GNU/Linux on the Desktop: Triumphs and Tragedies

GNU/Linux on the Desktop: Triumphs and Tragedies

Summary: I've posted many times about moving users from Windows to GNU/Linux, and of the successful migration experiences with it over the past several years. However my latest migration ended up failing, and I ended up having to return the user back to Windows XP mainly for a game that refused to work in Wine and VirtualBox, and would crash on startup in both scenarios.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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I've posted many times about moving users from Windows to GNU/Linux, and of the successful migration experiences with it over the past several years. However my latest migration ended up failing, and I ended up having to return the user back to Windows XP mainly for a game that refused to work in Wine and VirtualBox, and would crash on startup in both scenarios. I put in a few hours, and could not get it to run. Mainly, I was having problems getting Direct3D (DirectX 9) to work reliably in Wine, which the games heavily rely on. Some games work fine, others would crash. While Wine has made many strides and has matured greatly over the years, there are still some items that it just cannot run. When this happens, I normally fall back to VirtualBox and run the software in a Windows XP virtual machine. In this case, the game would also crash there as well. Understandably, 3D support in VirtualBox is still being developed, so it is not a guarantee that it will work there either, yet. However, I also ran into some roadblocks with Fedora 16 and the NVidia graphics driver which added to the issues on getting Direct3D working in both Wine and VirtualBox.

So, eventually the user was without their PC for long enough and I had to revert back to Windows XP, just to get things working for now. The PC had been brought to me because it was full of the usual Windows malware, and he wanted to switch to GNU/Linux to put an end to this. I am pretty sure that if I had more time, I could have fiddled with it and gotten things to work properly. But, it was requiring a lot of tweaking as I mentioned in a previous post about Fedora 16. I could have set up the PC to dual boot, however I decided not to get into this scenario right now as the user is a heavy gamer and it would result in booting frequently to both Linux and Windows, which I think is more hassle than it is worth. However, at some point we made a mutual agreement to try GNU/Linux again in a year or so, once different games and versions are out. Another application that is used frequently in this case during the gaming is TeamSpeak which has a Linux version available. Unfortunately, I never got that far to try and install it, but I'm sure it would have worked since there is a native Linux version available, unlike a lot of the popular games which are Windows/Mac only.

The user also tried to uninstall and reinstall software in Wine and could not figure it out; I had to demonstrate that Wine keeps all files in the ~/.wine/drive_c/ area which is the virtual C drive and is hidden. To uninstall software, simply go to the Applications / Other / Wine Software Uninstaller menu entry and uninstall the software in the list.

In addition, the switch to Gnome 3 complicated things even further, even though I enabled Fallback Mode to retain most of the Gnome 2 functionality.

This experience showed me that a novice computer user would have a challenging time getting Fedora 16 running, if they have a NVidia card and also if they would need to rely on Wine heavily for Windows applications. Other cards seem to be fine, as another Fedora 16 system I installed recently had an Intel integrated graphics card and had no issues like the one with the NVidia card. It's true that things go wrong, and when they do I can see frustration from Windows users when they are trying to make a switch to another operating system. The first reaction is to go back to Windows which is the "easy" option. But in doing so, it will be like going in a circle, only to fall back to the same old problems again, and this is not the goal. The goal is to make the change to provide a reliable computer that will run for years without maintenance attention needed, which GNU/Linux provides time and time again.

You could say that I should have chosen a different distribution other than Fedora this time around, but I've found Fedora to be very well supported in the past and have had no issues like this in the past, until now. I think part of the issue is that Fedora 16 made some strides ahead with some of the core OS features (Gnome 3, systemd, etc.) so this added to the complexity. I will definitely be taking a look at Fedora 17, and see how things look.

In the future my plans are to go through some of the common tasks with newly migrated users to Linux, demonstrating how to install and remove Windows software (if needed), change system settings, and common tasks. They are able to find everything in the native Linux environment (such as using the Add/Remove Software program to add and remove native Linux applications), but things get confusing when working with Windows applications in Wine. I am a big fan of throwing out as much Windows software as possible and using native Linux applications because of this. The built-in software installation and removal in Fedora is so simple that newly migrated users pick up on it instantly. But, migrating from one application to its GNU/Linux equivalent requires time, patience, as there is usually a small learning curve (unless of course we are talking about applications that are the same across multiple platforms like Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird, etc.). Using native GNU/Linux applications ensures the software will run, and makes it easier to upgrade in the future. Making the migration to them now rather than later, is definitely preferred, and will pay off in the long run.

