The wrong reasons to use Linux

Everybody has a list of reasons to use Linux; I have my own, more or less, spread out over the length and breadth of this blog. Still, aside from the misinformation spewed forth by Redmond, I believe there are “wrong” reasons to use Linux. Which is to say, I think there are things that attract people to trying Linux, but I would not use as a selling point. Up front though, I should say that whatever draws you to Linux is your business, and not my concern at all.

  1. Compiz. You might read that and feel like you just got hit in the face with a glass of cold water. After all, Compiz is way cool. It’s smooth, clever, innovative, years ahead of the competition and best of all, free-as-in-beer. What’s to dislike?

    I don’t dispute any of that. I also think it’s cool and smooth, and even cooler and smoother because you can get a vastly superior desktop experience on hardware so outdated, Vista’s requirements are suddenly a joke. I mean, I even tried to run it on an ancient GeForce2 card with only 16Mb of memory once, and got somewhere near an end result.

    No, my concern is simple — Compiz is flair. It’s shiny-glossy-pretty, but doesn’t necessarily make using a computer any more successful. And for as many people as I have seen scrap Linux because they couldn’t get Compiz working … well, again, I just think that’s the wrong reason to switch.

    I would much prefer people moved to Linux because they can pick up a window manager that allows them to rearrange and organize multiple desktops and wallpapers by theme, or even better, because they have a need for a desktop that’s lighter and faster than anything Microsoft or Apple sells now.

  2. Speed. I’m going to split hairs here, and make a few distinctions. It is, after all, a little ironic that I would call out Linux on speed while writing a post on a blog dedicated to eking out the last smidgin of speed from outdated hardware.

    And it’s true, yes, that Linux machines can run faster and speedier and more efficiently than most other operating systems. Unfortunately that requires a degree of experience to achieve, and the average first-run-in with Linux is more likely to be with heavier, bulkier distributions.

    And judging by the occasional thread on the Ubuntu Forums or the Arch Forums, the speed of the included software is sometimes suspect. Firefox in Linux is regularly lambasted for being a sludge, when an identical system with Windows XP is generally snappier. Who’s at fault? Beats me.

    But that’s where I’m coming from when I say speed isn’t a good enough reason to use Linux. Distros like Ubuntu or Fedora and so forth are great introductions, but come with weight problems that don’t reinforce speed as a selling point. Over time and with the right software selections, it’s always possible to carve a system down to a true speed demon. But that usually requires a measure of experience and curiosity, and I think most Linux newcomers might lack one or the other.

  3. Gaming. A year or so ago, I coached a World of Warcraft player through an Ubuntu-plus-Wine installation, which was a particularly hairy experience. In the end it worked, but not to the satisfaction of the player. Frame rates were lower than a native Windows system, the game felt laggy, and effects didn’t show like they “should have.” As you might imagine, within a week or so, Ubuntu was gone and Windows was back on, and to the best of my knowledge, it will probably never be back.

    I think it’s important not to hold out Linux as a solution to Windows gamers who want to get away from Microsoft. But notice that I said solution there. As an option I think it’s fine. But holding out Ubuntu or another distribution as a platform for Wine as a solution to running Windows Game X … is a mistake in my opinion. Invariably the experience falls short of what people want, and if they are gamers already, they’re unlikely to be willing to suffer any performance hit whatsoever, just to assuage their conscience on some other tertiary issue, like licensing.

    On the other hand, I heartily endorse Linux as a gaming platform for Linux games — that should go without saying. If you can get someone hooked on Neverwinter Nights or Tremulous or Warzone 2100, that’s a fantastic reason to keep a Linux machine in the house. But trying to shoehorn Linux into a machine and expect a hardcore Windows gamer to be happy … well, I’ll just say I’ve never seen it happen.

  4. Duress. This is probably the worst possible reason I can think of — using Linux because you’re forced to. Even common-sense psychology dictates that forcing someone to use a tool they don’t know or didn’t elect to use is doomed to breed dissatisfaction. Spoon-feeding Linux to an unwilling user is, in my experience, a guaranteed turnoff.

    That might sound a bit hypocritical since one of the things I do in my spare time is polish an IceWM knockoff of Windows 2000, but the two ideas are not necessarily mutually exclusive. If ease-in-transition is an issue, it makes sense to create a desktop as similar as possible to what someone already knows. Transition is already a foregone conclusion.

    On the other hand, forcing someone to use Linux — or any operating system, really — is stripping out one of the core principles that Linux stands for: freedom. And in this case, freedom to choose includes the freedom to choose Windows or Mac OS or whatever. I would never allow someone to suffer through using Linux if what they really want is something else. It’s just not good business.

    (This is where I tip my hat and acknowlege that in a workplace, the rules are changed. If your job requires you use Linux or another operating system, it’s a different story. But it’s also no longer an issue of free choice, so I suppose I can dodge the bullet that way. πŸ™„ )

And that’s where I’ll stop. It’s a delicate situation, trying to convince someone to use a different operating system. Linux and its brethren have a huge list of advantages, but pushing the wrong one on the wrong person is going to backfire catastrophically. Evangelize, by all means, but don’t make the wrong sale. You only get one chance to make a first impression.

