Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Operating Systems

I have been playing around with Redhat 9.0 Linux on a laptop at work for the last couple of days. Mostly as an experiment and for the experience and learning process. I'm typically a Windows guy and I'm not ashamed of that fact.

The OS install from the CDs was pretty painless and Redhat has done a very good job at cleaning up the interface and making it as user friendly as possible. I commend them for that.

I did a standard desktop install, which I suspect is what came back to bite me later.

First it took me 3-4 hours just to get it to recognize a network card that it liked. The laptop didn't have a built in network card so I had to fight with it. Eventually I got it. I can see now that a majority of it was user error and unfamiliarity. Thus still no points off for Redhat/Linux.

However, then comes the software. I was able to get XMMS installed successfully and pretty easily, thankfully. I was also able to get Mozilla (web browser) upgraded from version 1.2 to 1.5. I had to install it as root, but I think that's normal. It didn't put any icons any where so I had to make my own, a fairly straight forward process once I figured out where all the files were installed. But still, the average Joe isn't going to figure that part out. That was my first negative point. The second negative point and I think a problem with the particular build of Mozilla I installed, not Linux, is that the fonts were not anti-aliased, so very small text was a mess of blocks, rather than text.

For my next test I pulled a CD of MPEG1 videos and put it in the drive. I figured, hey, it's MPEG1, no problems here, it's not a proprietary format like many of the AVIs or QuickTime movies. BZZZT!! Wrong. It wouldn't even try to play under Gnome. It simply said there was no associated player. Under KDE it tried but there was no audio or video.

Ok, I thought, I'll just download a media player. Here is where the real pain started. I found mplayer. Lots of good reviews and stuff. I found the RPM at and tried to install it. First I tried just running the install from the GUI. That worked for XMMS, so I figured it would here too. Nope. Nothing. No error. No install. No nothing. Hummm... I tried rebooting. I tried different versions. Eventually I found an old newsgroup article with the terminal run command. I ran it to find I was missing some necessary libraries.

Ok so I downloaded the libraries and attempted to install those. The first one went fine. The next had 3 more library requirements. The next had 2. Those were downloaded to find that there were additional libraries needed as well. Oh and then I found that there was a library already installed on my system that was newer, so it wouldn't install, but the other libraries needed the older version, so I couldn't install them at all.

I spent 2-3 hours on this. Just to watch a simple MPEG1 movie file. That's really pretty silly. Silly that it requires that much effort and silly that I wasted my time on it.

Until these sort of issues are resolved Linux, even one of the best like Redhat, will not hit the main stream. Windows may not be perfect but it's mature. I could probably fine a hundred or more media players freely available on the net that would install in 5-10 minutes, with no special requirements and they'd run my MPEG1 movies no problem.

Linux is still a uber-geek's OS. It's powerful, I will grant it that. Some people would are thrilled to death that they can control every piece and part of the OS that is installed. Who am I to suggest otherwise. However, most users just want something that'll work. Windows XP is VERY stable even Linux bigots have to admit that fact. Is it bloated and a resource hog? You bet it is! But today's computers have more than enough power to get the tasks of the everyday user done. A user isn't going to notice the 20% increase in resources on their system that Linux would give, especially if all they are going is surfing the web, checking mail and playing solitaire. They WILL notice the fact that many applications on the net, provided by the name brands, don't support Linux. A Linux guy will argue that there are TONS of Linux apps out there. And he/she would be right, but how easy are they to install. Most require at least an intermediate level of understand with Linux to use. Most people don't read the "read me"s, but that's what Linux requires in a majority of cases.

Linux is a good OS, but it's not for everyone. Like it or not there is a very good reason that Microsoft has a near monopoly on the average desktop operating system. They have the only one that your grandma or your dad can use without having to call you for support all the time.

Linux itself has become pretty user friendly. Once the rest of its software base gets there too, we may actually have something that could compete with Windows. It's no wonder Redhat and Lindows (perhaps others as well) are able to get away with charging for their install packages. If they work with a simple double click then its worth it. But is it really when your computer already has Windows on it?

Time will tell and I'll keep periodically testing it out. But there is only so much time I'm willing to waste trying to install a simple application.

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