A few days ago I talked about why you should try Linux. Today, to the chagrin of Linux fanboys everywhere, I will explore the other side of the issue with 11 reasons the average desktop user would want to avoid Linux.
So here we go! In no particular order, here are 11 reasons Linux sucks.
Reason #1: It’s Complicated
Linux is more complex than Windows or OS X. Sure, once you are familiar with Linux and its idiosyncrasies, it’s not hard to use. But the initial learning curve is steep.
As with several of the upcoming entries, this problem isn’t as severe as it was a few years ago. There are now a handful of distributions that work straight out of the box for most people, and setting them up is only slightly more difficult than a recent copy of Windows.
But even with those improvements, new users must, at least, sift through all the available distributions to find the easy ones, learn how to download the right install image, learn to burn the image to a disc or create a bootable USB thumb drive, get to the install portion, and decipher what each prompt is asking.
This is not an insignificant hurdle for many people. Good Linux users are good because they experiment and seek more information. If you are unable, or unwilling, to learn and work through Linux’s complexities, you may want to avoid Linux.
Reason #2: You’re Alone… Almost
How many Linux users are there? It’s difficult to pinpoint this exactly, but relative speaking, it is safe to say not many.
Problems you encounter are your responsibility to fix. You can’t pop into any computer repair shop with your Debian rig and get help. The only help you’re going to get is through Linux forums, IRC channels, mailing lists, and occasionally fantastic Linux blogs such as Down To Earth Linux.
Not everyone has a problem with this. I fix my own computers, and vastly prefer talking via typed messages over the Internet, than in person or over the telephone. It’s my mindset. But for many, this is horrible and a valid reason to avoid Linux.
Reason #3: It Changes Constantly
At it’s popularity peak, the Ubuntu distribution looked something like this:
It was sleek, lightweight, polished, and easy to use. Since the first versions of Ubuntu, the layout and workflow hadn’t changed much. Each update included small tweaks and improvements, there were a few color scheme changes, but everything was largely consistent and familiar.
Less than one year later, Ubuntu releases looked like this:
Ubuntu opted for a radically different user interface, called Unity, that was buggy as hell (it’s much more stable now).
This isn’t a purely Ubuntu problem, and it isn’t restricted to user interfaces. Linux distributions often make radical changes that break or change things you used to do with your computer. Again, this is not as bad as it was a few years ago, but it is still a problem.
Reason #4: Pointless Competition
Wayland or Mir? Gnome Shell, KDE, Cinnamon, Unity, XFCE, MATE, or LXDE? OpenOffice or LibreOffice? Banshee, Amarok, or Rythmbox?
This is one of the few entries in the list that is getting worse, not better. A short while ago, there were two major desktop environments, Gnome and KDE. Each had its own strengths and weaknesses, and were distinct from the other. Now, Gnome Shell, KDE, Cinnamon, Unity, XFCE, MATE, and LXDE are all major desktop environments… and most do damn near the same thing.
Why start Cinnamon from the ground up when some configuration tweaks to Gnome Shell could have accomplished the same thing? Why did they reinvent the wheel?
How about the much-lauded Wayland and Mir display server? What major feature does Mir have that Wayland does not? They do the same thing! Why are we making two products?
Don’t get me wrong, I believe competition is great. But only when a competitor improves upon the other’s limitations. Gnome was fast and simple, but it was plain and offered limited customization. KDE offered all the shiny widgets and customization that Gnome lacked, but it was more complex and resource intensive because of it. Each served a distinct purpose and catered to a specific audience.
What purpose and audience does Cinnamon have that Gnome Shell can’t fulfill? All these pointless competing products make it difficult for Linux promoters to make clear recommendations, and make it difficult for newcomers to figure out what the hell is going on.
Reason #6: It’s Slow
Okay, it’s not slow. It’s just not fast anymore. The current version of Ubuntu runs slower on my powerful gaming desktop than 8.04 (Hardy Heron) did on my then old Pentium 4 laptop. It’s kind of sad that I no longer notice any performance difference between the most recent version of Fedora and Windows.
In order to get that lightweight, snappy feeling back in my computer, I need to use a distro built on simplicity and speed, such as CrunchBang, or use a barebones distro such as Arch and add in everything myself.
Again, it’s not exactly slow. But it’s no longer a given that it will rocket past Windows and OS X like it used to. This was a huge selling point to Linux!
“Tired of the bloated feeling of Windows Vista? Throw on the easy to use Ubuntu and your computer will kick ass again!”
Now that’s gone.
“Well, it’s still kind of fast, but on a computer that old, it will struggle. If you really want speed, you can try a different distro that’s not as resource intensive, or upgrade your computer.”
FFS! I feel like an iPhone salesman apologizing for an iOS update that crippled everyone’s old iPhone.
Reason #7: Programs Suck
Okay, they don’t exactly suck, particularly since most of them are free. But in many areas the competition is so much better.
Let me give you an example. I am an engineering student, and I absolutely need Windows. Linux programs for computer aided engineering are garbage compared to the competition like AutoCAD, SolidWorks, and Catia. And there is no sign this will change any time soon.
