Is ANY OS Ready for the Desktop?

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Recently there have been a mess of articles on Overclockers.com about the question ” Is Linux ready for the desktop?”. Then there was a rebuttal titled “Is Windows ready for the desktop?”

So now I ask the real question – Is ANY OS ready for the desktop?

Well, as I started doing research for this article I found that this question is not new and is not readily answered. It has been asked numerous times in many different ways. So, how does one begin? I feel that first we have to define what would be a perfect OS.

A perfect OS would include(at a minimum) these points:

  1. Stability: The perfect OS should NEVER crash.
  2. Functionality: The perfect OS should be able to use any and all features of any hardware attached to the system. It should instantly recognize and install appropriate drivers for said hardware.
  3. Usability: The perfect OS should be able to run any program, regardless of code base or age of said program.
  4. Security: the perfect OS should be an airtight vessel in this regard. Hackers should find themselves out of work because of this OS.

  5. Configurability: The perfect OS should let the user set it up the way he/she wants.

With this definition in place let’s see how the current OS’s stand up.

Windows:

  1. Stability: Well….let’s face it – up until XP, Windows was noted for the BSOD. Even with XP, there is a goodly chance that the program you are using will fail, giving you the dreaded “X program has crashed” dialog.
  2. Functionality: Windows generally holds its own here. Most all hardware is recognized and setup by the Windows install system. However there is room for improvement, as we still have to manually install many drivers. Most Windows drivers release the full potential of the hardware they are designed for.
  3. Usability: Windows has a wide range of software available to it; however, the particular code base and age of that code base can sometimes cripple our favorite programs. In its quest to move forward, Microsoft has chosen to let legacy code fall by the wayside.
  4. Security: Windows has the widest usage of any OS out there and has been attacked because of this. Its insistence that the user has no clue allows a lot of these attacks, as there is no form of security built into the OS.

  5. Configurability: Windows is, well, Windows. While you can change the way it looks to an extent, there is no change in the underlying way things work. This can be both a hindrance and a blessing.

Linux (Ubuntu as it is the only distro I have worked with):

  1. Stability: Linux trumps Windows here. Linux has a great reputation for stability. However there are cases of “kernel panic” that do occur.
  2. Functionality: Linux has improved over the years, but it still has issues here. While Linux itself has made leaps and bounds in this category, third party vendors have neglected to give adequate driver support.
  3. Usability: Linux is gaining ground here as well. There are a number of commercial games and other programs starting to appear for Linux. However there is the fact that many of these require a certain level of system knowledge to use. “Out of the Box” experience is limited here.
  4. Security: Linux has the ace up its sleeve here. However, as Linux gains more and more ground on Windows, it will likely come under more and more frequent attacks. The Open Source feature of Linux may work to help control this problem.

  5. Configurability: With a number of shells available to it, linux has an advantage here. They are highly configurable and can drastically change the way that actions are undertaken from the desktop. This can lead to higher productivity or higher confusion factor…depending on the level of knowledge of the user.

    So as we can see no OS currently available is “READY” for the desktop. Both of the major OS’s have install systems that require knowledge of the system to use – a big no no for Joe Sixpack. Both OS’s have major problems with the way the other works, preventing inter-operability of programs. Linux can and often does have hardware driver issues. Windows has no locks allowing any thief to enter at will. Linux requires too much user knowledge to be Joe friendly. Windows thinks we are all Joes, preventing us from doing what we want. And the list goes on and on.

    Let’s face it people:

    There is no perfect OS for all.

    As humans we have such diversity that no system can possibly be made to satisfy everyone. There are different needs for every user and no OS out there can ever hope to satisfy every possible one. Power users and those who like to learn about computers will tend to drift into the realm of Linux. It empowers them.

    Gamers tend to go the way of Windows. It’s the law of supply and demand – gamers demand games and Windows gives them. Joe Sixpack actually has it easy today. If he has never had any experience, he can use either system. He’ll have someone set up his system and then use it for surfing, email and what games the system comes with. The fact that there is an option won’t even affect him/her.

    Maybe the better question to ask: Is (insert OS here) ready for me?

