Every since Linux first became popular, articles have been condemning its shortcomings. Hardly a month goes by without someone explaining what Linux lacks, or how it needs a particular feature, application, or service to be usable– and, as often as not, the complaints are misguided.
Admittedly, the free software that runs on Linux has some shortcomings. For example, you still can’t fill out PDF forms, or, in most countries, calculate your taxes using Linux. In other cases, such as optical character recognition or speech recognition, free software tools are available but primitive compared to proprietary ones. However, the number of legitimate shortcomings becomes smaller every year, and, increasingly the complaints are more likely to be the results of ignorance as anything else.
But what sorts of ignorance? That’s where the discussion becomes interesting:
1) A Wish to Keep Using Familiar Software
Switching operating systems is a major adjustment, and transitions are inevitable. Yet many potential users only seem willing to consider changes if they can continue to use the same software as they have always used.
Probably, this attitude is due to the fact that major productivity software from companies such as Adobe and Microsoft is the same on OS X and Windows. Most users only learn of the differences between the two operating systems after they have made the switch, so naturally they expect the situation on Linux to be much the same, despite its different history and objectives.
2) Not Noticing Features
People expect Linux to be primitive compared to Windows or OS X. Consequently, when a feature is not in the same menu as in the software they know, or has a different name, instead of searching, they conclude that it’s not there at all. This tendency is so strong that LibreOffice Calc felt obliged to rename DataPilots to Pivot Tables to sync with MS Excel. Too often, would-be users simply see what they expect.
3) Unawareness of Alternatives
Not being bound by economic motives, free software often has several alternatives in each software categories. All too often, though, new users are unaware of these alternatives.
For instance, a new user may reject GIMP as an alternative for PhotoShop because it does not directly support the CYMK color model or color separation. But they do not explore enough to discover that Krita does both. Instead, they describe GIMP’s shortcomings as the fault of Linux graphics software in general.
4) The Unavailability of a Service
Would-be users sometimes insist that they need support for a specific online service on Linux. Recently, the service most often cited is Google Drive.
In fact, some workarounds do exist for running Google Drive under Linux, although they may seem too makeshift to consider. But even if the workarounds didn’t exist, why insist on Google Drive in particular? It’s hardly the only cloud storage service available
5) Assumptions Based on Inaccurate Information
The most common example of this excuse is the claim that Linux lacks an easy way to install new software. Instead, the excuse claims, you have to compile all your applications from the source code. What makes this excuse particularly ironic is the same people who make this claim have no trouble downloading apps for their phones using interfaces that offer similar user experiences to those available from a modern Linux desktop.
6) Assumptions Based on Outdated Information
The majority of rationales for avoiding Linux are based on information that was once true, but has been false now for years. Examples of these rationales include: you have to run everything from the command line, installation is difficult, and no support is available — all of which stopped being true well over a decade ago.
7) Lack of a Proprietary Tool
For years, newcomers have been suggesting that what Linux really needs is standard proprietary tools — most frequently, PhotoShop. Of course, for many, not using proprietary tools is the main point of free software, and the fault lies with the proprietary software manufacturers. But these manufacturers are still figuring out how they can make money selling software, and, after such experiments as the Adobe Framemaker beta in 2000-01, their conventional wisdom is that they can’t.
Anyway, ten years ago, the free software market might have accepted proprietary tools for the sake of convenience. Not having that support, it’s been forced to develop its own alternatives. Why, for example would anyone bother with FrameMaker today, when LibreOffice and OpenOffice provide an acceptable substitute? In many cases, if the window of opportunity for proprietary tools hasn’t slammed shut, it is likely to do so in the next few years.
The Never-Ending Quibble
The way these excuses are used reminds me of the Creationist arguments that no transitional fossils have been found. Often, evolutionists can point to transitional form, whereupon the Creationists ask for transitional forms between the transitional forms. Eventually the evidence is exhausted, and the Creationists claim victory.
In the same way, free software advocates can provide evidence against these excuses, either generally in particular incidences. But, instead of the excuse-makers backing away from their position when their positions are debunked, they reapply their objections to another software category and another until, eventually, the free software advocates have nothing left to say. The excuse-makers then claim victory, convinced that their avoidance of Linux is perfectly justified.
But of course, these excuses are not actually about reasonable expectations, nor even about Linux and free software. Except where a few genuine shortcomings exist, they are rationales to justify convenience. I suspect that what the excuse-makers are really expressing is a wish to stop being badgered about software freedom and to be left alone to do their computing in the ways that they have always done.