Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Windows and Linux on netbooks… what stays on?

Right now, there’s a lot of debate among computing enthusiasts about whether Microsoft’s claim of 96% sales on netbooks is true… or meaningful. I tend to believe the percentages, but I don’t think it means what Microsoft seems to imply it means (“We’re better. People prefer us”). I do believe Windows users would rather stick with something familiar than switch to something else, especially if the two are around the same price. I also believe the Linux options on netbooks were badly marketed (and in many cases, badly implemented). It certainly doesn’t help that when you go to HP’s or Dell’s websites and try to order a Linux netbook, you’ll be told HP recommends Windows for everyday computing or Dell recommends Windows Vista Home Premium. Are you really going to tell me sales would have been the same if both the Linux and Windows pages said HP recommends Linux for everyday computing or Dell recommends Ubuntu Linux? Microsoft pays those OEMs money or cuts them deals to have those phrases plastered all over the sites, and with good reason.

Let’s see. I’m a consumer. I can go with Windows, which I’m already familiar with and which Dell recommends, or I can go with… U… bun… tu? which Dell doesn’t appear to recommend? And when I pick the Ubuntu option, Dell says I can “upgrade” to Windows (Windows is clearly better, since it’s an upgrade)? I think I’ll go with Windows. Of course. Why wouldn’t I?

So, yes, I can believe the 96%, but it doesn’t mean consumers were offered a fair choice and decided they liked Windows better and that Linux sucks. It means Microsoft strong-armed its way into the netbook marketplace, just as it always did with other markets. It’s like if we have a race and I bring my fans to the stadium and kick your fans out. Then I jam a cleat into your shin, stick gum on the bottom of your running shoes, and bat your ears just as the gun goes off. Oh, and the officials running the track meet are on my payroll. After I “win” the race, I brag to everybody that you’re slow. It doesn’t mean I’m a faster runner than you. It means I’m a bully and a cheat.

I have to confess I’m even tempted to get a Windows netbook myself, even though I’ve promised myself I won’t buy any more Microsoft products, even if I’m just planning to install Linux right over it. Why? Look at the selection out there! I’ve checked NewEgg, Amazon, just about every vendor I can find, and the Linux selections keep getting slimmer and slimmer. And they also tend to be the older models. If I want to get the best netbook out there right now (in terms of hardware specifications and battery life), it’s about US$349 from Asus and runs Windows XP—it’s one of the newer Eee PCs. If I want to get the best Linux netbook available right now, it’s about US$500 from HP and doesn’t even have a third USB port or VGA out.

The most popular Linux netbook options out run Linpus Linux Lite (crippled Fedora) and a specialized (i.e., crippled) Xandros Linux. The Dell Mini 9 looks okay and gets decent reviews but doesn’t have a hard drive bigger than 16 GB. And the HP Mini Mie also looks great but is really expensive when spec’ed out and still hasn’t fully ironed out its Ubuntu implementation (even though their new interface for Ubuntu looks pretty).

Vendors, are you listening to me? If you can offer the following, I can guarantee you your Linux sales will be gangbusters:

  • Stop recommending Windows on your Linux netbook pages.
  • Offer a Linux netbook under US$400 with 7 or 8 hours of battery life, an actual hard drive with a lot of space, 3 USB ports, a 92%-95%-sized keyboard, and VGA out.
  • Use a Ubuntu variant but make sure the interface is useful and the video playback isn’t choppy

As long as the Linux options are crippled (either on the hardware or software fronts), then, yes, people will keep buying Windows netbooks. Some people may buy the Windows netbooks just to install Linux on them, but if Windows is either the only option, the cheapest option, the option with the best hardware features, or all three of the above, then Windows will continue to outsell Linux on the netbook front.

I’ll close with some excerpts from Amazon reviews:

Asus doesn’t offer the 1000HA with Linux. I don’t know what they’re thinking here. I’m forced to buy yet another Windows license that will never be used

I loaded Ubuntu Linux 8.10 to have a dual-boot system and I must say it runs Linux very well — no problems on the Linux side.

I bought this Windows XP model, just because there is no Linux equivalent of Eee PC 1000HA on sale(Asus, are you listening?).

Installed Easy Peasy linux, based… right out of the box. I did manage to hose windows xp, which is fine, since I’m not interested in running it

Linux was actually faster, and easier to set up (more plug and play, and no questions to answer). It started up each time much faster

I was primarily looking for a netbook with some form of linux installed on it, but I liked the size and battery life of this one so I went ahead and bought it.

