I don’t know how many posts I’ve written like this over the years. Too many, probably.
With the release of Ubuntu Feisty, I yet again welled up with enthusiasm for a Linux desktop. Finally, something that’ll work, I thought.
I created a partition on my desktop at home, as well as my laptop, both which were previously exclusively running Windows XP. I spent a lot of time getting the little things to work, which actually led to three of my most popular blog posts ever.
I never start noticing the holes until the initial enthusiasm wears off. And it’s not like I couldn’t have seen them beforehand. Linux still has poor printing support, as well as sophisticated photography workflow tools. Both areas still have a lot of proprietary technologies involved. Fonts don’t look as good, even with a lot of work.
VMware Workstation to the rescue, I thought. And while Workstation 6 is definitely the best release yet (and it could actually run all the Windows programs that I wanted just fine, including photo stuff, printing with real Canon drivers, EAC, DVDFab Decrypter, etc.), you inevitably start to question your decision when you find that you spend your time in a VM all the time.
Unfortunately, the host still matters for desktop use.
I did a mental exercise of listing the pros and cons of having each OS as the host. With Windows, I get good hardware support, good performance, better ACPI functionality, and better sound. With Linux, I get, well, “freedom.” Practically, this means I can avoid various forms of lock-in, like filesystems and maybe even file-formats. Linux also certainly appeals to the tinkering side of me as well.
But in the end, I feel like I have to go with what gives me more choice, and what lets me take better advantage of the hardware, and what lets me get more done.
Some may argue that Linux being open and free, gives you more choice than Windows. I don’t think things are so clear. While Windows does cost a bit, there are tons of open source programs available for Windows as well. All the best ones (like Firefox) have huge userbases on Windows. If there isn’t a Windows port, I can always run it in a VM. If it’s a console program, I can just ssh to the VM to get a ‘native-like’ experience, and if its a X program, I can just run an X server on Windows. If you flip it around and look at Linux, sure there are lots of great free software applications out there, but there are virtually no commercial ones[1].
As far as the hardware argument goes, I don’t think too many people will argue for Linux having better hardware support. Sure it’s getting there. And sure, there are exceptions. But as far as I can tell, my printer doesn’t work very well, neither does my wireless card, ACPI suspend/resume is still a bit spotty, and I still have trouble getting multiple apps to talk to the sound card at the same time[2]. All of these work reliably on Windows.
And finally, for the ‘get more done’ argument: It’s true, I actually enjoy tinkering, and putting in a little elbow grease to get some esoteric hardware to work. Linux lets me do that much more than Windows. You have the source code you if you need it, you have great automation tools in the form of command line tools and scripting languages, and there’s a lot of informtion on the web. But when it comes down to it, there’s still a fundamental difference. On Windows, you can do this type of tinkering as well, but you don’t have to. With Linux, it’s still the case that inevitably, you get lost in terminal + text editor-land in the midst of trying to do some simple desktop task. It’s getting better, but it’s still not quite there.
So yet again, I return my home desktop to Windows[3].
P.S. It’s interesting to see the ultimate convergence scenario coming closer to reality. Eventually, virtual machine technology should get to the point where different PCI devices should be able to be passed through to specific VMs, and with all the major desktops moving to the “windows rendered to offscreen buffers” models, you can start to see how the GUI might start coming together.
fn1. There are a few notably exceptions, such as VMware products, and some other apps here and there. Far from a comprehensive selection though.
fn2. Admittedly, one of these apps is Workstation, which still insists on opening /dev/dsp. ALSA support from VMware should just be a matter of time, though.
fn3. XP x64 edition, to be specific. Part of the reason I opted for Ubuntu was the availability of the 64bit distribution to work with my recently acquired extra 2 gigs.

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