    Jason Taylor aka

    Deadbot1_1973


    Ed Note – My $0.02:

    After spending some time in the Linux world with Ubuntu and looking back on emails and articles we posted on this, I offer the following summary:

    • It’s a Windows World: Like it or not, Windows is the dominant OS by far. As such, hardware and software written for Windows is overwhelming, as is the task for any OS trying to gain a viable foothold.
    • Windows will always be vulnerable: This comes with being the dominant OS, coupled with the fact that hacking Windows to annoy Microsoft is a blood sport among virus writers.
    • Linux’s strength is its diversity: Lots of talent writing freeware programs from the ridiculous to the sublime.

    • Linux’s weakness is its diversity: Distrowatch.com ranks 100 different Linux OS’s on popularity – any wonder that hardware drivers are not that easily available for Linux?

    If you have major Windows security concerns, look into ways to build walls around your system – check out Amustsoft.com, DropMyRights or VMWare’s Browser Appliance as possible solutions (all free); also there’s no reason to use buggy/vulnerable Internet Explorer when Firefox or Opera offer excellent alternatives. There is so much excellent freeware around that paying for software beyond Windows is not necessary and they are not as vulnerable as Microsoft Office.

    Right now Ubuntu is a terrific Linux OS for anyone who just wants to browse the web, use email, do some light word processing and image editing. This is all my wife does and Ubuntu fills the bill. Considering Vista’s hardware needs, Ubuntu is looking better all the time.

    Email Joe

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Discussion
  1. That is correct OSX is written on FreeBSD which is written on UNIX... Linux is also written on UNIX so there is some interoperability between OSX and Linux there.


    Linux was greatly inspired by MINIX (a small version of UnIX) but has NO code from the UNIX world. The interoperability part is the POSIX standard (and a bunch of otherrs).

    FreeBSD came from BSD version 4.4, BSD in turn used to be a modification of the AT&T UNIX (System V), which in turned was shipped off (without any System V code) to fill in the missing pieces because AT&T didn't allow BSD to run on top of System V.

    OS X runs on Darwin kernel is a derivative of Mach kernel (which somehow comes from Unix, I am not too sure) and FreeBSD (from the 4.x branch I believe). OS X uses XFree86 4.3 (rather old compared with Xorg 7.1) for it's graphics server.
    OSX is based in large part on the FreeBSD 5.0 kernel, I believe.


    That is correct OSX is written on FreeBSD which is written on UNIX... Linux is also written on UNIX so there is some interoperability between OSX and Linux there.
    OSX is based in large part on the FreeBSD 5.0 kernel, I believe.


    That is correct OSX is written on FreeBSD which is written on UNIX... Linux is also written on UNIX so there is some interoperability between OSX and Linux there.
    :) That's a pretty good summary. But in the end, who designs the comptuer systems? We do. We control the hardware and the software, and we're not doing a particularly good job at either.

    I know the real answer to that...it comes down to one simple thing, money.

    The build an OS and design a game so they wont go over budget.So what they do is make sure it will run even with flaws which everything has, sell it off to us and then once they have gained back some of the cash they spent they then use it to "fix" it.That way more people will buy it with the "fix" added to it and so forth and so on. The "fix" doesnt always work either because get cheap with the budget for the fix and the designers say "if your not going to pay me to do it right"...were rightback where we started.

    My 2cents lol
    I am concerned with having the full functionality of my hardware and being able to play my favorite games...which happen to be designed for windows.


    That's the bottom line, really. Sometimes when I think about high-level computing problems, I ask myself "Could my grandmother use and understand this?" Maybe it's a strange question, but so much of what we do is computing for computing's sake, and not computing to solve a real-world problem.

    Eventually someone will figure out that the OS needs to be able to adjust to the user and not vice versa(even linux still requires that you learn about it and not the other way round). Maybe the real issue is that computers are straight up logic and humans are stright up messed up.