So where is GNU/Linux headed on the desktop? I think things will continue on as-is for the near future. I don't anticipate GNU/Linux usage on the desktop to surge. But I don't think it will decrease either. Microsoft has succeeded in vendor lock-in and patent bullying so that Windows is keeping its grip for now. But I suspect this grip will continue to loosen little by little as it has been over the past several years, as users have the ultimate choice of what software they use.

Topic: Open Source

Chris Clay

About Chris Clay

After administering Linux and Windows for over 17 years in multiple environments, my focus of this blog is to document my adventures in both operating systems to compare the two against each other. Past and present experiences have shown me that Linux can replace Windows and succeed in a vast variety of environments. Linux has proven itself many times over in the datacentre and is more than capable for the desktop.

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  • Worth remembering that Fedora is really the beta test-bed for RHEL, which isn't really aimed at the home user. It's not a distro I'd personally aim at a newbie. The Nvidia problem is long standing and revolves around RedHats absolute refusal to include any non GPL stuff in the kernel and this includes the 'proper' Nvidia driver.

    Linux will never have a chance as a popular desktop OS so long as MS maintain their 100% monopoly on pre-installed operating systems. I still can't get my head around how that can be legal? I'm damn sure a 100% monopoly in any other industry would be absolutely prohibited anywhere in the developed world.
    AndyPagin-3879e
  • AndyPagin :

    Thanks for the feedback. You are correct in that Fedora is the test bed for RHEL, and is cutting edge. I like it because it has excellent community support and I've also found it to be stable enough to use on a daily basis, not to mention easily staying up to date from version to version, and backed by one of the leaders of the GNU/Linux OS.

    I can side with Red Hat's policy on not including proprietary software. And the way it is set up currently, a stock Fedora installation doesn't include any proprietary software yet gives the user the ability to install the RPMFusion repository in order to expand it and get proprietary software if they wish.

    It would be nice for Microsoft to play fairly. But, if nobody uses their software, then it would be a completely different picture. Some (like myself) choose not to use their software based on principle and bad experiences.
    Chris_Clay
  • Anytime a user plays games, I basically dont advise Linux :(

    At least, this was my behaviour up to 2009. And even in 2010 I tried with my own setup (being a gamer myself) to run everything through linux, but I just couldnt 'agree' (for want of a better word) with the amount of messing around Id have to do to get DirectX games running.

    And even with VirtualBox, the number of issues I get with graphical corruption (although the games *do* run) plus the reduction in speed is a real pain in the backside.

    The closest I got to a 'happy' machine was using OpenSolaris and VirtualBox ...

    Have things progressed well with games in the last 2 years to warrant another attempt with Fedora/Ubu/Mint ??

    With regards to the M$ pre-installed thing.. I do believe there should be a *choice* at the point of buying the equipment... Having all manufacturers just by *default* installed Windows is not a healthy state to be in, and agreed, should surely induce some unlawful monopolastic (?!?) problems. :)
    huggy79
  • huggy79 :

    You are right, it is sometimes very difficult to get games running correctly in Wine and/or VirtualBox. After I posted this article I came across an interesting product called "PlayOnLinux", found at: http://www.playonlinux.com/en. It is supposed to aid at installing Windows software with Wine, and keeps its own database of which software works best in which version of Wine and will automatically select the best version to install the Windows software in to; it can also have the Windows software run in concurrent versions of Wine. Since regression in Wine seems to be somewhat common, this is very promising news. I am hoping to take a look at it soon, as the project definitely has good intentions.
    Chris_Clay
  • Of course you could have dual booted or run Linux in a virtual machine to give the user the choice and a way to learn that there is more to pc's than Windows.Give them a USB storage dongle with a 'live' Linux. Some people find it addictive.....
    Sure someone who wants to use a windows only program will struggle and I don't think WINE is a solution but most people use a variety of programs lots of which are cross platform. Give them the knowledge that it's there and some will want to use it.
    Can't agree about Gnome 3 it's easy to use. If your user was coming from XP for sure it's a learning curve but it's just a case of giving them the basics. I guess if you insist on using a cutting edge distro for a newbie then you will have problems with alpha/beta situations.
    anonymous
  • Karen Holton Ian Holton :

    I think in this case that dual booting would have been more trouble than it was worth at the time. But you are correct in that they will never learn a new operating system if they don't try it out. I think that given more time we could have found a more permanent solution which would be to get rid of Windows altogether. If that was the case and everything would run, we'd be golden. Thanks for the feedback.
    Chris_Clay
  • I like to keep my gaming seperate from my PC. I have a PS3 and an Xbox. There are some games that make me want a nice gaming PC, but there are definitely enough console games to keep me busy.
    Rise2theTop