Updated: March 9, 2012
No, I'm not. Because I never left, hihihihi. The title is a clickbait, sure to grab the attention of fanboys. But I do have a serious would-be emotional dilemma slowly building up. Looking back at the percentage of time I spent using Windows in the recent months, I would say it has its parliamentary majority. Mostly because of 3D stuff and games, but partly because I'm tired of hunting for dog turds in the sandbox.
And dog turds in the sandbox is a nice little allegory for finding the right Linux distro that has it all, absolutely all. Is there any one such distro? Well, the answer is not simple. For my specific needs, CentOS is perfect. It runs Gnome 2, it is super-light and super-fast and super-responsive and super-stable, and it's going to be supported for another millennium or so, give or take a century. Then, there's Lucid, another Gnome 2 winner. Both allow me to open applications with a single mouse click, a tremendous feat, it would seem. But what if I were to pretend to be a normal person? What then?
Linux in a nutshell - and you're the nut
All right. You've read my Flash & Linux article. And then, I wrote my Sabayon review, and something gently snapped inside. Or rather, clicked in place. One may argue that fatigue and familiarity can lead to apathy. But I think the fault lies elsewhere.
Looking at what has been happening in the Linux world in the past three years, it's a field nicely peppered by cluster mines from a proverbial GNU MLRS. Ubuntu was Gnome 2, then it switched to Unity. In one fell swoop, it killed the foundation of the desktop use, trading it for a gamble of unifying the mobile platform with the conventional computer. But the laws of conservation of stupidity cannot be ignored. And so, in making two one, half the usability went away. True, the median monkey might love the fact they can work their digits like champs left and right over a tiny film of piezoelectric crystals, but this kind of goes against the multi-core multi-threaded advancement in technology. Multi-task became single-app. And the human IQ committed seppuku.
Gnome was quick to follow, replacing the best Linux desktop with a vomit wagon of code that is equivalent to the Fukushima disaster. It only makes sense, everyone argued, that since we have Facebook and smartphones, that the entire world should collapse into singularity. Let us forget the natural reasons for 104 keys on a keyboard, let's forget ergonomics, logic, skill, visual and spatial coordination, and all the rest. People can stare at only one window at a time, period. And thus, oligophrenia was redefined.
What happened is that virtually 50-70% of Linux was killed. Not that it does not exist anymore, but whoever liked being able to see their fifteen windows and programs and applications and shortcuts is now a hostage. Welcome, KDE.
KDE is nice. But it has bugs. So many, it's a bloody fauna. The worst part is that it is inherently unstable. KDE can be great one release, then horrible the next. Throw in the developers' whims and unpredictability, bad QA, and a horde of programs with their own share of woes, and you get a make-it or break-it platform. The thing is, pretty much since Kubuntu Natty, the last one I tested, I find it really hard to review a perfect KDE distro. SUSE is ok, but only after two months of polishes. Chakra is nice, but it's a tiny distro. And so it goes round and round.
Which brings me to my next point. There's too much Linux. For an operating system with less than 100 million users worldwide, it's so fragmented, you could build a bloody mosaic. And the problem was only made worse since Unity and Gnome came to life. Disgruntled users, and who can blame them, forked the perfectly same and usable desktop environments, trying to salvage the situation.
The end result is, MATE, Cinnamon, Trinity, Razor-qt, and a billion other implementations and incarnations, all of which are almost entirely privately funded, run by a small team of people, and with uncertain future, making joy of using the computer with a Linux on top of it virtually nil. Multiply by a number of distributions times the number of kernels changing every six months times the GCC version times the GLIBC version, and you get a divine form of agony.
How to cope
The natural defense mechanism of the human mind is to shut down when faced with overwhelming pain, in this case, a total sensory obliteration. For me, the happy place would be to ignore everything and just keep on enjoying my Lucid and CentOS. For most other people, the refuge is sometimes found in forums or maybe continuous distro hopping, which leaves no time to ponder. And there's a third option.Windows.
Say what you will, Microsoft gives you one kernel, one desktop environment, the best documentation you can find, and ten years of support. Install now and change your operating system whenever the hardware dies. Sounds so boring, and yet, it's the perfect recipe for work. You can do things in a predictable manner, knowing that whatever works today will work tomorrow.
What if you had to move your home every six months? What if they changed the dashboard in your car every now and then, just for kicks, replacing the steering wheel with a holistic device and switching the order of your pedals from left to right? What would you do if you were forced to learn and speak new dialects of your language for no good reason except random groups of people suddenly forcing them on you? This is what Linux is all about, above the wonderful technology that the kernel really is.