I love my Eee PC 701. At some point I want to upgrade it, and I hope at that time there’ll be some decent Linux options out there.


Making sense of an abundance of choice

When I was a child, I chose among thousands of movies, thousands of musicians, thousands of comic books to find the ones I liked and wanted to spend money on. At no point was I ever confused about what I wanted to consume. When I became an adult, I was confronted with a simple choice between two things, and I was baffled. PPO? HMO? What’s the difference? What do I want? How do I know what I want?

When it comes to choice, it doesn’t really matter how many choices you have. It matters more what information you have on those choices and how you can break them down. I have no idea how many universities and post-secondary schools there are in the world. I’m going to guess there are thousands, if not tens of thousands. Certainly there are at least hundreds. Sure, I felt a little overwhelmed when I had to decide what colleges (that’s what we Americans call post-secondary school) to apply to. But I never felt paralyzed by that choice. I loved that choice. I loved investigating my options.

So what’s the difference between choosing an HMO or PPO and choosing a college? Why did one (a choice between two things) get me confused and frustrated and another (a choice among hundreds if not thousands of things) get me overwhelmed a little but mainly excited?

I’d attribute the difference to several factors:

  • With HMO and PPO, I had choices with very little comprehensible information. No brochure had easy-to-understand explanations of what the differences were between the two and what the pros and cons were. With colleges, I had lots of brochures explaining what’s good about each college, and many colleges has reputations as well beyond the brochures.
  • Despite theoretically having the choice of thousands of colleges, I could eliminate whole groups at once. I knew I was going to study within the US, so all international schools were out. In fact, I knew I wanted to study close to home, so that knocked out even most US schools. I also had an idea of the caliber of school I wanted and just by reputation alone I could eliminate even more schools. The abbreviations HMO and PPO are completely meaningless to me, though, and when I first started working, I knew nothing about them or their reputations. They might as well have been fjbalbga and pfnirqbjkb.
  • The search for a college is part of the American dream narrative. If you want upward mobility or stability, it’s expected you spend some time searching and researching. The HMO and PPO choice is a form someone in Human Resources shoves in your face and expects you to make a choice about either immediately or within the next day. I have never heard any HR person say, “The HMO and PPO choice is something you want to do a lot of research on. Make sure you take about nine months to really look into each. Then come back to me, and I’ll counsel you a bit on your choice.”

We see this over and over again with choices in everyday life. Whether you’re choosing a restaurant to eat at or choosing an airline to fly on, you have to make sense of the choices you’re given. In some situations, society encourages you to take your time researching options (buying a car, for example). In other situations, society encourages you to just make a choice immediately (cart or basket for the grocery store).

One of the main criticisms of consumer Linux (Linux for desktops, laptops, and netbooks; as opposed to Linux for servers or embedded Linux) is the abundance of choice. Too many distros. The choices are confusing. How would new users even know what version of Linux to start with?

And, unfortunately, like the HMO and PPO choice for me, Linux suffers from all of the following problems when it comes to choice:

  • A lack of centralized information to distinguish one distro from another
  • A lack of easily apparent (to newcomers, anyway) groupings of distros so that large groups of distros can be easily eliminated as possibilities
  • A culture of choice in operating systems (since Windows and Mac don’t offer much choice, people aren’t used to spending time researching what operating system to use)

Unfortunately, a lot of people who have problems with the choices in Linux distros decide to cure the headache by cutting off the head. They want all the choices taken away. Have only one Linux distro. Unify Linux. Not only is this solution completely antithetical to the philosophies of Linux (which tend to involve freedom and choice), but it’s also completely unnecessary. If you’re overwhelmed by how many restaurants there are to eat at, you don’t suggest all the restaurants close down and combine into one restaurant. What do you do instead? You read restaurant reviews, get recommendations from friends, and try some out.

And that is the solution. When I first started looking into Linux, I had no idea what to start with. I went to and that was no help. I went to DistroWatch and that was no help. All I got were lists of different versions of Linux, long lists. Nothing pointed me in a direction.

It wasn’t around when I first started looking into Linux, but the Linux Distro Chooser quiz is a good start to helping new users get less confused about the choices. Ultimately, though, we’ve just got to get people moving more to preinstallation. Most people don’t care or even know what operating system is on their cell phones or DVRs. And, frankly, most people don’t care what operating system is on their computers, as long as the computer does what they want it to do.

