Monday, April 28, 2008

You'll Get Bitten Eventually ...

I've installed Linux for a few people over the years. I used to be pretty gung-ho about it, but these days I'm more reserved. My gal tend to talk it up more than I do. I just use Linux and answer friends' computer questions with "I don't know a lot about Windows, but I'll try to help."

The ones who do switch over, I'm pretty open with. Generally, they're excited about what they see, and especially that it's free and in English (getting an English copy of Windows is pretty difficult). I say that I'll do everything I can to help them, and I'm generally on call 24/7, even if I don't want to be. In fact, I started this blog simply as support for one of my friends.

During their excitement phase, I caution them that something will come along to bite them eventually. There's nothing for free. The lack of viruses for Linux is in part based on the fragility of the ELF executable and the strong separation between user and administrator, but it's also partly due to the low market share. That low market share has its side-effects.

I've been using Linux for so long now that many things people want to do with their computers don't even occur to me. Scanners? Good luck. Webcams? I couldn't use them for my first five years. Sync your phone? What? Install a printer? Better check the hardware first. Some web page doesn't work? Screw the website, then.

The truth is that most of that stuff works these days. I've been shocked several times lately. The all-in-one printers are still hit and miss. Scanners are much better, but not near 100%.

Some problems my friends have had in the last year:
  • The laptop won't hibernate (surprise!)
  • My friend can't play his WMAs. I suspect that they're encrypted.
  • Another friend has a special website he loves which uses Java. Shouldn't be a problem, except that the site claims java isn't installed when it is and it works with other sites. I'm not going through the javascript line by line, but I assume the site is doing a check for java in a Windowsy kind of way.
  • TV-out on an old Radeon card didn't work well, then it didn't support widescreen.
  • An MTP portable player didn't used to be easy to use at all.
Anyway, these are real issues for my friends, and I do everything I can to help them. Some issues just aren't solvable by me, though, I'm never going to write a driver. I'm probably never going to add any real functionality to any program. I haven't written a program since 1988, and I don't know anything about current stuff except php and some ruby.

The point I'm taking the long way around in order to get to is that I've recently tried to do some out-of-my-little-box stuff and have been pleasantly surprised.
  • Suspend AND Hibernate both work on my laptop.
  • My Xorg.conf file is no longer there and everything happens with XRandR through the System > Preferences > Screen Resolution dialog.
  • Wine plays over half the Windows games my gal downloads and tries, though there is some issue with X and the keyboard not responding.
  • I can exchange MS Word files with people and do stuff like add notes and track changes.
A lot of things work that didn't used to work. I thank Canonical, Debian, and Red Hat for most of the work putting all this together.

Sync'ing my Samsung cell phones, though? Get real. It'll never happen.


SilverWave said...

Hi I have lately made a resolution not to be a Ubuntu "pusher"...

I had got caught up in the whole euphoria at having a new fascinating OS to play with... one which treated the user with respect and which had an appealing ethical underpinning.

But using Ubuntu is a choice you cannot force on ppl, even for their own good ;)

So I agree, they must have a desire to try Ubuntu first, then you can offer support.

PS could you expand on your remark about the fragility of the ELF executable?


I wrote about it here:

Shamil said...

Ubuntu's fun and all. But, the desire to go to other distro's does happen when ubuntu no longer satisfies. Why not go with pure debian instead of ubuntu?

On part of your friends wma's not playing, i have a feeling any wmv's he has won't play also. I wouldn't say their encrypted unless they really are and you did stop by the medibuntu repository and installed w32codecs which enables windows media playback in linux. But, perhaps they aren't encrypted and you didn't stop by medibuntu.


Hey Shamil,

Thanks for commenting. I actually moved to Ubuntu FROM Debian, circa 4.10. Before Debian, I was on RH for six or seven years. I like them all. These days, I stay with Ubuntu not for the distro itself, but to be really familiar with it for those people I support.

WRT the wma files, some of them played and some of them didn't. The codecs were installed, so I assumed that the files were encrypted.

I tried many different players, but none did the trick. In the end, I told him that they wouldn't play ... may never play. That's the bite.

For me, the freedom is worth the occasional bite. It's worth more than a fancy interface. It's worth more than casual webcamming. I could never move to Vista or, as many other Linuxites have, to OSX.

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