A good IRC-friend of mine recently announced he had decided to start using Windows on his desktop again, after being a Linux fan since the early nineties. The reason for this is that Linux does not give him what he needs: Drivers aren’t on par with their Windows equivalents, Linux lacks stability and he simply can’t find the desktop environment he is looking for. He hoped for years it would come, but gave up hope…
This made me think and I realised I recognise a lot of his ‘pain’. I have been looking for a new distribution for my desktop for more than a year now, but somehow I cannot seem to find it. Every time I try something new, I run into bigger or smaller problems that make me decide to continue to search for something better.
But what is the reason for this? When I analyse my findings, I see a few key-issues. Let’s take a closer look at them!
There are too many distributions
Does anyone here remember the Canterbury distribution? On April fools day 2011 Debian, OpenSUSE, Archlinux, Grml and Gentoo announced they would merge into one new distribution. Although meant as a joke, I honestly believe this would be the only possible way to give Linux a chance to become a serious competitor for Windows ans iOS on the desktop.
At the moment that I write this, there are no less than 322 active distributions mentioned on Distrowatch.com. And let’s face it: That’s ridiculous! All these distros need developers to keep their distro running. Talking about reinventing the wheel! Imagine how much better Linux could be if all these developers would work on, let’s say, 5 distributions! Imagine how much better these distros would become! If you look at the fact that 87 of these 322 distributions are based on Ubuntu, what can possible have been the reason that someone started a new distro when there already were 86 Ubuntu based distributions? Ofcourse the same has happened with, for example, Debian (60 derived distros), Mandriva (8) and Slackware (19).
Last week I spoke to one of the developers of a smaller, independent distro, because I ran into pretty big problems when I installed the stable release on my laptop. He told me the devs were aware of the problems, but a few people had left the project and no-one wanted to take over their work. The average Windows user, wanting to give Linux a try, would never have been able to use this distro. And the release I talk about was mature, soon to be replaced with a new one! Crazy, if you ask me! I do suggest that developers that find their project in this situation, do the only smart thing they can: End the project and join another distribution. Preferably one of the Big Ones. If you run your own distro, you have to focus on the user. Can you deliver him what he needs to be a happy customer? I believe that in many cases that’s not the case.
There are too many Desktop Managers/Environments
Have you ever noticed how many different Desktop Environments there are? I counted 29 of them on Distrowatch! Absurd! For example: who needs Openbox, Hackedbox and Fluxbox when Blackbox is already available?
Most users need a magnifying glass to notice a difference. Joining forces would create a much better result!
I can imagine that next to KDE and Gnome, you need an alternative for older hardware. But there are so many of them now, that we have the same situation that we have with distributions. People are working on exactly the same functionality for different DM/DE’s. What a waste of time! Time to consolidate! How many Desktop Managers do we really need? I cannot tell you, but I am 100% sure we do not need 29 of them!
Drivers, proprietary software and codecs
One of the bigger issues with Linux is the fact that the average PC hardware producer does not really think about Linux when he develops drivers for his hardware. More that once I have run into problems with unsupported hardware. I respect the men and women who have created drivers for Linux without support from the hardware producer. Reverse engineering is a time-consuming way to build drivers. And a never-ending story.
Then there is the discussion on proprietary software. There are quite a few distro’s that ship without codecs, because in a number of countries some codecs are forbidden. I respect that, as long as it is easy to add these codecs after the installation of the distribution. But I remember a time when I tried to setup an mp3 audio stream with MPD under Debian. No average desktop user will ever be able to do that! Is that the product we want to deliver to our clients? No wonder noone uses it!
Then there are these distro’s that want to be completely free. They refuse to supply proprietary drivers and software. Leaving you with a system that’s only partially usable. What are they trying to accomplish or prove? I really have no idea! The only thing I do know is that they deliver a product no normal computer user is waiting for!
These people do not understand why a company like Nvidia doesn’t open source their drivers. I do. They try to make money and do not want the competition to be able to look under the hood of their products.
Of course people will say something like “If you don’t like it, don’t use it!”, but I guess they fail to see what I’m trying to explain here.
And where does this all lead to?
Like my friend wrote in his blog: Too much of a blessing can become a curse. And that’s exactly what has happened with Linux. Being an Open Source project makes it easy for someone to pick up all the code and start a fork. And in some cases that might be a wise thing to do. But whether you agree with the Document Foundation about forking Openoffice or not, you will have to agree with me that having OpenOffice and LibreOffice next to each other does not necessarily mean we get the best free office suite! Competition is a good thing, but combining the two powers could theoretically lead to a better product.
We haven’t discussed the Human Race yet. When people work together, soon rivalry, politics and power play their role and lead to
destruction a less than optimal result. When companies are involved, the effect is even bigger. And so we end up with 322 distributions and 29 Desktop Managers/ Environments.
We can decide for ourselves if we want Linux to make it on the desktop. I believe the road we are following is not the right one.
For all those developers out there I have this message: Most of the popular software that is available under Linux is available for Windows too. LibreOffice, The Gimp, VLC, Inkscape, you name them, they’re all there! So in the end no-one really needs Linux. Windows has become pretty stable and guess what? Billions of Windows users use the same Desktop Environment!
Unbelievable, isn’t it?