Why I Hate Mainstream

Linuxquestions.org has announced the winners of its members choice 2004 awards for Linux and open source. Upon hearing, I visited the site and slowly scrolled down the list nodding my head every so often, sometimes shaking my head where I disagree. Then I arrived at a category I actually know a little bit about…Live CD’s. Knoppix?!? Again!?!? Ok…let’s think this through. Perhaps it deserves it…afterall, X number of system admins swear by it. However, to me, this isn’t what a Live CD is about.

IMHO, a Live CD is about trying out Linux…not just rescue functions or data recovery. It’s about being able to run an entire operating system as read only from your CD-ROM. It’s about showing the power that Linux has. It’s about having an entire desktop with all the eye candy fixins in sub-5 minutes to attract new users. In a sense, it is a “try before you buy”…in this case download. It’s about detection, installation, configuration, and automation. While Knoppix does a good job on this…actually it wrote the book on it…there are those distributions out there that now PUMMEL Knoppix in detection. Two that come to mind are PCLinuxOS and MEPIS.

I figured that PCLinuxOS would be the major player at this years members choice award…mainly for the reason that it really advanced this year at distrowatch.com. In 2003, it was 44th. In 2004, it skyrocketed to 9th. That’s the fastest moving Linux distribution that is currently being tracked by Distrowatch. So, when I read Knoppix as the choice…I was surprised. Then I thought about it for a minute, isolated the real problem, and became a bit ticked off.

This isn’t about choice and it definately isn’t about a Live CD…it sure isn’t about the best. It’s about the most popular. Unfortunately, this is becoming the ‘in thing’ for open source. Linux has become chic. Well, maybe shabby chic. Nonetheless, Linux has arrived mainstream and brings entoe all of the things (good or bad) something that goes mainstream will bring with it.

When open source first got its start, there wasn’t a huge following. There were a few people posting at BBS’s and Usenets or chatting on IRC that co-developed applications and handy software packages across the net. Fast forward to today’s society. Processor speed has gone through the roof, bandwidth/download speed is no longer an issue, and information is available at the speed of point-click.

Now, Linux has become a ‘cool thing’ to run and use. I picture Adam Sandler in Billy Madison saying, “Everyone knows that running Linux is the coolest” and everyone answering, “if running Linux is cool, then I’m Miles Davis!”. This is what really gets my goat…that there are people out there running Linux because its cool or because it’s the ‘in thing’ to do and for no other reason. These same people flock to forums or IRC channels and post, “My Amarok thingie won’t work! I played my Brittney Spears song on it and it doesn’t work anymore. Help!! Must hear Brittney Spears..X!!!X<!X!)OO!” If they dignify a response at all it takes at least 3 reformations of the question before anyone can isolate their real problem…which usually comes out to be operator error.

Yes it is good that Linux is popular…it is good that open source is popular. This doesn’t mean that all things are “right as rain” though. It means those that are true to open source have to sift through the BS and make sure that they are supporting their choice for the right reasons. It means that those of us that support our choice need to stop ourselves from jumping on the bandwagon that everyone else is hopping on.

Some of you might be asking, “Well, what about Firefox…everyone hopped on THAT bandwagon and look at it!” Yep…it’s doing great. Now how many open source projects can do what firefox did? How many did it before them? Now you should understand what I’m getting at. If you support a distro and get caught up in the mix with those that are there just because its cool…then that will blind and maim intentions and directions. A distro or open source project must stay true to itself and not allow itself to become a prada bag or gucci tailored pants…that was never and isn’t the intention of Linux…and it isn’t and never will be the intention of the GPL…let’s face it, prada and gucci aren’t free.

So the YayHoos will be out in full force touting X project as the best…pouring their “wisdom” about like a salt shaker dropped on the floor. Unfortunately, this means that for all the good and knowledgeable people that use Linux, there will be just as many evil idiots that do as well…bah, they don’t even need to be evil…they can just be idiots and cause the same problems. The only thing positive I have to say about it is…at least they’re running Linux…so they’re only half of an idiot…but for some, that is more than enough.

That’s my two cents…stay true to yourself and your choice and don’t buy into the hype.

