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Improving The Linux Desktop: 20 Needed Fixes

The Linux desktop needs to focus on new users, improve wi-fi tools, work better with commercial software, among other necessary changes.
Posted November 1, 2010
By

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley


(Page 1 of 3)

I love using Linux. I enjoy the control over the computing experience it affords me and how I can choose exactly how my desktop is to be run.

I'm not some guy writing Linux articles on a Windows box or a Mac. I "live Linux" exclusively, every-single-day. And I have done this for years.

That said, I’ve put myself into the position of those who are new to desktop Linux or simply overwhelmed by something within the platform. With this article, I hope to address new ideas alongside some challenges that I believe, if dealt with realistically, would make using Linux more accessible for everyone.

1) Focus on the casual user first, geek second. Many among you will likely point out that nine times out of ten, a Google search holds the answer to the most common questions people have when working with desktop Linux.

Unfortunately, not everyone out there knows the right questions to ask Google in the first place. What’s needed is some kind of easy-to-use GUI troubleshooting tool that can be used to gather debugging information. This would make a trip to the various Linux forums a lot more productive for everyone involved.

2) OTA data sync options. I think we're going to see more companies (than just Google and Canonical) heading in the direction of over-the-air data (OTA) synchronizing options.

Despite the fact that Google has managed to take some of the sting out of syncing our smartphones with our Linux desktops, the sad fact is that users of the iPhone are often an iOS release behind when it comes to keeping our music in sync.

The only viable solution I've found is the new service offered by Canonical with their Ubuntu One music hosting. The service allows me to listen to my tunes without needing to sync anything locally, instead doing so remotely from just about anywhere I choose.

The problem is the software provided for the iPhone is very young in its development and lacks critical features like continuous play and playlist management. Now imagine if more resources were dumped into Canonical's efforts with Ubuntu One. The possibilities are endless, once we’ve dealt with the issues seen currently today with Ubuntu One's music services on mobile devices.

3) Less software politics. Opinions – everyone has at least a few passionately held ones. And the passionate opinions surrounding FoSS vs. proprietary software tend to fuel essential debates about this topic.

Where I see a problem is when this raucous debate causes casual users to balk at adopting Linux on the desktop. See, when you ask most people off the street, they couldn't care less about the politics of software. What they're interested in seeing is how a community can work together to provide support for one another and how usable Linux has become for most people looking to try something new.

So while it's good to debate the merits of FoSS over proprietary code, I welcome the day when we can see less protesting and complaining and more focus on demonstrating – with action – how FoSS is actually better.

4) A rebirth of specialized distros. Prior to Ubuntu's big success, it seemed like there were a lot more specialized Linux distros available. Everything from distributions formulated for security needs to distributions designed for network attached storage (NAS) appliances.

While some still exist today, we never hear about their merits due to a lack of media coverage. Everything is about the one single distro to meet everyone's needs. It's rather unfortunate. I would love to see a rebirth and refocus taking place on specialized distros. Imagine using these to target sales efforts to enterprise audiences such as radio stations, TV networks and other situations where having a specialized software toolset is desired. We did it in security and network storage, let's do the same thing for more niche areas of business as well.

5) More media focus on other non-Ubuntu distros. As you might imagine, not focusing so much on Ubuntu is difficult to do when writing about Linux on the desktop these days. Regardless, there's a clear need for us to spend more time searching around the Linux eco-system to rediscover other Linux options we might have forgotten about.

Why is this important? Putting all our eggs into one basket is working against what Linux is all about – freedom. I think a singular distribution of Linux would be a threat to this freedom. And with a possible loss in Linux freedom comes users having a poor experience when Ubuntu doesn't work as they expect. This is an issue we must all face. It’s already showing signs of hurting Linux as a viable operating system.

6) Make things just work. Test a Linux release before sending it out to the world at large. Unlike other distributions that take more time in the testing department, lately Ubuntu has let bugs slip that were, honestly, ridiculous.

The recent Intel "tiling bug" comes to mind. I would love to see less development speed from Ubuntu and more focus on getting it right the first time by taking things a little slower. While others will merely point out that there is always X distro instead, the fact is that Ubuntu has built up a brand that represents Linux collectively these days. So how about not making the rest of the distributions look like fools, fair enough?

And if the answer is to simply yield to using long term support releases only, then how about a website that reflects this?

7) A compatibility checker CD. Sorry, the LiveCD isn't cutting it. Not everyone thinks to check every device attached to their computer before installing the operating system. And if there are drivers available for a problem device outside of the included software repositories, knowing this ahead of time would be awesome.

Imagine a CD I can drop in that acts as a hardware compatibility checker! It would check the databases from bug reports about what’s working using tools like CUPS and SANE. I refuse to believe this is that big of a stretch. It’s been available for years on other desktop OSes.


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Tags: Linux, Ubuntu, Linux desktop, Linux downloads, Wi-Fi


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