Linux Advantages and Disadvantages: Part 2

A common anti-Linux argument is that Linux is different. That is, it just doesn't look or work the same as what you are used to. Well, what are you used to? Assuming the answer is some Microsoft platform, I assert that the differences between a KDE-based Linux desktop and your favorite Microsoft destop can be less than two different versions of Microsoft Windows.

Add to that the fact that you can customize the Linux desktop to act more (or less) like other systems and you have a pretty powerful argument to pick Linux, pick a Linux desktop environment (we tend to focus on KDE but Gnome is an alternative) and move forward.

Let's look at some differences and why they may be good rather than just different.

User Logins

The addition of user logins and permissions in not unique to Linux. This has evolved on other platforms as well. Some people still see this as no more than an irritation. Let's see what the good side is.

The first issue is security. The most obvious is that files stored on your computer cannot be accessed by someone just happening upon your computer. The first group of people we are talking about are others in your office. But, the issue goes way beyond that. If, for example, your computer is connected to the Internet, the possibility of remote access exists.

If your Linux desktop is only a single-user system--that is, you are the only person who uses it--there is still an advantage of a user login here. The way Linux is designed, you don't have access to all the information on the computer. Much of that information is reserved for what is called the root user. What this means is that a mistake on your part cannot destroy the basic system. Thus, you might lose some of your own files but the system software will not have to be restored.

Now, what else can user logins offer? Different configurations for different users is one piece. While some of this is only eye candy (a different backgroud, for example) there are many things that are functionally important. Here is a list of a few:

  • Different languages for the user interface.
  • Automatic startup of different tasks on login.
  • Storage of login information for various web sites.
  • Different configurations for various applications such as word processors and web browsers.

Multiple Desktops

This is what I would classify as a harmless feature that can quickly become very important to you. This is the ability to have any number of desktops that you can switch between with a single mouse click or even with a keystroke sequence.

Looking at this is a practical way, I have one desktop which always contains a web browser in full-screen mode, another with an organizer program and another with my email client. While I could have put these all on a single desktop and flipped thru them with mouse clicks, it is just easier to use when I know that desktop 3, for example, will have a web browser sitting there.

Good Eye Candy

Eye candy is not necessarily bad. Or, at least not if you have a choice as to whether or not it is there. Here are some things that KDE will do that might be of interest:

  • Being able to change the screen resolution, colors and fonts can be very helpful for someone who is visually impaired.
  • Being able to add custom menus attached to the middle mouse button, for example, may be very useful in an office environment.
  • Being able to "mix and match" country-specific information such as the money format of one country with the keyboard layout of another.

I loved my 64 VW bug but there were some shortcomings that have been addressed by vendors in the last 40 years. The same can be said for the evolution of the computer user interface. In many cases, different can actually mean better. What is important is to see that this evolution has added capabilities without making basic use harder.

One of the best ways to ensure this is to have a system that allows you to use personal configurations, keyboard shortcuts and the like to turn your favorite way of doing things into the system default or, if it is a multi-user system, the default for your login. How you do this has already been the subject of articles that have appeared in the monthly TUX magazine.

fyl - Wed, 2005-05-25 13:24.
Categories:

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

I've been playing around with

I've been playing around with Linux for several years and it's been a love/hate relationship. I mostly use Mandrake and Redhat as the distos of choice and I've haven't had a problem installing either of them. Most of my problems have come down to the rough edges. Things like installing a program. In windows 99.9% of the time I'm not going to have a problem installing a program. Under Linux I rarley have an install go smoothly. There's always some dependancy or such that I need. Finding those and getting them install right isn't always easy or fun, especially when I'm trying to get real work done. Another issue is the lack of drivers for some products. All too often I hear "if you can't find a driver, write one" -- yeah, right. I just want my USB flash drive to work first time through without installing something extra. Don't get me wrong, I want Linux to work the way it does in my dreams, but it doesn't yet. I'll play around with it for a couple weeks, get frustrated at an upgrade or install then go back to my trusty windows. A few months latter I'll go back to my mistress and have another torid affair. For the most part, however I've weened myself off of most of the mainstream software and now I use windows versions of OpenOffice and GIMP. I love them, and really if they keep producing more open source software for the MS platform my desire to switch full time to Linux goes down. I'm aware of some of the advantages to switching to Linux such as security or a nice desktop, but for now my annoyances with it's rough edges keep me from fdisk c: but I'll keep trying and that's one reason why I'm reading this magazine. Maybe I'll learn that "something" I need.

Tom (not verified) - Sun, 2005-07-24 00:51.

it's the little differences

I flirted with Linux for a long time as well. In November of 2004 I finally proposed. It hasn't been the easiest of engagements, but what new love is? Instead of always adding to a file called linux_questions which I keep, I also started a file called linux_lovelist. This lovelist contains the "little differences" that really bring alot of joy to me when I stumble across them.

One of my favorites has to do with focus. MS is always stealing focus, Linux is patient and courteous for the most part, and when it isn't I can take it to manners school. The best part of this feature (and it doesn't work for every app) is that you can do things that seem so intuitive. One is that I can have a program open full-screen, have Emacs on top, and by simply mousing over the program window I can scroll, yet Emacs doesn't get minimized. This makes taking notes a true joy.

Another related feature is system error messages. In MS you can only have one error message open at a time, and you can't copy text out of them without installing extra software. Also the focus is only on that error message until closed. In Linux you can have multiple error messages open at the same time, you can use other software while they are displayed, and you can copy text out of them. That makes it alot easier to track down problems, especially for the new user.

oliver (not verified) - Wed, 2005-06-01 16:15.

Linux is different

I have always thought that Linux is different, it is not as restricted as the other platform. This is a good thing, along with the Linux community which is more than generous and friendly to all, no matter if you are new to Linux or a pro.