13 thoughts on “The wrong reasons to use Linux

  1. Ginger

    I must admit, Compiz is what sucked me into Linux. I just had to figure out how to get those crazy effects on my desktop. But with my use of Linux, I’ve grown to love it for so many reasons. And now, I can’t imagine ditching Linux on my computer for any other operating system.

    1. Kaleb Elwert

      Yeah, I’ll have to agree with that.

      However, now I’m running Gentoo, compiling all my packages, and starting my own overlay… I’ve gone a long way.

      I’m not even using X, but that’s mostly because I didn’t want to deal with the compile time. Haha.

      1. Xew

        Haha! I will admit that Compiz is originally the reason I switched. But gradually I dug deeper into true Linux learning and farther away from Compiz.

  2. JakeT

    I tend to agree about Compiz being mostly just useless bling BUT using the cube is so cool and so much fun, it convinced me to learn the keyboard shortcuts for flipping through multiple desktops.

    I rarely see the cube anymore, but it was a great, fun reminder of some functionality I used to always forget about.

  3. damaged justice

    The cube is basically style without substance, but the expose I ended up finding useful. In the end though, there just wasn’t enough practical reason to stick with Compiz.

  4. scott

    I like the speed comment, it can run faster, if you know what you are doing, and you can be more productive, if you know what you are doing, and i mean using the console commands and programs πŸ˜‰

    compiz is a sick feature linux has, when i first saw the 3d cube it was very impressive. They keep adding cool things to it so i can easily see why it would get people to change over.

    w0w on linux i hear is becoming easier to do, but then again if you are a windows gamer but hate windows, you should stay with windows or just make it dual boot and linux being your primary.

    Good points. πŸ˜‰

  5. road

    great post. i tried Ubuntu after reading blogs like this one and was appalled to find that it was, in fact, slower for many things (startup, firefox, flash, etc). i still haven’t switched over to Linux for desktop use yet, but I grow to appreciate it as a server OS more and more every day. i think it is important not to over-hype linux. it’s fantastically great for certain things, but as you pointed out, if you mis-represent it as a Windows/OSX replacement it can have a bad result when people try it. the evangelism of the linux community can be counter-productive sometimes. there’s no reason Windows/OSX/chrome/ubuntu/whatever can’t co-exist peacefully — they don’t always have to be “competing”.

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  7. vexorian

    Speed is definitely a reason. And I am talking about Fedora and ubuntu. I am not sure what exactly happened, but the newer versions just got very fast.

    This is a 6 years old computer, it can not only run 9.04 fine. It runs it fine with metacity compositing and it is much faster than the windows XP set up in the same computer. If you consider that vista, and not XP is the competitor for these recent releases, then yeah, speed is a huge reason for Linux.

    In more extreme scenarios like netbooks, the main difference between Ubuntu netbook remix and windows XP is that one can actually have a responsive interface. I got people interested in UNR after seeing how my netbook, even though was a year older model seemed snapier than their ones in which windows XP was forced…

  8. Pedro

    There is one thing that Linux takes Windows in speed for sure. Install the OS, keep it for 2 months, then Linux will still boots up taking the same amount of time it took in the beginning, Windows on the other hand.. well lets say that if it’s an older computer you might consider go drink a coffee :P. Windows also feel faster at the beginning because it comes it almost nothing! Once you install your common applications that’s when it starts to slow downnnn. Linux distros like Ubuntu and Fedora on the other hand come with almost everything a regular user needs ( PDF reader, Office, Firefox, Gimp, etc ) and you can keep installing stuff that you will notice almost no slowdown. Yes, although firefox is slower on Linux, it’s getting better. ( I know that this isn’t the purpose of this discussion, but if you are after speed and complain about firefox under linux, check this out : -> Run Firefox on a RAM partition, way faster! )

  9. dave

    I switched to Linux because I saw another line being drawn in the sand, in aftermath of the post-XP, vista debacle.. I realized I was no longer buying cutting edge games (the only REAL reason to upgrade from XP.. how lame) and that I could use Gimp instead of Photoshop. When I realized how easy it is to control the appearance of the desktop in Gnome, I was sold.

    That said, I have made attempts to ‘switch’ in the past, which failed.. but every time I try, less and less calls me back to Windows. This time feels much different – I left Windows in a huff, eager to be liberated. I should note that I do still ache for Photoshop now and again.

    Good, truthful article.

  10. No-name

    Linux is diffidently THE BEST. It just is:
    1. A hugely enormous library of FREE software, (windows has the most (expensive) software)
    2. Reason 2 in the post is wrong, it is a great reason to use linux (this the reason I started and I will never go back to widows). Linux is and will always be faster than windows.
    3. Windows has false information in support and comparing see: (this is in the list [it’s how I found it] and and
    4. Simply it’s expensive and hard to update. Unlike this picture: also it doesn’t support older versions of windows see
    5. Package Manager, it is easy (I mean super duper easy) to install things in linux
    6. Many software update managers (for example windows updater, adobe updater, google updater and no-updater[that means you have to do it manually]
    7. How could you do that, insulting my favorite os!
    8. Windows has expensive support
    9. Super easy to install linux, download iso, burn iso to usb or cd, boot iso, push install icon(with most major distros) set up some things and finished!
    10. It is FREE!

    The only thing that is true in windows ads is: More software and drivers (most proprietary and expensive)

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