Letters

Readers sound off.

Letters

Why I Gave Up on Linux and Returned to Windows XP

I am a senior IBM mainframe software engineer and database administrator, and in its day, I was highly proficient in MS-DOS line commands. I have written thousands of lines of computer code and tested hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code. I recently tried several Linux distributions, and after too much time wasted chasing solutions for issues that simply work or work simply in Windows, I made the decision to return to Windows XP to catch up on other projects.

I would like to begin by complimenting all the software engineers, developers and testers that have diligently worked and contributed to Linux.

On the positive side, Linux is void of one of the key architectural design faults of all MS Windows versions since Windows 95, that being what I often refer to as the GFR (God Forsaken Registry) or Windows Landfill. I have been told that the entire Windows Registry is assembled from various files on the hard disk and loaded into memory upon startup, regardless of which applications are running or not running. The Registry contains nearly all the critical Windows operating system settings along with settings and parameters for almost all Windows applications. Unfortunately, many Windows applications do not completely remove all of their entries when uninstalled, leaving heaps of junk behind in the Registry. There are numerous Registry “cleaners”, but I have yet to find one that accurately removes all the junk left behind by uninstalled applications. Furthermore, applications, including MS Windows, use the Registry as a temporary location for temporary settings but fail to remove these when they are no longer needed. Thus, the Registry is forever expanding in size. Hard disk space is not the issue here. The issue is waste of RAM, operating inefficiency, stability and OS portability.

On the negative side, I encountered a persistent font-rendering issue with Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu and Linux Mint. I live on an HP nc8430 Notebook PC with 1680x1050 WXGA resolution, where increasing font size is a must. The feature works for system fonts, but it did not work for key applications like Firefox. My research revealed that the issue already has been documented throughout the Web and is related to these distributions failing to update the standard configuration file that Firefox and other applications rely upon for their font settings. Although the Ubuntu folks are aware of it, they seem uninterested in fixing it. The issue is also present in Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu. The fonts worked as expected for both Gentoo and PCLinuxOS. However, I was unable to get my Intel 3945 ABG wireless card to work with PCLinuxOS (both GNOME and KDE versions).

In every incarnation of Linux that I tried, my notebook fan was always on, even when no applications were running with CPU near 0%. This issue may be related to CPU throttling and fan throttling. Linux needs to resolve this before I can use Linux on a notebook without the associated side effects, such as annoying noise of the fan on max, increased fan wear and reduced battery life.

There is nothing more this user would like than to depart the world of Microsoft Windows for Linux, but the path will have to be paved with far fewer rivers to cross or mountains to climb just to get there.


Dave Freeman

Your frustrations are less common than even a few years ago, but indeed, there are many computer models, laptops especially, that don't behave right under Linux. I could go on a rant about vendors and closed drivers, but that won't help you get on-line with your wireless card. The best, and admittedly most frustrating, way to get great Linux support on a notebook computer is to research before buying. I realize it's too late in your case, but without massive amounts of tweaking, some laptops are just difficult to penguinify.

As to the font issue, well, one of the frustrating things about standards is that there are so many. I don't know about your specific issue, but I'm sure Ubuntu expects the Firefox folks to do things their way, and vice versa. In the short term, some things require tweaking no matter what your hardware might be. Good luck, and hopefully you'll still get to tinker with Linux on your Windows laptop. Perhaps a virtual machine with VirtualBox or VMware?—Ed.

Open-Source Software in the UK

Thank you for the article “OSS: Europe vs. the United States” by Doug Roberts on LinuxJournal.com (www.linuxjournal.com/content/oss-europe-vs-united-states). You may be interested in the response to the recently submitted Freedom of Information Act request to the UK Home Office: www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/home_office_compliance_with_hmg.

The request aims to highlight the gap between existing policy and a lack of compliance with it. The policy levels the playing field for open-source software in the UK government—see linked document referred to in the request—but in practise, this is ignored, giving undue favour to established vendors such as Microsoft.


Charles Taylor

Pencil

I just finished reading Dirk Elmendorf's article “Cool Project Potpourri” in the August 2010 issue. I've been using the Pencil Firefox add-on (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/8487), which is an alternative to Mockingbird.

Some of Pencil's benefits over Mockingbird are:

  • Open source (GPL version 2).

  • Pencil is free, although you can support the project with donations.

  • Mockingbird might not be free once the beta period is over.

  • Your designs are hosted locally.

  • Exports to HTML, PNG, OpenOffice.org document, Word document and PDF.

The project's home page is at pencil.evolus.vn.

Keep up with the good work. LJ is one of the few magazines I read cover to cover more than once.


JS

Flash and Linux

I have been using Linux for quite a while and recently made a switch from Mac OS X to a brand-new PC, which is the first time I have seriously run a distro for my desktop! I chose Fedora 13 because although I cut my teeth on Debian or Debian-based systems, I found that I really like Fedora and the support it offers for a power user.

By trade, I am a developer, and I recently have been doing development using Adobe Flash (CS4), although personally, I agree with Apple Founder and CEO Steve Jobs in that Flash technology is getting quite old and is, in my own opinion, very kludgy at best.

Still, sites insist on using Flash for content, and if you are using 64-bit Linux (as I am), you are left with three choices:

  1. Don't install Flash (my current selection).

  2. Install the 32-bit player inside a wrapper (not ideal).

  3. Wait for Adobe to finish “rebuilding” the 64-bit Linux player (I may be a very elderly man by then).

I am sure readers are aware that Steve Jobs has not allowed Flash into the iPhone/iPad (including iPod Touch) platform, and I personally feel others should follow suit. It is time for a better alternative to Flash that is more open. I think HTML5 may hold the answer.

