March 25, 2006

Making the jump to Linux: Six frustrations

Author: Andy King

I am a high school science teacher who is attempting to make the jump to Linux. A few months ago I made a some changes to my desktop PC, and had to re-register my Windows XP installation. This infuriated me -- and my quest for a suitable Linux replacement began. I'm now a bona fide Linux user, but that doesn't mean I'm completely happy.

My experiences with Linux go back to Red Hat 6, which I got up and running with extreme effort and no joy. I've since tried Xandros, Ubuntu, MEPIS, Kubuntu, SUSE 10.0, Solaris, Damn Small Linux, and Kanotix.

I currently run Kanotix on my laptop and desktop computers. I am attempting to learn as much as I can about the operating system by clawing my way through multitudes of forums and wikis. I do my part by reading and contributing my limited knowledge, and I am thankful that so many in the community are attempting to do theirs.

While I appreciate these efforts, I see some limitations that make it difficult for me -- and others -- to make the transition.

The frustrations

First, I wish writers would explain acronyms fully in the early part of a post or review, so people unfamiliar with Linux can get a clue. It took me a number of weeks to find what DAO stood for (disk-at-once). Also, it took me quite a while to determine that CHMOD wasn't an acronym, but a command. AAAArrrrgh.

Second, do not expect others to know exactly what you are writing about. While you may be responding to a single question, keep in mind the person asking is not your only audience. It would cut down greatly on repetitive responses if you gave step-by-step instructions that don't expect much prior knowledge. As a teacher, I am aware of how agonizing it is to explain the same thing over and over, but it greatly reduces the need when I explain, without skipping steps, exactly how to do something.

Third, one thing missing from Linux (most flavors anyway; Xandros is better here than most) is a hardware configuration tool that uses a graphical user interface (GUI). Most distros have something that informs you somewhat, but that doesn't assist you in making changes. If the distro doesn't recognize hardware during the install, changes are hard to make.

Many longtime Linux users frown on using a GUI to do this type of thing, but new users would benefit greatly from it. While XP can be faulted for many things, hardware recognition and installation are not among them -- and it is all GUI. Here the Linux community is behind; the idea that a novice will grasp the command line quickly is fantasy. Most of us are not programmers, just people who want things to work.

Fourth, for those distros that utilize customized scripts, it would be nice to have a list of them, where they are located, and how to edit them. This would facilitate our ability to make the changes we need. These customized scripts often automate various functions, controls, and configurations, and for that we are eternally thankful, but we should be able to rewrite or reconfigure them as root.

I found (after a great deal of frustration) that even Kanotix rewrites a number of files that I must change each time I restart the system. One of the reasons that many of us left Windows was the desire to customize, but without knowing the locations of files and executables, we will be lost.

Fifth, the community at large tends to snub those who must still use dial-up as their main avenue to the Internet. It would be nice if we could all afford DSL, but we are stuck with what we have. I am a loyal Juno user, so it was frustrating to find that no one recognized this need. I understand that there are native Linux dialers, but they do not connect to Juno properly and I continuously got bumped.

I discovered that there is a Juno dialer for Linspire. Since Linspire is a Debian-based distro I was able to download and configure the dialer to suit my Kanotix system. I found the files that were responsible, edited them using Kate, and found that I now had a system that dialed out as easily as XP did. I have used it in Xandros, Kanotix, MEPIS, and Ubuntu with satisfaction. I cannot believe that I am the only one to face this issue. At least it is solved.

The sixth, and final frustration, is the fact that I don't understand German -- most of the content on the Kanotix site is in German!!! Why didn't I take German???

Overall, I haven't completely decided if my frustration with Linux is worth the benefit. So far, so good, but I have a few hurdles looming that may push me back to XP. I hope not.


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