Linux

(This is an ever-growing story in at present 6 installments.)


Having developed a solid distaste for Windows on the basis of much experience, I recently bought a version of Linux.

It is Linux 6.2 by SuSE, and came in the form of 6 CD-s and a book. The book says the CD-s are for free, but I had to pay $45 at a regular computer shop, apparently only for the paper box and the book.

Now even $45 for an interesting new operating system would not be much, simply to find out what it is like and whether it is useful for me .... but it doesn't install on my 366 Mhz machine with plenty of disk space - 6 GB available - and memory - 64 MB - and I have no clue why not.

Also, the book that came with it is - as so often with computer-books - apparently written by people who are complete geniuses at clearly explaining things you know already, and pedantically obscure morons at explaining everything else.

Apparently, I ought to learn Unix before I can install Linux - rather like learning to swim in the desert.

This SuSE doesn't say on the box that costs $45 and includes software you can't install and a book that's solidly unreadable, while the - largish, heavily hyped - box includes only lots of empty space besides.

I am sorry, but it seems to me SuSE simply swindled me:

A program that doesn't even install (or the installation of which requires that you first memorize 450 pages of documentation, mostly written in a hermetically esoteric dialect, that's very difficult to make sense of if you can't install the OS it is supposed to be all about) is of no use whatsoever - except of course to its sellers: Yet another fool who coughed up $45 for the latest hype, available free of charge according to the documentation ... which only becomes clear after you paid.

If I, after 12 years of daily computing, plentiful programming experience, and academic education in information technology and computing, can't make much of SuSE's prose and don't understand why the hell not even their installation-program starts, and also can find no clue in their 450 pages of documentation (which I am really not going to read from cover to cover before seeing whether Linux is worth all that trouble, for which it has to install properly without me taking the equivalent of a Ph.D. in maths), it is my considered opinion this is not worth my time nor my money.

It would have been much more honest if the makers would have clearly said on the shrink-wrapped box they sell this in: "If you don't know Unix or if you are not a masochist or if you don't want to spend the next year learning all manner of commands in an obscure OS you don't know will be useful for you, SuSE Linux is NOT for you".

Also, if their non-installable software sells for $45, it's pretty sickening to read in the otherwise pretty obscure documentation that I should have no complaints because ... the software is offered freely.

I do very much hope someone comes up with a good alternative to Windows, that does run on a PC. (For Apple does have a good alternative, but uses its own OS and software, which is generally more expensive than software for Windows.)

Indeed, it may even be the case that Linux is that alternative .... but I will only be able to make up my mind after it arrives with a decent installation- program, and without the need first to learn all the Unix-commands to start the thing working in the first place.

"Ars levis, vita brevis" - and Windows 98 that costs a little over $100 (with a new computer) but crashes daily is still much preferable to an OS that doesn't even install for the price of $45, while it includes hardly readable "documentation" from which I've only learned I have no right to complain about so called "free software".

I much dislike all the hype Microsoft is so fond of to sell its products, and I am firmly convinced, on the basis of extensive experience, that nearly all software of Microsoft is second-rate at best. But even that master of hyped up bugs and kludges that's Microsoft has not yet tricked me into shelling out $45 for a boxed volume of air, unreadable prose, and uninstallable software: The onion for that goes to SuSE Linux.


P.S. No doubt someone will want to mail me that he installed SuSE Linux without any problem and without any prior computing knowledge, and has known infinite bliss ever since.

Well - I have a mere 12 years of computing experience, and did not get further than installing a program called "loadlin" that is supposed to start a program called "YaST" that is supposed to do the installing - but "loadlin" is a DOS-program in the style of the early 80ies the makers of which apparently believe that documentation or explanation of errors are not needed.

Briefly: If you can't write a proper and pretty painless install-program for your software, your software may be pure genius for all I care. Also, I am fond of logic puzzles - but not of disentangling the problems behind a piece of programming written in a style that was even 20 years ago outdated. (October 1999).


More of the same with another Linux-provider, Corel (two months later):


I think I am rapidly developing as sound and solid a distaste for Linux as for Windows.

The reason is the same as in the case of Windows: The totally shameless hype and lies, and the enormous profits for the shameless liars and con-men.

Today - the last day of the Old Millennium - I got the latest version of Corel Linux. It comes for free, on a CD of PC Plus (which doesn't come for free, but let that be), and is supposed to be a basic version of Linux, with an absolutely fail-safe install program, that is also explained in PC Plus paper pages, "in 6 easy steps".

Step zero: Click the install-button works, by God's good graces.
Step one: Click the start installation button, by God's highly miraculous graces, also works.
Step two (still in the first step PC Plus sketches): One is required to let the install program make a floppy disk. OK: I put in a fresh disk and click on "Create floppy disk".

