Linux, Still not there yet

I’ve finally made the choice between OpenSuSE or Vista as my preferred OS for the next few years, and the decision went to Vista, and to my surprise it only took a couple of hours to decide.

For the tests I installed both OpenSuSE 10.2 and Vista on my desktop to see how things went and within a couple of hours OpenSuSE had already lost the fight on an age old problem for Linux…. Hardware Drivers. Last time I reviewed my OS of choice it was between XP and SuSE about three years ago, and the problem then was lack of availability for drivers, this time that isn’t the problem, it’s how hard it was to actually use the drivers.

To many this sounds like a strange problem, drivers should be something you install and forget, but alas this isn’t the case. I have an Nvidia 8800 GTS, now this is the latest generation of graphics card, so I expected there to be no drivers for Linux (as was the case during my last tests for latest generation hardware of the time), but no, Nvidia support it, OpenSuSE has Nvidia drivers included, the world looked good, until I started trying to use them.

The version of Nvidia drivers OpenSuSE installed were too old to support any of the Nvidia 8 series graphics cards, so I went to Nvidias site to download the latest drivers (not a problem, I had to do this with the Vista install as well), the installation process was not as simple as it could be as it involved hunting for the correct information in a document on the Nvidias’ site, having to know the architecture of my machine (something an average user probably wouldn’t have a clue about), and then finding a specific set of command line switches I needed to install the driver, so although it was not easy it was still possible.

Then came the next hurdle, setting up dual monitors. I have a 1650×1080 monitor and a 1280×1024 monitor which allow me to test things in widescreen and traditional aspect ratios (16:10 and 4:3), after trying OpenSuSE’s graphics configuration program and having no luck setting this up I eventually tracked down an article on the web about Nvidias utility which does the same thing, so, again, although it is possible, the amount of work involved was probably beyond the average users ability.

The final nail in the coffin came when I ran the OpenSuSE update tool. I always do this after configuring the system because it alerts me as to how well upgrades are handled, and, well, OpenSuSE really let itself down. After allowing a kernel security update the system reverted back to the original graphics drivers because the Nvidia installer can only create drivers for a specific version of the kernel. Yup, that’s right, any time you go through a kernel upgrade you have to completely re-install the graphics driver, and that is why I’m now using Vista.

Hopefully in few years time things will have moved on again and the need to re-install drivers for each kernel update, when that happens then it might be time to re-visit the OS date, but until then, I’m afraid OpenSuSE isn’t viable for me to recommend to average users.

Update :  Many commenters have said “try another distribution”, but that does not reflect what an average user would do. OpenSuSE was chosen because it was the most recent Linux distribution available from Amazon at the time of the test. Average users will not spend days (or even hours) tracking down different distros, learning how to download and burn ISOs, and go through a list of candidates, one after another, to try and get one that works for them. They will go to a shop, ask for Linux, buy whatever they’re given, and that will be their view of Linux. It’s what they do when they want to buy “Windows” or “MacOS”, and so it is the same when they buy “Linux”.

26 thoughts on “Linux, Still not there yet

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  1. Well, I guess all I can say is that if I gave up on an OS, even Windows, every time there was a hiccup installing a display driver, I’d be back to scribbling on notepads:-) Also, I wonder if you really had to upgrade, as I still haven’t bothered with the proprietary drivers, as out of the box my ATI dual monitor setup works just fine.

    Admittedly, dual monitor is not a Linux/BSD strongpoint, and mismatched monitor sizes are even less likely to work. But our kind of setup still isn’t very common.

  2. My main reason for giving up was that I would have to re-install the display driver for every kernel update issued. The installation process isn’t trivial to start, so requiring users to go through it each time a kernel patch is released just won’t fly for the vast majority of PC users who are used to the Windows patch system which is pretty much invisible.

    My OS choice has to reflect what I’d recommend to average users to use and what I’d recommend to the companies I work with, and so total cost of ownership is a big thing. OpenSuSE may well be cheaper to buy, I can’t see it being cheaper to configure, install, and support when compared to Vista.

  3. Opensuse is not the entirety of GNU/Linux. A more accurate title of your article might have been “Opensuse 10.2 still not there yet”, or “Vista 1 OpenSuse 0”
    What other distros have you put head to head against Vista?
    fedora has had very good hardware detection & no driver issues for me. I have not used Windows XP at home for nearly a year now & I have never looked back.
    (I have to use XP at work, there’s no choice)

  4. The 8800 is still pretty bleeding edge, hence it not being supported by the Nvidia driver included in your 6 month-or-more old Open suse distro. Ubuntu fiesty provides the drivers for the 8800. your dual monitor problem is, unfortunately a very common and hard problem. You have a point there.

