The Yugo of Operating Systems

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Seems FreeBSD wants to reach feature parity with desktop Linux. Excuse me while I guffaw for a minute. That’s like saying you’re designing a car and want to reach feature parity with a Yugo. When FreeBSD starts aiming for feature parity with the Mac, then I might take them seriously.

Why, oh why, do so few developers of free software know or care about user interface design? Or reversing the question, why do so few developers who know how to design user interfaces have any interest in working on desktop Linux? What little effort there is, is simply applied to imitating Windows. For a couple of years I saw some hope at Eazel, but then the money spout got turned off and the developers who actually knew what they were doing lost interest and moved on to other things.

Shopping for an Intel Mini

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

This site is served by an eight-year old, 300 MHz Pentium II, Debian Linux box in my home office. It works well enough for my needs. However recently the system has begin making occasional whining noises for intermittent periods. I’m afraid it’s on its last legs.

I had hoped to replace it with an Intel Mac Mini; but sadly that did not arrive at MacWorld, and seems unlikely to arrive before April 1 at the earliest. In the event I need to quickly replace this system, what do people recommend for small, quite, cheap, energy-efficient X86 box? Here are my requirements:

A Stupid Idea for New Year’s Eve

Saturday, December 31st, 2005

So I’m thinking about Linux today, and how it still is completely inappropriate for end users, but maybe things are getting better. (More on why 2006 still isn’t the year of desktop Linux in another post later). I mean, I’ve got about a three year old whitebox PC using a very common ATI video card, and an SGI 1600 monitor that’s circa 1998; but X-Windows still can’t figure out the resolution, even when I tell it what the correct resolution is. That’s pretty poor. It’s certainly not a system I can honestly recommend to my wife or my father or any of my non-technical friends.

Why can’t Linux figure out how to drive the monitor? Damned if I know. The monitor’s a little strange–it’s widescreen instead of 4 by 3. My guess is the right driver is missing, or I don’t have my XF86config file set up just right. I could probably figure it out if I used Linux on the desktop more than occasionally. I did it a couple of times before, before I switched to Mac OS X for most of my work; and it was incredibly difficult and scary each time. Frankly right now I can’t be bothered to do that again. I do know that the exact same hardware works flawlessly with Windows, and the same monitor works without a hiccup on my Macs. Why should Linux be any different?

And then I think again, “Why should Linux be any different?” That’s when I get the stupid idea. I am sure this is a collossally stupid idea. I am sure it is going to be totally obvious to all Linux and video card geeks everywhere that this idea is totally unworkable and completely infeasible and could never possibly work in a thousand years. They are going to fill the comments section with a thousand reasons why this couldn’t possibly work. But then I think, it’s New Year’s Eve. No one is reading this anyway. Why not? So here goes:

Why should Linux be any different? Why can’t Linux use the exact same drivers Windows does? Why should every marginally different piece of hardware that comes off the shelves at CompUSA require a custom driver just for Linux? Instead of rewriting everything from scratch, why not just use the Windows drivers? Of course, this would require some sort of emulation layer, and performance would suffer some; but isn’t this what VMWare already does? Why not write an emulation layer that allows Linux to use all the Windows video drivers? It’s a tough job, but is it really impossible? More to the point, is it harder or easier than continuing to write drivers for every new video card that drops off the assembly line? How stupid is that?

Linux 2005

Friday, September 23rd, 2005

I upgraded my desktop to Ubuntu 5.04 Hoary Hedgehog a couple of days ago because I needed the USB support in the more recent kernels. The good news is that Linux is getting better. This is a huge improvement since I first started using Linux with Mandrake 8 some years ago. The bad news is that it isn’t there yet as a serious desktop operating system. The install process is much less painful but still doesn’t pass the parent test. Despite already having a system partitioned for Linux, the installer still asked me about partitions, and required me to choose my partition setup. Otherwise, though, it auto-detected my network card, my sound card, my mouse, my keyboard, the DHCP server, and almost everything else. However, it still couldn’t handle my widescreen monitor. Widescreen monitors were a little unusual when I bought this one back in the late 90s, but today they’re extremely common. Why Linux still can’t believe that 1600×1024 is a reasonable resolution I don’t know. Not everyone lives in a 4:3 world. Still it was a vast improvement over the installers of yore.