Linux's dirty little secret

Linux's dirty little secret

Summary: OK, so over the past few months I've grown from being a Linux skeptic into being quite a Linux fan. I've still got lots to learn but it's great having the ability to roll out a no-cost OS onto systems that don't need to have Windows on them (I understand that not everyone reading this will need Linux, but I do ...). That said, there are a few aspects of Linux that do annoy/frustrate/anger me/make me hulk out* (delete as overall mood dictates), and one of these aspects is so core to an OS that I'm surprised that it hasn't been addressed already.

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OK, so over the past few months I've grown from being a Linux skeptic into being quite a Linux fan. I've still got lots to learn but it's great having the ability to roll out a no-cost OS onto systems that don't need to have Windows on them (I understand that not everyone reading this will need Linux, but I do ...). That said, there are a few aspects of Linux that do annoy/frustrate/anger me/make me hulk out* (delete as overall mood dictates), and one of these aspects is so core to an OS that I'm surprised that it hasn't been addressed already.

Image gallery here

I'm talking about installing applications. Don't get me wrong, it's not all applications. For example, if you are running Ubuntu and want to install support for 7-Zip archives, then you just fire up Add/Remove Applications, type 7zip into the Search box, check 7zip, hit Apply Changes and confirm the changes.

LinuxÂ’s dirty little secret

LinuxÂ’s dirty little secret

Having to turn to Google for help with almost every install seems to indicate a serious usability problem with Linux

Now this process is pretty straightforward and easy, but I have to admit that it could be made a lot easier. For example, where's the application I've just installed gone? If I bothered to read all the info on the Add/Remove Applications window I'd know that the standalone version has gone to /usr/bin/, but if you're hoping to find an icon for the app anywhere, you're outta luck.

But things get worse. Here's an example. I work with both Windows and Linux a lot through VMware Workstation, and when working with VMware virtual machines, installing VMware Tools is a must. On a Windows VM this is easy - From the VMware Workstation menu bar, click on VM and then Install VMware Tools... - easy!

Now try doing the same thing on a Linux distro. On Ubuntu, an icon for the CD/DVD ROM .ISO appears on the desktop and the File Browser opens up displaying two files - an .rpm file and a .tar.gz.

LinuxÂ’s dirty little secret

Start off by double-clicking on the .rpm file. Hmm, that doesn't seem right.

LinuxÂ’s dirty little secret

OK, try the same thing with the .tar.gz file. That seems more promising.

LinuxÂ’s dirty little secret

Hmmm, not a promising as it first appeared. Eventually I give up and hit Google to find the answer. The solution ... well, it involves copious use of the Terminal and lots of typing. For example:

cp /media/cdrom/VMwareTools-1.0.3-44356.tar.gz /tmp/

and

tar xvfz VMwareTools-1.0.3-44356.tar.gz

Maybe it's me, but this feels like a lot of hassle to do something that should be a simple and straightforward process.

Now it's easy to think that this is a VMware Tools issue, but it's not. I've lost count of the number of times that I've needed to install something on a Linux distro only to find that end up with some weird file or worse still, a choice of files) and have to take a random approach to trying to figure out how to carry out the installation before giving up and turning to Google. To me, having to turn to Google for help with almost every install seems to indicate a serious usability problem with Linux.

Does installing something onto a Linux distro really need to be this difficult?

Topics: VMware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • you are mixing paradigms

    Adrian, I can't comment on the 7-zip icon issue. I'm sure it is in some menu there, but I can't talk about Ubuntu exactly since that's distro dependent. Just check in the menus and I'm sure it's there somewhere. But they could, I must agree with you, tell you where it has been added.

    As for the VMWare issue this is not the fault of Ubuntu. The package manager refuses to install an rpm because that's not the package format it uses. Blame VMWare for not offering .deb packages instead.

    On windows that's easy because everything is an exe. But that's exactly what you are trying to avoid with a package manager. Does it work on Windows? Yes, but it comes with drawbacks. Do you like that automatic update feature? Most of us do, but that has a price: packages must be in a specific format. If the app doesn't support it, you are out of luck (you have to compile from source or install them manually).

