I Wish to Make a Complaint!

photo of author Michael Reed

Sometimes, it's difficult to be the guy who complains when all around seem satisfied. However, criticism, when well-founded, has its place. It's an idealogical equivalent of an attack, and you sometimes make things stronger by attacking them. For example, in nature, only the hardiest and most efficient creatures win the evolution game when competition exists. The more pressure a species is placed under, the stronger it becomes. It has to.

So it is with Linux, but sometimes a sense of loyalty forces people to hold back from honest criticism. Yet I encourage people to embark on a program of criticizing Linux whenever they reasonably can. I have a favorite maxim for situations like these: you don't have to be loyal to something that is genuinely good.

My attitude is inspired by my early experiences from a time before anyone other than Linus knew what Linux was. As a British schoolboy, in the 1990s, PCs and Macs weren't that popular amongst my friends. We all aspired to own machines like the Commodore Amiga and my own dear Acorn Archimedes (the origin of the ARM processor). If you aren't familiar with these systems, and you have any interest at all in computer history, look them up. They were dynamite with a mouse attached (and a lack of adequate separation between processes). They fell over a lot but did amazing things with hardware that would seem comical by modern standards. If they were one thing, they were miles ahead of the mainstream "serious" platforms. However, odds are, you're not using one to read this.

Both platforms started out with an amazing technological lead. The Amiga had graphics that were only bettered by dedicated workstations that cost as much as a car. The processor on the Archimedes was about twice as fast as anything else on the market. When did you last hear of a new system with that much of a lead on the competition? But apart from an enthusiast community, both platforms are long dead. If you're wondering what killed them, I'll give you an answer that might surprise you: It was loyalty.

These were machines that were beloved by their users but the machines themselves quickly began to loose the massive lead they had started with. "Pah," was the cry from the forums, "why would I want more than 256 colors?". Other forum dwellers would tell you that they didn't need a faster processor, crash free multitasking and the that the Internet was a passing fad. Tragically, a loyal backbone of users were prepared to keep using their favorite platform even when it wasn't as good, and that's death for a computer platform.

Things are the same with Linux. There are some areas in which it's a bit weak. Take one of my personal annoyances: setting up the screen. Somewhere, a Linux developer probably has a perfect reference setup of monitor, graphics card and computer that works properly, but the rest of us are not so lucky. There is something very wrong with screen setup under Linux, and as often as not, I have spend far too long fiddling with text files in order to get a new install working. In short, it's just not good enough and it's a sufficiently serious problem to drive away potential new users. And yet, I've seen people almost accused of lying when they complain about this problem on the forums. Another common one is the dubious defensive logic of "it worked for me, you must be doing it wrong."

Linux has other problems as well such as poor performance in some areas (flash for example), occasional, unacceptable hardware support regressions and network setup tools that tell you that your wireless network is set up and working when it isn't. Frankly, I don't think that Mac owners would sit back and accept problems of this sort. Trust me, complain whenever you can, you're far more likely to do some good than any harm.

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