  5. I’m with ludite on this. You compared one linux distro out of how many? then you came to the conclusion that Linux isn’t ready. Try fedora, mepis, mint, vector, ubuntu, sabayon or my favourite out of the box PClinuxOS. Take a trip to distrowatch, read the reviews and try a few of them against vista. Once you’ve tried every single linux distro you can maybe you can say that linux isn’t ready. However so far you can only say that suse doesn’t cut the mustard on your hardware. There are enough people saying vista isn’t ready for their hardware…..and never will be.

  6. Try a different distro. Maybe Ubuntu. I’ve found that every time you update openSuSE, it screws things up… thats why I stopped using it.

  7. The decision of which distribution to trial was made on the basis of accessibility of installation media and equivalence of install procedure.

    The average user doesn’t want to (and wouldn’t know how to) download the right ISOs for their architecture, find a program to burn ISOs, and put the two together. The average user will, however, pay a reasonable amount for a set of disks which they can put into their machine, follow a set of instructions, and then have the OS ready.

    In order to mirror the simplicity gained by just buying a pre-made set of disks (as is the case for Vista) I used the most recent distro available from Amazon (which, at the time, was OpenSuSE 10.2).

    Before anyone asked why I used this method, the reason is that I know many geeks, and my main job is in computing, but for every person I know who can tell me what an ISO is or the architecture of the machine is, I know at least 10 who wouldn’t, and thus the test has to come from the viewpoint of someone who wouldn’t be able to download and burn their own ISOs.

  8. Considering that neither Feisty or PCLinux2007 will load on my current AMD64X2
    system with what I consider a “modern” hardware configuration I’d have to agree. The
    OS is not keeping up with hardware development.

  9. How You did not know that dual monitors settings in Vista is part of NVIDIA driver? It is not made by Microsoft. So, NVIDIA is not there yet.

  10. Just a question… why should we (or I) want the avarage user to use Linux (OpenSuse)? If he’s (or you’re) happier with Windows then just use it, I’m sure in Redmon they’ll be happier too, so don’t bother.

  11. A view from an amateur:

    Whilst I am a very experienced PC user (I always build my own PC’s) it’s not in kernels and drivers.

    I was desperate to try out Linux as I hate microsoft and its constant crashing and need to regularly reformat the drive and start over. Not to mention the stupidity of not having an up-to-date version on the net.

    I tried Mandrake and went back to XP after a couple of hours.

    I used “wine emulator” to try to load my favourite programmes (major such as adobe photoshop CS2 and Nero 7 Ultra, and a couple of tiny programmes only 1-2 MB) and didn’t get one operational.

    And, where I live, they provide a programme for accessing broadband, it was also impossible to get operational.

    I couldn’t even load my security suite.

    From my perspective I didn’t get to the point of worrying about my video card drivers, Linux simply couldn’t offer anything I could use even though it appeared better than XP.

    To summarise, if a person with experience, desperate to dump Microsoft, can’t get to first base, what chance is there for an average user to change OS.

    Linux isn’t close to being viable for mr average but I’ll change as soon as it is.

  12. I installed Ubuntu on my notebook computer and was amazed that everything except my wireless card worked right off the bat! (A little research on the Ubuntu community support furum solved the wireless problem.) I chose the dual boot option when I installed Ubuntu and that was also configured flawlesslly. So, I didn’t have to choose between one O/S or the other. I’ve got both Windows XP and Ubuntu and every time a Windows app crashes and I have to reboot I can decide whether I want to spend a little time in Ubuntu.

  13. The most important aspect of Linux as opposed to Windows above absolutely everything else is the name. Yes, that’s right. If Linux was like Windows, it would be called Windows. If it was different from Windows it would be called something else, like Linux. Ok, got that. That was lesson one.

    If you have a bunch of applications that you love and can’t part with and they don’t run natively on Linux, then you’re stuck running Microsoft operating systems. That was lesson two. Before you give up entirely on lesson two you should try the counter-parts that run on Linux like Open Office.

    If you have a troublesome hardware component, then try another distro, or two, or three. If you still can’t get it to work, consider trying it again when the kernel gets updated. Or, ditch the offending componet and install a Linux friendly one. Rash as that may seem, it’s less so then that of living with an undesirable operating system for the life of that component. That was lesson three.

