Major Linux Successes on the Desktop: 2016

After reading the Major Linux Problems on the Desktop article I thought I would point out some of the major successes for Linux on the desktop that I probably wouldn’t have known about if I weren’t using Linux on my laptop and multiple desktops. Let me be clear that I mostly agree with the points in the above article. I read the whole thing, including some comments, and also read the Best Linux Distro for the Desktop from the same author. There are many bug report links, mailing list threads, and various comments on that page that detail some problems people have had. I would also argue, given the time, similar lists could be made for OS X and Windows.

I read the article keeping in mind that the author generally likes to complain about things. See other articles about Windows 10, Android, and iPhones and iPads. With all of that, I am not going to rebuttal every point. I would like to refute a few points I found not to be the case but I want to point out the major advances in Linux on the desktop I have seen in 2015.

Rebuttals

  • There are many things on the list that are not common things home users do on desktops. Multiple references to Apache (with openssl vulnerabilities) and even CIFS/Samba and AD/LDAP integration. I only know of one other person who runs a home NAS and he uses Linux on his desktop (and NAS). Enterprise usage will be below.
  • There are lots of old links to developers giving up on open source projects and complaints about the way some environments (specifically GNOME) work. The links I read were mostly for really old versions of the software (GNOME 3.4–3.8) and the same problems I don’t believe are relevant (GNOME 3.18 is the current release). It may also be helpful to note some distros are switched back to GNOME and others had major releases finally deploying GNOME 3 as the default.
  • There are links/complaints about how new software doesn’t work properly (wayland and systemd mostly) when no Linux desktop provides wayland as a default option, and more distros are giving up on their init systems and moving to systemd. I respect maintainer’s decisions for their distro in the software that they do and don’t deploy. I think there’s something to be said for the mass adoption of systemd by distro maintainers despite users saying they hate it.
  • I won’t deny that audio in Linux has too many layers. At the end of the day, I’m much happier managing audio with pulseaudio than I was manually configuring things with ALSA. I even had an opportunity to go to a talk from one of the pulseaudio maintainers and really like the direction they’re going to make things more configurable AND user friendly.
  • If enterprises already invest time in setting up and maintaining Active Directory I don’t see how LDAP is harder or more complex. I have worked in environments where Linux servers were joined to AD, LDAP servers used domain trust with AD, and LDAP only environments. AD and LDAP are both fairly complex but I don’t think that’s an argument for or against Linux on a desktop which can join either. I don’t think I’ve ever join a Windows desktop to an LDAP domain.

Linux Desktop Successes

  • Linux containers has been a huge force in Linux servers and most of the press happened in 2015. Why is this in a desktop article? Because setting up tools and using containers on a Linux desktop is easier than doing so on OS X or Windows because you don’t need a VM. For developers and administrators I highly suggest you run Linux natively if you are going to be working with containers. You will have less to set up and you will learn more about the environment where your containers will run.
  • Containers not only help for developers and administrators but also help standardize application deployments, allow you to run old software with older (or newer) libraries, keeping applications contained instead of installing all over your filesystem, can still have full access to your machine hardware, and can even be used to simplify setting up an Apache, CIFS, or many other services on your desktop. To see just some of the possibilities you can view Jess’ talk on running containers on your desktop below. There is more work being done to making containerized applications be more sandboxed but nothing has been deployed/released in a distro yet.
  • Automation for Linux is nothing new. But I feel it has come to light to users just how powerful it is in 2015. Some users have also discovered it can be applied to desktops as well as servers and VMs. Not only for provisioning via kickstart or preseed but also through configuration management tools like Salt, Ansible, Chef, and Puppet. I have kept automation for my standard post install/configuration for almost 2 years and even used it to easily switch from Ubuntu to Fedora. I’m not sure if it’s just me but “dotfiles” seemed to get a lot more attention in 2015 too. I have also had the privilege in 2015 to understand the joys (occasionally pain) of shared /home folder over NFS. When I can log into any system and have my exact shell and desktop environment it is sometimes magical.
  • Enterprise usage of Linux on desktops I’m sure has not gone up in the last year despite multiple security breaches due to vulnerabilities on Windows desktops. I’m not saying Linux is more secure, just less targeted which is a good thing. Linux on desktops also doesn’t force you to get version 10 without you wanting it and won’t force you to do a major OS version upgrade (possibly buying new hardware) to get a security patch.
  • Hardware support continues to keep pace with new releases. Old hardware does lose support sometimes but in general I’ve been impressed with the default supported hardware for the Linux kernel and, if it’s not supported, finding other drivers on Github or 3rd party repos. I installed Fedora an a 2015 11" MacBook Air and only had 3 things not work out of the box. Wifi (not surprisingly), backlight, and webcam. The first two were fixed with a bit of googling and adding new kernel modules. I’d say that’s a bit of a win because Apple still (Jan 2016) has not provided Windows drivers for this model and OS X requires the latest version. You cannot buy an old model with an older OS if you need it for compatibility.

I know there were more things than what I put on this list but in an effort to publish this before the end of January I’ll leave it where it is. There were plenty of other things I know impressed me about Linux on the desktop but it mostly comes down to flexibility and control. Being able to run whatever version I want on whatever hardware and not fall behind with security or features has been exactly what I want. And that’s not even talking about the flexibility Linux provides for user environments or customization. In 2016 I’ll try to keep a list of items so I can better remember them for a followup in 2017.

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