Why I Still Use Windows

The short of it: before GNU/Linux can become anything close to dominant on the desktop, those who develop it must figure out how to satisfy people like this guy[link defunct]. I identify with him. I saw this page on Slashdot today, and I must say that it comes pretty danged close to most of the reasons why I don’t run Linux on the desktop.

First, let me say that I have not tried as hard as this guy. I admit that the times I’ve tried running Linux as a workstation OS in the past, I didn’t try that hard. Every time, I get frustrated and quit fairly early.

That being said, there are good reasons why I became frustrated so quickly, and this guy points out a lot of them. Taking his main objections point by point:

X11:
I do not presume to understand all the pieces that make X work. I’m not going to comment much on his technical reasons for hating X, because I don’t have the experience with it. What I am going to say is this: when I use a Windows computer, I know what to expect. I don’t have to worry about what window manager I want to use, or whether I want GNOME or KDE, or where the people who wrote this distribution decided to put all the settings. I realize that I’m basically griping about the very thing that most people like about this way of doing things: flexibility. Well, I (and a whole bunch of other competent computer users) would gladly give up a whole boatload of that flexibility if we could just depend on knowing how to drive the thing without doing a detailed personality profile on the person who set it up. This really brings up a main key to understanding people like me: consistency is important. I’ll come back to this one later.

drivers:
This, unfortunately, is something that the developers cannot completely fix. Until Linux achieves critical mass, driver support will suck compared to Windows. However, think about this one: in Windows I don’t have to think about kernel versions in order to install a driver.

hardware setup:
This has gotten a lot better. His argument here is a bit one-sided. I have certainly had problems installing hardware in Windows. Also, he lumps in a complaint about lack of application availability in with his hardware argument. The bottom line: some hardware is still too hard to install in Linux, but it’s getting better. I think we’re headed in the right direction on this one.

support:
I’ll take this one out of order. This is a legitimate complaint. If you’ve done a ton of searching on the web first, and you’re tech enough to ask the right questions, support from live humans online is pretty good. However, fail to meet that “minimum height requirement”, and you might as well don the asbestos suit. I know people get tired of repeatedly answering simple questions, but there’s never an excuse to be downright nasty. I’ve had fairly good luck here, but only because I know where to look for info on my own. Unfortunately, I doubt there’s any way to get rid of the loudmouth elitists. The solution? How about making things intuitive and simple enough that not as many people have to ask simple questions? If a simple question comes up a lot, it’s probably a sign that something isn’t as easy as it should be.

software distribution:
In Windows, if I need to install a piece of software, I download a binary install package for Windows and run it. Period. What about Linux? Well, it depends on which distribution I’m running. What? You don’t know what a package manager is? Tough. What? That RPM didn’t work with your distribution? Ooops. That RPM was meant for Red Hat. Distribution packagers have tried to make this one easier, but it’s still MUCH too hard. This is yet another example of what I believe is really holding things back:

CONSISTENCY!!
The world at large (and most of us who use the OS) have become accustomed to using “Linux” to refer to anything that uses the Linux kernel. Don’t worry, I’m not about to pull an RMS on you. What I mean is this: we don’t really have a “Linux OS”. We have a whole flock of OS’s that all use Linux as their kernel. What we really have is a Debian OS, and a RedHat OS, and a Suse OS, and a Mandrake OS… Each one of them decides to install files in slightly different places. Each one uses a slightly different complement of system utilities. Each one has its own way to configure the system. All this means that we don’t have one unified OS. We have a splintered and loosely related group of OS’s that all have to be pampered and petted differently. There have been multiple attempts to pull everyone together (LSB, etc.), but none have managed to solve this problem. Until “Linux” resolves into a single target that presents a relatively standard UI and allows a single method for easily installing packages, I’m afraid we’re stuck.

I know that was long-winded, and I’m not even sure who I’m talking to. Many Linux users will freely admit that the OS is not for everyone. However, the “desktop domination” crowd and those who want to believe that only inexperienced computer users stay away from Linux need this message. There’s a lot of ground between Linux and wide desktop acceptance, and a lot of those steps are going to have to be taken from the Linux side. Given that the inconsistencies are largely driven by companies seeking to make money by differentiating their distributions, I don’t know if this will ever come together. I hope so.