This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

  • http://www.servertude.co.uk Apostasy

    I like PCLinuxOS as Live CD, it’s very nice looking and has all the Mandrake configuration tools that I already use. But, I’ve not had it successfully boot X on any machine I’ve tried it on. In every case I’ve had to run XFdrake from the command line it dumps me at.

    I think perhaps Knoppix beats it simply because it doesn’t tend to dump you at an unfriendly CLI and if Live CDs are all about attracting new users to Linux then it’s got to work without too much hassle.

  • br3n

    i have tried knoppix and in fact it was the only thing i could get online with for a few months.
    i dont do windows and i was having so many other problems it was just the only answer i had available.
    now it didnt have all the answers tho.
    kppp is not easy for a non geek person to understand on dial up.
    it took someone talking to me long distance to help me get that right.
    hardware is not easy to understand either in the dial up world.
    the modem problems are a nightmare for newbies.
    i have mepis d/l and burnt to disc but since the other box had the mobo burnt out i dont have a spare to try new distros on anymore.i also have another distro i want to try ready to go to try.
    time is very important also.
    it takes me time to learn the difference of the configs between different distros.
    sometimes each persons perspective of one distro over another makes a world of difference also.
    i feel like sometimes as a noncoder i have invaded the linux world.
    i am vocal but i give to the irc channels help and guidance to newbies so hopefully that is considered enough of a donation to be part of the community.
    -:)
    br3n

  • http://blackmylar.com/ Greg Rollins

    I came to LiveCDs very late in the game. I started using Trinux on 3.5″ floppies back in the late 1990s and it was purely for rescue work. I was always having to recover screwed up Win95 and Win98 machines. There was always a boot sector to fix, hard drives to duplicate, and network problems to puzzle through. Linux rescue and security troubleshooting disks saved my bacon in more than one instance. My first shot at a LiveCD distro was Knoppix. For me it was not about trying out Linux, but all about security auditing. Since then, I’ve also used it to help rescue a WinXP laptop,and used it to introduce our QA department to using Linux and to test some software we have recently developed. What I’m trying to say by all of this is that LiveCD’s are a versatile and clever tool that exemplify, to me anyway, the imagination and artistic imperative prevalent in the Linux community. As long as the art, and science of programming are pursued with the imaginative vigor of the Open Source movement, you and I, and all other Linux users will never have to worry about the mainstream.

  • helios

    Am I the “typical” linux user? Probably, not a guru, languishing somewhere between noob and intermediate user. Once .bagle trashed my company network, I vowed I would do anything, use anything to sh*tcan Windoze. Linux was my choice. I actually followed devnets advice on live-cd’s and knoppix was my first experience with Linux. In a hurry to get something on my hd, I installed it and was vastly disappointed. Onward to Kanotix…MUCH better, but was still not quite happy although I wanted to stay in the debian circle. Mepis was the next link in my evolution and although it performed well as a live cd and I was able to do most everything I needed to do with a usb key,it was just so damn ugly and hard to configure that I gave up on it. Enter PCLinuxOS. In my year and a month of Linux experince, I have never been so happy with a disto. Strong, fast, stable and uses apt (minus dpkg). This is a workhorse distribution and I for the life of my cannot figure out why it did not win top honors. Devnet’s right, this is a political/popular vote and it sucks. Mrs devnet is in for a treat when she sh*tcans mepis. Hope she likes it half as much as I do. It is the perfect desktop/light business OS and here is the friggin kicker…it is currently in preview release! With advances like this, 1.0 should be amazing. Texstar, Sal and the rest of his team hit it out of the park with PCLinuxOS

  • http://thisone Devnet

    Agreed. PCLinuxOS is a sweet distro. There is a reason it was the fastest gainer last year…because it gained major functionality.

    While I don’t share your take on MEPIS (MEPIS has Gnome support and IceWM…which means I get choice…and I can customize a KDE desktop in a matter of minutes) I do agree with you on PCLinuxOS.

    MEPIS for me has been the one distro that detects, installs, and configures more things than any other distro. Plus it is Debian…which makes it my baby. Slackware and Debian based distros have special places in my heart :P

    Can you tell a bit more about your experiences with Linux in your company area? I’m working on a Linux-small business angled article.

