It’s been my experience that, despite any progress, Ubuntu and distros like it have made in gaining new users, those in the tech media continue to get it wrong. In this article, I’ll examine how the tech media continues to spread misinformation about Linux on the desktop, why it happens and what we as users can do about it.
Years ago, merely installing and configuring Linux for the desktop could be extremely difficult. And while recent technologies such as UEFI have added some extra hurdles for distribution developers, the end user is able to install Linux relatively easily nowadays.
Realizing this, one must ask themselves -- why are so many tech writers claiming Linux is too difficult for the average user? The first stop in this view is that you need a geek to install a distribution like Ubuntu. Here’s a reality check -- most people don’t install their own operating system. And yet every time I read an article about how “hard" Linux is to use, this is the first complaint on the author’s list.
What’s actually happening is that many folks are trying to install Linux onto systems in a dual-boot environment. This alone adds a new challenge when dealing with the bootloader, as Windows doesn’t always cooperate as it should.
Another challenge Windows users face when trying to install Linux is that some components aren’t supported that well under Linux. Technologies such as certain wireless chips and GPU switching are still touchy on the Linux desktop. So when a Windows user discovers these challenges on a new Linux installation, they immediately assume it must be Linux that is at fault. In reality, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Linux has far greater desktop hardware compatibility than most people realize. But the problem many people run into is trying to install Linux onto a computer with a "Made for Windows" sticker on it.
Under most circumstances, installing Linux onto a Windows based PC shouldn’t be too eventful. But there are times where certain components aren’t as Linux compatible as others. What might surprise most people is that this isn’t a Linux shortcoming, rather, this is a limitation of what the individual PC was built for -- Windows.
Since most hardware works out of the box, I think Linux newbies tend to take hardware incompatibility for granted. See, when installing Windows you can always download a missing driver easily enough. With Linux, usually you’re relying on the distribution to handle the hardware compatibility. So if something isn’t working, you’re generally left trying to find a work-a-round.
When a technology writer review's a Linux distribution, they have the belief that their PC’s hardware should work out of the box, no excuses. Unfortunately with some notebook hardware, sound or video can be flaky...the same with wireless networking. As mentioned above, this is rare, but it happens. And it’s at this point, the writer will report back that a distro isn’t compatible and therefore, isn’t ready for the masses. They miss the point that if had they used a "Made for Linux" notebook (they do exist), their experience would be completely different.
Another common complaint I hear from technology writers is that there isn’t any good software for Linux. Personally, I think this is a matter of perspective. While I would agree that there are some areas where legacy software titles are missing on Linux, there are some great applications available. Software like Skype, Firefox, LibreOffice and so on are all available for most Linux distributions. As a matter of fact, the software most people use is readily available on Linux.
Regardless, the absence of being able to use some Windows software titles (without WINE) seems to be enough to turn off tech gurus completely. Apparently lacking Adobe titles is enough to sour the experience for some folks. Now to be fair, yes, I agree that it’d be nice to be able to render cool effects or edit photos using Adobe titles. I can even understand the benefits of relying on Microsoft Office in some instances. But the idea that the lack of this software makes using Linux intolerable seems a bit over the top.
With more applications becoming available as web based titles each day, I think the above issue will eventually resolve itself. In the meantime, I’m generally satisfied with what’s available for the Linux desktop with regard to software.
Now that we’ve addressed the areas that technology writers and gurus think Linux is failing, let’s look at some solutions to address these issues.
Installation -- If at all possible, try out Linux on a machine designed to run it. Obviously this isn’t always possible, but judging hardware compatibility by trying out a distro on incompatible hardware hardly seems fair. At the very least, consider researching hardware compatibility lists before jumping to conclusions.
Software -- Unless you’re tied to specific legacy software for work purposes, there isn’t really anything you’re not able to do with the Linux desktop. Using tools like "AlternativeTo" can provide good open source software alternatives to most legacy software applications that keep one tied to a Windows mindset.
Will these solutions work for all those naysayers in the tech media? Probably not, because the real problem isn’t Linux or a preference for other operating systems. The bigger issue comes down to drive-by reviews. These are reviews where someone creates the idea that they know what they’re talking about, when in fact they don’t actually run Linux on the desktop, full time.
My suggestion to those who read or watch media where "drive-by reviews" take place is to call them out on these practices. Unless the review or opinion is given by someone who "lives and breathes" the Linux desktop, realize that you're only getting part of the story. Until we stop giving credit to people who don’t even run Linux full time, nothing is going to change and FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) will continue to flourish.
On the flip side, I hope that those who pump out these drive-by reviews will look at my suggestions, reach out to companies who provide a Linux installed computer out of the box and actually take Linux on the desktop a whole lot more seriously. Until this happens, it’s going to be up to us to read Linux reviews with a heavily critical eye.
Sound off: Do you think I’m being unfair? Perhaps there’s another side to this I haven’t considered? Hit the Comments and tell me what you think about this. Is this a problem, that can be solved?
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