This current culture of find a distro, download it, burn it, boot from it, repartition your drive, install the Linux distro is so power user. It is not average user. It is not the future. Linux will get nowhere in the consumer space if everyone has to download and install and configure her own operating system. People generally don’t buy cars without the engine hooked up, and they also generally don’t buy computers without the operating system preinstalled.

Let’s start with the power users, though. Have them take the Linux Distro Chooser quiz. Or just give them a distro to start with (Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS, Fedora) and let them run from there. But let’s also realize that this is not a choice most people want to make. They will use… whatever comes with the computer.

Asus Eee PC Linux Ubuntu

Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) Beta First Impressions

As far as I can tell, jackalopes aren’t even real animals. I still remember the first time I got a jackalope postcard over ten years ago. Well, the Ubuntu folks have decided to name the next Ubuntu Linux release Jaunty Jackalope. I’ve used every single Ubuntu release since its second one (Hoary Hedgehog). That would be 5.04, 5.10, 6.06, 6.10, 7.04, 7.10, 8.04, and 8.10. Eight releases. And I can honestly say that Ubuntu 9.04 is the smoothest, most polished release I have ever seen from Ubuntu.

I installed Ubuntu 9.04 beta (yes, it is beta, so it not guaranteed to be bug-free) on my Eee PC 701 (which, only a year after I’ve purchased it, already feels like a netbook dinosaur), and I have only one complaint (which I’ve filed a bug report on).

At first glance, it looks pretty much like any of the recent releases, but some nice little touches are in there:

  • Boot up time and general responsiveness are significantly increased, even with still the Ext3 filesystem (I don’t want to risk Ext4 at this point).
  • When the package manager is interrupted, you’re told to use the command sudo dpkg –configure -a to fix it (instead of the incorrect previously given command dpkg –configure -a
  • Hotkeys, sound, touchpad tapping, and wireless all work out of the box with the Eee PC. No tweaking or special kernels necessary.
  • Time zone selection during installation actually is by time zone and not by city.
  • More themes are included.

I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head, but it just feels good. I wanted to file as many bugs as I could before final release. I could find only one bug to file so far, though.

Good job, Ubuntu folks!

Apple and Mac OS X Asus Eee PC Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Should Linux users hush up about Microsoft?

Someone linked to Good Linux Users Don’t Talk About Microsoft on the Ubuntu Forums. I started to type up a reply, and then it got so long that I figured it was more of a blog entry than a forum post. Besides, who wants to hear about our broken toilet flush, anyway?

Okay, let’s see. So “good Linux” users can’t bash Microsoft, but “bad Linux users” can be bashed as morons? Okay. I don’t really see how that works.

I do agree that if Linux users want others to use Linux (and not all Linux users say they do) they should focus more on what Linux can do than on what Windows can’t do. It’s the same for anything in life, really. You have more respect for a political candidate who says “I’m going to do this, this, and that good things” instead of “My opponent has done this, this, and that bad things.”

But it’s only natural for people to compare two competing alternatives, especially if most of the users of one alternative used to use (or still use) the dominant product. If almost every Toyota owner used to own a Honda, then you bet you’d hear a lot of Honda-bashing from Toyota owners.

I see this a lot with Mac users, too. There are some very vocal anti-Microsoft and anti-Windows Linux users online, but in person all the Linux users I know are pretty level-headed about things (use what works for you, I prefer Linux), and the most vocal anti-Microsoft and anti-Windows sentiment I hear in real (in-person) life is from Mac users who were former Windows users.

It’s the same trick that the bully from elementary school used to use. You put others down to make yourself feel better. Well, if you’re not 100% sure you like your new choice, you may feel tempted to put down your former choice to reassure yourself you made the right new choice. It’s like when people start reminiscing about their exes and then a friend says “Oh, he was such a jerk anyway. You’re so much better without him.” He may, in fact, have been a jerk, but why do you need such assurance that you’re doing better now? It’s because there’s a little part of you that wonders whether you should still be with him. And for every Linux or Mac user who does spend the bulk of her energy putting down Windows, I often wonder if that’s where it’s coming from.

I kind of see both sides of it. On the one hand, there are many deplorable things Microsoft does, and there are many things I don’t like about Windows. It doesn’t make sense to ignore corporate bullying practices, vendor lock-in, or bad default security practices. On the other hand, focusing your energy solely on what “the competition” is doing wrong isn’t a good “sell” for your own “product.” You should spend most of your energy talking about what Linux is good for.