    And now for the final lesson. If you tried Linux and don’t like it then use Vista and be happy with. If Linux doesn’t work for you for whatever reason then you’re done with it. Don’t pay any attention to all the fuss everybody is making about Linux. It doesn’t pertain to you. If, in 5 years or so you find yourself on a Microsoft/Vista island and resources like applications and drivers are beginning to dry up, then maybe you just might consider giving Linux another test run.

    It’s important to understand that if you really want to be free from the oppressive digital dictatorship of Microsoft and are willing to do a little homework then you need to try Linux. Not ‘a’ Linux, but all the top distros if you have to. “But why should I have to. I should just be able to stick a disk into the slot and bingo. I don’t want to do ‘all’ that work.” Linux is about freedom and freedom is not for lazy people. And once you get the hang of it, then share it with your friends and neighbors. Install it for them. That’s the equivalent of a Windows pre-installed computer. And this is how Linux is *not* like Windows.

  14. @dedmen : In Vista the Nvidia driver is integrated into the appearance settings. In OpenSuSE there is no link between the two and I had to do some research before I found the nvidia program even existed.
    @ewan: A vast majority of PC users (including myself) don’t live in the US and so software patents were not a consideration, so the coupon issue is irrelevant.
    @Richard Chapman : The test was to see what would be good for the average user. The average user is highly unlikley to try more than one “Linux”, and certainly won’t replace pieces of hardware just to get it working. You may see average users as “lazy”, but I see it as problems with Linux usability, after all for most people a computer is just a tool, and most people wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours tweaking their washing machine to get the right wash.

  15. It is there.

    You cannot say Linux is not ready for the desktop, based on your (relatively) obstacles.

    All my hardware works, I have all the necessary programs (except maybe Lightroom) and I am content with Ubuntu Linux

    Luditte was correct in re-titling: “Opensuse 10.2 still not there yet”

    Do not spread FUD. If you do not like Linux, just say so, do not generalize please

  16. I have used linux for well over a decade for server side tasks, and it is my preferred server OS, and I don’t have any problems with it as an OS, and I’ve used a several distributions, from slackware in the early days, through to RedHat, then Fedora, and SuSE.

    You may feel it is there based on your experience, but I can tell you for the average user it most definatley is not. You may see think this is FUD because it doesn’t represnt your views, and doesn’t fit in with your views, but this is based on real world knowlege and experience after supporting hundres of users accross several companies.

    As said before, the distribution choice was made by finding the latest release in Amazons Linux category. This is the way non-technical users would do it, they wouldn’t spend days comparing KDE to Gnome, Compiz to Beryl, etc., etc., etc., they would go to somewhere selling Linux distributions and buy one and try just that one.

  17. I have to agree with Al. I have been tinkering with Linux on and off for about 7 years. Two years ago, I made a significant effort to use Linux and free software more. I tried every major distro (K/X/Ubuntu, SuSE and OpenSuSE, Fedora, Mandriva, Freespire, Mepis, PCLOS and many more….). I never could come up with a system that does everything I want or need due to driver limitations or other issues. The average user should not have to, and probably lacks the ability to compile drivers from source code. And while it is getting better in all distros, package management and dependency hell was not conducive to a smooth, enjoyable experience. (To be fair, I have used OpenSuSE and Ubuntu mostly: OpenSuSE was still a little rough when I abandoned it at 10.2, but Ubuntu 7.04 works quite well here.)
    As good as OpenOffice is (and I recommend it frequently for those who need a strong office suite) it still has MSO compatibility issues that are nagging and on-going (especially PPT and Calc). On top of that, the “questionable legality” of free implementations of standard multimedia codecs (in the U.S.) made me less than enthusiastic about whole-hearted switching. I just recently tried to run a fairly recent Windows program using Wine, but it crashes every time I try to open or save a document. Compatibility issues are still abundant on the emulator frontier.
    I still have Ubuntu Feisty on an older desktop box that I use for some testing, but I have been very pleased with Vista (Home Premium) on my main desktop setup. To be fair and honest, it, too, has compatibility issues with some older programs, but it is polished and (so far) very stable. It did require some hardware upgrades, but that was cheaper than a whole new machine. One of my greatest annoyances with Vista (Home Basic) has been that I can’t get an updated ATi display driver for my less than 2 year old Toshiba notebook. Imagine if car manufacturers did not provide parts beyond the first year….
    I want Linux to succeed, as competition is good in any enterprise. It sparks innovation and provides new features and and enhancements. Many of the free software packages out there are quite good, but maybe just not quite on par with commercial offerings…yet. I’ll keep watching, testing, and tinkering with Linux, but until Linux can provide me with everything I need, I think I , too, will stick with Windows for my main platform.

