by Staff


Letters Complaining about Linux

I get annoyed every time a Linux magazine publishes a letter complaining about some supposed shortcoming of Linux compared to Windows. And, since Linux Journal seems to do it at least every other issue, I get annoyed a lot.

Sure, Linux isn't perfect. No OS is. But the suggestion that things just work in Windows or that it is easier to correct problems is wrong. In my experience, things are more likely to “just work” in Linux.

In Windows, you often have to hunt down an install disk. And, forget about getting your problem solved when Windows messes up. Instead of being able to fix a config file, you usually end up going through multiple un-installs, reboots and re-installs hoping that eventually it will work.

I suspect that the people saying they're going back to Windows are actually marketing trolls employed by a certain closed-source company to promote its OS. Otherwise, there is no way any rational person could really imagine that Windows is in any way superior to Linux in the ease-of-use department.

Windows wins in only one area so far as I can see. It comes pre-installed, while you usually have to install Linux. Otherwise, it's just painful compared to any recent Linux distribution.

Gary Dale

I do think a fair number of people legitimately switch back to Windows. And, that's fine, what with free will and all. For a very large amount of computer needs, Linux fits the bill perfectly. There are a few instances when it does not. Commercial gaming is one of them for sure. (That's not to say there aren't many games for Linux, commercial and otherwise, just that the majority still are Windows-only.)

I think an even bigger pull, however, is peer support. Everyone has a cousin or uncle that can help with computer problems. Not too many people have someone who can help with Linux problems. Again, that's not to say help is unavailable, it's just nontraditional. While calling weird Uncle Marvin for Windows support isn't always the smartest thing to do, it's what many people are comfortable doing. Plus, with Windows 7, the “searching for drivers” game is largely over. Perhaps Microsoft took its cues from the Linux world, but for the most part, Windows now has drivers for most products by default.

Either way, it's hard to beat free, and Linux has several varieties of free from which to choose. I don't expect Microsoft to follow suit any time soon.—Ed.

Net Neutrality Legislation

We in the FOSS world often talk about freedom and stress its importance. That is why I am so disappointed in the recent legislation on Net Neutrality. We honor people's freedom to use their belongings as they best see fit, yet we fall for the canard that if people associate, and freely pool their resources, maybe even incorporate, then their property and freedoms should be curtailed.

And, typically, such actions have unintended consequences. Rather than see a small number of large corporations negotiate terms of the values of different kinds of Net traffic with each other or their customers, we will have those same corporations working with Washington representatives to mold and modify the regulations of Net Neutrality on an ongoing basis. Google and Verizon are not leaders in the Net Neutrality effort from the desire to have their traffic treated like any other—they are there to influence the rules and rule-makers right from the start. So there will be Net non-Neutrality, but instead of being based on who has the best deal, with the consumer-driven marketplace to correct the eventual mistakes, such rules will be based on those who have the best lobbyists and the most influence to pedal. These deals will be forged in back rooms and after-hours deals. The small guy or startup will have a harder time getting established, and the consumer will have less visibility and opportunity to correct problems.

This Net Neutrality regulation replaces freedom with centralized control, and that's a danger any FOSS proponent should recognize.

Keith Reed

Scary 1984 references aside, Net Neutrality is a worrisome topic. I fear that since the world now depends on data more than ever before, the waters are going to get murkier rather than clearer. Sadly, I don't really have anything to add to your comment, other than an urge to don my tin-foil hat.—Ed.

Unity Desktop

Thank you for the February 2011 issue about the Linux desktop. I am running Ubuntu 10.10 on an Eee PC and find it far superior to the Microsoft XP system that was delivered with it, with one exception (and Mr Shuttleworth wanted some feedback about the Unity desktop). I found it to be difficult to use. Most of the applications I need are buried way down in the menus, often requiring longer to find them than I was willing to spend. I could have simply customized the icon mix on the icon list; however, there is a shocking lack of any resource to instruct me on changing the behavior. Until setting it up with the user icon selection is intuitive, the Unity interface will not be widely adopted, and worse, it will not win any Linux converts from the Windows crowd. Fortunately, I was able to find the key to starting the more traditional desktop, and I am off and running with it. Mr Shuttleworth should consider studying not only confirmed Linux users, but more casual users as well. I like the concepts behind Unity, but the implementation needs a bit of intuition built in, but then again, that's what innovation is all about. Please keep up the good work.