This goes to a larger sociological issue when it comes to operating systems. You see a lot of dumb back-and-forth arguments about “Which is better, Mac or [understood to be Windows] PC?” or “Is Linux ready for the desktop?” Well, obviously no one’s going to come to a unanimous conclusion, because there is none. No one operating system can be everybody’s preference or suit everyone’s needs. And no one operating system needs to.

My wife can love her Mac OS X and that doesn’t bother me. I can love my Ubuntu and not bother others with it. And our friends can use Windows to their heart’s content, and I won’t bother them. As a matter of fact, even though I prefer Ubuntu, I use Windows at work every day, and I divide my home time almost equally between my wife’s Macbook Pro (with Mac OS X) and my own Eee PC (with Ubuntu). So I’m familiar with all three operating systems and can appreciate their respective pros and cons.

If someone says “Do you think Linux is ready for the desktop?” I would probably respond “I don’t think there’s a definite answer to that. It’s better to tell me what your computer habits and budget are, and then I can tell you whether a Mac, a Windows PC, or a Linux PC is best for you.”

The key is really being able to talk intelligently about what works for whom instead of trying to pit operating systems in a battle out of which only one winner can emerge.

Apple and Mac OS X Computers Education Linux Ubuntu

The woman who dropped out of MATC after mistakenly buying a Ubuntu laptop from Dell

I know I’m probably the millionth person to comment on this (is millionth even a word?), but I have only two things to say.

1. To the anti-Linux folks and tech “journalists” who blame this on Linux not being “friendly” enough for new users or being for only those who want to tinker with their computers, how exactly would Ubuntu (or any Linux distro) have been friendlier or easier to use in this case? Does Ubuntu have any control over the fact that Verizon gives you the impression its software is necessary to set up an internet connection? Or that Verizon’s CD provides Windows-only software for it? Does Ubuntu have any control over the fact that Microsoft has made Microsoft Office closed source and not made a Linux version? Does Ubuntu have any control over MATC’s requirements misleading people into thinking they need Windows when Linux will do just fine? Did this woman really have to drop out of college because of the laptop?

2. To the supposedly pro-Linux folks who feel the need to harass this woman through Facebook or whatever, shame on you. Should she have known better to research what computer she was buying before plunking down $1100? Sure. Is she an idiot? No. She’s just an idiot when it comes to computers, and I know a lot of otherwise brilliant folks who are idiots when it comes to computers (I was a computer idiot only five years ago myself). There’s no need to send hate mail her way when the people really at fault are the “journalists” who don’t actually do any kind of investigative reporting and rely solely on catchy headlines and misinformation to gain readership and website hits.

A friend of mine recently went back to school for interior design and previously had been a Mac user. Surprise, surprise—she got herself a Windows computer, because she knew AutoCAD wouldn’t run on her iBook. Somehow, though, I can’t picture WKOW 27 running a news story on Mac OS X forcing her to drop out of college because it doesn’t run AutoCAD, even if she had stuck with her iBook.

Edit: Here’s an example of a Mac user on Yahoo! Answers who is having trouble with the .exe file to set up her Belkin wireless router. Anyone going to run a news story on it? Doubtful.

Computers Linux Ubuntu

Linux is a Windows operating system? HP…?

I’ve been fascinated by HP’s line of netbooks ever since I saw the phrase “92% keyboard,” but the reviews of the HP Mini-Note have been mixed, and the most recent reviews of the HP Mini MI indicate they’ve based it on Ubuntu but disabled the terminal. There’s probably a way to re-activate the terminal. Still, what’s the point of disabling it? Mac OS X has had a terminal for years. It doesn’t mean Mac users have to use the terminal. It’s just there for the people who want it.

In any case, I’m not actually in a position to buy a new netbook (my old Eee PC is less than a year old). I like to pretend, though, so I walked through the process of customizing the new HP Mini MI, and I came across this (click for a larger image with the full context):
Uh, that’s a Windows logo there, except they’re saying it’s Linux. It’s one thing to hide the typical Linux interface with a slick internet-media interface or even to disable the terminal, but tricking Windows users into thinking Linux is Windows? Even Mac has the weird split square smiley face or the Apple logo. Linux can’t even get a tux penguin or the Ubuntu logo?

“Progress” always has to happen in small steps at first, I guess.