And it’s not just engineering. How about video editing? You can not do serious, professional video editing on a Linux rig. You need Windows or OS X.
Office work? Everyone keeps saying how great LibreOffice is, and they’re mostly right. But for certain tasks, Microsoft Office is the only way to go. Complex Excel operations do not transfer over to Calc. Heavily formatted Word documents break completely. And outside LibreOffice, Evolution and Zimbra are not suitable replacements for Microsoft Outlook in even the smallest enterprise setting.
Linux can not replace Windows or OS X for many people because the software is so lacking. Once you start getting out of servers, supercomputers, or strictly generic web surfing desktops, the software choices are poor at best.
Reason #8: Gaming
A couple of years ago, gaming on Linux was a joke. There were a few open source games that, while fun, were nothing compared to the Call of Dutys, Battlefields, Skyrims, and Grand Theft Autos of the day. Yes, there were a handful of people that they got their game working on Wine by spending 3 days configuring it and accepting defeat on certain features. But serious gamers never bothered to go through all that work.
Today, things are definitely better. Ubuntu, Steam, and others are working hard on making gaming not only possible, but decent on Linux. Unfortunately though, it still has a long way to go before contending with Windows. A serious gamer could not live on Linux.
Reason #9: It’s Free
This is one of Linux’s greatest strengths… and greatest weaknesses. Let’s put aside the moral, ethical, and philosophical aspect (I’ll get to that in a minute), and deal strictly in reality.
Developers need money to eat, and with a few notable exceptions, Linux and Linux software doesn’t provide it. With their money and will, Microsoft had about 1000 highly skilled developers working full-time on Windows 7. These developers worked as a cohesive, managed unit all working towards the same goal, and produced a great product in a short period.
Linux, on the other had, is a mixture of code, some of it 20+ years old, from millions of developers of varying talent, working on whatever the hell they feel like. Now don’t get me wrong. That a powerful and functional operating system is the result of this chaos is fantastic and awe-inspiring.
But, it kind of sucks. It means Linux is always on shaky ground. There are never enough talented developers working together on enough of the operating system. And when something does gain significant progress and momentum, it often fragments into multiple projects all doing exactly the same thing (see reason #4) because there is no unifying vision or management.
Probably the most professional, well-organized, and best part of Linux, it’s kernel, is heavily invested in by companies like Red Hat, Intel, and IBM. And subsequently, most of the kernel is written by developers paid to do it.
Reason #10: Philosophy Versus Practicality
Now on to the ethical, moral, and philosophical aspects I dismissed in reason #9. A large portion of the Linux community like Linux for philosophical reasons. They fundamentally disagree with the principal of closed source and/or for-profit software.
And there is an equally large part of the Linux community that doesn’t care at all. They like Linux because it works best for what they want to do. They don’t care if they use proprietary drivers from evil corporations. They don’t care if the software is closed source. They will pay for software if it is worth paying for. Linux just happens to fit their current needs.
Whichever camp you fall into, you find the other side supremely frustrating. If you’re a practical user like me, it’s annoying that MP3 files don’t play out-of-the-box in some distros because of some philosophical licensing debate. If you’re a philosophical user, you hate that some distros throw your beliefs under the bus in favor of saving users 2 minutes of time.
This schism in the community only reinforces the other divisions and rivalries discussed above, frustrates newcomers to the operating system, and provides yet another reason to avoid Linux.
Reason #11: The Community
When members of the community aren’t being reasonable, polite, and helpful, they are complete jerks. Forums are filled with infighting, unhelpful responses, and downright nastiness. And by filled, I mean you occasionally stumble across these posts.
Okay, enough with the jokes. Yes, the majority of the Linux community is helpful and civil. Maybe a bit abrupt, but not mean-spirited. Occasionally however, miniature wars erupt for dumb reasons, and this pisses off or scares the uninitiated.
I’m working on a list of examples of community jerkiness. If you know of any good ones, please let me know in the comments, it will help with a future post.
This is the End
I can hear the Linux fanboy fingers pounding on the keyboard right now. They plan on telling me about an obscure software package that I didn’t mention. They intend on regaling me with all the flaws in Windows or OS X. Or they will get really defensive… almost as if I mentioned politics or religion.
So let me say this before your fingers fly. I LOVE LINUX! I’m not trying to create an impenetrable picket line to stop people from using Linux. If you want to feel all warm and fuzzy by hearing how great Linux is, read my last post. Windows and OS X have plenty of faults as well, and if this were a Windows or OS X website, I would write about those.
I am aware that many of these “problems” also have positive effects that have helped shape Linux into the awesomeness it is today. I am also aware that Linux has made phenomenal strides in recent years. Hardware support, usability, compatibility, and much more are the best they’ve ever been, and are only getting better.
This post’s intention is to, as honestly and unbiased as I am capable, give constructive criticism on Linux’s weaknesses to inform the curious, and, hopefully, inspire more positive changes.
All right, now you can use the comments below to yell at me. I also highly recommend you share this post on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ with as many rude and crude hashtags as possible. Oh, and make sure to sign-up for our newsletter so we can deliver more anger inducing material to your inbox!