A month with Ubuntu

Recently I've installed Ubuntu 5.04. It marks a personal shift in my "Linux career." Previously I was hooked on Gentoo and all the nifty tricks you had availible to "optimize" it. Also its nifty "emerge sync; emerge -uDv world" package management was cool. I write optimize in quotes because, as I think most of you already know, there is no gain in optimizing like Gentoo does. Let's say you compile your whole system with -O3 instead of -O2, what do you gain? Not a whole lot. The majority of the processor cycles are still wasted waiting for I/O. I'm a programmer so usually I guess I should care about such things. But really, what I'm doing most of the time in front a computer is READING! Web pages, documents, emails and source code. Gaining a few milliseconds loading them is a drop in the sea compared to the time it takes me to read and interpret them. It is the human-computer interaction where the most speedups can be made - not the computer-computer interaction. For example, installing fonts that are easier on the eyes - a HUGE time saver. Another example would be consistent keyboard shortcuts. Ubuntu is good at optimizing the human-computer interaction. I can't notice Ubuntu running any slower than Gentoo, but I can notice how much simpler it is to use. Simpler means more enjoyable and that is why I like Ubuntu. But Ubuntu has its flaws just like all other Linux distributions. It seems like many other has also realized this and are now complaining hard at Slashdot and in other places where complainers usually complain. It usually goes something like "Yeah, Linux is good but it was very frustrated so I went back to crappy MS." Comments like that have been heard ever since Linux was created back in 1991. But they seem to be much more common these days.I think these complaints is a sure sign that Desktop Linux is improving. Today Linux comes in two flavours - Desktop Linux and Console Linux. The era of the Console Linux seem to be slowly phasing out and be replaced with the newer (albeit I'm not sure better) Desktop Linux. Previously, Linux users booted their OS, logged into X via gdm, kdm or xdm and started a shell to get some work done. It was a good time and I'm sure a lot of gurus will stick with it forever. I am however, sick of commans like: gcc --std=c99 -g -Wall -o foo foobar.c `sdl-config --cflags --libs` -lSDL_image To compile a simple program. Yeah, I know there is make and I know how to use it. But it just moves the typing to some place else. That's the way I used to work. Although it wasn't perfect it still beat programming in Windows by big margins. Bash beats cmd.exe. Now there is Desktop Linux which introduces a whole new model of thinking in the OS. You are now supposed to be able to do stuff by clicking and dragging instead of writing. For reasons others have detailed it is a model much easier for average users than Console Linux. Windows became a Desktop OS some years after Windows 95. Before that you just couldn't do very much in the GUI and had to resort to DOS. Now Linux with its desktop competes in the very same league that Windows does. That means that people will apply the same ruler when they measure Linux and Windows. ... and Linux will come up short. Sad but true and the reason behind the increased frequency in complaints. Desktop Linux is rapidly catching up, but are still playing catching up and are only in a few areas ahead of Windows. One of those areas is a default browser with tabbed browsing which Windows doesn't have. But um, type \\sweetstuff\Common in Explorer and it will work, in Nautilus it won't. Maybe with Samba-something and fluff it will. But since I spent four hours today trying to get it to work I will just conclude that it is impossible. :) For sure it is impossible within Desktop Linux and you will have to resort to Console Linux. Somewhat akin to how useless Windows 3.11 was for real work. Well... not really.. well... not even close. I predict that in 6 to 12 months Desktop Linux will for most uses be superior to Console Linux and that you will even be able to configure Samba in it. Ubuntu is the pinnacle of Desktop Linux. Right now it is barely usable and it is barely worth the transition from the console to the desktop. In my next blog entry, if I write it, I will write what Ubuntu miss and why XP is a better desktop still. As always, you have been a great audience.

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