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By petersum at 2006-06-14 17:49
I am a promoter of Linux in Pakistan where, because of pirated software, there is an overwhelming usage of Windows. It is hard to convince people to change over to a "free" operating system when Microsoft products are also "free". So, I take the line that Linux is better and safer (virus free). There is a certain amount of success this way. But unfriendly install programs remain the "killer" for Linux.
LiveCD versions are fairly recent additions to the varieties of Linux and they are very, very useful to start people off on the right path. However, there are good ones and bad ones. Here I would like to list some of my likes and dislikes in the hope that distribution and liveCD makers will follow the advice in future offerings.
Number one complaint is the inclusion of "vga=791" or something similar in the boot config. (Lilo, Grub, syslinux, etc.) I don't know what this is and neither does my monitor! Staring at a blank screen does not do much good for Linux's promotion! There should be a standard of "vga=normal". I am tired of typing it.
A related complaint is about video resolution and timing.
1024x768 is the standard minimum in order to see the full X window display. A person coming from the Microsoft world is unlikely to have ever used this resolution before and would not choose it naturally. So, make it the default for X!
60 hz. or 70 hz? Here in Pakistan, we always use 60 hz. because our electricity supply is operating at 50 hz.. American users would use 70 hz. because their electricity supply is at 60 hz. It is not difficult to understand is it? You cannot use the same frequency because it would cause black bars to show on your monitor. You cannot go more than 10-15 hz higher than your supply frequency on standard monitors without making the image less than full screen. So, a simple choice is required, preferably with a clue for none technical users, e.g.
60 hz refresh rate (for 220/240 volt 50 hz. systems)
70 hz refresh rate (for 100/110/120 volt 60 hz systems)
Choose your Monitor
In the past, there used to be an option on XFree86 / Xorg setups of:
Non-interlaced 1024 x 768, 800x600 ...
under the "Generic" section. This worked with every monitor that I have ever seen in Pakistan. In fact, when teaching students, I always suggested to use this option rather than looking for your actual monitor. "Just look for that Non-interlaced one... Its the only one there!"
This option seems to have disappeared on modern distributions.
XFree86 / Xorg please bring it back!
Again for XFree86 / Xorg...
I have a Trident Cyberblade video card. That is like saying "I have a computer". It doesn't describe my card at all! There are dozens of variations - all called Cyberblade. I hate distributions that automatically select this card because they always get it wrong!
Here is a question that brings different views from different groups. How big should it be?
Old view was that it should be twice your ram or 128M whichever comes first.
New view is that it should be as big as can be!
OpenOffice is an enormous program which certainly won't run unless you have a combined ram/swap of at least 300megs and it's so slow unless you have 512M of real ram!
On a liveCD, what do you do? S.u.S.E. has an answer - it creates a swap file on your hard disk if you require it. Good point! Ask first - don't just make it! My only criticism is that it is too small (100M).
LiveCD makers should think twice before including OpenOffice if they haven't made adequate arrangements for the swap.
The install program
Graphical installs suck! Mostly because of the vga= problem outlined above. Also because they cannot recover from a CD read error and skip a "bad" package. Text mode installs can be just as user friendly and much faster!. I particularly like the Slackware style where you get to choose what to install according to categories. Alinux (Peanut) has a nice simple system which is understandable mostly, but it installs a complete system - without any choices. Now if these two programs could be combined, we would have a reasonably user friendly install system.
I really don't need Japanese fonts as part of the base system!!!
Number one hate is RedHat and Mandrake installation programs which give you a choice of categories to install - then installs dozens of packages you didn't want!
There should be on option to install everything - but only if "Everything" really means "Everything in my language".
Is the Internet a network? Yes, of course it is - of a kind! A home computer user who wants Internet connectivity but is not connected to any local network has a problem of what packages to install. Normally, a full networking setup is installed, much of which is not needed, and indeed could open the computer to security threats. Average Joe user isn't a networking expert! Therefore, people who design install programs should try to separate these two subjects.