    Devnet

  • helios

    The “achilles heel” of pclinuxOS in it’s current form is the lack of server support. I have not talked directly to Texstar about this, but I am guessing that his drive for perfection will prompt him to include a server in the 1.0 release. Right now there seems to be a problem with udev on usb and network printers but if you go to the forums, you will see a large number of the community contributing to the testing and re-creation of this problem, they are all contributing to the effort of finding a cure for this glitch. It really is inspiring to see everyone from guru to stumbling noobs trying to fix this. It is even more inspiring to see Texstar and his DevTeam interacting with these efforts daily on the boards.

    As a matter of fair disclosure, I must tell you that I drug my company kicking and screaming into this Linux Migration. I have offices in Austin, Temple and Waco. Our needs are very simple and in order to set up our network, we had to employ an apache server/httpd. Although we had few problems technically, the ladies in my office are dumbstruck when it comes to ftp servers and clients. I personally take care of sysadmin so I know what their concerns are. Even though we have a flawless ftp system that is provided thru pclinuxos, I have found it much easier to just set up kpf and let them use that for sharing files across the network. Everything is nice and neat, files downloaded via http web page, and this way I don’t have to hear alot of kvetching about the “complexity” of linux. While kpf is probably not suitable for larger companies, it fits our needs nicely. One improvement to kpf would be to allow uploading from any kpf connection. Windows has a plethera of http server programs such as kpf. WWW File Share Pro comes to mind and it has the ability for uploads. When we were a windoze company, we used ws_ftp and it seems to me it might have been a bit more cumbersome than proftpd, but because it is Linux, my employees “think” it is harder.

    As far as day to day office tasks and work, PCLinuxOS has been an champ. I refused to employ Crossover Office and have weened my employees from the MS Office teat. With openoffice integration into kde, the entire suite operates quicker and with virtually no crashes. Even Xandros 3.0 which was supposed to be superior had problems with openoffice on our computers. The fact that it was a proprietary OS with its own brand of file manager is remenisant of Windows was a turnoff to us. The file manager works well enough and is inovative, but it just isn’t Linux the way Linux should be. Besides, the deluxe version I purchased for our use comes complete with Crossover office 4.0 and the temptation to use it was too strong.

    I think one of the strongest points PCLinuxOS offers is that all streaming plugins are functional upon first boot. Even with Suse 9.2 and Xandros 3.0, you had to hunt down the proper mplayer files and plugins, manually install different components into the plugin and component folders and go from there. Most linux distos come with the ability to employ the kaffeine plugin for mozilla but on every distro I have used, it has either been broken or just didn’t work as well as the mplayer plugin. When we tested Mepis we found that while the mplayer plugins were pre-configured, they were buggy and the video windows were either incomplete or could not be manipulated to fullscreen, and the control panel within the window that manipulates volume, pause, play, etc were missing at times. In all, the streaming within Mepis was buggy. We have a dvd made every evening and posted to our website that outlines daily and weekly goals, awards given and mundane inter-office stuff. PCLinuxOS plays them flawlessly.

    In all, I think that PCLinuxOS is the closest thing to perfect for a small business or personal desktop. The lack of an included server is a temporary problem, but that is found with many distros, to include many of the proprietary Linux offerings. Texstar has done wonders with kde. My Windoze Zombie staff like the pretty pictures XP gave them and kde satisfies that need(?). While not a mission-critical function, the entire gui of PCLinuxOS is one which my staff is comfortable. I personally am a gnome guy with wanderings every now and then to Xfce, but kde 3.3 has grown on me and again, my staff has grudgingly admitted that it is as easy or easier than the XP gui.

    I report these things from a businessmans standpoint. As far as I am concerned, openoffice has advanced enough that Microsoft Office can be shown the door. Linux is a rock-solid and secure operating system that has allowed me the luxury of actually sleeping at night. I know that when I lock the door of my business at 6:00 pm, everything is going to be fine when I reopen in the morning. Unfortunately, the stigma of user unfriendliness still follows Linux. People who have tried Linux in the past have the impression that it is still a geeks tool and just too difficult for the average user. I am seeing a glimmer of hope that this is changing. I will do my part to see that it does.

