January 31, 2002

Some good reasons <i>not</i> to use Linux

Author: JT Smith

- by Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
Some people can use Linux, and some can't. No matter how many Linux zealots talk nasty about Windows or Mac users or say that Linux is wonderful, not everyone can do their work in Linux.

Start with desktop publishing [DTP]. This is one of the most common computer tasks. Small companies, home-based entrepreneurs, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, community centers, amateur sports leagues, and all kinds of groups use computers to make letters and letterheads, business cards, envelopes, newsletters, fliers,forms, and many other kinds of printed matter. For many people, businesses, and organizations, this is the primary reason to buy a computer in the first place.

Go to any store that sells computer software. Desktop publishing software is all over the place, ranging from little $10 utilities that make nothing but greeting cards up to full-featured DTP programs that will make almost any kind of "home made" printed material anyone is likely to need or want. Buy pre-scored sheets of business card stock from companies like
Avery, and they'll also provide software that'll help you use their products. Note, too, the link to the Microsoft Office Template Gallery. There is no link to a StarOffice or OpenOffice template gallery. There are special-purpose print templates around for StarOffice, but they are neither extensive nor, in my experience, very usable.

Perhaps OpenOffice and StarOffice 6.0 will, one day, have simple ways to make things like newsletters and business cards, but that's "one day," not today. As for professional-level publication layout and graphics, tools like Quark Express and Photoshop simply outstrip anything available for Linux. There are projects under way to make professional-level publication layout possible in Linux, but today there is nothing. (The Gimp is fine for online graphics. I use it myself, and I like it. But no matter how many Linux people say it is as good as Photoshop, it is not useful for professional-level print image manipulation.)

In general, when it comes to anything that is going to be printed on paper, Linux software is not "there" yet. It is easy for people enmeshed in the Internet culture -- the kind of people who read and post comments on this site, for example -- to forget that a lot of the world still runs on paper, and is likely to keep running on paper for some years yet. And printing in Linux is still limited. Yes, you can turn out basic work on the average inkjet, and a few laser printers have passable support on Linux, but when it comes to professional-quality printing, Linux is still marginal.

Let's not talk too much about scanners, either. Linux scanner support is better than it was even a year ago, but still isn't quite at the level of ease you get with Windows or Mac, and the selection of scanners that work with Linux is limited. Cheapie parallel port ones that a lot of people already have generally won't work in Linux.

The curse of the Winmodem
If you install Linux on the typical store-bought PC or laptop, chances are your modem won't work. You'll need to buy another modem, not necessarily one that says "Linux Certified" on the box, but one that claims it'll work not only with Windows but also DOS, at least. There are a few Windows-only modems, or "Winmodems," that can be made to work in Linux, but not many. Just face the fact that if you want to switch from Windows to Linux, you will probably need to buy and install a new modem. And if you are in the habit of using AOL instead of an ISP, you will need to switch to a regular ISP, too, and lose that precious AOL email address and access to all those groovy AOL chat rooms where FBI agents pretend to be horny 14-year-old girls.

If you decide to get cable Internet or DSL, you will find that hardly any of their suppliers have just-fire-up-a-CD connection software for Linux. Sure, you can make Linux work with cable or DSL, but you will have to think. It's easier with Windows. Sure, Mandrake and other Linux distros make it easier to secure your computer against hackers than Windows does, but Linux won't let you play with Windows-based viruses and worms and spread them to all your friends. Come to think of it, neither will a Mac. If you enjoy the thrill of strangers messing up your hard drive, Windows is your best bet -- and you won't have to change a modem or anything to make it work.

Games
If your computer is a toy, not a work tool, Linux will put a lot of limits on you. There are a few Linux games around, but nothing like the shelves full of Windows games you see in most stores that sell software.

Other special-purpose programs
CAD for Linux is primitive, 3-D CAD almost nonexistent. There are special design programs for everything from office buildings to circuit boards, and most of them are available only for Windows. Video and audio editing software for Linux is out there, but very limited. There isn't a whole lot of kid-level educational software for Linux, either, although this lack can be made up by using some of the many excellent educational Web sites that work as well in Linux as in Windows.

As a general rule, if there is a special-purpose program you are used to using in Windows, you won't find a Linux equivalent -- unless you are a scientist, engineer, ham radio operator, sysadmin or computer programmer. In these fields, Linux software abounds. On the other hand, there is a dearth of Linux software for insurance agents who want to generate quotes rapidly from many companies. Since most Linux programs are written by people who want them for their own use, this is logical. More engineers than insurance agents are likely to have the ability to write software. Of course, with all the recent layoffs in high-tech industries, it is possible that some engineers and programmers will drift into insurance sales and decide to write Linux software that will help them be more successful in their new line of work. But don't hold your breath.

The upshot
Like it or not, there are a lot of things Linux can't do right now, so there are a lot of people whose only rational operating system choice is Windows or, in the case of some art-types, Mac. This doesn't mean these people are morons, lusers or idiots, or that they deserve to be cursed or sneered at. And some of the nastier teenage Linux zealots may someday find that many Windows and Mac users are girls, possibly even attractive girls, and that it is possible to have a mixed-OS relationship if they can stand a little heat from their #LinuxR00ls IRC buddies. But these lost boys are not going to get very far with girls who use Windows or Mac if they don't quit with the insults, already.

I use and like Linux. I can do everything I need to do in Linux, but I also accept the fact that there are some things I would like to do with my computer, but can't do as long as I stick to Linux. I am willing to make sure any hardware I want will work with Linux before I buy it, which is another inconvenience Windows users don't usually experience. I am willing to forego the pleasures of Outlook and Outlook Express, which are not available for Linux, including the thrill of clicking on "mystery" email file attachments and having them create fun-to-solve problems with my computer. I accept these deficiencies as part of the Linux experience, just as I have learned to accept the fact that it is possible to make a fully-functional, work-ready Linux system without spending a dime on software, instead of supporting the economy by spending lots of money like a good American.

There are many places I'd like to see Linux used more, especially in government offices where my tax money is paying for expensive Windows software in many places where free or low-cost Linux software would do just as well. But I am not a Linux zealot or bigot. I recognize that there are people and companies that would rather pay through the nose for Windows and proprietary software, even if Linux equivalents are available, rather than change a modem. Sure, you can argue that it's a lot easier and cheaper to change a modem and move to Linux than to buy a new computer or do a major hardware upgrade to run resource-hogging Windows XP, and I'm sure some people and companies understand this. But I don't look down on those who don't, any more than I look down on people who buy lots of lottery tickets even though state-run lotteries are one of the worst possible ways to invest your money.

And, just perhaps, some people don't use Linux because they don't want to be associated with foul-mouthed juveniles, like the ones who dominated this series of comments. There were some nasty Windows users in this conversation as well, but almost every time Linux is mentioned online, a bunch of Linux zealots seem to jump in with obscenties and insults so vile that I wonder if they aren't being paid to do this by commercial operating system publishers. If so, those commercial OS publishers are certainly getting their money's worth, because associating Linux with rotten manners makes a lot of people leery of letting Linux in their front door, let alone using it to run their computers.

See also, part one, "Why bother to use Linux?

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