A Stupid Idea for New Year’s Eve

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?

7 Responses to “A Stupid Idea for New Year’s Eve”

  1. MartinWood.org Says:

    ERH : Why should Linux be any different?

    Elliotte Rusty Harold questions Linux as any normal consumer would – why can’t it use the same driver software as Windows?
    Link : Mokka mit Schlag » A Stupid Idea for New Year’s Eve
    I was asking myself the same question a few weeks back ins…

  2. David Says:

    I’ve had about equal difficulty installing Linux and Windows — in fact, I’ve given up on Windows installations a few times, when it simply wouldn’t play nice with some older hardware.

    Currently, my kids share a new, generic desktop computer with the Ubuntu Debian distribution and no Windows (the old computer had a corrupt Windows partition that we finally gave up on). Installing Ubuntu was almost embarassingly simple — I just booted from the CDROM, and it installed itself perfectly (though I did have to hunt down software with MP3 support, since Ubuntu leaves it out by default). I’ve never seen that with any OS I’ve tried to install, open- or closed-source. On my notebook, Ubuntu did require some fussing to get my wireless card and video adapter working, but then again, I had a lot of trouble with the video card under Windows ME as well.

    In general, I don’t think there’s any excuse for computers to be so complicated, no matter what OS we’re running. Linux won’t establish itself on the desktop per se, but as the browser gradually replaces the desktop, the whole question of choosing an OS will become about as interesting as choosing a BIOS. Even now, the only things my kids do outside the browser is word processing for homework and downloading/ripping/playing/burning MP3s (which remains legal here in Canada). I expect to see usable word processing in the browser soon.

  3. Stuart Says:

    This leaves Linux dependent on non-GPL software, and a simple interface change on the part of MS (new flavor of OS) would be highly disruptive. That said, there is precedent for this approach in drivers for Wireless (802.11) cards. It is certainly a reasonable “back-up” if a native driver can not be found. Perhaps emulating on top of/utilizing MacOS X drivers would be a safer bet.

  4. Mike Says:

    I’m not a developer and maybe there is real difficulty to use windows drivers.
    But personally, I don’t think it would be enough: I personally use Linux for about 3 years now and there is not much hardware problem. Most hardware is correctly detected and relatively easy to configure. And once it is configured, it works for a long time.

    No, the real problem is the desktop. I use Gnome because of Ubuntu. I sometimes swith to Kubuntu and KDE when I’m boring of Gnome. I also use XFCe sometimes. So, I can use many desktop and this is nice but each time, I lose all my menus, all my parameters all my desktop.
    Each desktop have their application (gaim if I use Gnome, Kopete if I use KDE, …).
    KDE uses a lot of CPU.
    Gnome is not really intuitive.

    I hoped that freedesktop.org will make join all this competitor so end user could have the best of all.
    I hoped that application developer could make software that are not sticky to a particular desktop.
    I hoped I could have my preferences independent from the desktop I use.

    But I now think it’s just a dream.
    Finally, some says that competition between developer is Linux’s force. I’m not so sure about it …

  5. Bob Herrmann Says:

    Its not a bad idea. In fact many laptop wireless cards are supported using ndiswrapper.sf.net – it does this very thing. This is how I use my Dell Wireless adapter in my Fedora 4 linux laptop, it uses the WinXP drivers. It actually works very well. I would imagine video drivers require a lot of tweaky stuff, where as network drivers might be more cut and dry at replacment. Perhaps using WinXP video drivers on Linux will come.

  6. Neil Greenwood Says:

    Slightly off-topic, I had the opposite experience yesterday. In my 3- or 4-year-old PC, I swapped my hard discs from the motherboard IDE interface to a new PCI IDE controller.
    Ubuntu coped perfectly. Knoppix and bootable GNU/Linux distros work fine. Windows 2000 starts booting (off the moved hard disc’s MBR), then BSODs, saying “INACCESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE”.

    Go figure…

  7. zzz Says:

    Dude nice idea BTW stop this emulation nonsens make a program recopling the WIN drivers and making it linux ready.

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