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GNU is Not Unix

Journal petrus4's Journal: Why does Linux have to rule the desktop?

I keep seeing stories like the one that has been posted to Slashdot recently, about people writing that "Linux isn't ready for the desktop."

We've all been seeing them for years now, and I've noticed that whenever we do, there are a number of very passionate individuals arguing that everyone possible must be converted to Linux, no matter what; that without fail, the community will not rest until Linux has completely supplanted Windows as the global mainstream operating system of choice.

However, whenever I see the above arguments being made, I can only ever hear one question echoing intensely in my head.


Why does Linux have to become the single, universal OS?

Most especially, why are Linux advocates and developers so desperate, even frantic, to do whatever they can to pander to the lowest common denominator? To people who will be satisfied with nothing less than the complete destruction of the command line, and anything which has made Linux in any way unique?

In answering this question, there's a point that said developers and advocates need to remember, which I don't think they do remember, most of the time.

That point is that, at one time, the vast majority of the current generation of them were Windows users themselves. They came to Linux at an earlier time, and why did they do that?

1. Linux was more stable than Windows.

If you think this is still true, try installing Ubuntu for a couple of weeks, and you will be given a graphic demonstration of just how much the mad scramble for the lowest common denominator is really harming Linux. I saw people coming into the Ubuntu help forum on literally a minute by minute basis, and the story was very consistent; Ubuntu became a system which simply dumped them out at a black screen, and would not boot at all.

I didn't have that problem, but I did have ALSA crashing randomly throughout the month Ubuntu was on my system. I also had the kernel crash and panic at one point, to the degree that a new kernel install was required, and my nVidia drivers could not be installed again after that. Trying to compile a custom kernel also would not work; the process failed at around three different points.

I also took gdm out of init, in order to create a scenario where I could load World of Warcraft exclusively with X, so I didn't have the RAM overhead of GNOME when I wasn't going to be using it. When I did that, the entire system started falling apart. Sound didn't work at all outside gdm, and terminals couldn't access the system variables that govern shells; I wasn't getting my custom bash prompt, but simply a dollar sign. For bash to be in any way related to gdm is completely non-orthogonal.

2. Linux was more secure than Windows.

This might still be true, but with the way things are going, I'm not sure how much longer it will be true for. I can very easily foresee a scenario where Linux's built-in super/non-superuser model is compromised, a la Windows, all in the name of making sure that the system is easier for the all-important end user. If that is done, then Linux's single main defense against virii and cracks will be gone, and in terms of practical security, you'll be right back at the same level as Windows.

3. Linux is no longer UNIX.

I've just installed FreeBSD over the last weekend, and I'm amazed at how truly different it is to virtually any recent distribution I've used. Most of you would see that as an achievement; something to be proud of. I don't.

The single main difference between Linux and the BSDs is that the BSD developers are very conscious of the fact that what they are developing and using is, first and foremost, a UNIX operating system.

To the Linux community, however, UNIX has become a swear word. It's a source of embarassment. The Linux community doesn't want Linux to be a member of the UNIX family tree at all, any more. It wants Linux to be nothing more than a Richard Stallman-approved, identical clone of Microsoft Windows. If you get your wish here, you will then likely wonder why you bothered to leave Windows in the first place.

I have read Eric Raymond's book, The Art of UNIX Programming, which clearly outlines the earlier UNIX philosophy. Far too little of the software currently being developed for Linux, (especially GUI software) is conformant with this philosophy.

Instead, we have bloated, appallingly designed, excessively complicated, IPC-infested garbage, written mostly by Windows refugees who think they know better than 40 years' worth of accumulated history and experience. It is, of course, also written for the express purpose of emulating Windows as closely as possible, apparently right to the bug-for-bug level being the ultimate goal, if Ubuntu's chronic instability is any indication.

Linux's UNIX heritage is the sole source of any technical superiority which the operating system might have had over Windows. UNIX's root security model was the reason for Linux's increased security, and the UNIX development methodology was responsible for Linux's additional stability and clarity of administration.

The above mentioned benefits are at this point, in danger of disappearing from Linux more or less entirely. Again, if you don't believe me, all you need to do in order to prove my assertion here is install either Debian or Ubuntu in particular.

If you want to also see just how far away from being a real UNIX system Linux has gone, install FreeBSD.

4. Pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Let's be honest, here. Let's get rid of the euphemism and the doublespeak. In talking about making Linux, "ready for the desktop," we're really talking about making it usable by the borderline intellectually disabled. The core assumption that Microsoft made was that the person using Windows was literally semi-vegetative, and unfortunately, a lot of the people I saw arriving in the Ubuntu forum genuinely seemed to bear out that assumption.

It also makes sense, given that this is the goal, why there is an apparent need for any association with Linux and UNIX to be ruthlessly expunged. UNIX is or was, first and foremost, an operating system designed by, and for, some of the most intelligent human beings on the planet. That isn't a statement of hollow elitism, either; it's the simple, naked truth.

What I don't understand, however, is why there is such a push to seduce the Lloyd Christmas demographic to Linux. Linux is nearly always free as in beer; virtually nobody is making any money, here. So what's the incentive?

Think about this, Linux developers and advocates. Really think about it. I honestly don't know the answer myself, so I'm asking you to tell me, and also think about it long and hard for your own sake as well.

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Why does Linux have to rule the desktop?

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