    :) That's a pretty good summary. But in the end, who designs the comptuer systems? We do. We control the hardware and the software, and we're not doing a particularly good job at either.
    Aaronjb...you are correct. My understanding of how each OS works under the hood is very limited. I dare to say that this holds true for at least 80% of all users. The points were chosen specifically for the generalization because they apply equally to all OS's. I'll admit it is by no means an exhaustive review. I think that its the fine points that get in the way sometimes. The articles that have been posted so far have been full of fine points( install times, lack of support, lack of security)which have really clouded the issue rather than cleared it up. I really doubt it will ever be truly cleared up. Although the conclusion I arrived at may be considered weak, I think it is the most truthful one to arrive at. To often we try to apply our own viewpoint to all situations when it is so limited by our predjudices that it can't come close to applying to all situations.

    To say it plainly...just because one individual had great success with a particular OS does not make it the best choice. Conversely just because one individual has a lack of success with the same OS doesn't mean that it should be ruled out as a choice. The choice must be weighed by each individual, taking into account his/her preferences and predjudices.

    The point of my article wasn't to pick apart the different OS's, but rather our way of looking at them. You mention the years of study and design that have gone into all of the differing OS's and yet it still seems that there is no good choice. Maybe those studies have been to narrow in focus. I don't know. I only know that I still judge my OS by how well it fits my needs and wants. For myself Windows still is a better fit than Linux. But I'm not really concerned with security(if some hacker really wants to know that I visit this site he's welcome to that info, as well as the fact that I enjoy playing Theif 3). I am concerned with having the full functionality of my hardware and being able to play my favorite games...which happen to be designed for windows.

    Eventually someone will figure out that the OS needs to be able to adjust to the user and not vice versa(even linux still requires that you learn about it and not the other way round). Maybe the real issue is that computers are straight up logic and humans are stright up messed up.
    Mac OSX, from my understanding, is just a polished up version of Unix/Linux...is this correct?


    OSX is based in large part on the FreeBSD 5.0 kernel, I believe.


    The next few were people asking why OSX (MAC OS) wasn't included. Two reasons. One, I have absolutlely no experiences with MacOS in any form. Two, Since you need to buy a Mac to get and use MacOS, I won't have any experience with it.


    Mac OSX, from my understanding, is just a polished up version of Unix/Linux...is this correct?
    That was a nice article, and I agree with the main point - that no OS will ever be perfect. But this applies to anything in the universe, and is a very weak conclusion to arrive at. In fact, it's accepted that nothing is perfect, which is why we make decisions in life.

    With operating systems, there are decades of research and testing which use specific criteria to determine which operating system types are the best choice for a specific problem set. From the average user's desktop OS to mainframe OSes to clustering OSes, there are a myriad of criteria from which to pick to evaluate an OS. Selectively choosing the criteria can sway the evaluation in the favor of one OS over the other, effectively mitigating the results of real testing.

    That said, you picked some great categories on which to evaluate this category of software. However, there isn't much detail. This is not a criticism, but a point of fact: it sounds as though your knowledge of operating systems is limited. At face value, the argument you've assembled and the evaluation you've made has been repeated countless times in the past, albeit in a more controlled and analytical way.

    For starters, I'd suggest picking up anything by Tannenbaum (creator of the Minix "learning" OS, the inspiration for Linux). Tannenbaum His Modern Operating Systems book is a great first look at how OSes work under the hood, and includes a great discussion of the various types of kernels (although he clearly has a preference here :) ).

    With that said, I'll go ahead and make my own generalizations about Linux. I first installed Linux in 1996 from a handful of floppy disks. There were only a handful of WMs at the time, and boy, did they suck. Since then, we've all watched the various free Unixes transition from server-oriented software to something more appropriate for the desktop. This transition hasn't been easy, given the nature of open-source development, and I dare say that without the always pragmatic Linus Torvalds looking out for the desktop user, things might not be as rosy as they are today. It was only recently that the Linux kernel gained user-level preemption on a wide scale, and even then only with patching. The versatility of Linux is equaled only (at times) by the frustration of the one-OS-for-all-solutions model. Decisions that are great for the desktop may not be so great for the Web server.

    I'll avoid going line-by-line into the generalizations made in the article, but suffice to say, a few more facts and a little less pontificating would have served the analysis much better. As it stands, it's a provoking starting point for a colloquial discussion of pros and cons, but not a starting point for a real discussion applicability.