Yes, in the business environment, Linux works great. But the two flavors dominating the market are none of the home distros, but two enterprise, PAYWARE systems with ten years of support, just like Microsoft. And in the business environment, you mostly run without a GUI, so you don't need to worry about all that crap. And your tools work. And the focus is on getting the most from your available resources.
It all goes back to how the economy is run. Someone shouted SMARTPHONE! Everyone seems to think this is the next best thing since smallpox was eradicated. There's an almost lunatic trend of financial speculation around who will win most money in this new segment. I repeat the NEW segment. Do you see Microsoft abandoning the desktop? Nope. They built a new operating system, called Windows 8, which comes with a tiled interfaced called Metro, and which is about as useful as a bikini suit in Novaya Zemlya. BUT, but, but, but, they left a switch in there, which allows you to completely disable the interface and go back to Aero or even the classic Windows 95 style.
P.S. Before you flip turd burgers of white rage, let me tell you that I'm going to test Windows 8 Consumer Preview soon and report how this one behaves. I heard some nasty rumors that Microsoft also decided to join the idiocracy club and eliminate both the start button and the classic start menu, forcing all of its users to become members of the smartphone fascist club. So we will see. For the time being, do read on and try to stick with the topic at hand, which is not Windows, if you haven't been able to understand that so far.
P.S.S. Speaking of Idiocracy, what is happening in the world now is exactly what the movie prophesied. Mike Judge is pure genius. The man is a living legend. Now, if you watched the movie, you will recall the hospital self-help terminal with huge, shiny abstract buttons for morons. Now look around and derive your own conclusion. And if you haven't seen the movie, please do.
Back on topic ...
On the other hand, Linux people, who never conquered the desktop and were just about starting to do so, replaced a reliable concept with a new one, but they made one mistake. An interface designed for mobile devices was pushed onto desktops, without the kill switch for going back to normal. Microsoft did that - although they seemed to have changed their mind in the Consumer Preview, wait just one week more please - Linux people didn't. Oops. So you can imagine the enormity of the problem.
And now, everyone is betting that everyone will switch to smartphones and start embracing the new work model. What everyone seems to be forgetting is that the app-centric model of use is complementary to the multi-tasking idea. Content creation AND content consummation. Some needs to create the content, you morons. And so, what you end up with is losing your core audience in return for nothing. Or perhaps a feeble hope that the fragmented Linux desktop will reign big on mobile devices one day.
Sure, Linux is ideal for this kind of task. But it's the Linux KERNEL that is ideal. Android is exactly that. But it does not run KDE, nor Gnome, nor Unity, nor any of the desktop interfaces. It's developed by Google, a giant, and custom-tailored to specific hardware in close cooperation with vendors, many of which do not really believe in the GNU mantra. All of this is completely opposite to the would-be marketing model that Linux distributions seemed to have embraced.
Now, let's forget about the smartphone and financial speculations for a while. Let's focus on the desktop, the most important and massively used computing platform. I find it very hard to understand how come everyone seems to forget that it's the classic Microsoft operating system on top of a classic device that is reigning supreme. So how do you fight that? With an app-centric implementation that looks ridiculous on a 24" monitor? And what do you do with your wall-socket-powered four-core machine with 16GB RAM and a superb graphics card that does not need to conserve battery life? You play angry turds while background processes are frozen. Bloody hell.
Linux will NEVER best Microsoft at its game - because Linux is playing a completely different game. So let's what who the players are and what they might do.
Handy and handicapped
Ubuntu is the closest thing to a proper desktop operating system. It has a decent financial support, the decisions are not left in the hands of 15-year-old people worldwide, and the lead tyrant has a good idea of what he wants to achieve. He is forcing a single computing model, probably because it's easier to develop, and probably because he sees the desktop victory as secondary, since Microsoft is just too big to fight. So he is aiming for the mobile market, where Unity actually makes sense. But the desktop is left behind.
Linux Mint is the one distribution designed for proper computing. The recent split from Gnome 3 is a clear indication of that. But Mint is suffering currently. It is trying to redefine itself, and this might take years. Plus, there's the issue of support. But maybe, maybe one day, Mint might pull it off. You will have to wait and hope and nourish your hope carefully. And I will be testing the new Cinnamon interface in just a few days.
As for the rest? It's all pretty much the same. A few excellent distributions tailored for specific uses where they work just fine, like live CD usage or forensics. But the classic, conventional desktop is pretty much dead from that perspective. Fedora is just a silly beta, openSUSE hasn't moved an inch in the past decade, Debian is fighting a religious war, and then you get to the one million forks, which are little more than some of the lead distros with string substitutions and extra bugs. Most perversely, CentOS, which was never designed for desktop use, is a ten times better candidate that pretty much all the rest.