    You can't have everything. I personally think it's VMWare's fault, not Ubuntu's, for not supporting one of the most widely-used formats. Many Linux programs support them all (VLC, Picassa, OpenOffice, etc). I don't see a reason for not supporting more than just rpm. In the end, it's always a compromise. I think the benefits of package managers pay-off. But that's just me...
    patibulo
    • Bzzt. Wrong Answer

      RPM is a major installation package. If Ubuntu doesn't support it,
      it IS an Ubuntu problem. Quit making excuses for them and
      demand better quality instead.
      frgough
      • RPMs

        People have their preferences, mine is to avoid RPMs like the plague on humanity they are. (only a TAD hyperbolic, that.)

        As I learned Linux, I used various distros. Red Hat and Mandrake and Suse were fond of RPMs. I constantly got library conflicts using them. It never worked as advertised for me.

        Deb files work great. I've never had library issues as a result of debs. Library conflicts were one of the reasons I still booted into windows when I used the other distros. Since Ubuntu, I have felt the urge to use XP at all.
        shawn_dude
        • DEBs

          And some of us have had exactly the same problems with .DEB files.

          If the installer is properly built be it a DEB or RPM at least some of dependency hell disappears. For the rest the package manager itself is at fault.

          In the newest systems a lot of this has been solved to an amazing degree. Unless, I'm sad to say, you're stuck with YUM or YaST.

          Don't kid yourself about Windows, either. You're just not told you're about to enter dependency hell in Windows until you try to run your new app and end up with error messages up the wazoo about missing or wrong version .dll files.

          ttfn

          John
          TtfnJohn
          • Which makes a very valid point for Adrian to consider ...

            ... nobody is saying that Linux is idiot proof. Windows certainly isn't and it has only one distro style to worry about.

            How long have you been using Windows Adrian?
            And how long Linux?
            fr0thy2
          • I think Adrian is looking at his problem

            like most any Joe Shmoe user would/does.

            I like Linux because it's not like windows, but I want it to act like Windows and do everything like Windows, plus perform all the Linux magic.

            Why should I use Linux if it's not easier than Windows and won't do everything Windows will do, plus?

            Never mind the fact that Linux costs much less, if anything at all.

            Never mind the fact that Linux users don't have to do the Reboot Boogie every time they turn around.

            Never mind the fact Linux doesn't have DRM (user control) baked in.

            Never mind the fact that Linux doesn't have WGA (Microsoft's computer surveillance/search/seizure program).

            Never mind the fact that Linux users don't have to call some far-away place in India and beg them to "activate" their system after they have purchased it.

            Never mind the fact that Linux users don't have to "re-activate" their systems every time they change some of their hardware or install "strange software".

            Never mind the fact that Linux users don't have to purchase another license if they ever want/need to change their motherboard.

            Never mind the fact that Linux users don't have to enter a yard-long string of numbers and/or letters every time they install or reinstall their systems.

            Folks, if Linux looked, acted, and felt like windows, Ballmer would sue Linux for patent infringement. He has already falsely accused them, and called them "Viral" and a "Cancer".

            All that being said, if Joe Shmoe wants to use Linux and make it act and look like Windows, there is an inexpensive commercial program to help him cheat (obviously he wants to "pay" for something, since he likes windows so much), as explained by Geeks.com's techtips:
            Faking it
            What do I mean by faking it? Using software that fools Windows applications into believing that they're actually running on Windows and not on Linux. It does this by creating what's called an application layer between the Windows program and Linux. The application layer simulates the Windows environment -- calls to the operating system, DLLs, drivers, and the like. Unlike the other solutions mentioned earlier, using an application layer only adds a bit of extra load to your computer -- a few megabytes of disk space and a couple of megabytes of RAM.

            There are a number of good Windows emulation tools for Linux, including Wine, Win4Lin, and the application that this TechTip will be focusing on, CrossOver Office.

            Overview of CrossOver Office

            CrossOver Office is the commercial version of Wine, and is actively developed by a company called CodeWeavers. CrossOver has a user-friendly, graphical interface which makes installing and maintaining Windows applications easy. CodeWeavers also, in the true spirit of Open Source, turns its code over to the Wine Project.

            The central feature of CrossOver Office are bottles. Bottles are miniature Windows environments in which you install applications. Each bottle is a separate entity, and doesn't interact with other bottles. So, if one bottle becomes corrupted or fails it won't affect another bottle.

