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Langa Letter: Follow-Up To Linux's Achilles' Heel Column

Fred Langa addresses the most-voiced criticisms of his recent review of Linux problems, including claims that sound isn't that important in business computing. He also posits that high-priced commercial Linux vendors are on a suicidal course, unless they lower prices to accentuate their advantages over Windows.
Write Your Own Drivers
Another post suggested that I should just write my own driver to support the sound system in question. I admit that stopped me cold, not because it was such a good suggestion but because it was so spectacularly primitive: I've been involved with personal computers from the start, and the last time I had to write a driver was in about 1981, when I was a principal in a small software company. Back then, there were few true standards in computing, and it wasn't that unusual for even closely related hardware and software to have cross-compatibility issues. Often, you needed to hack little software shims, patches, or from-the-ground-up drivers to get things working. And it was OK then, because there was no alternative.

But that was more than 20 years ago. I was astonished to see "write your own driver" suggested now as a serious solution to getting a high-priced commercial Linux package running on mainstream hardware. (Remember: This was never about the free and hobbyist distributions.) Today, if you want to write a driver as your profession or as a hobby, that's fine; but for a full-fare commercial operating system to require that approach--that you turn the clock back 20-something years--is nuts. No mainstream, full-price commercial operating system should arrive in finish-it-yourself kit form.

A Blubbering Wreck
As time went on, the discussion sunk to a pretty low level, though I have to admit some of the imagery and language was colorful:


"You were never interested in getting the sound to work, you were only interested in making a sensational headline, even if that meant skewing the results. Which would make you worse than tabloid journalists and completely compromises your integrity as a so-called IT journalist."


"Go ahead, Mr. Langa, do your best to knock Linux; you will only ever find yourself a blubbering wreck on the Internet floor. You will only serve to help the open-source movement and rip another wad of cash out of Uncle Bill's pocket."

Of course, my intent wasn't to "knock" Linux, any more than it's my intent to "knock" Windows when I write about its many problems.

So let me state this as clearly as I can: Competition is good, and we need more options than just Microsoft with a smattering of Macs on the side.

Commercial Linux distributions are increasingly positioning themselves as a viable alternative to Windows on mainstream business desktop systems. This shows up in the Linux vendors' marketing language, in their packaging, on their Web sites, and in their pricing. That's mostly a good thing.

But when Linux vendors charge Microsoft-level prices, they're setting themselves up for a comparison they cannot yet win. High prices for Linux play right into Microsoft's hands.

Case in point is that article we've been discussing: Despite having a sound system that claimed to be supported by various Linux distros; and despite being told by support techs that my specific system would work with their Linux; I couldn't get the sound to work even after days of effort, and following every single suggestion the support techs offered. I thus cannot use Linux on my primary PC for mainstream business activities, which require sound. It's not bias, or idiocy, or lying: It's what happened.

But Windows, including very old versions, works on the identical system without the slightest hitch.

And I believe this again shows why, in microcosm, high-priced Linux distros are on a suicidal course: High costs raise expectations, and Windows-level pricing generates the reasonable expectation of Windows-type levels of hardware support. But as of now, Linux comes up short in that regard.

On the other hand, if commercial Linux vendors reduced their prices, they'd be defining their own playing field--- one where Microsoft is handicapped. Linux would be much better served in the long term by going back to offering inexpensive, robust solutions. That's a game the Linux community can win.

Someday It Will Happen
I truly wanted to use Linux on my best, fastest, newest PC. But I cannot--yet. It's not for any lack of diligence on my part, but because of a limitation in Linux.

I'll keep trying. Eventually, someone will release something that will work on my system. More generally, someday, Linux will probably catch up with Microsoft's broad support for mainstream hardware.

But that day surely isn't today.

What's your take? Have you run into hardware that Windows natively supports but that Linux doesn't, or vice versa? What compatibility issues, or successes, have you encountered? Please join in the discussion!


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Fred Langa's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Fred Langa, please visit his page on the Listening Post.