The top 5 problems with Linux

I have been using Linux for many years. I consider myself well-versed in the open-source kernel and its associated operating systems. When I first started using Linux distributions, the community dreamed of a day when it would become the dominant force in computing.

Well, arguably, the time is now. You see, Android is now the most popular mobile operating system and ChromeOS is making big strides in education -- both operating systems use the Linux kernel. Also, Unix-like operating systems power 66 percent of the web (47 percent of which is Linux). However, Linux is not perfect and is still trailing on the desktop to Microsoft. Below are what I view as the top five problems with Linux.

5. Different desktop managers lead to a fragmented experience

I am a big fan of the Gnome desktop environment and conversely I dislike KDE (but I do respect it). Unfortunately, in the Linux community, this story is all too common. It equates to the old Chevy vs. Ford, Coke vs. Pepsi and Xbox vs. PlayStation debates. However, with Linux, there is also XFCE, Unity, Cinnamon, etc. -- all of which have associated "fan-boys". In other words, the community is vastly divided by tribal identity.

While many may point to the freedom of user-interface choice as a positive (and it can be), I would also argue that it is a negative. You see, from a trouble-shooting perspective, it is almost impossible to direct a Linux user over the phone or instant-messenger by just knowing their distribution. If a user seeking help says they are on Ubuntu, you cannot be sure that they are on Unity -- they may be on KDE, Gnome or something else which ultimately can lead to confusion.

A lack of familiarity and shared experiences fragments users since they do not have a shared rallying point. A screenshot of an OS X or Windows desktop is immediately recognizable; the countless Linux desktops? Not so much.

4. Too many package managers makes Linux hard to learn and master

Many Linux newbies start with Ubuntu. This should not take away from Ubuntu; it is a testament to its smart design and ease of use. In the terminal or on the command-line, these users will learn the apt package manager commands, as that is what Ubuntu uses. Sadly, these new Linux users will think the apt package manager is the only package manager. There are many other managers such as YUM and Pacman. These package managers use entirely different commands which can be confusing.

For the most part, that is fine if they never stray from Ubuntu. However, if they do stray, they will be in for a rude awakening and frustration when the commands they know and love no longer work. How can a user master Linux and become an expert when an unfamiliar package manager can cause a beginner-like regression?

3. Lack of software

This is a sore subject for many, as Linux-purists and loyalist will eagerly point you to wonderful alternatives that can be acceptable. Need Adobe Photoshop? Use Gimp. Need Microsoft Office? Use LibreOffice. For basic users, these alternatives may work (and work well). However, true professionals cannot trust their careers and reputations to alternative software. Open-source ideology be damned, Microsoft Office will create more compatible files and lead to a more successful employee.

While Linux distributions offer wonderful photo-managing and editing, video-editing is poor to non-existent. There is no way around it -- to properly edit a video and create something professional, you must use Windows or Mac.

A good example of software woe is, to protect my father from malware, I built him a computer using Linux Mint. I figured, since he lives in the browser, a Linux desktop with Google Chrome would be ideal and safe. For a while, this worked like a dream. However, one day his printer broke so he had to go to the store to buy another.

He wanted a wireless one so he could put the printer in another room. Of course, the HP setup CD-ROM did not support Linux and setting up a networked printer manually was not something he knew how to do. This lead to headaches and disappointment and in the end he had to return the printer (I later installed Windows 7 at his request and installed the printer for him).

Overall, there are no true killer Linux applications that a Windows user would lust over. However, conversely, Linux users have plenty to be envious of -- Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Netflix support and much more.

2. Hardware compatibility

Linux has come a long way regarding hardware compatibility. In fact, I would say that Linux now offers a better out-of-the-box experience than Windows or Mac for basic hardware detection. However, out-of-the-box is not the end-all-be-all. Hardware will be released after that kernel release and some accessory hardware will not have the needed software to interface.

When I bought my first Nexus phone, the Galaxy Nexus, I was in pure Android heaven. However, that device did away with USB Mass Storage and opted instead for MTP. Sadly, this caused the device not to interface with Linux properly. It was not until much later that lengthy and convoluted instructions were posted on the internet that enabled flaky performance at best. It is only very recently that MTP support has started working out of the box.

Another example happened to a friend of mine who is in the Army and purchased a Garmin GPS running watch. After running and working out, you can connect the watch to a computer to upload the data. Unfortunately, the watch was not recognized by Linux (Ubuntu 13.04) and even if it had been, there was no Garmin software for it to interface with. Unfortunately, I had to set up a dual boot with Windows; an embarrassing moment since I was the one who got him started on Linux.

1. Linus Torvalds is mortal

Linus Torvalds, the founder of the Linux kernel is a remarkable man. However, his intelligence and prowess is rivaled by his outlandish and controversial behavior -- hurling profanities at Nvidia and insulting kernel developers are two examples that come to mind. Ultimately, it is his project and he is the keeper of the kernel; he maintains it. The problem is, Linus will not live forever and his death can cause grave consequences. You see, once Mr. Torvalds is no longer living, a new top kernel maintainer and protector must be named. This can potentially cause a schism in the project or even worse -- lead to its demise.

Linus Torvalds is both a gift and a curse for the Linux community. Obviously, the entire thing would not exist without him. However, developers and users only tolerate his behavior as he is the father of the creation; he is not often second-guessed (those that do will feel his wrath). Even if a capable successor is named, their intentions and decisions will always be questioned. Eventually, the entire project could be forked into irrelevance.


Despite these five problems, Fedora will continue to be my main operating system at home on my desktop; I can personally get by without Windows or Mac. However, I still maintain Windows and Hackintosh installs just in case.

What about you? Can you get by with Linux exclusively? Do you agree with my problems list? Tell me in the comments.

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