            The main drawback (for some people anyway) is that the personal standard edition of CrossOver Office costs $39.95. However, support is good and you're getting the latest updates to the underlying Wine software.

            Getting Going

            The first thing to do is download and install the software. You can get a trial version, and there are installers for a number of popular distributions like Ubuntu, Debian, and Linspire. There's also a generic installer that you can use with just about any Linux distribution, which you run from the command line. The installer also bundles a copy of Internet Explorer, Windows Notepad, and Windows Media Player.

            Once CrossOver Office is installed, it adds a menu item to your task bar or panel. On my laptop running Xubuntu, it's Applications > CrossOver Office.

            To install a piece of Windows software, select Applications > CrossOver Office > Install Windows Software. After a few seconds, the CrossOver Office installation window appears.

            You'll notice on the installation window that there's a list of programs that will definitely install using CrossOver Office. These are ones that have been tested and certified. Chances are, though, that you'll want to install some other application. You can also take the chance with others by clicking Install unsupported software and then clicking Next.

            CrossOver Office will warn you that you might want to check the big list of compatible software at the company's Web site before you proceed. You can do that if you want to, or you can just click Next.

            You're asked where the installer for the Windows application is located. The default is your CD-ROM drive. If the installer is on your hard drive, click Other installer file and then click Browse. You can search your hard drive for the installer program, and once you've found it click Open and then click Next.

            Next up, choose a bottle for the program. It's recommended that you create a new bottle; installing an application into an existing one has the potential to mess up that bottle. Create a bottle by typing its name in the New bottle field. Then, from the Create from template list choose a version of Windows that the bottle will be compatible with. Your options are win2000 (Windows 2000), winxp (Windows XP), and win98 (Windows 98). The CrossOver Office user guide recommends trying a win98 bottle first, then trying win2000 and winxp. I've had better luck going the other way.

            Click Next. CrossOver Office begins the installation process. After a few seconds, the installer program for your Windows application should appear. Just go through the installation step. When you're done, you'll be returned to the CrossOver Office installation window. Click Finish.

            If all goes well -- it doesn't sometimes; more on that later -- you'll have an icon for the application on your desktop and in your menu. Just double-click the desktop icon or select the application from the menu. Then, you're ready to go.

            How well does it work?

            Quite well in most cases. With some software, it's just like running it under Windows. For example, I sometimes have to use Microsoft Word. I have Word 2003 installed on my laptop and it starts as quickly (if not faster) than on a comparable Windows machine.



            Sometimes, though, funky things happen with a program's interface. You can't resize dialog boxes, the edges of the interface are transparent, and there's some other general weirdness. However, I've found with each subsequent release of CrossOver Office, these problems become fewer.

            But, what happens if you have a Windows application that doesn't have an installer? It's just a lone executable -- the ubiquitous .exe file? Just open your file manager, find the executable, and right click on it. Then, select Run with CrossOver (or whatever variation appears). In many cases, the application should run smoothly.


            Compatibility

            Not every application that's written for Windows will install. Either the installation won't start, or it will fail part way through. Once in a while, an application will install, but refuse to start. In my experience the recent version of the publishing tool FrameMaker hasn?t played well with CrossOver Office and neither has the Windows Live Writer blog client. Any application that requires the .NET Framework (a Windows-specific environment for running applications), or access to Java or ActiveX definitely won't run.

            You can find a list of compatible programs at the Codeweavers Web site. If you really want to get a program working, you can become an advocate. Advocates help test various Windows programs and even post tips and tricks for other users.

            Conclusion

            CrossOver Office is an easy-to-use and powerful way to run Windows applications under Linux. There's a version for Mac, too. It only adds a bit to the overhead of your desktop computer or notebook. CrossOver Office isn't perfect, but definitely beats dual booting!

            If you need to be pragmatic and have to run Windows applications, then the price of CrossOver Office is definitely a worthwhile investment.
            Ole Man
          • Thanks Ole Man, Great Info!

            Your suggestion of using crossover office is well taken. I purchased it and found it well worth the money.
            chessmen
          • Oh My! - did he hit a nerve....

