Wednesday, May 29, 2024

My Top Linux Frustrations of 2014

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Running various Linux distributions on my own computers has been a mixed blessing over the years. While I’ve experienced many successes, something I don’t talk about as often are the areas that frustrate me. In this article, I’ll highlight my top list of Linux frustrations that bug me to this very day.

My Linux Frustrations

Android to PC music syncing – Sorry folks, but MTPfs isn’t cutting it for all Android devices. Every time I bring this up, someone claims it works fine for all devices and if you install MTPfs and MTPfs-tools, all will be right with the world. The truth is that this isn’t entirely accurate.

Yes, historically MTPfs was a great solution that allowed you to mount your SD card or Android phone to your Linux PC, so you could sync up your music playlists. Unfortunately, though, this just doesn’t work for all devices. Even worse than MTPFs is using Google Play Music. No thanks, I can’t stand the player and having to remember to cache new music isn’t a solution anymore than streaming my music is.

Because I’m the kind of guy who needs to rock out to locally installed music, the single best solution I’ve found is to use Bittorrent Sync. The beauty of using Bittorrent Sync is that I can instantly add new music to either my desktop or my phone, and the music directory is always in sync. Where this falls down a little is with playlists. Still, it’s possible to create them and add them to another directory in Bittorrent Sync.

If the above option is too advanced to deal with, you could always try using Dropbox. It’s the same exact idea in principle, however some users may find this easier to work with.

The obvious disadvantage is that you’ll likely want to pay for Dropbox if you’d like to have access to any kind of extended storage. When comparing the speed of syncing one’s data to each of these solutions, Bittorrent Sync wins hands down. Bundle this with the price, for my money, there’s no contest – Bittorrent Sync simply rocks.

Special effects for videos – For a great many things, a Blender rendering is a powerful option when it comes to creating movie magic. Unfortunately though, it’s not designed to compete against Adobe After Effects. Blender is actually designed to counter Maya, which shares similar project options. The release of Lightworks for Linux also holds a ton of promise for a professional editing experience. However, while video editing in Linux is slowly getting there, we’re still left hanging when it comes to an After effects alternative.

To be honest, I’ve yet to genuinely find a decent work-a-round to this problem. For my needs, I either hack together an alternative solution using Blender (which isn’t a fix) or I end up outsourcing my After Effects needs on a freelance website. I hate to spend the money, but it beats not having the option whatsoever.

Microsoft Office compatibility – I loathe Microsoft Office. I dislike everything from its silly ribbon interface down to its dependence on Microsoft specific file extensions. Sadly, it’s 2014 and importing some Microsoft Office docs into LibreOffice and the like, rarely works very well. The worst offenders are documents that contain tables or those that have a very specific layout. While I’m fortunate to be largely free of this mess, there have been instances where a specific DOCX document came rolling into my inbox, requiring me to open it intact.

Thankfully there are DOCX converters available on the Web that have provided me with some success. In extreme instances, I’ve simply relied on DOCX viewers and just took my chances opening them up in LibreOffice Writer. To be fair, the support for Microsoft file formats is slowly getting better.

Photoshop expectations – I adore GIMP. It’s quite literally one of those applications that I would be lost if it disappeared tomorrow. Despite my love of the program, getting the rest of my family onto Linux fulltime is hindered by the lack of Photoshop.

To the casual computer enthusiast, this might seem silly. However when you’re married to a photographer who insists on using the familiar work flow provided by the famed Adobe software, switching her to Linux becomes difficult. I’ve tried simulating keyboard shortcuts and other hack(ish) solutions, but at the end of the day, if it’s not Photoshop, it’s not happening.

The approach I take these days is to handle any GIMP-specific work myself, while my wife remains free to continue using Adobe software in her own home office. Accepting this isn’t the solution I’d prefer, I’ve learned to leave it alone, as running Photoshop under WINE or a VM is a fairly painful alternative to the real thing.

Big box stores– Head into your local big box store, then ask them to point out the isle where you’ll find the Linux PCs. Exactly. No, it’s not happening.

Short of stumbling upon some Chromebooks, chances are you’re asking people who have never even heard of Linux where it’s located in their store. On the web, we’re fortunate to have a number of fantastic Linux-centric PC vendors catering to us with great hardware options. Some of them are distribution-specific, while others allow you to select the distribution of your choice.

Sadly, the most common work-a-round for folks is to buy some “on sale” laptop with a Windows sticker on it, followed by formatting and installing Linux onto it. Then a few hours later they take to their distribution’s forums complaining about some random compatibility issue. Until people start buying from vendors who actually verify component compatibility carefully, I don’t see this problem changing anytime soon. These vendors will remain online only, which is truly unfortunate.

Speaking for myself, I only buy computers built for Linux, assembled by Linux users. Extreme as it may sound and it may even cost a touch more, I’ve found I have never had any issues with compatibility since taking this stand.

Video drivers – It’s 2014 and we’re still relying on proprietary video drivers. Open Source AMD drivers outshine NVIDIA’s Open Source driver, whereas the reverse is true with the closed source drivers for the same cards. The video driver situation is still a mess and it’s such a pain, even Linus himself has expressed his displeasure.

My solution to dealing with video drivers is to use the Open Source option whenever possible. While gamers may have to give in to have a decent gaming experience, most people can do anything they need to with the Open Source video drivers, which often present less hassles than those closed source in nature. Far from perfect, it’s a work-a-round that has provided the most consistent results overall. Someday, however, new and inventive efforts to re-invent the video driver strategy for Linux could take root.

Setting up gaming mice – Despite the fact that modern USB mice and touchpads are automatically detected in today’s Linux distributions, sadly, setting up a specialty gaming mouse is hardly plug-n-play. In a Windows world, one would simply run the included software to set up the mouse. For Linux users, however, it isn’t this easy. One of the better howtos for setting a gaming mouse illustrates how this issue would mystify most casual users. Unlike a standard mouse, gaming mice have a multitude of buttons that require configuration. And since Linux on the desktop lacks software for this, it presents an interesting challenge.

At this point, you’re looking at button mapping if you want a fully functional gaming mouse. Certainly not an impossibility, however it’s still a challenge that most of us don’t want to bother with. Speaking for myself, the last gaming mouse I owned I simply remapped the buttons to suit my needs. It was a pain, but with some practice, it’s not as difficult as you might think.

Final thoughts

There’s likely something I’m forgetting as I list off my top Linux frustrations. Thankfully many of these issues are either being worked on or simply have usable work-a-rounds to prevent me from pulling my hair out.

Despite any challenges I face on the Linux desktop, it’s still the best desktop computing experience I’ve ever had. Perhaps best of all, anything that crops up won’t require me to wait on some multinational corporation to release a fix for it. While bug fixes happen all the time, Linux is flexible enough that the end user can usually make a go of it, without too much trouble.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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