Linux Desktop Hits and Misses

Peripheral compatibility, software quality and community issues on the Linux desktop.
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It seems like it wasn't that long ago when Windows was an exclusive part of my computing life. Ever so slowly, I began to move away from Windows XP into some of the popular Linux distributions of the time.

I found myself falling in love with a specific Linux distribution made popular by its ability to "just work" without a ton of configuration. At the time, this held a great appeal to me. After all, I had other things to do throughout my day besides having to configure everything on my desktop PC by hand.

Flash forward to today, my schedule is basically the same. Therefore, I tend to lean toward desktop-friendly distributions that help me get my work done with as little hassle as possible. And much to my satisfaction, today's modern Linux experience is beneficial to me in this space.

There are plenty of great Linux distributions to choose from that give me a first-rate, simple to “make work” solutions without spending an entire weekend setting things up.

In this article, I’ll focus on some of the hits and misses I've seen with the Linux desktop over the years. Considering my experiences from when I started using the Linux desktop up through today, I've managed to gain significant insights on what's working and which minor issues need some polish.

Linux peripheral detection

For every complaint I've ever heard about hardware compatibility with Linux, I can counter with at least 50 examples of hardware detection that would blow the doors off of what a Windows user experiences.

Just to give you an example: I recently did some testing with a HP printer, drawer full of wireless dongles, a Bluetooth dongle, among a few other things. The HP all-in-one printer was detected immediately and setup with zero intervention from me. Same with the Bluetooth dongle and most of my wireless dongles, as well. Even the wireless dongles that were not ready to go out of the box were easily made usable with Ubuntu's restricted driver tool.

Then I took the same devices and tried the same thing on an installation of 32-bit Windows 7. Everything I plugged into it failed. Three of the wireless dongles even failed after installing the proper drivers.

It's tempting to blame the makers of the operating system for this problem. Oddly, though, the truth is that it's the manufacturers of the peripherals that are at fault here. It's not Microsoft's responsibility to offer the drivers for older hardware.

But as you might have guessed, manufacturers have no incentive to offer drivers for older products. Why? Simply because there's no money in it. This is neither wrong or right, it simply "is" the reality of the situation.

Bounce back over to the Linux desktop, you'll find that the community came together to do everything possible to offer peripheral support going back as far as needed. It's a cooperative effort between developers from all walks of life that make this little miracle possible.

Comparing this to the spotty support of just a few years ago, it's tempting to suggest that Linux wins on the peripherals front. The truth is, however, that Linux wins in "community and cooperation." The reason I make that distinction is that a manufacturer can always release a new wireless chipset tomorrow, using something that is unknown to the community and only Windows compatible.

This translates into a mixed bowl of failure and success for Linux on the desktop. Despite the valiant effort of countless developers, wireless support for Linux is hung up on a single, avoidable issue that isn't likely to ever be remedied. At least the community did their part, I guess.

Is community enough?

There's no question that one of the strongest assets that desktop Linux has to offer new users is the community that supports it. Sadly, this asset isn't enough to address the problem of companies that release hardware without providing all the needed details for full Linux compatibility.

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Tags: Ubuntu, Linux desktop

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