Is Linux a Real Alternative For The Consumer?


We all know about the impending demise of Windows XP, or rather that Microsoft will be ending all support for the venerable OS on April 8th 2014. Obviously Microsoft have been pushing Windows 8 as the logical alternative but that often means having to upgrade your hardware too. Add to that an interface which is completely unsuitable for a traditional mouse and keyboard set up and you really need to ask if Windows 8 makes sense. Many recommend considering Linux as an alternative. I’ve always been tempted to try out Linux and, despite my PC having Windows 7, I thought I’d give it a go.

There are many flavours of Linux out there and I decided to try three of the most popular ones, these being openSuse, Ubuntu and Linux Mint. One major advantage Linux has over Windows is that you can give it a try before committing to installing it by creating a Live CD or USB pen drive. This lets you install the OS on removable media and boot directly from it, leaving your current configuration installed and unscathed. Since I was uncertain which flavour of Linux I was going to use or if I was to make it my primary OS I elected to go with this option.

The first OS I tried was Suse. It just point blank refused to boot, giving some obscure error messages. I immediately discarded that OS and moved to the other two. In both cases they booted up fine and worked relatively well. There were issues with both though, all related to hardware.


The Ubuntu Desktop

I have a dual screen setup and Ubuntu totally freaked out when I tried to configure this. It wouldn’t settle on a resolution and more than once the screen came up garbled and unusable. I ended up having to abandon a screen and use the PC as a single screen system. This was far from ideal for me, however I decided to give it a go nonetheless. The interface is very different from Windows but I enjoyed using it and I think given time I could actually grow to like it. However the hardware issues persisted. Apart from the screen issue, it also refused to recognise my external hard drive. This is where I keep all my documents, files and work and it definitely wasn’t an option to lose the ability to make use of this. I tried long and hard to find a solution, trawling forums, searching on Google, all to no avail. Since the drive works fine with Windows I was certain this was an OS or driver related issue and so I determined that while Ubuntu made a good effort, loosing hardware functionality meant this OS too would have to be discarded.

The Linux Mint Desktop

The Linux Mint Desktop

I then turned to Linux Mint. I was immediately chuffed to find that my dual monitor arrangement worked flawlessly and felt at home with the interface due to its similarity to Windows. Unfortunately the external hard drive issue once again manifested itself. I decided to really thrash out this problem and spent close to a week trying to find a solution. None was to be found though.

I was really disappointed, but felt that I’d reached the end of the road. I reverted back to Windows and all my hardware is working happily. Linux had let me down and from my personal experience I simply can’t recommend it. What I found particularly frustrating was that during my search for a solution to my hardware woes I invariably ended up dropping to the command line to experiment with the different solutions offered up. Being that I work in I.T. I knew what was going on, but I can’t for the life of me imagine the average consumer doing this.

This is where Linux falls flat on its face. It simply isn’t ready for the consumer and I doubt it ever will be. We are in 2014, the era of touch interfaces, and for me it is simply unacceptable that you have to run obscure commands from the command line to get hardware to work, especially considering that the hardware used was standard consumer fare which works flawlessly with Windows. Some may say that the hardware is designed for Windows and that’s why it didn’t work. My response to that is – I don’t give a flying fig! If you want to tout Linux as a replacement for Windows, then I as a prospective user expect all the hardware I use with Windows to work with Linux too.

My advice to the consumer? Linux is for the tinkerer, the techy, someone who likes to experiment. If that isn’t you and you’re looking to replace Windows XP I’d recommend trying to pick up a copy of Windows 7. That, for me, is MS’ best OS so far and a far better option for the consumer than Linux or Windows 8. Things may change in the future, both with Linux as well as the imminent release of Windows 8.1, but for now I’ll be steering clear of Linux.

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