First news: A window pops up with "bb.bat is absent" - which seems obvious as the floppy disk was supposed to be fresh. Also, the program - so helpful, so easy, so clear, supposedly - does not tell you what the purpose or contents of the supposedly missing bat-file are supposed to be or why it tells you it is absent from a disk that was supposed to be empty to start with. Ah well - artificial intelligence isn't all it is said to be.

Second news, after some trundling and hick-ups of the computer: "Can't create floppy". Reasons are not given, nor workarounds - and that's it. Installing Corel Linux is so easy! So painless! "Only 15 minutes to get on the net!"

Another fresh disk and another attempt lead to the same.

And once more.

And once ...

And ...

Et cetera ad nauseam. (December 1999)


A slight improvement, after two more months: WinLinux 2000 Final Beta


My Windows98 system is in the habit of twice daily freezing everything, and tends to do so on the most incovenient moment: Suddenly nothing works anymore - no keyboard, no mouse, a dead screen - and I have to reset. Why this happens I don't know, and don't want to know: "ars levis, vita brevis". (Besides, the explanation is bound to be a bore about bugs.)

So once again I tried Linux, this time because some IT-person assured me "installing is a breeze" and gave me a CD with WinLinux 2000 Final Beta.

This is supposed to "install like a breeze". Well .... the "breeze" took 3 days of work, if not continuously. But at least and at long last I have a more or less working KDE desktop, and can see what Linux is supposed to be like, of which more in a moment.

Let me first notice that in spite of the breeze of 3 days, this was the first more or less decent Linux-install program I saw, that doesn't leave you absolutely nowhere except in a flood of tech-talk and no working program. (Though this is also the type of install-program that simply starts copying 500 MB without checking first whether your system has the available space, and then, after half an hour of copying, complains that it is out of disk-space.)

Also, I couldn't have installed it succesfully if I hadn't known quite a bit of DOS. My tip for those who want to install WinLinux 2000 Final Beta is that they create a new partition on their harddrive using fdisk (which requires some Dos-knowledge and enough space on your drive: 1 free GB is a good start) and try to install WinLinux there. And as I found that my system wasn't quite within what WinLinux could deal with, I had to experiment with the WinLinux Configuration Utility to get something like a crudely working video under Linux.

So what I have now is a more or less working Linux.

It looks a bit primitive, for it is on a very low resolution, and it seems WinLinux's "Final Beta" delivers you Linux software not later than of 1998, in consequence of which I couldn't install what I liked to install.

Also, for someone used to DOS, Windows and Macs the interface is quirky, for it looks like any of these without behaving quite like it.

And what I have at present does look positively amateurish compared to the sleek and smooth everyday Windows-look (that looks a lot less pleasant as soon as Windows starts getting problematic, as it does every day).

But what I see at least is written and commented by real-life persons instead of MicroSoft's anonymous wage-slaves; one can get all of the source-code if one wants to; and one can contribute to the development if one wants to.

Whether one does want to depends on one's time, inclination, morals, money and much more, but it is quite pleasant to deal with what appear to be real persons committed to create really useful computer-tools available to and payable by everybody, instead of totally anonymous entities inside a monopolist bug-house, whose every word seems to be calculated to make its profits soar and its code totally incomprehensible: "MicroSoft is a way of life" (as is piracy). (For more on this topic, see Capitalism, Communism and Computing.)

On the other hand: It is very disappointing WinLinux seems to include only Linux-software that's very old, as Linux-software goes, and I suppose that as a Linux system goes it is pretty dinosauric. This also may explain its definite amateurish look - as if WinLinux was mostly made by 20-year old German students.

So I probably shall try to get a more recent Linux installed - which may turn out to be problematic, as the KDE-shell WinLinux provides doesn't install recent Linux material for some obscure reason.

Finally, the reader may like to know that such computer monthlies as I read do support my own independent findings: SuSE 6.2 is difficult to install; Corel Linux is difficult to install in spite of its hype; and WinLinux 2000 does come only with Linux-software of quite a long way back in the previous millenium and installs only if you know your DOS (unless you happen to have a system that WinLinux does support fully).

And all in all, what I have seen from and read about Linux, it seems at present and for the next year or so to be mainly for and by nerds, techies, and other computer-savvy people who grew sick of Windows and who like to try to see whether a world full of freely cooperating individuals can do better than a couple of thousand of employers of a monopolist.

I hope they can and trust they will - but Linux systems that look and behave as crisp and smooth as Windows does - when it does work - are probably some years in the future, and people naive about computing who are neither masochists nor supplied with oodles of leisure-time are adviced not to bank too heavily on Linux-as-is.

