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

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5/13/2004
02:01 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary
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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.

The PEBKAC Syndrome
Alas, my posting the hardware specs didn't help. Instead of clarifying the discussion and getting things back on track, things took a further step downward, moving from "Fred is a liar" to "Fred is an idiot."

User error is indeed a common problem in all kinds of computing. In fact, support techs sometimes joke about "PEBKAC" errors ("Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair") or "ID 10 T" errors ("idiot.")

In that vein, some participants in the discussion thought that simple idiocy might be at the root of my trouble with Linux. For example, maybe I couldn't hear the sound because I had the volume too low:

"I know what Fred's problem is. He didn't unmute the sound. When ALSA is first installed, it's muted. You HAVE to unmute the sound on any Linux distro that uses ALSA. All this over nothing. Fred, do your homework and stop being an MS lackey. Don't know how to unmute sound? Let me teach you: Open up "alsamixer". Yes, it's commandline. Press 'M' to unmute the sound and press '+' to raise the volume. Now, as root, type 'alsactl store'. Your sound settings are now saved. It's obvious you have a bias against Linux even though you say you don't...."

The advice above is fine, except that when a sound system isn't detected in Linux (or Windows), there's no mixer installed, so there are no audio controls to adjust or unmute. Running the mixer controls on an undetected sound system either fails, or (if in graphical mode) brings up a mostly empty dialog box. This isn't user bias or idiocy or a PEBKAC error, it's that there's no sound system installed to adjust in the first place. So no, the problem wasn't that I hadn't unmuted the sound. (Sigh.)

Real Men Don't Need Sound?
Other posts staked out positions I can only marvel at. For example, one suggested that sound really isn't all that important anyway:

"If you want to play games and your MP3's, then boot to Windows. If you want stability, speed, or mission-critical use, use Linux/Unix."

I don't know what that user does on his system, but I do heavy multitasking in my business work, and depend on audible alerts, system beeps, "task done" beeps, and the like to help me manage background tasks. A system without sound is harder for me to use because I either have to switch away from my foreground tasks to check on background tasks; or set the background tasks to steal focus and intrusively pop into the foreground when they need attention. It's much smoother and less interruptive to use a simple audible alert for those background tasks; and for that, I need a working sound system.

No, it's not that a soundless system is unusable; you can still get work done on a silent system. For that matter, color isn't essential for using a PC, either. Heck, a graphical interface isn't essential either--we could all go back to 80x25 monochrome character mode, if we wanted to. But why should we? Used properly, color, sound, and graphics help you organize and keep track of a wider array of information and concurrent tasks than you otherwise could, and smooth the management of complex operations.

Arguing that sound is unimportant is a little like the old joke about a general store whose slogan was 'If we don't have it, you don't need it." Except now it's "If Linux doesn't provide a function, you really don't need that function."

To which I can only say: Baloney.

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