I feel we need an alternative now. HTML5 will at least be built in to browsers so that needing a plugin to use the content will no longer plague users.

Obviously, this is just my two-cents' worth on the subject, but it seems like a lot of sites (including Linux Journal) rely on Flash in some capacity to display content. Maybe the answer is Android? I know it is mainly for phones, but it is lightweight, and from what I have seen, it's robust enough to do the job.

Thank you for listening to my opinion, and I hope that this can be published and discussed.


J. Mike Needham

Your 64-bit frustration is one many folks share, myself included. In fact, on my desktop machines, I usually install 32-bit Linux and use a PAE kernel to use all my system memory. It's a kludge for sure, but on my desktop, I find it's quicker and more reliable just to stick with 32-bit.

Like you, I see HTML5 as a viable and logical replacement for many of the things Adobe Flash can do. I think Flash is used often enough, however, that for a full Internet experience (good or bad), we'll likely be using Flash for a very long time. Hopefully, before long 64-bit Flash won't be an issue, and we can live in a Flash/HTML5 world at the same time.—Ed.

Thanks Mick!

As I print out your series on OpenVPN [see Mick Bauer's column in the February, March, April, May and June 2010 issues] to set one up both at home and at work, I must write to let you know how much I look forward to your columns in Linux Journal. I subscribe and look forward to your column every month. But, in particular, your series on OpenVPN was great. We're using it for some Web-facing servers we're renting on Rackspace and will be using it for the computing environment we're building here at the office. As well, I'll use it at home to ensure that both my wife and myself are able to use it while on the road. I'll probably even set up accounts for my kids for when they're on the road.

As well, I did appreciate your article on locking down your desktop before going to DEF CON [see Mick's “Brutally Practical Desktop Security” in the October 2009 issue]. I was unable to attend this year, but I intend to do so next year and will use your article to help me prepare for taking a portable computing device with me.

Please keep writing your Paranoid Penguin. I enjoy both the information that you present as well as your writing style. Your effort is not wasted and is greatly appreciated by me.


Mark

Mick Bauer replies: When your very generous e-mail arrived, I was frantically trying to finish (past deadline of course!) a difficult article on OpenWrt, part of a series whose production has, at times, been characterized by technical failures and frustrations. Your generous words could not have come at a better time!

Although I don't flatter myself to think I'm smarter than or even as smart as most of my readers, I have had the impression that the more trouble I have getting something to work (OpenLDAP springs to mind), the more useful my readers tend to find my tutorials. But it's hard to remember this in the heat of battle (so to speak), so again, I much, much appreciate your taking the time to write!

It's especially gratifying to hear you are using OpenVPN both at home and at work. Sometimes I worry that since I do all of my testing in a home networking lab, my stuff has less relevance to readers who need to build “production-grade” solutions at work. I take some comfort knowing that security controls tend to need to be the same whether you apply them to two systems or 200. Anyhow, I'm glad you found my OpenVPN tutorials to be so useful!

Wishing you all the best, and promising many more columns for at least a few more years.

Patents

I'm discouraged. I've been using Linux for years, and now I'm trying to switch from Windows to Linux for video editing, DVD authoring and so on. It seems difficult to do this without using a program or library that seems to be violating a “patent” somewhere. I want to respect the work of others.

From what I understand, the creators of those programs (the open-source ones) coded them themselves, but because there is resemblance with an original, copyrighted work, there is a “patent” violation. If I understand it correctly, like for MP3, there are algorithms you cannot avoid in the programming language to be able to get the same results.

I'll give you an example. Even if I don't use the Ubuntu Multiverse repository, it's giving me warnings about patents or licenses: gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly (in the Universe repositories) is telling me that I might be breaking the law in my country and that I might need a license, but that I can use it for research.

I want to use these programs for personal use now, but I might use them professionally later, and I do not wish to end up with a big lawsuit once I make money from my work.

I don't want to exaggerate, but since you guys are professionals in the field of Linux and open source, I would really appreciate your advice and direction in this matter.


Jean-François Tassé

Patents are funny things. Not comical, but funny in that I don't understand them completely either. Add to that copyright, intellectual property, licensing, fair use and DRM, and you have the makings for a very boring horror film.

My suggestion is to use the tools you're comfortable with now, and if you decide to become professional with the tools, contact the software folks to see how much and whom to pay. Generally, if you stick with open audio/video formats, you should be fine. The problems usually come when using licensed codecs. If you are okay with the open-source alternatives, I suspect you'll be fine.—Ed.

LJ Addiction

I'll be picking up the latest Linux Journal at my local bookstore this week, which will mark a full year of feeding the addiction that reading your fine magazine has become for me.

I've been using Ubuntu for a couple years now, but since I started reading Linux Journal, I'm getting so much more from my new favorite OS. There's a lot for newbies to learn, especially for a cross-platform developer like myself. Your magazine feeds that need in ways I never imagined when I picked up my first issue—from the series on NoSQL databases, to the excellent column on shell scripts, to the many feature articles about inspiring cool projects, Linux Journal has become the centerpiece of my Linux education, often introducing me to things I didn't know I'd be interested in.

Linux Journal is the only magazine in which I read every word, from the letters to the closing comment, and I enjoy every bit of it.

I suppose I could save a couple bucks by subscribing, but I feel it doesn't hurt to raise Linux's visibility even in a small way by helping your issues fly off the shelves at my local bookstore.

Please extend my thanks to the team for producing such an uncommonly useful publication with every issue.


Richard Gaskin

Well shucks, if you keep talking like that, we won't be able to get our heads through the door! In all seriousness, when we received your letter, the editorial staff bounced appreciative e-mail messages back and forth. Letters like yours make the whole thing worthwhile. Thanks again.—Ed.

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