Also, I recommend those who do want to try Linux to avoid SuSE and Corel, for the following reason: What makes Windows so irritating are its massive doses of false hype. SuSE and Corel try to beat Windows with false hype of the same kind, and should have tried to do so instead by doing better than Windows and by lying far less. (March 2000)


Another Linux: Mandrake - a bit better again


This Linux had the first tolerable install-program, i.e. it installs what it is supposed to install, and all it takes is time and keyboard-input, and it has a better looking and more recent Linux than does WinLinux 2000, that contains Linux of 1998.

Part of the reason it is better looking is that it has recent versions of Linux, and another part of the reason is that it offers both the KDE and the Gnome desktop, and I like the latter a lot more than KDE. Indeed, while KDE looks more primitive and less smooth than Windows, Gnome looks better and smoother than Windows.

So this is a Linux I might like to work with and learn, but indeed here starts a problem mentioned above: One does have to learn quite a lot if one wants to have a Linux that can do what Windows can do, and specifically: install programs, print, play CDs, and get on the net with a browser and send and receive e-mail.

All of that turned out to involve learning a lot of details about Linux that I don't really want to know, because it takes a considerable investment of my time, and nearly all that I learn will be as useless as my knowledge of most of DOS in a year or so (I hope not much longer).

So effectively I haven't done much with Mandrake Linux, but this is mostly my choice: I feel I don't have the time and energy to buy the necessary books, and plunder these for the necessary details.

However, there is - finally - for me some good news about Linux:

- its kernel can be installed rather painlessly
- the Gnome desktop looks better than Windows
- if one is willing to invest time and some money, one probably can make this Linux do the things one ordinarily does with Windows

but this last if is considerably larger than Linux lovers like to make known, and painlessly installing a kernel does not yet give one the capacity to install programs, print, play CDs, and get on the net with a browser and send and receive e-mail with Linux, while getting that capacity takes a considerable amount of time and mostly boring trouble.

My own preference is to wait for a better Linux.

It will probably arrive in a year or so, and then I may switch, for Linux indeed is far more stable than Windows. (June 2000)


SuSE strikes again: 7.1


Windows keeps crashing on me, and I keep not liking it. Also, I don't like Mr Gates' plans for the net and I don't want to fork out money for Windows ME, which I don't trust anyway.

So when an IT-specialist - I believe they are called nowadays - gave me a CD with SuSE Linux 7.1 and assured me it ran beautifully and installed perfectly on his far from vanilla system, I decided to give it another try.

One reason to give SuSE another try - whose release 6.2 disappointed me so much - is that it includes StarOffice 5.2 for Linux. I like StarOffice, and have used Windows-versions of it for 1 1/2 year now and am fairly familiar with it.

Another reason is that I have a vanilla system, on which most things work and get installed unproblematically under Windows or Dos - except that Windows does keep crashing at inconvenient moments, without any warning and without any reason I can give. (Having installed automatic backups for my files helps to keep my temper, though it doesn't cure anything in Windows.)

So I have tried to install SuSE 7.1 four times on my system. As with SuSE 6.2, it doesn't work, and it doesn't get through the install-program.

"The good news" is that the install-program "YaST" has a new version, has become graphical, and trundled beautifully away for an hour or so, and installed all manner of software packages on my hard drive (as I could verify afterward, with a program SuSE didn't package).

The bad news is that after having eaten up an hour of my life, YaST found out that it doesn't recognize my monitor, and that although the monitor is on a list it then pops up, it cannot properly install it, and then crashes - after which, this being SuSE Linux, you have to reset the computer, and reinstall the whole lot again, only to find you run into the same problem, and will keep doing so until you give up in total disgust.

SuSE Linux still close all their messages to those who try to install their software with "Have a lot of fun ... ", so you have to read that expression very many times while you try to install SuSE or read its "documentation". I think the 3 dots mean: "you stupid masochists!".

However, let me congratulate the folks at SuSE for having produced a graphical installer. It doesn't work (on my vanilla system), but then I've never seen anything of SuSE work, so this must be, for them, an enormous step forward, since their previous installer wasn't graphical and didn't even start installing. The present one, by contrast, is graphical, does start installing, and does waste a lot of your time and hard disk space before it decides it cannot deal with your monitor. Surely, for SuSE, that's a great step forward!

(October 2000)


Mandrake Linux 7.1


I have been installing Linuxes now for over a year, without joy and without fun. But I did learn a few things about Linux, and even succeeded in getting several Linuxes installed - but without internet access, without a working printer, and without decent sound, and always with the promise that in case I wanted these, I first had to read through a lot of computer documentation, so as to find out all manner of programmable details a good programmer could have written a program for.