  18. I have to use Vista at work to test our QuickTime – and I must say it is too complex, too slow and ugly. I do not fall into hate-love-Microsoft trap, but this OS is definitely light years away from GNOME or Mac OS x.

    You can argue about the look, but Vista is has unreasonable and spagette UI. It is hard to navigate, it also seems mad designer had a go at it.

    For new users of Linux in the States, I recommend buying new Ubuntu Dells. You should have no issues with hardware.

  19. Unfortunately is because of the lazyness of the average user regarding computer technology that the Web is such a dangerous place and virus companies earn so much money.
    I know a lot of people, the so called “average” users that I simply would NOT let them reach near a computer. For people like that, the best technology I would give them would be a pencil and a piece of paper. It’s those users that endanger the Web ecosystem with their virus loaded boxes, property of botnets.
    Lazyness in learning is our (as in human terms) worst enemy.
    So I believe that the main problem about Linux acceptance as a valid “for the people” OS is education of the masses, not simply thru books or articles, but let be known that those books and articles exist. Average Joe doesn’t know that that info is available, simply as that.
    Remembering now about the Dell/Ubuntu deal, I can almost see a vendor in wal-mart simply not being capable of answering a customer’s questions about Ubuntu in a Dell system. So what “Joe” will do? Will get a Vi$ta box because “it’s more or less like Xp”.
    My experience? I’m not a nerd/tech guy, although I consider myslef to be well above average in terms of computer knowledge (mostly hardware). I don’t code, just do some little stuff in CLI (most of teh heavy things is copy/paste from good foruns/guides) and when needed edit GRUB or Xorg lightly to fix something. I enter this Linux business out of curiosity. I heard about it, read a litlle bit, ask a few questions and tried a Live CD (SUSE Linux 10, then Ubuntu 6.06).
    Fell in love with later one. Got myself a 160GB IBM drive and dual-boot my machine in June 06. Never looked back. Ubuntu 6.06 did everything I wanted and more. I even played WoW with it with just a minor slowdown from WINE due to translation.
    Last month I wiped the disk and installed 7.04. No problems at all until now. It’s my main system atm… only go to Xp when i need to go with a group in WoW. WINE still lags a bit when i’m in an instance with more people.
    How did I did it ? I read, and read and learned and i’m still learning. Simply as that.
    Again, Linux is NOT Windows and doesn’t need to be. It’s better!
    Linux has it’s awesome merits. Be it Ubuntu, Mandriva, Fedora, whatever…
    Average Joe doesn’t want to learn a bit ? Stay with Xp (and virus, botnets, spyware), Buy a Mac or simply get a paper and pencil…

    ps.- want an idea to spread Linux? Order some dozen units of Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Edubuntu original cds and add them a card with some helping websites… go to a Computer store (small one is better)and ask if you can just put them for offer without any compensation. Just tag them free… somebody will try them. People can’t resist free stuff…

    My 2 cents for the chat…

  20. My experience is quite different…

    OpenSuSE 10.2 installs like a dream (standard or with full options). The Nvidia driver works very well for 3D desktopsay Beryl and dual screens is no problem. I upgdate when a new kernel is available and never have to re-install the Nvidia driver !

    a. you can compile a new kernel for the Nvidia driver
    b. you can have it running as a module

    In the case of option a. surely you need to compile the new kernel ahgain as you have ditched the old one, duh.
    Anyway the “average user” doesn’t have a dual screen setup with two different resolutions.

    Lastly your story doesn’t tell if Vi$ta was any better or had simular issues or other -even worse- issues compared to what you expected.

    The great thing about GNU/Linux is that when something doesn’t work this creates a good opportunity to learn something about GNU/Linux and your PC.

    I always smile when I encounter stories like this. Having started with SuSE 8.0 through 8.1 – 8.3 -9.0 -9.1- 9.3 -10.0 -10.1 – 10.2 (& 10.3 in Januari 2008), the install and setup to my liking takes me about half a day 4 to 5 hrs.

    The time I save, untill I upgrade again, this way as compared to running and maintaining a M$ OS is so huge……. hence my smile.

    *No Trojans
    *No viri
    *No keyloggers
    *No malware !
    *No BSoD
    *No defragmentation of HDD
    *No registers that fill up and the 3x a day reboot
    *No costs for extra software
    *No instable system
    *No cost for the OS

    Now that is what the “avarage user” wants 😀
    And anyway Vi$sta is just XP with a new set of icons, limited eye-candy and slow.

    Alsao whatever hapened to?

