When XP Expires does Desktop Linux Shine?

With Windows XP fading into the sunset, a new option is slowly making its way into the market. But new users of desktop Linux will face a variety of challenges.
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Windows XP, oh how we hate to see you go. For many Windows users, this release provided an alternative to the endless frustrations seen with Windows 98 and Windows Me. Built with Windows 2000 Pro stability in mind, XP has won over more than just a few fans.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has elected to put this release to bed sooner than many of its users might have liked. Not because they enjoy using an older operating system, rather because its replacement is still “a work in progress,” as some Microsoft experts have explained. This translates into many XP users exploring options outside of the Windows universe. Thanks to the lackluster benefits of Windows Vista, options such as desktop Linux have been added to the queue of alternative OSes to choose from.

Unfortunately for many of those who decide to take the open source plunge into desktop Linux, the shift will require someone who is not afraid to learn to do some things a little differently. And to be honest, it takes a rare breed of user to weather these winds of change.

Change is never easy.

Every year, we hear about how it is now the “year of the Linux desktop”. The reality is much more complex than this and potential users often find themselves falling into a lulled sense of security because of slick grassroots marketing campaigns and a lot of hot air from people who are only telling these individuals half the story.

Understanding that there’s more to it than simply installing any random Linux distribution, what challenges will users migrating from XP end up discovering should they opt to make the Big Switch?

• Software: Many potential Linux users put more stock into visual effects and other unimportant features than ensuring they fully understand which open source Linux-ready applications can be used to make the switch as simple as possible. This often leads to such well thought out commentary as 'Linux applications are just too difficult to use” or something else equally misinformed. The smart money is on the user who stops by the Open Source Alternative website before trying to take the leap into a Linux desktop.

• Hardware: Challenges such as installing Linux onto PCs designed for Windows have caused plenty of headaches, in my opinion. For example, I own two very different notebook computers. The first is generally a crapshoot with each new Linux distribution I install as what may have worked previously; the next install may very well be incompatible due to a compatibility bug.

By the same token, my other notebook, which uses Intel Dual Core technology to its fullest, is always compatible with 64bit Linux distributions. Anytime I’m getting ready to make an upgrade to the latest desktop Linux release, I check with the vendor ahead of time to ensure that a set of their patches are ready to make up for any of the distribution's shortcomings. This ensures that things run smoothly at all times and I’m not stopped by serious surprises when trying to upgrade my existing Linux installation.

• Peripherals: One of the biggest new user frustrations comes when they discover that their wireless card doesn’t work as expected or their all-in-one printer/scanner isn’t providing the same level of functionality that they found with Windows XP. Thanks to very little reliable consistency from distributions such as Ubuntu, what may work with one release might not work at all with another. Despite the efforts of projects such as SANE for scanners and CUPS for printers, maintaining a consistent level of support seems to be an issue with Linux distributions such as Ubuntu. The device often will still be detected as it once was, but because of some unchecked bug, the new release (in many cases) creates new problems using the peripheral that was not an issue previously.

Keep in mind that I’m picking on Ubuntu only because they are an affected distribution and one of the most popular out there today. This means the responsibility lies with their developers.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Microsoft, wireless, Intel

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