Subtitle:  Why making simple things hard is a bad idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made my choices and I’m sticking with it.  Day to day, I work in Linux and that isn’t going to change.  But there’s a good reason why Linux is a “Fringe” OS on the desktop, and why it will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Mostly, it comes down to making simple things hard, and for no good reason.  Quite often, in the Linux community, simple things are made hard for purely political reasons.  Little pissing matches in the open source community with the end result that things that the average “Joe User” just needs to work, will work, but only once you make the poor schmuck jump through too many hoops.

The current example that’s annoying the heck out of me is the ongoing pissing match between the FOSS community in general and Oracle/Sun over Java.

Here’s the deal:  Java used to work brilliantly and seamlessly on the average Linux distro.  it wasn’t something you had to think about installing.  By and large, JRE was just THERE, and it worked, and you didn’t have to think about it.

But along comes Larry Ellison and Oracle, buying up Sun and the rights to the Java platform along with it.  Without getting too much into the details, Ellison is a world class wank and has gone out of his way to piss off the open source community.

The end result is that JRE no longer ships pre-installed on pretty much any Desktop Linux.  It’s not a technical decision.  It’s a political/business decision on the part of the distro makers.  And it’s a really dumb one.

Look, guys, Ellison may be an asshat, and what he’s doing to the open source projects that came part and parcel with the Sun purchase is greedy, self serving in a very shortsighted way, and in some ways nonsensical. But the fact of the matter is a huge chunk of the Web relies on the JRE plugin framework.  That didn’t change with the change of ownership of Sun.  JRE is out there, it’s widely adopted, and people just expect it to work.

The hoops to jump through to get it working on, say, an Ubuntu install aren’t that extreme – if you’re a nerd and mucking about on the command line is something you’re used to.  But if any “Joe User” is out there, I ask you:  Is opening up a terminal window and typing the following something you’re likely to know how to do – is it even something you’re likely to know how to google for?

sudo add-apt-repository “deb lucid partner”

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install sun-java6-jre sun-java6-plugin sun-java6-fonts

My guess is no, it’s not something you would know how to do.  And you shouldn’t have to know.  Java is a part of the web.  Moreover, it’s a part of a lot of corporate infrastructures – thousands of companies have custom Java applets that their users work with on a daily basis, usually without even realizing it.

Taking something simple and making it hard is not how you gain converts.  It’s how you piss people off.  And not just “Joe Users” – you piss off IT people who have to face the wrath of the “Joe Users” who complain about simple things being broken.

So, Mr. Shuttleworth, get over yourself.  Linux distro makers in general: get over yourselves.  This isn’t a holy war.  This isn’t about idealism, values, open standards, or all the other crap that seems to get wrapped up part and parcel in the FOSS community.

It’s about making simple things simple, so that the poor guy at the far end of the keyboard, who mostly just wants things to work so he can get on with his day, can do just that.  They don’t want to know how it works.  They don’t want to know about the politics behind the community.  They have just one, count ’em one, vested interest in their computer:

They want to turn it on and have things work.

One Response to “All OS’s suck… Even Linux”

    Actually Linux is very straightforward. When your product is free and your primary income is derived from support there is a very large incentive to make things hard to use.

    When your primary “political/religious opponent” (Windows) does things one way, you tend to do exactly the opposite out of spite instead of wisdom – and Windows is fairly straightforward and direct in most cases.

    The two motives feed each other and you end up with an OS that is case sensitive so you could not EVER hope to explain it to your parents or grandparents no matter how many times you try to explain that recipies and Recipies are not the same thing to the computer and THAT is why their information magically comes and goes.

    And that goes directly to the heart of the Sun/Oracle thing – they already HAVE a profit mechanism that runs contrary to how the open source movement works. They want to do it the way they are familiar with, regardless of the clash and culture shock and if it is inconvenient for you – well, that’s your problem isn’t it? At least as far as they are concerned.

    And, as Grelmar is well aware – Java isn’t part of *MY* internet. Sure, it might run on a few of the webservers I visit, but like RealMedia and QuickTime, it it has not run on my PC in YEARS and I have never once missed it or felt inconvenienced by the loss.

    In business, I have run across one application that depends on Java, and that app has been VERY brittle as a result. I do not believe that Java is as “widely adopted” as it once was. In fact, outside of its role inside some business settings, I would say Java is in its final death throes. It’s only a matter of time before Java in a business setting moves to its final maintenace cycle with a hand full of developers keeping it limping along to keep a few brittle, frequently breaking solutions working rather than taking the time to fix them properly.

    Yes, I see the day when Java is coffee again to most everyone on the planet and I can only see it as a good thing.

    It would be nice if the Linux camp could change the way they create their revenue stream, or it is only a matter of time before their insistance on creating a maintenance contract culture causes Linux to follow Java into obscurity.

    (I think Linux actually shines when its stuck in dedicated appliance boxes instead of desktop PCs, so it would be something of a shame for it to die)

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