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December 6, 2011 / marios

Linux Annoyances

I am fed up.

Linux as a Desktop OS pros:

  • Free

Linux as a Desktop OS cons:

  • Does not work


  • Have you ever used something free that does not work?

My bona fides: I installed my first Slackware Linux v3.0 distribution back in 1995. I have used extensively various Linux distributions since then for studying, research, and work. I have compiled kernels, implemented modules, written countless applications, and administered hundreds of boxes. Linux has been my primary desktop OS for work for the past 15 years. I have been through the nonsense of using the command line to do everything (including wasting five years “programming” with emacs; geeky remark: “I don’t want to take my fingers of the keyboard”, reasonable person’s reply: “ok then, push 10 keys like a monkey just to copy/paste a few words, rather than doing a swipe and click…”), and having to remember countless insignificant details (command line tools, flags, configuration files, etc.) for configuring various aspects of the OS. At the same time I have been an avid Windows user, mostly for fun stuff, like playing games and using devices initially not supported on Linux (e.g., sound cards, webcams, tuners, fancy printers). Hence, I have been through the pain of having to re-install Windows 98 every other week, and experiencing blue screens every other day. I switched to using Windows XP as my desktop OS, at work, in 2006 and I am still using it very productively to this day. I also switched to using Ubuntu as my desktop OS, at home, in 2008, and I am still using it as I type this post.

Here is the bottom line of my experiences: Irrespective of which Linux distribution I have tried the past four years (including Mint, Ubuntu and CentOS), the state of Linux as a desktop OS is worst than what Windows 98 used to be, more than thirteen years ago. This is appalling. I can honestly say that every time I use my Ubuntu machine to try to do something new (and sometimes when trying to do ordinary tasks that I have performed before), there is some kind of annoyance I have to deal with, which can usually take more than an hour to resolve, searching the Internet and trying different ideas — in other words a complete waste of time. More importantly, one would expect things to get better with time, issues to get resolved. This has not been the case, in my experience. Each and every time I upgraded to a newer version of some distribution, a long list of things stopped working or stopped working as well as they used to. Even worse, in certain cases, bugs that had been fixed after applying incremental updates, resurfaced in a newer version of the same distribution. Finally, the stability of Linux as a desktop OS is a myth. I cannot even count the number of times that X applications crash or become unresponsive, each day; especially when it comes to dealing with multimedia applications and plug-and-play devices.

At the same time, my experience with Windows XP has been stellar. I can honestly say that I do not remember ever seeing a blue screen on my Windows XP boxes. I am sure I had various applications crash or become unresponsive at times, but it has not been very often, except the X server of Cygwin, which crashes all the time (guess why?). There is not a single thing that I haven’t been able to accomplish using Windows, and that is without having to buy an application (pretty much all major open source applications for Linux can be used with Windows as well), and without having to waste more than a couple of minutes to figure out how. On the contrary, I find it often necessary to use Virtualbox or dual-boot on my Linux boxes, to run Windows to perform certain tasks, every now and then. I have to admit, that Windows without Cygwin would be useless to me. Cygwin works fairly well  (except the X server, that is). Of course, Windows is not free, and it is not very cheap either. But it seems to be worth it, given the level of frustration I have to deal with when I am trying to accomplish certain tasks on Linux.

And just to try to silence Apple fans, I own a Powerbook G4 running OS X Tiger v10.4 (which is a BSD based OS). My experience was terrible. I can deterministically cause blue screens (yes, there is such a thing in OS X) by plugging in and out a network cable while disabling wireless networking. I can crash iTunes and other apps on demand. I am not thrilled with the user experience either (I find the menu bar on the top of the screen causing unnecessary long mouse travelling and the one mouse key silly, since the need for a right-click using control-click is as frequent as a normal click). Furthermore, Apple does not support my machine anymore since it has a PowerPC CPU and Apple releases newer version of OS X for Intel CPUs only. Finally, within a month after buying the laptop the F11 key broke off. Within two years, the hard drive failed. Within three years, the little magnetic latch that is used to hold the screen tightly closed, broke off. Why does Apple have customer loyalty is beyond me. Then of course, I have no experience with newer versions of OS X…