    #new namespaces
    #Metro & PDF

    That M$ promised ?
    Smells like FUD this story, sure you are not a M$ shill ?? 😉

  21. It’s always useful to hear the experience of others, but mine wasn’t as easy as yours.

    As for Vista, it did what I wanted, I had no problems with driver upgrades, I found it’s UI to feel more pleasant than OpenSuSE with smoother scrolling and fonts which looked more polished (but that is a personal opinion).

    I can assure you that I’m not a M$ shill, as it is I didn’t pay for the copy of Vista I’m using, it was a free upgrade because I bought a laptop in January before Vista was out and the store gave me a free upgrade upon Vistas release.

  22. “Unfortunately is because of the lazyness of the average user regarding computer technology that the Web is such a dangerous place and virus companies earn so much money.”

    This to me is a declaration of understanding that Linux is not ready for the public.

    Go through a list of all the most commonly used items today cars, mobile phones, an endless list, what would happen if there was an announcement that every one of these items had a better and cheaper version ….if you are not too “lazy” to build it.

    The “not lazy” people would spend so much time figuring out how everything works they wouldn’t end up with the time to use anything.

    The vast majority of PC users aren’t lazy, they simply have more important things to do than to obtain products that “are better than others” but they have to spend hours and weeks getting them to work. Most peoples lives are bigger than their PC.

    Even one of the most major emulation software producers (for getting around the “failing” of Linux to operate what people want, their Windows applications) Wine, advise, if you have enough money they will write the work around for you, highlighting laziness has nothing to do with it, you either need to be a professional programmer or do without.

    And yes I understand the “catch 22”, no one will write software for Linux unless it’s has a large user base and if it only uses Windows applications why change.

    Finally, I’ve never had a virus attack in 20+ years of computing. Why? Because the software does what I want, out of the box (even it was built to cover up for the failings of windows to perform).

    As I said, I’ll be glad to switch to Linux, when it’s a viable option.

    As for the comment on Open Office. Sure it’s seems better than Word, Excel but it’s different and requires some re-learning.

    As a document drafter, there are a number of profound failings in basic functions such as copying, word wrap, indenting, with Word, to the extent I often wonder if microsoft have brainstorming sessions to figure out the dumbest, most annoying ways to build software, have them built by amateur programmers and then add random strings to ensure the product acts erratically.

    However, even if it’s free, why would I move to Open Office and re-learn Word? Open Office have simply copied all the same stupid and annoying functions of Word, demonstrating they are just as uninspired? (Lousy programming not in, Wordperfect 18 years ago.)

    Laziness? Laziness is probably the public not using the thousands of fault complaints sent to microsoft which microsoft knows and never fixes or warns the public about when it sells it’s products which cause stress and time wastage and not challenging Microsoft in a class action for damages.

  23. The problem with your whole story is you assume too much of the average user.

    First of all, does the average user use bleeding edge video hardware that costs, at a minimum on, $300? No. Average people use older hardware with stable drivers that can be easily updated through YaST.

    Second, does the average user update Microsoft kernels? No. If you want to assume that average users don’t even know the difference between distributions, then you MUST assume they don’t care about kernel updates. To even imply that users who don’t know about distro’s, or how to easily set up YaST for that matter, would want to update their kernel is rediculous.

    Even if you do assume a reinstall of drivers after a kernel update, all it takes is to have YaST reinstall the drivers for you…which is the same amount of work as bringing up Windows Update in IE.

    Your logic is flawed, which makes the story bend to Microsoft’s side…but correct the logic and you’ll see the ground is more even on both sides, except openSUSE is free.

    I can agree that an openSUSE download isn’t ready for the average user…but the purchased version for $59.99 that includes support most certainly is.

  24. I agree with the author. I am a current Windows XP user (dual monitor set-up) trying to migrate to Linux and not go the Vista way. I have tried Different linux distributions, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, PclinuxOs 2007, Fedora, Opensuse 10.2, simplymepis.

    And all them the deal breaker was driver support for my Radeon x850XT, very difficult to support dual monitor set-up. although fedora and Opensuse have GUI for Dual monitor it very buggy and i am actually not able to configure it even after installing the lastest ATI proprietary linux driver. The rest Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Pclinuxos doesn’t even have gui for dual monitor. I have installed and reinstalled to each distributions hoping that on some install i might have corrupted files but to no avail. Until now 1 month later I’m still in limbo despite reading the forum and googling it.

    People always say how easy it is with synaptic manager to install, but once you start tinkering with CLI for driver issues that is not just in the league of your “Average Joe”.

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