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Linux Distributions

After being warmly received by the Slashdot community on my Linux article ;) I did some legwork to install some additional distributions.

  • Why does my choice of distribution determine my hardware compatibility?
  • Why do I have to download 5 CD's if the install only uses 2?
  • Why are there so many distributions that are seemingly identical except for the logo?
  • Why do I have to burn a CD at all? It is possible to install an OS without a CD. Physical media is so 1990.
  • If you type "Install Linux" into Google. The first 20 or so pages are unhelpful and likely to scare users away. Compare this to the results when you type "Install Firefox" into Google.
  • Why do I have to choose between so many platform choices? AXP, SPARC, PPC, etc. The server can tell I'm running IE 6 on Windows XP. Just give me the obvious choice.
  • Most sites assume I know what a Torrent is. Several clicks estimate 2 days to download the 3gb download using Torrent. Very few tell me where I can get torrent software.
  • I have yet to see a distribution that packages up my email settings, IM settings, browser settings and hardware configuration to ensure that my transition to Linux is smooth from Windows.
  • Several installations kick me into a login screen with no user name and password. I'm supposed to know that the password is 'root'. I guess I didn't get the memo.
  • Most distributions don't separate the idea of software and platform. This is really surprising since many people in the Linux community came down hard on Microsoft for bundling IE and Media Player. Many distributions bundle everything. I haven't decided if this is a good or a bad thing.
  • The Linux software world seems to be 'free.' While this is great for the end user who likes free things it's hard to convince developers to write software for a platform where the users have an expectation of everything being free. I haven't found any obvious Linux shareware sites or resources for Linux sharware authors.
  • Why isn't WINE part of most distributions? This seems like an obviously useful tool that would ease migration and provide specialized applications that aren't found on Linux.
  • Overall many applications feel rough and un-polished. This may be partly because I'm not used to them but OpenOffice, Gimp, Gaim and others don't feel like refined polished applications. In the words of Tyler Dyrden ... Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. The applications just look dull, muted and faded. There is no 'new car smell.'
  • Multiple desktops - A nice concept but should probably be turned off by default. It's too easy to loose your stuff and not know where to find it again.
  • Accessibility is really bad. I can't believe that the windows keyboard button doesn't open the primary application menu in either KDE or Gnome by default. This was really surprising. I assume that most advanced computers users are far more productive with a keyboard then with a mouse. In windows I have keyboard shortcuts, tab, ctrl+tab, shift+tab for every single feature. In Linux I can't even launch an application. This button is printed on every keyboard so even though it has a picture of a windows flag there is no reason not to use it. (Draw a little penguine in white-out if it makes you feel better.)
  • Both KDE and Gnome seem similar enough on the surface to warrant a unification effort. Each has it's pros and cons but since both offer a fair amount of customization the idea of having both and encouraging users to choose seems misguided.
  • I couldn't figure out the namespace. It seems that in some builds my CD rom is in one location and in others it's in a totally different place. There's no global 'network browser' but in some areas I can get to a network folder list. Weird. What's even stranger is that the guts of the OS are there to see in all their glory. /bin /etc /mnt. This is about as bad as C: System32 documents and settings. I understand these files need to be somewhere but most users shouldn't ever see them. That pesky 'soft barricade' screen in windows that says you shouldn't mess with certain folders actually helps keep beginers out of trouble. On Linux it's the wild west and if you screw something up, good luck.

Some gems

  • Tagging files with emblems in Gnome is a cool concept and reminds me of some of the tagging concepts in Flickr and del.icio.us. This could be taken a lot further and made easier.
  • I like that some distributions are collecting information about my hardware to better the development of further hardware compatibility. Very web 2.0.
  • My original statement about sometimes having to tar/gz/make to install an application still holds true but overall package managers have come a long way and the ability to auto-update all your installed applications is really something special.
  • I like the task centric start menu. Instead of ordering things by program group or distributor as in Windows many distributions are using a 'task centric' categorization for start menu items. Games, Developer Tools, Photo and Graphic Editing , etc. I'm not certain this will scale well to thousands of nitch categories but the high level idea is a good one.
  • Draggable maximized window - This is a nice feature I discovered that you could drag a maximized window and it would 'restore' itself and allow you to continue dragging. It's subtle trick but a nice touch.
  • LiveCD distributions that actually boot everything and let you 'kick the tires' are an interesting concept. Too bad that once loaded the OS couldn't detect a hard drive to actually install the software.

More thoughts to come as I continue to explore.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.