    Ken Starks
    MobileMaster of Austin

  • http://www.marinmo.net Marinmo

    Most of this sounds (to me) like a rant towards users that try out linux for whatever reason. I’ve been struggling, on and off and with various success, to install and continously run linux on my computers that I’ve had throughout the years. I’ve been doing this for years now (I think I installed it around 1999 at first, RedHat 5.1 if I remember it correctly?) Without too much babbling; what you’re doing here, and this “ticks me off” a little, is generalizing me (and people like me) with people that just “buy into the hype”.

    I’m not an expert. I do not listen to Britney Spears. I do try and solve my own problems, but sometimes I just cannot figure it out, and even if the mistake is on my side, I don’t see how people in the “know how” can or should be pissed off about it. I help people with general computer problems and networking issues whenever I can, but I sure do not bitch about it when it turns out that the problem was the users fault. This is a *very* linux-specific behaviour, stinking of elitism. I completely understand that people get annoyed when the hype-people doesn’t use google or the search-function on your-given-forum, but this is not an excuse for beeing an asshole towards those that really try, which tends to be the way of thinking in the know-how linux circle(s).

    Other than that, the entry was a good read. I, ofcourse, haven’t tried most of the distributions that were mentioned here, mostly because I’m on a (software) RAID system right now, and I don’t know how to install on these things (the few explanations I’ve got have sounded far too advanced “even” for me, to be honest). I wish I could’ve given some deeper thoughts with a lot of technical babble, but alas, in the end I’m just a pretty average end-user without any superhuman linux knowledge. ;-)

  • http://www.marinmo.net Marinmo

    Just a quick note: I would say I am fairly good at setting up the basics by the way. I read your (and her own) mrs.devnet entries and the problems there are ofc not the problems I use to come by when using linux – it’s rather the little-more-advanced usage things, like installing on a RAID partition, earlier mentioned, that I have a problem with.

    Nevertheless, I will follow your wife’s progress – it interests a lot!

  • http://www.mobilemasteraustin.com helios

    It’s funny how something swirls around in the back of your mind and you are not even aware of it until it slogs its way thru the sludge and into the front. A comment Devnet made above is an example, as well as a rather pointed response. Whether I like it or not, whether I agree with it or not, Linux users ARE a community, a quarreling community, but a community none the less. Microsoft users seem to be bound by only the dollar amount they paid for their OS and occasionally to a kind soul who helps them thru a BSOD crisis. It is this sense of community that attracted me to Linux…and the fact that it is superior of course. I don’t for a minute pretend to know exactly what Devnet meant other than what he explicitly stated and if he is right, then I think I agree.

    See, the majority of the Linux community seems to work together to make this OS work. Regardless of our motives, I see millions of people tied together to make Linux happen. Now, I think I see what Devnet is saying. You have people just waltzing in, demanding much and contributing little, then stomping out to reinstall Windoze when someone gets frustrated with answering the same question for the zillionth time and responds with RTFM. I will use myself as an example. As a business owner, I don’t have alot of time to really dig into this system and find out how it works. I couldn’t compile a kernel if you held a gun to my head. But what I can do may be important to someone. First, I donate money to my developers…and oh trust me on this one, I have “paid” for my linux distros many times over. Not complaining…if my contribution can get us closer to being better, I will write the check. Recently Texstar of PCLinuxOS fame was made aware of a problem with udev and usb/networked printers. I spent three evenings installing, updating and logging until I found out where it broke and I was not alone…at least 15 people were doing similar things with this problem at the same time and I can gladly claim that I may have had a hand in finding the solution. That feels good. Now when you have someone brand new to linux, not particularly loyal or caring make demands upon you or your community, it can rub ones ass raw. So all of this just to say I think Devnet has a point, regardless of how he chose to express it. I like my new family and I like them because they contribute in one way or another to making Linux a good thing…a better thing. New guys just have to understand this and come to accept it. The alternative is run back to the greedy and waiting arms of little billy gates…Geez thats a disturbing image.

    helios