Wiping Linux off my hard drive

If there’s anyone who wasn’t quite sure if I’m a computer geek, this is the post to prove it…

Ever since I went to the Digital Arts and Culture conference at RMIT in 2003, where I presented “this paper”:http://www.fineartforum.org/Backissues/Vol_17/faf_v17_n08/reviews/hourigan.html, (many of the political arguments of which I now thoroughly disagree with), and where every second attendee was toting some kind of Apple notebook, I’ve been “a Mac person,” as some people I know would put it. I’ve also managed to bring my entire family to the Apple fold; even Mum and Dad are about to buy a new G4 iBook.

Now, OS X 10.3 came with my Powerbook G4, and it’s a great operating system, the best I’ve ever used, in fact. But I also really love the idea of Linux, and also some of the software that is unique to the free-*nix world, like “GNOME”:http://www.gnome.org. I have, however, struggled in vain to make it my sole operating system on both my Powerbook and my x86 PC. I’m currently removing it from my Powerbook, where it’s sat, unused, eating 10 gigs of my hard drive, and it may well vanish from my PC, as well.

I came to this conclusion last night after having a go at installing the latest preview release of “Ubuntu Linux”:http://www.ubuntulinux.org, dubbed the “Hoary Hedgehog.” Ubuntu is my favourite distro to date, despite being relatively new. It uses Debian’s APT for package management, so installing new software from online repositories is a snap, and it always comes with the latest version of GNOME. The last release had been sitting on my harddrive unused because it neither supported Airport Expresss (Broadcom’s fault), nor had a working PPPOE utility, and without internet access, a computer isn’t very useful to me.

Hoary’s networking worked fine. Still no wireless, but PPPOE was easy, so I could get online to download some codecs to, in theory, watch some Rurouni Kenshin (in .ogm). But when I finally got them working in gxine, the sound was way too quiet (even with everything at full volume), and trying to use Totem to play the files made my mouse-pointer freeze (needing not just an X-server restart, but a complete reboot to fix). Mounting my HFS+ drive in Ubuntu, I later discovered with Disk Utility.app in OS X, also created some minor, fixable errors.

On top of that, there’s no Exposé, no hardware acceleration for the GUI (and once Tiger comes out, I’ll be saying: “no integrated widget system, no system-wide instant search,” and so on). When compared to Windows, the GNOME GUI is brilliant: multiple desktops, fast drawing of image thumbnails, great usability; but when compared to OS X, GNOME seems like ancient history. KDE is awful, I don’t use it at all.

There’s also very few commercial games for Linux, and sorry, open-source developers, but the only real AAA titles are commercial. Even OS X doesn’t do so poorly in this area, in comparison. Things like Nethack and interactive fiction are great, but they aren’t pushing any technical boundaries.

Other than commercial games, I use free software almost exclusively on my Mac: LyX, OpenOffice, AbiWord, Firefox, Adium, Instiki, MPlayerOSX, VLC, FFView, and more. The list is similar on my PC, where I’m running all this stuff under Windows. All this stuff was born of the same, free software movement that created Linux, and which desperately wants Linux to be the world’s operating system of choice. But I’m sorry to say that despite these applications having delivered technically advanced ways to do my work and to share it across my computers and with others using open file formats, Linux just isn’t the OS to run them on. It isn’t the best. It still won’t “just work,” “out of the box,” or off the bootable CD if you will.

I want the best OS I can have, and I’ll even pay money for it. I paid nearly $150 for Panther the year before last, and I consider it one of the most worthwhile purchases I’ve ever made. When Linux is the best there is, maybe I’ll come back to the fold. But for now, I’m looking forward to having an extra 10 gigs free on my hard drive.

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Ben Hourigan is a novelist from Melbourne, Australia. His books Kiss Me, Genius Boy and My Generation’s Lament are Amazon category bestsellers, and are available wherever good books are sold online. Ben also works as an editor, copywriter, and self-publishing consultant at his own firm, Hourigan & Co. For news and book release updates, sign up to his email newsletter.