Jim O.

I'm completely with you on this one. I recently put the Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook edition on my Netbook as well, and I absolutely hate Unity. Like you, I find it hard to get to applications, and although a simple menu is quick and responsive on an underpowered Netbook, I found the Unity interface slow and kludgy.

Thankfully, Unity is just the default, and it can be changed easily. As to why Canonical decided Unity was the ideal interface, I have no idea. Perhaps it will be better when it hits the 11.04 desktop edition, but as it is now, I'm not a fan.—Ed.

No Chance!

I read Stuart Jarvis' article “Organize Your Life with Nepomuk” with great interest [LJ, February 2011]. With open source, I appreciate the accessibility of information. If something interesting exists, it will be known by the community.

The problem is the name of the project! Nepomuk is also the name of Hitler's grandmother. The family history is complicated, not glorious, and a great part of it has been removed by Hitler himself, so I cannot be more precise.

The project has nothing to do with that, but this coincidence can be harmful for us. I don't know what to do. Changing the name is not a good idea; doing nothing is certainly the best, hoping that nobody knows the grandmother's name! Happy New Year and thank you for the quality of your work.


Stuart Jarvis replies: I'm glad you liked the article. You are right, sharing information is one of the great things about free software.

About the name Nepomuk, as I'm sure you know, it is an acronym and one that was chosen by the original research project rather than by KDE. We had not made any association with Hitler's grandmother, but there are plenty of other more wholesome connections that can be made. There is, for example, John of Nepomuk, a national saint in the Czech Republic, and Nepomuk is also a friendly dragon in a German children's book.

Within KDE software itself, we prefer to talk about the “semantic desktop” (or the results of the technology, such as desktop search), as that is a more descriptive and understandable name. So, we do not see a need to change the name of the technology, but we already were planning not to use “Nepomuk” very widely.

I hope you will enjoy using KDE software that benefits from Nepomuk as the technology continues to mature.

Feedback Error

In the February 2011 issue's Letters section, Jeffrey Brendecke said that in Dave Taylor's article in the November 2010 issue “Scripting Common File Rename Operations” the code snippet f=foo.bar.txt echo "$f" | cut -d. -f2 results in bar.txt. In fact, it returns bar. Using -f3 in the cut would have gotten us txt.

Scott Field


I love the ability of many “smart” phones to have an animated background. I searched the Internet for a way to replicate the effect on my computer and stumbled on the program xwinwrap from different forums. After a little bit of digging, I found a .deb and now enjoy various video loops as my desktop. It would be awesome if an article was written highlighting this program to other Linux Journal readers.

Milton Pleasant

Thanks Milton! You just gave me an idea for a Linux Journal Tech Tip video. I'll be sure to give you credit.—Ed.

Why Not to Use Gmail

I've been using Linux for 11 years and Gmail for almost six years. Recently, I've slowly started to realize I don't own or control my e-mail. Astonishing, I know. Anyway, I did a quick Google search (silly, right?) and was unable to find anything on “reasons to avoid using Gmail”. I was wondering if LJ would be interested in doing an article on this. I know we all love Google for its genuine greatness when it comes to selling us free items, but I really think it would be awesome to see the flip side of this. Thanks a bunch!


Oddly enough, many of our readers already don't use Gmail. I must admit, I do myself, but I get chided for it often. I do think Gmail gets targeted rather specifically in these things though, when in reality Hotmail and Yahoo are just as creepy. Sure, you can delete e-mail easier with them, but does it really get deleted? How would we know? Yes, it's scary how much information is stored on servers we don't control. And, don't even get me started on Facebook!—Ed.

WebOS and Technology

WebOS lies dormant on the playing field and slowly begins to rebuild itself. The challenge as a user is finding consumer confidence. With HP bringing various assets to the front, it can grow confidence. I had a choice between a Pixi Plus and a Droid and chose the open productivity of the Palm.

