Friday, August 28, 2009

Linux is hopeless?

The title was just to stir everyone up. Linux is of course a good operating system. There is also nothing wrong with Windows. The main difference is, as the Free Software Foundation would have us believe, all about freedom. With Linux I am free to do as I please. But this time I cry, cry for help.

With Windows I expect to have to hunt for bug fixes. The difficulty is not with Microsoft but the model which drives all the software creators. I expect one product to interact with another and everyone deny responsibility. I do not expect the same with Linux. It is after all a community thing. Everyone working for the good of the community. I have heard such claims before! Politicians all clamour to tell me how they work for the community. Enough said I think.

So, Linux is all about politics? Perhaps I exaggerate. Linux is diverse, especially in its development stage and this in itself can cause problems. It is supposed to be about freedom. This is what all new converts are told. Linux does depend on the distribution but take it from someone who has been running Linux as a user since the mid-1990's that this dependency is minor. If your distribution does it now then they all will within a year.

I run Fedora at home. I keep it pretty up to date. It is seen as a cutting edge distribution by some. I chose it for stability! I have been running Red Hat in various versions from Red Hat 5 and Fedora gave me continuity and methods I knew and understood. I accept that it does choose the latest release for most of the provided software, or the latest it can. I currently run Fedora 11 and will download Fedora 12 at some point soon to test it before mid-November (the planned release date). I will probably be running it live before December. I am that much of a fan of Fedora and Linux in general.

My problem? Things keep breaking! As I install each release things change. Suddenly something that would not work just jumps into life. Unfortunately things also stop working. The parts that suddenly work are fine, they are all documented. Just as with commercial software nobody admits "this fix will stop devices x, y and z from working with this software".

I have not always been careful when buying hardware. My scanner does not work with Linux and my printer is not that well liked. Still that was my own fault. What I was careful with when buying was my laptop, or at least parts of it. One part I wanted to work was the fingerprint reader. It did, without a problem. I have been using it since Fedora 9.

Now, as part of the Fedora 11 upgrade from 10, I am given a better fingerprint reader software and the ability to use a greater variety of fingerprint readers. "Extensive work has been done to make fingerprint readers easy to use as an authentication mechanism" I am told. I cannot tell you because the fingerprint reader does not work any more!

Why not? Because nobody wants to develop the hardware I have, developers cannot get hold of it and other niggles. This is a problem for me. I am told to check up if hardware works and it did. Now it does not.

I used to recommend that companies give up commercial software and go open source. Can I now? I recommend options to companies running 1000's of systems. These systems have to work for years, many are still running Windows NT. That is not a typo XP was not an option as the upgrade is too expensive and will not run on the computers! Enter Linux perhaps? It is difficult to get them to try. My clients are conservative in their purchases. These problems stop them trying it.

My only hope is that when other Linux distributions pick up the new fingerprint software from Fedora, and they will, then they will re-introduce support for the hardware I have. This is not a major problem for me, I will stick with Linux but it could upset quit a few people. Fancy having that very piece of hardware you needed suddenly stop working.

Is Linux ready for the desktop? Of course it is. Where it fails is in the development model which Linux followers like myself think is so good. There are times when the developers cannot not help. These are also the times when a user with more pressing needs will turn around and say that Linux is not ready for his desktop. Over to the Linux community (I think I just passed the book to myself!).

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