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Is it easy to install new software on Linux yet?

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AJerman    762

All depends on where you go. Better information is in the more technical message boards where the power users and devs hang out, but they are less friendly when it comes to helping. I haven't noticed too much Linux elitism here, and I think overall it's starting to dwindle because it simply doesn't take a brain surgeon to use Linux anymore. My dad even uses Linux now!


I've never used LXDE before, so I don't know much about it, but you're right. You need to think of Linux separate from the GUI. Windows and Mac having no alternatives has made people think of the GUI as the OS, and now days especially on Windows it really is, but at the same time any GUI is just running on top of it's kernel. Linux just gives you the freedom to keep those separate and choose your favorite. There's a bunch to play around with out there, some are more user friendly than others. Running on a netbook with little power does make it a little more difficult being that the more light weight UIs are typically a little less user friendly. It's a trade off between speed and bloating the UI with wizards and hand holding.

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Innuendo    21

My experience has been vastly different. I totally switched totally to linux months ago and every support forum I've visited has been very supportive.


If this is true then I think that's awesome. I've long maintained that the biggest hurdle in Linux gaining more acceptance has been the holier-than-thou "RTFM, noob!!" attitudes.


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Karl L.    275

The Vibe I got from Linux forums when I went for help for issues was;


If you can't perform every single task in Linux inside the Terminal, by memory, blindfolded with one arm behind your back. You are a pleb who doesn't deserve to use Linux.

I'm sorry that you feel that way. It is true that there are Linux zealots who expect everyone to have a high level of technical knowledge before asking a question, but that is certainly not the case for everyone. Not to excuse the fact, but there are zealots for every major operating system or technology. That is evidenced here on Neowin by the flaming that takes place when anyone mentions anything negative about Windows 8, and the problems the mods have been having recently in the Gamer's Hangout with the XBOX One and PS4 advocates. Unfortunately this is the nature of technology. Techies get passionate about it. That is why we all signed up for Neowin, right?

Also, don't mistake the fact that *nix advocates tend to post terminal commands rather than more complicated GUI instructions as an expectation that you should have those same commands memorized. It is not condescension (in most cases, anyway). They primarily post terminal commands because (1) they prefer the power and succinctness of the command line to verbose graphical interfaces, and (2) it makes for much shorter, simpler instructions. The mistake they most often make, in my opinion, is not posting terminal commands, but not explaining in plain English what the commands they are posting actually do. Clear explanation will help new users pick up commands more quickly, which is why I try my best to explain the commands I post.

When I was first learning how to use Linux I had the same problem you are describing. In fact, it is one of the things that I found most attractive about Ubuntu: everything could be done through the GUI. There were even helpful tools like Ubuntu Tweak that let me customize more advanced settings without needing to know how to modify them manually. It was easy. As I learned more about GNU/Linux and the UNIX philosophy, I started to understand the power of the command line. Thus I started using it more often, and eventually reached the point where I preferred it for many tasks. One of the most crippling things today in my workflow on Windows is the lack of good command line tools. Although cygwin makes it somewhat better, even that amazing piece of software cannot completely fill the gap.


The point I'm trying to make, is that when Linux noobies like me (based on my experience with friends of mine trying Linux, as well as a few noobies forum posts here) go searching for a Linux Distro to try out, they do just that, search for a Linux distro.  We don't search for a Linux GUI.  I kind of think of the two as the same, because coming from Windows and Mac, you don't think of "Windows - Running the Windows GUI" and "Mac - Running the OSX Gui", so I do the same with Linux.  I didn't think "I'm settling on Lubuntu with the LXDE gui", I thought "I'm settling on Lubuntu.  LXDE=Lubuntu".  Now I've learned that this is the wrong way to think, that really I should be paying attention to both the kernel AND the gui, and that I have to find the best combination for me.  But when you're a newbie, that point is far from obvious.

That is an excellent observation. It is also highlights one of the biggest barriers to Linux adoption by Windows or OS X aficionados: mentality. Linux users, and open-source advocates in general, tend to think about their computer and their operating system very differently than users of proprietary operating systems. The latter are generally content to accept what the vendor gives them as long as it "just works", or at least works reasonably well, with few exceptions. Open-source advocates tend to be more technical users who expect a much greater degree of freedom to choose what runs on their operating system as well as how it runs. They are generally far less focused on ironing out all the kinks so it "just works" than making technology they find interesting. After all, if you don't like it, just patch the source yourself or switch to an alternative. Not only are users of proprietary software not afforded that level of freedom, they often don't want it. They like things to "just work".


Linux distributions fill this disparate gap is varying degrees. Slower moving "enterprise" distributions like Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop/SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and Debian patch and stablize upstream software to make it integrate as smoothly as possible into their distributions. Because they are enterprise quality, they tend to assume that anyone setting them up knows what they are doing, but they provide immensely detailed documentation and top-notch support. Once a system administrator configures the system, it will "just work" much like its proprietary equivalents (or often much better).


On the opposite end of the spectrum there are Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Linux Mint, and SUSE that try to provide an easy-to-use distribution out of the box. This is much more similar to what Windows users typically expect, but it is done at the expense of some of the customization afforded by other distributions. Even so, open-source philosophy inescapably permeates the operating system and affords drastically more options for customization than the proprietary cousins those operating systems take some inspiration from. The downfall of these distributions tends not to be how easy they are to use on their own, but that the expectation of users who switch to them is that they act exactly like the operating system user switched from. It is a no-win situation if the user is not willing to consider a new way of doing things. No matter how good they are, those distributions will never be "good enough" by that measurement.


The final category of Linux distributions is super-user/developer oriented distributions like Arch Linux, Fedora, Slax, and Gentoo. Although these distributions often have some of the best technical documentation available (especially Arch and Gentoo in my experience), they do not cater to the stability and support enterprise users demand or the ease-of-use most end-users crave. Instead they pride themselves on providing a base for the most technical users. In the case of Arch, the target audience is people who want bleeding edge software. In the case of Gentoo, their users prefer to squeeze every last ounce of speed out of their computers by, ironically, spending hours of heavy resource usage compiling everything from source. There are advantages to the approaches taken by these distributions, but they invariably assume a high level of technical competence from their user base.


That is to say, all operating systems have their advantages and disadvantages. It is very hard to quantitatively recommend a single Linux distribution as "the best". It is much easier to do so with Windows and OS X because there is a single entity that has dictatorial control over the code; there is no variation. On the other hand, a Linux distribution exists solely to meet the needs of its users. Since there is no one-size-fits-all - that is, everyone is entitled to his own preferences - various Linux distributions exist to meet the needs of those groups. "Which Linux distro is the best?" is the wrong question to ask. "Which Linux distro meets my needs?" is a much better start. Rather than giving credence to the platitudes in the "best Linux distro" articles, evaluate the advantages of each distribution based on your wants and needs. If you are new to Linux and don't understand all of the differences, don't be afraid to ask. That is why we have a Linux discussion forum on Neowin. I wouldn't post a technical question here about how to fix a Lintian warning in the software I just packaged for Debian, but I would discuss the more general user support questions, especially to help you work through the sticky points of switching from Windows.

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