Of all things, the Open Source community grows stronger daily, in large part because consumerism drives trends. It is not always a matter that is driven by passing fads. Open source is one of the best ways to go in the large and expanding community. I look forward to Palm and HP expanding the market and forming confidence in the end product.

Joseph Ziehm

We have at least one WebOS fan here on staff at Linux Journal. Most of us just haven't had an opportunity to try it. In the past, you had to be a Sprint user to get a Palm, so that really hurt adoption. Perhaps now that HP is running things, we'll see a bit wider availability, and perhaps WebOS will catch on. Android has a huge head start though. Hopefully, WebOS will do well, and we'll continue to have choices that are open. Those are my favorite types of choices.—Ed.


I have to agree with Bill Childers in the recent Point/Counterpoint on the Tablet PC [LJ, February 2011]. I also would add that I am waiting for a major improvement before I buy one, and that is multitasking. I feel like it is 1994, and we are waiting for Windows 95 to come out. Pardon me, but that is the best analogy I could come up with. Also, at that time I had not found Linux yet.

The iPad has one very specific and professional use—in sales presentations and on-site meetings. The salesman I work with has told me that it is a much easier and intuitive medium for making a sales presentation to a client, because it is hands-on, a novelty item and reduces the need for a projector and laptop. Otherwise, great job with the debate.


XFCE Is Much Lighter on Resources

In the February 2011 article “The Second-String Desktop”, Shawn Powers compared Ubuntu to Xubuntu to see which used less RAM. He was shocked when they both used about the same amount of RAM, but he should not have been. The reason is that Xubuntu is not trying to be lighter on resources but instead simply an alternative to the traditional GNOME desktop environment. If you want to see how light XFCE really can be, you should look at CrunchBang XFCE. It uses less than 100MB of RAM when initially installed. It's better than Ubuntu, Xubuntu and Lubuntu and perfect for low-resource systems. My point is that Ubuntu pulls in all sorts of unneeded and bloated dependencies that defeat the purpose of a low-resource system.


At the time of this response, the Xubuntu home page says, “An official version of Ubuntu Linux that uses the XFCE desktop environment. Designed for low-specification computers”. So I would argue that Xubuntu is meant to be lighter than Ubuntu. You are correct that CrunchBang is a great example of an easy-on-the-resources implementation of XFCE. As far as “better”, well, that's unfortunately a matter of preference. I don't think any of them are “better” than GNOME, but I freely admit that's my own opinion! Thanks for pointing out CrunchBang though. It's a great distro.—Ed.

Re: “Netflix and Linux, It's a DRM Shame”

In the February 2011 issue's Upfront section, Shawn Powers mentions that Netflix should release its proprietary software to users running GNU/Linux on their desktops, rather than just for devices, such as Roku. He mentions that “the motivation to reverse-engineer [the software] would be close to zero”. I think Shawn is missing the point.

The free (as in freedom) software community is ethically opposed to proprietary software and, as a consequence, DRM (DRM cannot exist within free software). Should Netflix release its software, it never would be an option for the Free Software community. In fact, the only ethical use of proprietary software is to develop a free alternative. However, Netflix will never be a thought in my mind, even with a free decoder, until it removes its restrictions and provides a DRM-free, preferably open, format.

More information, including a petition to Netflix to remove its DRM, can be found at DefectiveByDesign.org: www.defectivebydesign.org/blog/1093.

Mike Gerwitz

I didn't miss the point; I was simply making a different point. Although I would love to see Netflix exist without DRM, I also would like to see Netflix exist in any form for Linux users. Whether individuals agree or disagree with Netflix's business decisions, as it stands, the entire Linux Desktop community is unable to use Netflix. My point was not whether or not they should, but that they can't.

I am a proponent of free as in freedom. I'm also a proponent of choice. I continue to believe that people should be allowed to make choices with which we disagree. I could get my soapbox out, but I think I'll leave it there. Thanks for the feedback.—Ed.

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