            You know it never ceases to amaze me. That you, fr0thy, '...' and alway blast Adrian when he gives real world view of Linux. Sorry that the truth hurts, but the "Joe-Schmo" you refer to is the one that is going to grow Linux into a viable alternative with real market share. Adrian is addressing those problems and some you three just don't get it. Linux has some rough edges still, and with the help of people like Adrian hopefully the true users not some JA zealot who can't handle reality are working on getting those edges cleaned up. Once that's done and yes it is as easy to install a package - for ANY destroy - as it is for Mac/Windows, then you know that will attract a few more people. But until that day comes you going to be relegated to the basement. You can childishly blast away at everyone (frothy being the worst of the bunch and '...' being probably the most realistic) but the reality of the situation is 1) Linux is what it is and with screen shots and lessons you can't change that 2) you really give it a bad name. Here come the daggers of children.
            ItsTheBottomLine
          • Too much FUD

            Apologies for the extremely long post, but responding to the FUD.

            >Never mind the fact that Linux costs much less, if anything at all.
            TCO is more than the purchase price - ?if anything at all? implies there is no cost. This is untrue if you value your time as I do. Windows and Linux both cost far more than the purchase price. TCO can be argued in many ways and is different for most people. YMMV.

            >Never mind the fact that Linux users don't have to do the Reboot Boogie every time they turn around.
            And neither does Windows. Windows is far more stable then people give it credit for. No, Windows is not perfect, but GPF's are a thing of the past and there is no need to reboot after an install if the install was done properly. The main reason reboots are recommended is because it is easier than:
            Go to a command prompt and type ps ? ef | grep <name>... That is the letter 'P' then the letter 'F' then a space then minus sign, then a space, then the letters 'E' then 'F' then the pipe symbol. Hold down the shift key then hit the key above the enter key. No, not the plus sign the enter key to the right of the quote key <keep going here. Make sure it was typed lower case and look for other things that could go wrong> Now look for the PID number then type kill -9 and enter that number

            >Never mind the fact Linux doesn't have DRM (user control) baked in.
            I'm not a fan or DRM but I understand why some companies would think it a good idea. From a perspective of company secrets it is a good idea but to stop piracy it is useless.

            >Never mind the fact that Linux doesn't have WGA (Microsoft's computer surveillance/search/seizure program).
            Fair point ? but that's their business model.

            >Never mind the fact that Linux users don't have to call some far-away place in India and beg them to "activate" their system after they have purchased it.
            Neither do Windows users ? it activates over the internet as long as there is a connection.

            >Never mind the fact that Linux users don't have to "re-activate" their systems every time they change some of their hardware or install "strange software".
            And neither do Windows users, with the exception of radical HW replacement. Adding something will never cause a problem. Many instances of Windows are OEM, meaning it is a cheaper version licensed to run on only the original host. This is a business model decision that many people do not agree with. My position is I am paid to develop software and I want to be paid for the work I do. I do not expect my employer to pay me then give away my work for free. Open source is great but I do not agree with the view of all software should be open source. I like the model where software costs because I want to earn a living.

            >Never mind the fact that Linux users don't have to purchase another license if they ever want/need to change their motherboard.
            As above. A second replacement motherboard will require a call to India but not a new license.

            >Never mind the fact that Linux users don't have to enter a yard-long string of numbers and/or letters every time they install or reinstall their systems.
            Yes, this is a pain.

            I know some will label me a Windows Fanboy but from where I sit neither Windows nor Linux are perfect. Since Ubuntu Gutsy I think Linux is almost ready for Mum & Dad.
            The Ref
          • Here come the daggers of children

            Yes, and we know who you are!

            Someone will come along and expose you.
            Ole Man
          • I know some will label me a Windows Fanboy

            I'm sure they will, and for good reason.

            You come across with the same old tired worn-out apologies and excuses for Microsoft's malfeasance.

            Keep up the good work! Your fellow Windows flunkies are rooting for you, and everyone else is guffawing at you.
            Ole Man
          • The problem is

            in most forums there is a culture where bashing Microsoft with misinformation is standard, and anyone calling out the FUD is labeled a fanboy and summarily dismissed. Microsoft does not write the best software in the world, and is far from perfect - but there is a common thread in many forums that misinformation about Microsoft is accepted.

            As a user of both Windows and Linux (predominantly Ubuntu desktop and RHAS server) all have their issues. I for one am able to look at both without prejudice and see they both have value.