I have dabbled with Linux over the last 5 years or so, and have now changed over totally. I grew tired of Windows treating me like an idiot. My computer is exciting again! I have no doubt that Linux will become as popular for the home desktop user as windows, as more and more people begin to feel the way as I have.

Mac (not verified) - Sun, 2005-05-29 05:05.

Yes, but...

I too feel the same way, and last year I made the switch. But there are a few minor issues I am still dealing with. I design web pages and I have found that the tools available for Linux for designers like myself are cumbersome. My primary tools for web design are Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver. I have yet to find comparable tools for Linux. Yes, I know about the tools available; the GIMP, bluefish, etc. I have (and do) used them and for plain and simple web and image editing, they get the job done. There are just some annoyances that they come with which makes my otherwise trouble free tasks troublesome.

There are other annoyances related to working with the web. It seems that FTP in linux is not meant to be a pleasant experience. I have to jump through a lot of unnecessary hoops to get a file from my workstation up to the web server.

These small annoyances have not detoured me from sticking with Linux. The thought of going back to M$ is just too dehumanizing. Besides, the net gained advantages of using Linux far outweighs the minor inconveniences, at least for everyday computing.

I know I have not been specific here with the list of cons I have experienced. I don't really want to create a lengthy analytical comment. My point is simply that, at least for me, Linux is still not yet trouble free, though it is "better" than Windows.

analogkid (not verified) - Tue, 2005-05-31 10:45.

Yes, but...

I'd be interrested to know in what way you find ftp unpleasant on Linux? Certainly command-line ftp is not the most intuitive or user-friendly option (but very powerful if you take the trouble to learn how to use it, but to be honest I can think of very few reasons why you'd need to learn it with the other tools that are available to do the job) but using something like Konqueror in KDE it should be as simple as point-and-click. If you'd like to email me with a brief description of your set-up, what you use to ftp and what problems you encounter I'd be more than happy to try to give you a few pointers - my email address is adrose -at- comcast.net

Alex (not verified) - Fri, 2005-06-17 01:09.

Quicken to MyBooks

I Just found a new program that looks extremely promising. Do a google search for "Appgen & Mybooks." I believe it can import Quicken data files. And it is a multi platform application too. I saw here Moneydance too. That looks promising too but no import feature yet.

An - (not verified) - Thu, 2005-06-16 09:31.

but..but..but..what?

I see your concerns regarding linux, and they are very real and valid concerns about the operating system. Granted the support is not there on every aspect, and depending on your business it may not be there yet for you, a prime example is the lack of Quick Books support for Linux, lots of small businesses use Quick Books and not having a port hurts linux in the business agenda, as welll as CrossOver Office not creating the compatibility for the QuickBooks software. (There is GNUCash, but once people use a piece of software they are used to they like to stick to it.)

On the subject of Crossover Office, I do believe that they fully support Adobe Photoshop 7, as well as Dreamweaver MX. Granted CXOFFICE is a program that you do have to purchase in order for it to work, so you really have to pick your battles here, pay for expensive software and use it with a expensive OS or pay for software to use expensive software on a Free OS. Or use some of the applications that are created for the same type of tasks that you would be used to in windows. Either way the bottom line is still that linux is 100% free, and the source is open to everyone, if you dont like something you can change it, if there is a bug than you can help solve it. And trust me I know that not everyone is a programmer.

My overall opinion is if something does not work it should not be tossed to the side to let someone else worry about it, a little research can go a long way as well as helping the community that helps make the linux OS work for many people today.

A final though as well, Change is always going to result is difficulties, new obstacles will arise that need to be over turn, lets keep a open mind about this we have seen a lot of revisions with operating systems in the years past, the more linux grows the more we can start to see the change occur yet again.

emorphix (not verified) - M - , 2005-06-13 18:24.

Agreed.

I agree with your main conclusion. Linux isn't panacea for all computer user problems. It's still a lot of work, a lot of getting used to, and a lot of tweaking. Windows was, too, but now that I have it "under my belt," I'm ready for a new challenge.

As for FTP... yes, there are a lot of hoops. Some people would call that more functionality (different kinds of encryption, etc.). My solution is to use the FireFTP extension for Firefox as my FTP client.

aysiu (not verified) - Sun, 2005-06-05 16:43.

One Question

fireFTP seems to be changing attributes of the files I transfer from the web to my hard drive. Are you experiencing this and, if so, how do you handle it?

analogkid (not verified) - Sun, 2005-06-05 22:42.

Than You

I LOVE fireFTP. Well that's one problem down.

analogkid (not verified) - Sun, 2005-06-05 22:32.

NVU for web authoring

Try NVU (pronounced N-view, for a "new view"). It is a complete Web Authoring software for Linux Desktop users (as well as Microsoft Windows and Macintosh users) to rival programs like FrontPage and Dreamweaver. I have designed some professional looking pages using it.

Download it from here:
http://www.nvu.com/

Tarun Kant (not verified) - Thu, 2005-06-02 05:25.

Crossover office to the rescue

Photoshop (7 I belive) will run in crossover office.. poof photoshop in linux. Same for Dreamweaver, which may even have a linux port (for cost of course) but try out mozilla's composer its very nice, or learn to write the code by hand. As for ftp gftp is about the simpliest ftp client I have ever seen on linux.. give it a try.

Schmots (not verified) - Wed, 2005-06-01 14:49.

"try out mozilla's composer i

"try out mozilla's composer its very nice"...and "try it by hand"...

Have you ever made websites for a living? I mean...seriously made some GOOD websites...and made a lot of them? Because if you have, you'd know that writing them by hand it's a good idea.

An - ymous (not verified) - Thu, 2005-06-02 11:46.