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  1. marios / Dec 9 2011 11:59 am

    Todays problems on Ubuntu 11.10:
    – Dual monitor installation
    Connect monitor to graphics cards, boot Windows 7, BOOM, virtual desktop already selected for me, with primary monitor being the monitor supporting the largest resolution.
    Reboot to Ubuntu. Monitor is detected in mirrored display mode. Log in, resolution is obviously the min-max resolution between the two monitors.
    Go to “Displays”. Set mirror to off, choose max resolution for each monitor, click ok, ERROR, “Virtual desktop size too small for the chosen resolution, blah, blah …”.
    Run AMD Catalyst Control Center. Try from there. Same problem.
    Run chromium, search google. Spend a couple minutes. Find possible solution: Add “Virtual 4096 4096” in /etc/X11/xorg.conf, section “Screen/Display”
    Follow suggestion, restart X, try to set resolutions again, BOOM, it worked! … Ahh… not so fast. Dragging/Resizing windows is excruciatingly slow.
    Search google, waste a couple of minutes, some suggestions about installing proprietary ATI driver. Run “Additional Hardware”, proprietary driver already selected, but there exists an updated driver. Select updated driver. Download begins, software installing, CRASH, error.
    Go to logs, find error, try to do same as root from command line using apt-get and aptitude. ERROR. Forget it. Let’s try the good old restart X. Nope. Let’s try the good old reboot machine.
    Reboot, login, YEAH! It works. Time wated: 1hour :)
    Opstt. Wait a minute. The primary monitor is the small monitor. Try to change that from “Displays”. No such option. Try to change that from Catalyst Center. No such option. Search google, yep there is a command line way of doing it. No thank you, I ‘d rather live with it at this point…

    – Remote desktop
    Open remote desktop viewer, to connect to Windows Server 2003 at work. Connect. Works. But resolution is very small (800×600). What happened? This used to work before (either on 11.04, or before the dual monitor setup; I don’t remember).
    Oh well. Use full-screen option. BOOM, window becomes equal to the virtual desktop. That is, equal to the size of *both* monitors. Kinda useless, since monitors have different sizes, so start menu at the bottom of the remote desktop does not appear on the small monitor :)
    Let’s see if we can choose the resolution manually. Nope. No such option.
    F%#$@% it. Use rdesktop from command line instead… Ok, choose resolution manually. Not bad. Hmm, problem. Pressing crtl-alt arrow to change virtual desktop on local machine does not work anymore. rdesktop does not understand it. It used to work with remote desktop viewer (when I could use it productively in full screen mode with one monitor only).
    One step backwards once more…

    – Browsing:
    Open chromium, start browsing, open 5 tabs. Works well
    Open history, navigate to a few days ago, try to find a link, suddenty things are slowing down. Huh? Click on a link. Things are really slow now.
    Try to open terminal to run top. Unity is responsive. Click terminal icon, nothing happens. Hit alt-f2, type terminal. Nothing. Type xterm, nothing. Try xkill to kill browser. Nothing.
    Hit ctrl-alt F1 to go to command line, works! Login as root, run top. Nothing out of the ordinary.
    Kill chromium, alt-F7, same shit. ctrl-alt F1, restart X. Login, no Unity bar, no status bar! Huh?
    Kill X again, same. F%#$% it. Reboot…

    – Using icons on the Desktop.
    Hmm, I remember I used to have a link to a folder lying on my desktop. I don’t see it anymore.
    Oh well, I can create it again. Create link. ERROR. File exists. Use terminal to list files. Yep it exists! But where is it on my desktop? Nowhere!
    Select another icon on desktop and press tab to list through all icons. Opst. This is not Windows, you can’t do that :)
    Open “Displays”. Mirror displays. BOOM. Icon is there, at the top of the screen :) This is getting too much for one day now!
    Move icon somewhere lower :) Mirror displays off. Icon is there. Phewww. Ok.
    Time wasted 20 minutes…

    By the way, none of these reasons is what prompted me to write this post. All of the above happened two days after I wrote the post. What prompted me to write the post is something I am not even ready to discuss now; it was *that* enraging!

