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4/23/2004
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Best Of Listening Post

Linux stirs powerful emotions. On one side are those who say open source isn't perfect. On the other side are people who know a Microsoft conspiracy when they see one.

Flaming Operating Systems
Our columnist Fred Langa recently wrote about trying to get a sound card to work using numerous versions of Linux ("Linux's Achilles' Heel," April 19, 2004). He had no luck getting it to work, including with the commercial Linux distribution XYZ. He also tested Windows, which supported the card; even 9-year-old Windows 95 could do it. After his struggle, Langa came to the conclusion that although Linux has come far, it still has a long way to go before its "gaping holes" are patched up completely.

But dedicated Linux users, from whom InformationWeek received an overwhelming number of responses, have a different opinion. Under the heading "Linux's Achilles' Heel," they started a miniriot against Microsoft, disputing what they believe are Langa's problematic findings.

Under the heading "Bad Day With Linux Sound Cards," "James Simmons" says, "Before you praise [Microsoft] for solving this problem, remember that the sound-card manufacturer probably tested this card with every version of Windows back to 95 and did what they had to do to get it working. A sound card that doesn't work easily under Windows would never sell. They did no such testing under Linux and probably didn't release information to the Linux developer community to help them make the card work." Simmons says he has had problems with sound cards in Linux in the past, but he was able to make them all work.

"J.M." exclaims that he's happy with Linux and its sound capabilities. "I have Linux working with my professional grade, eight-channel ADC/DAC sound card--a very esoteric and expensive piece of equipment. One that doesn't work with XP yet, by the way, because the vendor hasn't released the driver."

"Chris Widge," under the heading "Why Would Anyone Want to Run Linux?, agrees: "My sound works fine on the desktop, I even have a newer sound card (the built-in card works as well)." Widge says he uses OpenBSD firewall/router and a desktop running Gentoo. "Everything that Windows XP does my Linux box does, including Shockwave Flash, Future Splash, PDF files, avi, mpeg, DVD, QuickTime, Windows Media, fli, and Java."

In addition to relating people's annoyance with Langa's column (often in language that can't be printed), it's important to note that Langa is just as critical of Microsoft as he is of Linux, if the occasion calls for it. For example, see "Enough Already: Microsoft Must Change" (Sept. 29, 2003).

Since Langa's problem with sound cards was left unresolved, some who posted offered solutions.

Under the heading "Dear Fred," "David Sloane" suggests: "To really do Linux on the desktop properly, the hardware and software should be cross-certified as it is in the Windows world. That way, when I have a problem with the sound card on my Red Hat desktop from HP, I call HP or Red Hat, and they help me figure it out."

Langa wasn't joking when he said he couldn't get his sound card to work on Linux. Others have had the same problem.

"Roy H. Bell" says in the topic "Linux's Achilles' Heel" that there are some software-hardware combinations that aren't compatible; thus, he either upgrades or changes his software, or gets new hardware. Still, there's an underlying issue, Bell says. "Driver support is a problem in Linux. I have tried over and over again to convert at least some machines, but every time, there's some piece of hardware that I can only get to work under Windows."

What's the verdict on Linux versus Windows? Let the world know at the Listening Post, informationweek.com/LP.

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