Linux and am more confortable in troubleshooting problems that occur than I ever was in Windows. Ten years of Windows experience vs. five months of Linux (and the first three of those don't really count as I was flailing horribly!) Of course, those decades of Unix experience really help. Without that I'd still be flailing horribly rather than minor flailing like I'm doing now.

People are right - Linux is not Windows. And I'm glad for that. I don't hate Windows, nor people that use Windows, but I no longer use it if I have any other choice. But neither do I think Linux is quite ready for the masses. Not because it's harder than Windows, but because it's different. There's not much ability to transfer Windows knowledge like "Click on Task Scheduler" into Linux knowledge such as "run crontab <filename>" -or- "cd to /etc/rc2.d and edit S20Apache..." -or- "edit /etc/inittab and add a respawn of this...". Windows generally has one way to do something, a GUI way. Linux can accomplish the same goal with sixteen genuine commandline alternatives, each slightly different in purpose than the other, and 47 optional GUI's built on top of those alternatives. While most posters here are comfortable in Linux, it's easy to see how the new person coming from a Windows environment is just totally blasted away!
 
Old 02-04-2006, 08:37 PM   #12
chasr
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Quote:
I'm currently most interested in Linux to deploy in a public computing environment at my workplace, which is proving insanely difficult unless I shell out the cash for a proprietary solution.
Quote:
You're right, compiling source code ain't hard (./configure, make, make install), except when you have to hunt for dependencies that a relative newbie like me can't find anywhere, or when something distro-specific interferes with it being run (for example, FF 1.5 on Xandros).
You might take a look at www.linuxfromscratch.org It's more work, but you'll wind up far up the learning curve and you'll be able to build exactly what you need for your workplace project with none of the extra baggage you get with a regular distro. They tell you where to find the dependencies. When you've finished one system you can easily clone it as many times as you want.
 
Old 02-04-2006, 08:44 PM   #13
chasr
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Quote:
Over the last year or two I started to realize that I was losing grasp on Windows. TOO much spyware, TOO many ways to get it all screwed up. You do something as benign sounding as sticking in a music CD and, bam!, your system gets rooted, owned, and unstable. I developed a general lack of desire to put up with it all.
The moral: Don't ever agree to help anyone fix their windows computer!
 
Old 02-04-2006, 09:26 PM   #14
KimVette
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lukeprog
I know I've come across many issues that don't seem to have been adequately tackled by the Linux community, or at least poorly documented online. For example, "DeepFreeze for Linux." You'd think it had been written up because (1) Linux is wildly popular and sensible for public computing that demands a DeepFreeze-esque solution, and (2) Linux (probably) holds the commands to do it without additional software. Yet I've been working with a dozen sources for over a month on this and still don't have anything working.
You're referring to disk imaging for use in a lab-type setting or perhaps for backup? You don't need deep freeze, shallow freeze, ghost, or spirit (okay I'm being silly now!) - seriously, you don't need any commercial packages to achive disk imaging. It can all be done with two commands: fdisk and dd, or you can install Partimage, set up a Partimage server, and use that instead (100% free). The very reason you don't find articles covering deep freeze and Linux or Ghost and Linux is that those applications are totally unnecessary.

Also: as far as hardware compatibility and package availability is concerned, you will want to check out various distributions. Some very easy-to-use distributions which come to mind that include a TOM of software (which you can choose to or not to install), and the latest kernels include SuSE, Mandriva, and Ubuntu/Kubuntu. Of those three, SuSE is the most bleeding edge -- Especially SuSE 10.1.

Don't give up just yet, and in a week or two you'll be posting back that your assessment was off-base because you were simply unfamiliar with the environment.

Also: Keep in mind that Linux really is not any harder to use than Windows - it's just different. You need to unlearn some things when you switch operating systems.

Last edited by KimVette; 02-04-2006 at 09:27 PM.
 
Old 02-04-2006, 11:19 PM   #15
lukeprog
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Though my experience with Windows forums has been much more satisfactory than Linux forums (regarding solutions), most of my other complaints about Linux have been pretty well laid to rest in such a short time! I may indeed try Linux From Scratch, though time for such a massive project seems unavailable.

Mostly, I'm just really excited about the growth and coming popularity of Linux. Give it five years and personal computing will be a totally different experience than most people have come to know through Windows.

Since my head is stuck in the future, and since we're "just chatting", here's a personal Linux wishlist:

1. KDE 4 & Plasma. They're coming!
2. Foobar2000 for Linux. Really, I haven't found a Winamp-style Linux media player that agrees with me.
3. GIMP: complete overhaul to be more intuitive and powerful.

I'd be curious to hear what some not-so-noobish Linux users want from Linux that isn't there yet, though. Besides big-name video games.
 
  


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