Top 6 Desktop Linux Blunders

Monday Jul 18th 2016 by Matt Hartley
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Linux blunders are the responsibility of the entire Linux community, and these top ones need to be addressed.

Ever since I first tried Linux on my desktop years ago, I've found myself wincing at what I felt were avoidable blunders. This observation doesn't affect one distro more than another, rather it's ongoing issues I've watch in utter amazement happen time and time again.

No, I'm not giving a free pass to proprietary operating systems as they also have their share of epic blunder moments. But with Linux on the desktop, I guess you could say it just hits a bit closer to home. Remember, these are not merely bugs – I'm also talking about avoidable issues that affect folks even if they don't realize it.

1. The state of Linux pre-installed stinks

It's the year 2016 and the presence of a proper Linux pre-installed experience with the top online retailers is next to nothing. Obviously smaller Linux system vendors don't have a ton of leverage here, however larger system vendors tinkering around in the Linux space absolutely do. I'm talking about Dell and their on again/off again love affair with Linux. Sadly these days, Dell's "big offering" is the XPS, with a few scattered desktop solutions buried deep under some search queries.

This means that there needs to be a bigger presence from the smaller Linux system vendors on Amazon, NewEgg and other related shopping sites. Ads are great, yet the fact remains that there needs to be slick, informative landing pages on these sites to grow the pre-installed market. After all, many of these smaller vendors are already selling on Amazon...yet they lack any sort of feature or discoverability outside of blind searching. Avoiding this is, in my opinion, a blunder worth note. Who is at fault? All of us – none of us.

Blame is difficult here since there are so many factors. What I think goes without saying is that this is a huge missed opportunity. I know for a fact that Google, Microsoft and Apple have strong presence on these shopping sites. It'd be nice to see the smaller PC vendors come together and give Linux on the desktop the recognition it deserves. Don't tell me it can't be done, the entire process is crazy simple.

I'd love to see these smaller vendors take some time, write up an informative landing page and get folks who are looking to buy a new laptop some great "out of the box" solutions.

2. Needless upgrades

One thing that irritates me is how many Linux enthusiasts will upgrade to a new and often yet to be vetted version of a distribution simply to get the latest software releases. To be clear, I'm not talking about updates in which you install critical security patches and bug fixes. I'm talking about X Distro version 1 to X Distro version 2.

Now some folks have avoided this entire situation by running with rolling distributions. Others still, utilize tools like Ubuntu's Personal Package Archive or SUSE's package search. All of these options can help. Still, entirely too many people are updating needlessly to distro releases that in my opinion, may still have minor bugs that need to be worked out. Why? If you're running a long term support type of distribution, you should be able to keep using it without needlessly upgrading to a new release.

3. Bugs and regressions

So why do I rally so hard on not blindly upgrading to new popular Linux distro releases? Bugs and regressions. One of my favorite most recent bugs was so blindingly bad that I can't even fathom how it was allowed to be passed off in the first place. The network manager bug that affected one popular distribution was incredibly annoying. Worse, the affected distribution also passed this bug onto other related distros that also had to explain to their users that the bug fix was coming soon.

Basically the bug meant that users who connected to wifi networks were being kicked off. The methods of experiencing this varied from time passed to recovery after a system standby. Regardless of how, the affect had a lot of people pretty ticked off. Another issue that I'd consider a bug are the problems some folks have with ALSA and crackling audio. Users such as myself do some research to figure out if a driver module update or perhaps some conf file editing will resolved the issue. Casual Linux users, however, are left hoping the community can help. Usually with advice that is far beyond their scope of ability.

Yet in the previous release of the same distro, the issue wasn't there. I've seen this happen with clients more often than not and it's incredibly frustrating to explain. The solution is obvious – patch your system, but don't upgrade right away. That simple choice often makes all the difference.

However, what blows my mind is how often folks never seem to learn. Look, if you upgrade to a new release of your favorite distribution or rely on bleeding edge packages, you are assuming it'll be bug free. Usually this is the case, often it's not. The blunder here takes place when you realize that it is a shared responsibility. Those who are not newbies know what they're doing and accept the challenge. Newbies, however, are not at all warned by distribution providers that it may need a bit more time before it's ready for everyone. Sadly, release schedules seem to rule the day here at the expense of those newer users who don't understand the situation with rushed distro releases.

Perhaps you don't think this is a blunder? Okay, visit the forums of any release based distribution and tell me how many issues are being reported. Exactly, I rest my case. Perhaps patience is the key here.

4. Abandoned software

Remember when OpenShot went dark for a period. The blog and community was still available. But months and months went by before we finally heard anything about the now released 2.0 version of the software. Some might call this lucky. I call this a close brush with abandoned software. Thankfully, the project is now active as ever and is shaping up to do amazing things.

Unfortunately SourceForge, Github and other developer friendly sites are loaded with oodles of now dead projects. Often the software in question is dropped as soon as a life event requires the developer's full attention. In other cases, it's a matter of time vs money. Regardless of the cause, the issue is incredibly frustrating.

Unlike Windows users, we depend more heavily on our software selections. The simple fact of the matter is that Windows users have far more software choices available to them. And while I'd argue that many of those choices are expensive and sometimes loaded with unwanted software additions, the fact is if a selected app dies...there are other alternatives. Linux users may not have that option. And unless you're a talented developer interested in taking over the dead project, sometimes it means going without.

5. Linux Audio

Despite what you might think after reading this article, I actually enjoy the Linux desktop. Then again, I'm very careful and thoughtful how I run it. One area that bothers me even as a power user is the issue of Linux audio.

From sound architectures like ALSA to sound servers like PulseAudio, the entire layout of the Linux audio system is so pieced together it's no wonder folks still struggle with it. Now, the current goto way to place blame here is to simply point out that all of the audio woes we experience stem from PulseAudio. This is nonsense, as this sound server doesn't account for every issue experienced. It might contribute to them, however we can then go even deeper and start blaming multimedia frameworks like Gstreamer or Xine. Some apps work best with Gstreamer while others still do best even today with Xine.

Folks, this is insane. I mean just to have any sort of sane audio recording ability, one really needs to use a lower latency kernel and the JACK audio server. This provides the best result in the nightmare blunder-fest that is Linux audio.

I love using Linux, but I despise Linux audio most days.

6. The constant bickering

The last item I want to rant about is the constant bickering. I'm not talking about folks letting off steam after a failed installation or something along those lines. I'm talking about the anti-this and anti-that bickering that fills up entirely too much of our community's forums. In-fighting from Mir vs Wayland to people fighting with other Linux enthusiasts about how systemd is going to "destroy the universe." It's petty, it's incredibly unhealthy and I for one after 10+ years, am quite tired of it.

On the plus side, I've seen some of this bickering dialed down some. And that's awesome to see! But every once in awhile, I still see the jab about how “this distro sucks because of this” or something to that affect. I realize that it's part of what makes up our overall community of Linux users. But man, we even have the creator of the Linux kernel itself tearing into folks in the public eye. It was mildly amusing at first. But after awhile, it gets pretty darned old. And as you might suspect, this is indeed what I'd call the biggest (avoidable) blunder of all.

Making Linux lemonade out of lemons

In this article, I shared some pretty distinct blunders that I think are avoidable as well as inexcusable. And while some of these issues can be modified or avoided with a dash of fancy boot parameters or blacklisting. Fixing some of these blunders need to start with us.

What say you? Perhaps you take issue with some of my points in this article? Maybe you think I'm understating the problem? Whatever it may be, share your thoughts in the Comment section below.

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