I said it once, and I'll say it again, the rest really must die. It's becoming ridiculous. Or perhaps, it's always been this ridiculous, and only now my desperation is registering, finally, in year 2012.
The only way for Linux to have even a remote chance of becoming anything serious out its current self-sustaining and spontaneous model is for 94.3% of the distributions to vanish, for six or seven secondary desktop environments to vanish, for all the duplicate software to vanish. The future is Mint + Cinnamon, Ubuntu + Unity, and one solid KDE distro.
At the time being, the one things that really provokes my ire must be KDE. I just love it, but it's like a mentally challenged child refusing to understand the simple concept of partial differential equations. I am not really sure which distro can take the KDE lead. And sort all those bugs and issues and come out clean and polished and pristine. Maybe Kubuntu, but I don't think so. Maybe openSUSE, but I'm skeptic. Which poses a problem. There's nothing to balance the would-be Gnome side of the equation. And it should be there, since competition breeds quality, but too much competition breeds retards. And it should be something RedHat-based, to balance the Debian/Ubuntu half of the family.
For the time being, I know that if push comes to shove, I can always use Windows for serious tasks at home. Isn't that a sad consolation for someone who makes a living out of Linux? But seriously, it's not. Operating systems are just tools.
Oh, and if you think I'm being harsh, here's what Linus Torvalds has to say, on something that dearly touched his heart:
Whoever moron thought that it's "good security" to require the root password for everyday things like this is mentally diseased. So here's a plea: if you have anything to do with security in a distro, and think that my kids (replace "my kids" with "sales people on the road" if you think your main customers are businesses) need to have the root password to access some wireless network, or to be able to print out a paper, or to change the date-and-time settings, please just kill yourself now. The world will be a better place. And now I need to find a new distro that actually works on the Macbook Air.
Time to think
We have approx. 1-8 more years of grace. During this period, Lucid will still be supported and CentOS will continue running with Gnome 2. Until then, hopefully, Unity and Cinnamon will mature into useful alternatives. As for KDE, well, I expect it to find its place.
At the moment, your best bets are two distributions released two years back and running the 2.6.32 kernel. But the quest continues. I only wish there's going to be one Linux distribution that can deliver even as little as two consecutive releases with equal, good quality. That would be a revolution. I'm just missing the KDE link. Will there ever be a KDE champion? Really, really hard to tell now. I'd like to say SUSE, but I don't think that's gonna happen. Maybe Scientific Linux? A KDE version of CentOS?
So let's all focus and think hard. We need three players, tops: Ubuntu + Unity as a modern cross-model environment, twined with a full brand spectrum somewhat akin to Apple's model; Mint with Cinnamon as the classic alternative with Mac-like orientation, and an unknown champion of KDE as the pure replacement for Windows. With just three lead players, hopefully half-Debian based, half-RedHat based, Ubuntu leading the former, someone like RedHat leading the latter, the hope for Linux desktop might yet become a reality. Or SUSE, if RedHat does not, justifiably, find the desktop enticing. But even three desktops might be too much choice. Still, it's progress, going down from seven million.
Looking ahead into the misty future, I can honestly say I do not know which Linux distribution I will be running on my current and new hardware in the coming years, but I definitely know I will be using Windows. That's the simple reality. No, let me rephrase that. I will be running Windows XP and Windows 7, as Windows 8, if rumors are all true, aims to become the new lead champion in the moronity club. Still.
If you have some kind of life plan that involves more than updating your status from the crapper and wondering what you might do with a community college degree, then you cannot commit your plan onto a Linux desktop. Can't be done. You cannot know if the next release won't break your stuff, if your files won't be suddenly unsupported, just because someone feels like not doing it anymore. People who develop software in their free time don't have any moral or legal obligations to you. Would you trust them with your future?
The fighting, the bickering, the splits and forks and dramas, all of these contribute nothing to the stability and success of the platform. The kernel is marching on steady, as it should, because 85% of its code comes from CORPORATIONS, like Intel, Google, IBM, RedHat, and others. A few open-source programs are also making good progress, but mostly because they either offer a robust infrastructure stack, or they are cross-platform and run on Windows, too. Firefox and VLC are good examples.
Let's see how 2012 unravels. I am eagerly waiting for some of the stuff to go away, so we can all focus on productivity and stability. And if you have any wicked notions of how KDE might make a significant impact, and who might lead, I'm most eager to hear. For the time being, Windows is always an option.
P.S. The sad part is that 97% of readers will completely miss the point of this article and take it for Windows fanboyism. But in rain and hail, I shall not surrender!