Random Thoughts from TasT
Afew things that the Linux Community needs to look at.
Published on September 23, 2003 By TasT In Personal Computing
Can grandma use Linux? In short the answer is yes. But only if she doesn’t have to install any software, configure anything or add or remove any hardware. When configured properly a Linux box works great for surfing the net, sending email typing up a letter and just about any other simple home or office task but there are few things that will keep it from becoming a desktop for the masses any time real soon.


Standards




In the English language I read from left to right top to bottom It’s a standard that makes the system work. In the US I drive my vehicle on the right side of the road because it’s a standard and if I didn’t I would most likely end up dead in a head on crash which is exactly where desktop Linux is headed without some more standards. Many different types of standards need to be set. The one that annoys me most is directory structure and file placement in that structure. I would like to be able to find the executable for a given program or check and see it a library is present on my system. Currently this is impossible for me most of the time. With Windows there has been a defined directory structure since Windows 95. If I want to find a programs executable file I simply find its folder in the Program Files directory and 99% of the time the exe is there. In fact I would say that standards are one of the major reasons widows is successful as a desktop. With standards set a programmer or device manufacturer knows how to make their product work with the OS. This in turn makes an install painless for the user. Standard ways of doing things have to be set for all distros so that if I’m running any of them I can install a program and find the exe of that program easily. Also in the standard setting process the menuing systems need to have a set place to exist so that my programs menu is easily editable and available no matter what GUI I am using. This of course means that people from different camps will have to speak to each other and maybe even compromise a little but the end result will benefit all. Once standards are set and followed the different distros can focus on features and easy of use issues. Almost everything in this world has standards and those standards evolve to meet needs as they come along. Without standards everything further down in this blurb is pointless.

The root debate



One of the most ridiculous debates that I have been seeing is the debate on whether a user should login as the root user, better known to windows users as the Administrator. In short if a home user wants to login as the root user why not, it is his own system that he might screw up. However I think that Linux could take a lesson from WinXP on this one. The XP logon screen is easy to use and allows easy logon for more than one user. On the other hand Windows could lean from most linux dirstro on this also by letting a person login as a user and then enter the root password to accomplish admin tasks. I log into Windows as the administrator but I login as a user on my linux box because of this simple feature.


Complete Software




This is absolutely frustrating on a Linux system. I am the consumer and I expect that when I install a program that it works. With Linux this is not always the case, many times the software seems to install correctly but simply does not work or it kinda works. This is not acceptable. Software needs to be considered a product whether it is open source or commercial. There are too many pieces of software floating around out there that are in some kind of perpetual beta status. A piece of software whether open source or commercial needs to have a defined goal for a stable release then it can be refined and added to as subsequent releases. The developers need to realize that if they release the software on the net to be used by the general public it is no longer a project it becomes a product and it is expected to do it’s designed task and to be stable.


Stability




Linux has proven that it is very stable and can run for long periods of time. Windows can also do this. I personally know of 6 Windows boxes 2 of which are NT machines and the other 4 are Windows 2000 boxes that run 12 to 24 months between maintenance outages on the equipment that they control. These are single purpose mission critical machines that run only one suite of programs on top of windows. For any of us that have used NT as a multipurpose system we know that it does not fare well as far as stability goes. This is also the case for any other operating system that is not used for a single purpose. This brings me to my point an operating system is only as stable as the software that is used on it in the eyes of the user. Having to use the taskmanager, Xkill or rebooting due to a locked up program is viewed as instability to the user.


Software Installation




Can someone explain to me what is up with the absolute mess that is installing a program on a Linux box? I remember back in the days of MS-DOS and even then we had and install program of some sort for almost all software. With Linux just about every way I have encountered to Install a program is too complicated for the average user whether it be rpm, urpmi, Apt-get, or any of the other variations. Even the Click and Run Idea seems a little shaky. Come on guys let’s get it together and get a release version of something like Install Shield that can check dependencies and the such and make this mess transparent to the user.


Security




Start thinking about it right now. Linux is not inherently virus resistant. The hackers just haven’t attacked it full scale yet but as Linux gains a higher percentage of the desktops and servers the threat will grow with it.


Hardware Support




Actually I can’t complain much here. My Linux box is completely USB with all fairly new peripherals and everything has surprisingly worked quite well with the exception of my mouse and card reader. The mouse works with a little prodding on all the major distros. The smart card reader however shows up but so far it has not been able to read a single card. However Windows XP is also spotty with this device though it does read the cards when it decides to work. The main problem with hardware support is the lack of support by the hardware vendors. Someone somewhere needs to convince them that supporting Linux is viable.



In the end




Linux is poised to claim a larger share of the desktop market in the coming months due to the plague of Windows viruses and the low cost of running a Linux box. However with out straightening out some of the obvious shortcomings Linux will lose most of what is gained. I think that taking a step back and looking at where things are at and where they need to go would do everyone some good. As a user I would love to see Linux succeed and gain a large enough share of the market that hardware and software vendors will start to support it with all of their products. Standards must be developed to obtain this.

Comments
on Sep 24, 2003
"Many different types of standards need to be set. The one that annoys me most is directory structure and file placement in that structure. I would like to be able to find the executable for a given program or check and see it a library is present on my system. Currently this is impossible for me most of the time. With Windows there has been a defined directory structure since Windows 95. If I want to find a programs executable file I simply find its folder in the Program Files directory and 99% of the time the exe is there"

POSIX has such a standard: all executable images should be in /bin, /usr/bin, /sbin, or a subdirectory of one of those if installed for all users, or in ~/ for single user installs. GNU/Linux hasn't entirely adopted the standard, but it is there.

Personally I detest this particular standard as it works on Windows: among other things it forces all programs onto a single drive. If the system hasn't been altered in a manner Windows won't allow without 3rd party aid, this happens to be the boot drive, which is also where the paging file and temp directory resides by default. Trying to run everything off the same drive will cause problems eventually.
on Sep 25, 2003
Just as a note - Windows 2k/XP has a function similar to *nix's 'su'. If you Shift+Rightclick on an icon, you get an option to 'run as...' which you can use to run as any user, local or domain.

As for Arturus Magi's comment, while it is technically third-party software, MS has a powertoy called TweakUI that lets you change the registry string that points to the default 'program files' location. Or you can change the registry yourself. Likewise, you can relatively simply cange the location for the temp location and the swapdrive (not even requiring a power toy to do this under Win2K/XP).
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