Linux: Not Ready for the Big Time

File Formats

Crashing and user experience are all about making the user comfortable in the environment out of the box, because that is the expectation of users these days.  As developers, we all know that out-of-the-box experience is not only a combination of application functionality, but also of the ability to manipulate all types of data that user may throw at it and right now Linux does not handle the most important formats of all: MP3s and DVD video.  Of course there are very legitimate reasons for this from an FOSS-philosophy standpoint, but new users will not care about this.

This is not to say they shouldn’t however.  Instead of simply not allowing the formats, if there is a true belief in FOSS-mentality amongst all users of Linux and FOSS, then there should be transition tools to help migrate users into new formats.  Services should be set up so that for inexpensive costs, entire music collections can legally be migrated to .ogg or .flac.  Movements should be made to somehow secure legal rights to the DVD video codecs so that users can play their favorite formats.  Users should be educated in which music-playing hardware can support FOSS multimedia codecs. Yet this does not happen, and instead of people condoling them, they offer obnoxious workarounds or sometimes even simple, “Deal with it,” atitudes.

The Community

Yet all of these small, nit-picky, programmatic issues regarding the actual architecture of Linux and many FOSS projects are simply the user-level indicators of much larger community trends, which when the stereotypes are fulfilled, are single-handedly preventing Linux from making it to the Big Time. In fact some may ask, does the community really even want Linux to go Big Time?

Let’s attack the community where it lives: the Internet.  There exist very few common-user appropriate, “real space,” helpful institutions or companies that are willing to promote Linux.  The Linux community has always existed on the web, in forums and Usenet, ftp servers and mailing lists.  And though these are more common nowadays, the average computer user still does not make use of the Web in such as a fashion as Linux users have been doing for going on twenty years now.  Until Linux people can step out of their cyber-realms and into the physical world, people will continue to perceive Linux as something ethereal, existing only for the most wizardly of computer users in Cyberspace.

The community has also always developed amongst the elite computer users of the world: the system administrators, the, “basement hackers,” scientists and researchers.  It is because of this that many of the above problems exist in the first place.  Many of these groups are highly oriented towards speed, efficiency, and thus as a result, customization; mixing and matching parts like the mad scientists some of them are to create the perfect beast of a computer, highly optimized for specific tasks.  Who needs graceful crashing when you wrote the program in the first place and know exactly why it crashed.

Finally, there is the notion of the community to push out any code that is at least, “dog-foodable,” (term taken from the Chandler Team) and then get everyone in on development.  It also means that a Linux perspective of a finished application is different from many other applications.  I can probably count the number of applications (qualifier: GUI-based, common-user perception of application, i.e. not locate or gcc, etc.) on my desktop with a version > 1.0 on one hand.  And this is out of the dozens I use regularly.  This difference in perception actual creates many hurdles bringing over new users who expect that by the time they install an application, it will have a high degree of polish in everything it does.

2 Comments

Filed under Linux

2 responses to “Linux: Not Ready for the Big Time

  1. Excellent article. We have a Linux (Ubuntu 9.10) box stand as our FOG imaging server, web server and Samba server (because of a lack of hardware). Seems as though every day I come into the classroom and have to wrestle with it just to make it cooperate throughout the day. I am learning Linux as I go, which is fun, but considering sustainability, I’m not sure how my counterpart will handle keeping the thing going after my term here.
    So, reading between the lines of your article, I have to whole-heartedly agree that Linux is not ready for deployment in the developing world. However, there is one keen advantage and that is that people in the developing world are not as reliant on proprietary formats. +1 for Linux.

  2. Glad you agree. The issues you described about your servers are very common place amongst new sys admins, but I promise you, once it gets up and running, it just works (a point that comes up next week).

    As for the developing world, I actually tend to disagree a little bit. I think Linux is ready enough that with proper instruction, we can teach more abstract computer use scenarios without locking people into the Windows mindset. It is what I am slowly trying to do. It just takes, like a server, a lot of setup to create situations where your students do not fall into the common pitfalls of Linux based distributions.

    I wish I could say the same about proprietary formats in Kenya, but this country is deluged by mp3 CDs and the most hideously encoded VideoCDs and DVDs I have ever seen. Even VLC has trouble handling most of them. Trying to convince some local artists I know to switch off of their illegal Fruitloops and MP3 was like trying to milk a bull: it just wouldn’t work for so many reasons!

    My third article in the series will hopefully be the most development oriented, so stay tuned and thanks for reading!