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Saturday, 5 May, 2007

I’ve been reading up on that old chestnut “Is Linux ready for the desktop?”.

Most posters speak with great authority about issues which were addressed four or more years ago. Font issues, multimedia issues (by which they mean Microsoft has not blessed their proprietary codecs for free-as-in-speech distribution), display issues, automounting … all done.

The comparison test I would like to see is the comparison between that new Dell desktop (rumored to be low-end dual-core Athlon, 128MB Nvidia graphics and 512MB stock, with optional working-out-of-the-box 802.11g) and box which shipped with and is running Windows ME. Complain loudly how you can’t get USB 2.0 or 802.11 support in ME, the latest graphics cards are not supported and you are limited to AGP 2x-4x for a video card … not to mention a total lack of support for dual CPUs.

Is Ubuntu Linux, in particular, ready for Grandma? Grandma wants to hit the web, do a little e-mail, watch videos and maybe some web radio, process some words, organize pictures … if Grandma is more advanced she might want Google Earth, IMs, organize a music collection … will Grandma torrent? Anyway, that’s all well tended.

Games are scarce, and that is a false economy. That is, as soon as more of those machines which get wiped upon delivery are no longer counted as Windows machines some house will port their Windows product into a generic Linux one. It’s all a matter of market share … and like the Macintosh System 7.5 I was all those years ago I will say if I wanted to play games, I’d buy a Nintendo. Or whatever they have these days.

Commercial software is especially sparse. Why on Earth would you want a comprehensive application developed over the course of years by thousands of craftsmen familiar with the art available for little more than the clicking of a check box and the bandwidth to download it, when you can drive down to get something crappy at CompUSA for $200.

So yes, Linux is ready for the desktop. The problem comes when the rote steps people have memorized to activate a precious few functions in Windows no longer work. Of course, it is no more complicated than when one upgrades from one interpretation of Blue Screen to another.

No, I don’t know what the linux variant on a BSOD is. I’m sure there is one, but I’ve never seen it. Oh, wait. There was that time I was puttering around where I should not and cracked the motherboard while the machine was running, maybe that’s it.

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