Also, I freely admit I have mostly had it with RTFM - "Read The Fucking Manual!" - for over the last 15 years I have read several meters of fucking computer manuals, and apart from theology there is no less rewarding reading: Thousands and thousands of pages with information you don't want, don't care for, don't believe, don't want to know - except for that small bit that finally makes the software work as it's ads invariably claim it does always and automatically and unproblematically and intuitively.

Sofar Linux Mandrake was the best Linux I got installed on my system, for its release 7.0 had an install program that worked (unlike most other install programs for Linux I wasted my time on, initially in good faith), and what worked seemed decent, and indeed appeared to be more pleasant than Windows (except for the not so trivial detail of no internet, no printer, and no sound).

So I decided to give Mandrake Linux 7.1 a go after SuSE 7.0 again showed the performance I have come to expect from SuSE Linux: Total failure amidst a lot of hype.

Well .... Mandrake 7.1 does not install on my system, though it is the same on which Mandrake 7.0 installed easily. Why this is so, I don't know and it doesn't tell, except that it "cannot find a Linux tree" in the Mandrake-directory the install-program created all by itself, for its own ends, without telling me.

I suspect Mandrake had a large dosis of help from some of the brightest minds at SuSE, for Mandrake now packages a so-called "rescue-system" with Mandrake 7.1 - which, so far as I can see, does nothing else but start up the Mandrake installer and tell you some things are absent in a directory the install-program made, after which you can't quit without having to reset the computer, so that after that, just as in SuSE's case, you have to repeat the whole installation.

I did so three times, and every time ran into precisely the same effect.


Hence, in a year time - in which several forests have been cut down to print all the hype about Linux - I have tried six Linux-versions, all heavily hyped, and most supported by reputable firms with many programmers, software engineers, consultants, lawyers and other computer-specialists.

Four did not install at all; one installed minimally but with so little support for my video I could only look at Linux at the lowest and ugliest resolution and what I looked at was old and not very useful nor did it look attractive; and the remaining one installed properly but without any internet, printing, or sound-support, and no cue how to get these things done apart from "RTFM" (Read The Fucking Manual) - which I have done far too much of already in my life, and have no time and no taste for, and certainly not to find out about very boring, very quirky, fundamentally very simple things that are just perfect to be done once and for all by a clever program.

Let me end with two somewhat rhetorical questions: Is this bad? And what about Linux?

If my time and trouble don't count, it probably is not very bad: all I lost was time, while trying to find an operating system less bad than Windows. And unlike several MicroSoft products it didn't destroy my own data-files irretrievably, and at least a little of what I saw I of Linux - notably: The Gnome desktop - I liked better than Windows.

Also - having gone this year through six almost completely useless attempted installations of Linux - I do grant that the writing of a decent installation-program for an operating system is far from easy, especially since there are so many different kinds of hardware on which it should work, which it should recognize etc.

What does annoy me most are two facts:

A. The Linuxes I get invariably have arrived with as much hype as MicroSoft provides for its products - as if you must meet lies and hype by a cheat by more lies and more hype.
B. It's not just the distributors of Linux-versions that produce a lot of hype: The computer magazines mostly parrot it - as if objective reporting means the same as repeating ads in slightly more euphemistic words.

The first fact annoys me because it should be possible to beat MicroSoft not by even better lies and hype, but by better and cheaper software that comes with far less hype, lies, false promises, unreadable documentation etc.

The second fact annoys me at least as much, for I have in all cases I have discussed above first read articles in computer magazines, that usually turned out to be rewrites of the material the distributors of the software provided, only to find several months or half a year later the same magazines blandly claiming things to the effect that "of course we all know Corel has a rotten installation procedure" and so on - in short, the facts they should have properly reported in the first place, and indeed must have found themselves if indeed they did try out these installations on several machines.

To end with the final question: What about Linux?

In brief: I much hope it will succeed, because this will be in the interest of absolutely everybody except those who hold shares in MicroSoft. But the evidence I have seen over the last year doesn't make me really optimistic about the chances of Linux, and a good part of the reason seems to be that the same sort of commercial types with the same greedy motives and the same habits of hyping and lying that made MicroSoft so big are involved with furthering the cause of Linux. Or so it seems to me, on the basis of a full year of experience - and please note: I am not talking about the many tenthousands of private persons investing time and trouble in writing decent free programs with public source code; I am talking about distributors of Linux.

And in any case, Linux will not work for me if I cannot install it mostly as the ads claim "in a breeze, without any difficulty, in six easy steps, on the internet in 15 minutes" and so on, and also not if I can install its kernel, but then first have to read for weeks through computer-documentation to find out how to get on the net, how to print, and so on, for these things can and should be programmed.

(October 2000).