Computers Linux Ubuntu

Confessions of a Linux user

One of the popular criticisms of Linux users is that Linux users can’t take criticism well. This criticism happens to be true. And I happen to have, at one point, been one of those Linux users who could not take criticism well.

Why can’t Linux users take criticism well? Why couldn’t I before? Does using Linux do something to your brain? Does it cause you to have kneejerk reactions?

Well, I think it does at first. I can speak only for myself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if other Linux users had this happen to them, too. When I first “converted” to Linux from Windows, that’s exactly how I thought of myself—as a convert. I felt as if I’d seen the light. For decades, I’d been enslaved by Microsoft and now had finally seen the light in Linux. Praise Jesus! I wanted to share the “good news” with other Windows users. I wanted to tell them what they were missing. I was so enthusiastic for Linux that I couldn’t understand how anyone could level criticisms against it.

It was more than that, of course. Even after my new-convert zeal died down, I didn’t take criticism well because I knew many of the criticisms were not valid or constructive ones. If 95% of the criticisms people throw at you aren’t valid, it can be difficult to figure out which 5% are valid and give people credit for that little bit. In other words, you get in a defensive mode, the same way a dog who is used to being beaten will shy away from even an intended-to-be-loving touch.

Once the zeal went away and once the defensiveness cooled down, I started trying to deflect criticism into pragmatism. After all, what does it matter if I—a Linux user, not a Linux developer—hear your criticisms? How would I know how to fix things any more than you would?

A little bit of this I have retained, and I still will refer complainers to Brainstorm and Launchpad.

But I’ve stopped toeing the party line. It’s taken me three and a half years of Linux use to do so, but I’ve stopped. Yes, there are many things that are the fault of third-party vendors. Yes, there are many things that are out of the control of Linux developers. In the end, though, Linux developers are human—just like you and me. They make mistakes. That’s why some thing that used to work in an older release no longer works in the current release. That’s why that update broke your X server. That’s why that security vulnerability snuck in and took a while to get patched.

Linux isn’t perfect, not even for what is within the control of the Linux developers. And not all Linux developers are volunteers. Many are, and I appreciate their generosity of time and energy. But many are also paid. But they’re human, folks. They make mistakes. Is it okay for you to criticize? Sure. Criticize away.

I’ve had my fair share of problems with Linux. I’ve been a Ubuntu user for over three years, and I saw Ubuntu storing passwords in plain text (that has since been fixed). I’ve had all kinds of problems getting drives mounted and unmounted properly, and I’ve filed bug reports. Sometimes I get annoyed that they won’t fix bugs in the current release unless they’re security-related. That’s okay.

In the end, I don’t believe in conversion. I believe in using what works for you. If you believe Windows has fewer problems, then use Windows. If you believe Mac has fewer problems, use OS X. If you believe Linux has more problems than Windows and Mac but you just want to torture yourself, use Linux.

I happen to have experience with all three major platforms and have found problems with all three. I could level criticisms at all three. In the end, I choose Linux because I like it, warts and all. If you want to offer your criticisms, I won’t pretend I haven’t heard them all before, but I also won’t call you a troll or tell you that nothing is the fault of Linux developers. Use what works for you, and do your best to improve it with whatever’s within your power to do so.

Apple and Mac OS X Asus Eee PC Computers Linux Ubuntu Windows

Would Apple’s netbook be the next iPod?

I remember back in 2003 when only a handful of early adopters in America were buying portable audio players. If I’m recalling correctly, some of the big players at the time were RCA and Creative, among others. Once 2004 rolled around and the 3rd-generation iPods came out, suddenly “everyone” I knew had an iPod. Soon, even armed with my Sandisk player, I had unknowing friends call my portable audio player an iPod. The iPod took over a growing trend and made itself a virtual monopoly in portable media devices.

In recent years, phones have been getting more internet-connected. Blackberries have been the standard for business travellers, but most everyday folks have had crappy no-name web browsers in their phones that can do only some very basic tasks. Suddenly, the iPhone came along, and now… well, not nearly “everyone” but it’s getting close to half of the people I know are getting iPhones or planning to get an iPhone when they can afford it. I had high hopes for the Google phone or the Blackberry Storm; however, all the reviews I’ve read of them have been mixed and make it sound as if the iPhone, despite its own flaws, cannot be beat for sex appeal to the masses.

