Adventures in desktop Linux

I’ve been using Linux now for about 14 years. Previously, I was using OS/2. So when I tell people “I don’t do Windows”, it’s a legitimate statement. Linux has matured a lot during the past 14 years, however, it is still often an adventure best suited to the tech-savvy.

Take last week: I booted up my Linux box only to see a frowning face and the message: “Oh no! Something has gone wrong. A problem has occurred and the system can’t recover. Please contact a system administrator.” System administrator? In this house, that’s me! I could boot into a failsafe session, but with a degraded video mode. Well, I’m no X11 configuration geek. Heck, I skipped openSUSE 11.4 since I did’t want to dive into video driver configuration. So I reinstalled openSUSE 12.1.

The reinstall went fine. The openSUSE 12.1 installer is perhaps the best one yet! And things were working well even after loading all the patches. But after loading the nVidia driver, I saw that frowny face again. After yet another reinstall, I noticed that the default video driver, nouveau, looked pretty good, albeit with one or two rough edges. I reported the problem to nVidia, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble trying the nVidia driver once a fixed version is available.

Another issue I have is with desktop manager. The two primary desktops are Gnome and KDE. For years, I used KDE. I still remember installing version 1 of KDE back in July 1998, and appreciating how easy it made Linux. But, like many others, I didn’t like KDE 4, and moved to Gnome. KDE 4 has matured since then, and Gnome is now on version 3, and I sometimes wonder if I should move back to KDE. I liked Gnome 2. I was able to configure it easily, and it worked well. But Gnome 3 is harder to configure. It just doesn’t have all the configuration options that KDE has. For example, after installing Komodo Edit, I could have set things up by manually editing a bunch of files. But instead, I started a KDE session and used its GUI tools to set up the necessary file associations.

But it isn’t always a troublesome experience. I started using Shotwell to manage my photos. Today, I discovered that Shotwell has the ability to post photos directly to my Google+ photo album. The only trick is that you have to choose “Picasa Web Albums” as the target.

Several years ago, it was common for people to ask: Is Linux ready for the desktop? I haven’t seen that question lately. Perhaps people have given up on the question. After all, Linux isn’t much easier now than it was five years ago. Or perhaps in the age of web-connected phones and tablet devices, the question is just no longer relevant.

Cheers! Hans

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