  2. marios / Dec 12 2011 9:02 pm

    Todays problems on Ubuntu 11.10:
    – Run Truecrypt to open an encrypted volume. Everything works fine. Unmount volume minimize Truecrypt.
    – Try to maximize Truecrypt again, after one hour. Nowhere to be found. Try to run it again: Error “Truecrypt already running”. Yes, but where is it? How do I bring it to the foreground? Alt-tab, nope. Any virtual desktop, no.
    – Search google. Ok. Truecrypt is not white-listsed to appear on the Unity panel when minimized. So it just disappears instead :)
    – Here is how to white-listed:
    -sudo apt-get install dconf-tools
    – run dconf-editor
    – go to desktop->unity->panel
    – add ‘Truecrypt’ to the systray-whitelist variable.
    – restart Unity.
    – Nope, didn’t fix it. Search more. Hmm. It should be ‘truecrypt’ not ‘Truecrypt’. Fix it. Restart. Nope
    – Hmm, somebody suggests using systray-whitelist ‘all’. Fix it. Restart. Nope.
    – Hmm… time wated 30 minutes. Forget it…

    – Ok. I couldn’t forget it. I couldn’t understand why it worked for everybody else apparently in the blogs, and not me.
    – Turns out… Disable dual monitors and set mirroring on. BOOM. systray icons appear as expected. Enable dual monitors. CRASH. systray icons disappear.
    – File bug in unity forums.
    – Another 15 minutes wasted…

    – It keeps getting better. Search for unity bug report. Answer from Unity website: Choose help->report a bug, from unity.
    – Looking around my desktop, right clicking stuff all over the place. Where the heck is “help->report a bug”. Are you serious?
    – Searching google: unity report a bug command line. Run “ubuntu-bug unity”. Really? That easy, eh? This is getting too much once again…
    – I run it. It collects information. It never lets me report the bug!! It just collects info and submits it to the ubuntu team. Back to square five.
    – Forget it. I am posting a question to a couple of forums…

  3. marios / Dec 16 2011 8:03 pm

    Today’s problems on Ubuntu 11.10:

    Playing DVDs:
    – Pop a DVD into the drive.
    – Try to play it with Movie Player. I can hear sound but screen is green. Huh? I used to be able to play DVDs!!
    – Run VLC. Same!
    – Play a random mp4 file from hard drive. Same!! What happened??
    – Read blogs, read forums. Search for green screen. Some other people complain. They recommend unsetting the “Accelerated Video Output (Overlay) option.
    – Ok great! It worked. But … now I can only use VLC to play media files :) Great, by why did this happen suddenly?
    – Disable virtual desktop and mirror displays (see earlier comment). Everything is back to normal! I mean, how many things can a simple “virtual desktop” setting break?!!!

    Reading email:
    – Wake up in the morning, boot computer, connect to VPN. Run thunderbird. BOOM! Blank screen.
    – Waiting,waiting, doing some browsing, waiting. Blank screen.
    – Kill thunderbird and restart. Same. Really?
    – Disconnect VPN and retry. Same. I mean for real?
    – Logout, loging. Same!!
    – Kill everything with “X” in it :) Same!
    – Forget it, reboot. Now it worked…

    Viewing pictures:
    – View some pictures using the default Nautilus viewer. Everything seems fine.
    – I decide to copy a range of pictures to a different folder, starting from the first picture to the one I am currently viewing.
    – Ok, what is the filename of the current picture? It should be displayed on the title bar of the window. Look at the name (a number), go to the folder to find the file.
    – Oppssst. The label of the file on the window title bar is the name of the first picture in the folder. What is happening?
    – Maximize and restore window. Oppst. There you go, the name refreshed :) Give me a break….

  4. marios / Dec 22 2011 10:29 am

    Guaranteed way to crash Nautilus:
    – Connect your iPad 2
    – Unmount your iPad 2
    – :)

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