Now we have these netbooks that are “popular” in the sense that early adopters are excited about them, but really very few people I know have netbooks let alone know of their existence. I bought an Eee PC 701, and I still love it but, like many netbook owners, know that the netbook has not reached its full potential. Some Linux users are optimistic, since most netbooks come with a Linux-preinstalled option, that netbooks could be the key to a Linux-for-home-user revolution of sorts. If that’s to happen, OEMs have to wake up and start making a netbook that is unreservedly the best. I’ve read literally hundreds of reviews of various netbooks, and with every review, there’s something seriously wrong. Some key is placed in the wrong place. The keyboard is too small. The sound is tinny. The processor is too slow. The battery life is too short. The Linux distribution it comes with is crippled.

Why is it so difficult? Really. If an OEM (Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, etc.) came out with a netbook that had these characteristics, I guarantee it’d blow the sales of the other netbooks out of the water:

  • 92%-sized keyboard with important keys in the right places
  • No weird side buttons for the touchpad
  • Nice aluminum casing, no cheap plastic
  • Sleeps when you close the lid, wakes when you open the lid
  • Ubuntu-based Linux that takes advantage of the full Ubuntu repositories
  • “Easy” interface that can easily (meaning a box that checked or unchecked, ticked or unticked) be changed to a more typical “advanced” interface
  • 2- or 3-second boot time
  • Definitely cheaper than the corresponding Windows option
  • Battery life of longer than 4 hours
  • Kernel supports 2 GB of RAM without user modification
  • Ships quickly, no extended delays

Why is that so hard to find? Why does Dell’s Mini come with some weird architecture that isn’t compatible with the regular x86 .deb packages? Why does HP’s Mini-Note use a Via processor? Why does any netbook run with a crippled version of Xandros or with Linpus Linux? Trust me, OEMs, for your own financial good, fix these problems quickly and come up with an all-around great product, not just a sufficiently-good-for-early-adopters product.

If the rumors I’m reading are true and Apple may enter the netbook market soon, this could be another iPod coup. I don’t agree with all the design decisions Apple makes. In fact, I actually am opposed to Apple’s whole approach to user interfaces. I cannot deny, however, that Apple thinks out its decisions and tries to create what they consider a good user experience. And they know how to make their products sexy. See, I don’t mind having an ugly MP3 player that also has a radio, has a really long battery life, and costs half the price of an iPod. But I’m not most people. Most people would much rather have a sleek iPod that costs more, has a cool scroll wheel, and works with iTunes.

I’d love to see Linux get some real success among home users, but if there’s not a Linux netbook that I can unreservedly recommend to friends and family before Apple comes out with one, I’m afraid Linux may miss the boat on this one. Or, even if Apple doesn’t come out with a netbook exactly, if the current line of netbooks stays flawed, netbooks themselves may die out, and the iPhone may take over yet another niche.

Asus Eee PC Linux

What’s so bad about the Eee PC Xandros anyway?

Since I’m a regular on the Ubuntu Forums and, like some other forum members, I have an Asus Eee PC and decided to install Ubuntu on it, I do every so often get asked the question, “What is so bad about the Eee PC Xandros anyway?” I recently did a reinstall of Xandros, so after playing around with Xandros for a while again, it’s fresh enough in my mind that I can talk more specifically about the pros and cons of Xandros.

Xandros Pros

  • Hardware support. Yes, many distros have come pretty close to full hardware support or there exist some tweaks to get everything working, but Asus customized Xandros to work exactly with the hardware in the Eee.
  • Fast boot time. Likewise, there are some hacks to make Ubuntu or other distros boot a little more quickly (maybe 45 seconds instead of 90 seconds), but Xandros boots in 12-30 seconds, and that just can’t be beat. I understand some people have done some experimental fast-booting projects for other distros, but all of them have huge disclaimers about them being experimental for a reason.

Unfortunately, that’s about it. I can think of absolutely no other advantages to Xandros over other Linux distributions.