            Publishing of incorrect information and name calling of anyone who raises concerns that the information is false is not the best way to either improve the knowledge of the community or enable a more widespread adoption of Linux.
            The Ref
          • That's a pretty good point, actually.

            After all, at $39.95, Crossover costs less than buying a copy of MS Office 2003 Pro off eBay...
            roystonlodge
          • The Problem, Ole Man, Is Does Linux Increase Its Market Share

            by becoming more accessible to Joe Consumer (or even Joe Super-Consumers like me) as Windows and OSX both are - or does it continue to exist as a "geek-only OS" with niche markets but no mainstream penetration? A (mainly) consistent method of software installation that a normal person can easily follow with a little training (like the DEB files mainly manage, at least in my limited Linux-enduser experience), along with plenty of familiar software That Just Works w/no user tweaking, would go a long way towards ensuring that market penetation....
            drprodny
          • Don't sound like much of a problem to me, drprod@...

            It would be nice to have a version of Windows that doesn't require tweak, tweak, tweaking and doing the Reboot Rhumba, wouldn't it?

            Since those who are whining most vociferously about Linux are actually Windows users, why aren't they complaining to Microsoft about THEIR obvious deficiencies?

            Use what you choose and don't whine about the rest would be the most obvious logical path.
            Ole Man
          • Re: I think Adrian is looking at his problem

            [i]Why should I use Linux if it's not easier than Windows and won't do everything Windows will do, plus? [/i]

            Or, to phase it less flippantly (in other words, the way the user might say it), what's so great about Linux that justifies the learning curve? What do I get in exchange for my time, effort, and possible loss of functionality?

            If I were that Joe Schmoe user, I probably wouldn't know or care about DRM or WGA, because I'd have accepted them as facts of computing life. I would toss or donate the computer rather than replace a motherboard, because I'd rather not mess with all that stuff. I wouldn't talk about Msoft's every move as if they were the machinations of Lucifer himself. I'd just want the computer to work reasonably well at a few simple tasks.

            I'd want to be able to connect to a wireless network, access the Internet, and run some office software. If my hardware suddenly stopped working, I'd want an easy way of diagnosing and fixing the problem. If I heard about a Linux-compatible program and wanted to try it out, I'd want to be able to install that program simply, without having to know commands or search repositories (Ooh, I know, how about a downloadable file that can unpack and execute itself with a simple double-click?) In a nutshell, I'd want an OS that respects the fact that I'm a teacher / plumber / nurse / salesman, not an IT wizard.

            Yes, some people want a free version of Windows. There's not much we can do for those folks. Some of us, however, just want a basic OS that recognizes our hardware and requires minimal hand-holding. As far as I've seen, few distros even [i]try[/i] to accomodate casual users.
            MaddJoka
          • I understand your point of view perfectly, MaddJoka

            You just want to graze contentedly along with all the other sheep in Microsoft pastures forever.

            Buon Appetite! Baaaaaaa! Baaaaaaa! Baaaaaah!
            Ole Man
          • Another Wrong Answer

            The point is that Windoze installs are usually simple and [i]consistent.[/i] That is one advantage of a single distro style.

            Adrian is commenting (OK, complaining) that Linux installs are inconsistent and unpredictable. His experience level isn't so much the issue as is the Linux community's inability to settle on a coherent standard.

            The engineers and programmers (in all three camps, Windoze, Apple and Linux) need to spend less time and energy on being excessively clever and more on making a useful and [i]usable[/i] product.

            In both the short and the long run, Linux has to be significantly better than Windoze in order to succeed.
            tyyggerr@...
          • Settle on a standard?

            And how many "standard" methods has Microswipe had in their history for installing programs? Just review the history from pre-Windows 95 through the first generations of "Add/Remove Programs" and into the Microsoft Installer. And why is it that you have to periodically upgrade the Microsoft Installer program itself in order to install other programs?
            JJQ1000
          • My mamma made a hog out of me

            By feeding me too much, making me fat and lazy.

            Now I expect to be coddled, hand-held, patronized, and force-fed. Don't ask me what I want. Don't make me choose. Just sock it to me! Choice is unnecessary. Windoze is beeyooteefull.
            Ole Man