Windows has been described by Bill Gates as an entertainment system. Well so is Linux if you want it that way! So people, if you include the multimedia applications - give us the codecs too! There is nothing worse than finding a program installed that won't work because something is missing.
If a three button mouse is selected, automatically assume that it is a wheel mouse and enable the wheel. Afterall, if it is not a wheel mouse, the extra line in XF86config won't make any difference.
There seems to be a war going on between ALSA and OSS camps which leave us poor users in a state of silent distress. I would say that 95% of all distributions that I have tried recently fail to provide any sound output without a lot of tweaking. And it is not a new problem - RedHat 7.0 had it too. A new user stands no chance of ever hearing sound.
The problem is simply in device allocation, as I see it.
/dev/dsp doesn't exist on most systems but both sound systems want to use it! Whoever thought of sending the default sound output to /dev/null? We have some crazies in our Linux community!
This, as will undoubtedly be argued, is not a fault of either ALSA or OSS. Well, yes it is! Both camps should ensure that the devices to be used are actually available and that appropriate modules are loaded. This kind of "checking" is what makes GOOD software. Can you imagine XFree86 working without knowing the video card? Sound is no different.
Fixing the problem, by an experienced person, is not as easy as it first appears since we first have to figure out which system is in use. The config files are in different places. Sometimes both systems are active which obviously leads to conflicts.
Getting one soundcard to work is bad enough, but if you have two...
I have a Pixelview TV card which many distributions incorrectly identify as a soundcard. Yes, it is an audio device but it is physically wired to the real soundcard! Murphy's Law states that this card will be allocated as the primary sound device. Convincing the system that it isn't involves a lot of juggling of the module loading order and rc.d files. Not for a Newbie!!!
I don't want to take sides, ALSA and OSS are both good in my opinion, but we really only need one system. And one that works flawlessly first time!
A lot of complaints so far... What do I like?
Mepis has a nice liveCD which can also install to harddisk. Try before you install is a really great idea! Plus, this system can be correctly configured and expanded. There is no case of "Use what is on the CD or forget it!".
Slax is great because you can copy everything on the CD to a directory on your harddisk (FAT32 partition), change the Loadlin config file to suit, then boot from DOS anytime you want. It makes an excellent rescue tool. Now if Slax could only tell its new users how to do this, they would have a winner!
Other distributions should also consider using Loadlin. It really isn't old and out of date as some consider - it's useful!
Apodio should be mentioned here. I don't necessarily like it because I haven't really experienced it fully yet. It requires a much more powerful computer than mine to function correctly. It is a specialist's dream if you are in to video and audio work. It is nice to see special purpose Linux CD's - there should be more!
Apodio isn't complete yet (at the time of writing), and many applications use French language but I see a bright future for this one.
"Parted" is slowly getting towards a "user friendly" disk partitioning system. It still needs much more work in my opinion, but full marks for trying! This is the one area of work which will really bring Linux to the masses if we succeed in automating the disk partitioning and formatting.
"wvdial" stands out as the ONLY system which can handle the CDMA modem/phone devices. There are a variety of GUI frontends available but few are up to date and most need compiling. We need ready made ones for use on liveCD's.
S.u.S.E.'s excellent "kinternet" should be made universally available for all distributions.
What flavor of Linux do I use?
Well, I keep changing as I find new ones. I like to try everything. That is part of the fun of Linux - we have so much choice. I have not found any that couldn't be made to work, except Fedora Core4 which so far stubbornly refuses to install on my computer! However, I'll tame it eventually. My only real preference is the kde desktop. I've tried the others but keep coming back to kde.
Linux has come a long way since I started using it (version 5.0). Now, it really can do everything that Microsoft Windows does, and much more of course. So, let us make it more friendly to install.
Finally, I would like to request developers to keep Linux an individual OS - that is, I don't want my Linux to look like Windoze!