Xandros Cons

  • Annoying simple mode. At first glance, simple mode (the one with the tabs and huge icons) looks good or at least easy to use for beginners. It’s not a well-thought-out interface, however. The difference between Network and Wireless Networks isn’t readily apparent (Network is for frequently used connections you want remembered; Wireless Networks is for ad hoc connections). There’s also no easy way to make the Favorites tab the default, which would make the most sense. If my most-used applications are on two separate tabs, that’s kind of annoying. And if I have to click to a separate tab every time I want to see my favorites, that’s also annoying.
  • Too much QT dependence. If you’re a Gnome fan or generally favor GTK applications, there’s only so much you can strip down the KDE libraries and QT dependencies in the Eee Xandros. The essential-to-functionality programs all depend on KDM and KDE libraries. I don’t have a huge problem with mixing QT and GTK, but when my hard drive is only 4 GB, having double the libraries takes up almost double the space.
  • Limited repositories. When you load up Xandros, you’ll notice that the software available for installation is pretty much what comes on the Eee PC by default and little else. And some of the software updates actually take away functionality (for example, the update to the usb storage applet makes it so you can’t turn off the device dialog when you plug in a USB device). It is possible to add repositories, but there aren’t extensive repositories that can be used without adding potential conflicts. There are some small community-maintained repositories you can add. Or you can add Debian ones and make sure to pin versions of applications so that the Debian versions don’t replace the Xandros versions.
  • Mounting like Windows. When you plug in a USB device, instead of appearing as a normal drive name, you get all the weird D:\ and E:\ stuff as you would in Windows.
  • You can’t add a password to sudo. I’ve done extensive research on this at the Eee User Forums, and no one has successfully been able to add a password to sudo, so for almost all intents and purposes, you are running as root all the time. I can understand if this were only the default, but if you edit the /etc/sudoers file so as to require a password for sudo commands, you render the Eee unbootable.
  • No Quicktime. Yes, it’s great that Xandros comes with MP3 playback and Flash installed by default. But you’d think they would also give you the codecs you need to play Apple Trailers. No dice. The workaround is that you add Debian repositories and force and lock a downgrade to the slightly older version of MPlayer that apparently has the proper codecs.
  • Old versions of software. People often complain about Ubuntu updating its software versions only every six months with a new release. Xandros doesn’t do even that. There are some really old versions of applications that I don’t think have been updated since last year.
  • The username is always user. So in a regular distro if you say your full name is Carol J. Clover, the distro will make your username carol, as would make sense. In Xandros, no matter what your full name is, you’ll always be called user and your home directory will always be /home/user.

I think that pretty much sums it up. So the next time someone asks what’s so bad about Xandros, I’ll just point them to this blog post.


Enough with the sensationalist Linux headlines

You would think that self-professed computer nerds and/or geeks would actually read articles instead of just headlines, and you would think that tech journalists would actually try to get across facts instead of just latching on to controversial-sounding sound bytes.

Nope. Unfortunately not.

I’ve seen two major instances of this recently. One is the headline about Linux netbooks being returned at four times the rate of Windows netbooks. Oh, the anti-Linux trolls latched on to that one right away. Well, of course, Linux isn’t usable. People thought they were buying a usable system and then they had to return it because Linux is only for nerds.

Uh, no.

If you read the actual article in question, it’s specifically about the MSI Wind netbooks, and the representative giving the statistics clearly says it’s a matter of people dealing with something unfamiliar and unexpected. Here’s an exact quotation:

People would love to pay $299 or $399 but they don’t know what they get until they open the box. They start playing around with Linux and start realizing that it’s not what they are used to. They don’t want to spend time to learn it so they bring it back to the store.

And Asus has said the return rates on Linux Eee PCs are about the same as the ones for Windows Eee PCs:

I think the return rate for the Eee PCs are low but I believe the Linux and Windows have similar return rates. We really separate the products into different user groups. A lot of users like the Windows XP, but in Europe a lot of people want the Linux option.

So really what this means is that MSI doesn’t know how to market its products properly, and Asus does (as did Apple with its Think Different campaign). When you have a product that’s unfamiliar to users, you have to do two things to get it to sell.

  1. You have to maximize sales with the users who are open to new things.
  2. You have to tell the other people that different can be good.

And then there’s the old Mark Shuttleworth “no money in Linux desktop” hype. Yes, Mark Shuttleworth did, in fact, say

I don’t think anyone can make money from the Linux desktop

but when you couple that with

never seen selling shrink-wrapped packages of free software as a workable idea. The only way to build business around software is with [added costs] services

he’s clearly saying that the whole idea of selling software is outmoded. He’s not saying Ubuntu won’t ever make money. He’s saying the money comes from a different place. But people just see the headlines and think, “Ah, so those anticapitalist free software fanboys finally admit there’s no money to be made for open source.”

Just give it a rest. Linux has enough real problems as it is. No need to make up new imaginary problems.