More And More Linux Frustration

This is a rant born of frustration. I guess I’m looking for some sort of community consensus – not how I should solve my problem, but how the Open Source community should attack a real problem of usability.

In my heart of hearts, I so want to love Linux. But now, after months of trying, I’m wondering if I’m not ready for Linux, and more importantly, if Linux isn’t ready for me.

Some quick background. I took my last computer course in 1968 (that’s no typo). To my friends, I am tech support. My wife has watched me guide others through menu after menu, all while in bed, with my eyes closed. The computer I’m typing on was assembled by me from parts I specified. The one next to it has just received a motherboard/cpu transplant on my kitchen table.

I am not a technophobe. Still, Linux frustrates me in nearly every possible way.

Over the last week, since rebuilding my auxiliary computer, I have loaded and reloaded and reloaded again. My estimate is a dozen loads of 5 or 6 different flavors of Linux. Each of them similar. Each of them different.

I’m starting to get worried Comcast will flag me for overly taxing their system with all the iso’s I’ve scarfed up.

On some distributions my audio card is recognized. On others it’s not, or is only after some minor tweaking. On one (and I wish I could remember which one) my TV card plays. On others, it’s cryptic error messages – messages which make Microsoft’s error messages seem kind and gentle. On one distribution, the box for the TV is blank, but the rest of the screen is full of noise, which seems to be the disjointed TV video.

The only way to get the printer to work (it’s attached to an onboard print server on my router) is by first making believe it’s attached directly to this computer and then editing the file. Clever.

None of the Linux variants I’ve used knew what to do with the video system on my motherboard – though it’s far from esoteric. I am stuck with a generic VESA driver, which means my system is running slower than it should.

I have tried to fix all of these problems, but let me use the video problem as my example. Doing a Google search for the video chip (KM400 from Via) and Linux leads to some interesting suggestions. There are some that seem to be translated to English from Chinese, but not well enough that anyone speaking English could follow. Others originate in German, then English, and again something is lost in translation. Steps are missing or just hinted at. No two suggested remedies are exactly the same.

As I look through the Usenet responses, it’s tough not to pick up smart ass disdain from many of the cognoscenti! And, I expect to get some of that here.

One of the things that’s touted as a strength of Linux, and weakness of Windows, seems to be the opposite. Windows lives in a standard world. My Linux box does not. Will the Debian driver work in my Mandrake distribtution? Maybe, though probably not.

Does my 2.6 Kernel need different care and feeding than a 2.4? Seems like it. But, I don’t really know what a kernel is, much less why 2.4 and 2.6 eat different food.

My motherboard came with all the Windows drivers I’d need – none for Linux.

Will I have to compile a package? Can I? How do I do it?

I want this to work, yet I feel Linux is fighting me. The Linux community seems anxious for this to work… and at the same time it’s scared that their baby will go mainstream… afraid that someone will do to Linux what they perceive AOL did to the Internet!

I’m not going to give up. But, I am getting very frustrated – very. I can’t believe I am alone.

6 thoughts on “More And More Linux Frustration”

  1. Thanks Joe. My evenings are usually full – at work – but maybe I’ll stop by one of your meetings.

    Meanwhile, I have ‘tamed’ my Mandrake 10 install. The PC is built around a Soyo SY-K7VMP2 motherboard, with Via onboard graphics and sound. Getting the sound going was simple (though I have an interesting problem where certain types of sounds play in a Gnome environment but not KDE), but getting the “Unichrome” driver for video is going to be a little tougher. I have been following the Unichrome group on Sourceforge, and am waiting for the right time to make my install. This is an international users group looking to build drivers that Via hasn’t released. Some installs are more successful than others. So, it’s a work in progress.

    The PC works, but my GLXGEARS scores are in the 140 fps range. They should be at least 10 times that much – and will be with the proper video drivers.

    I’m just having a good time with all of this.

  2. Hello Geoff,

    I recently but together a computer with a SY-K7VMP2, and am working with Linux (mandrake 10) ; first try with this OS.

    I,ve gone thruogh a lot frustrations and haven’ yet got sound. Which driver did you use? I WENT TO SOYO, and just downloaded linux drivers but it doesn’t look like any of them will match.

    I’am not ready to try dealing with video, but if you found any answers to your quest, please let me know.

    I would really like to get a Linux os configered and working. It appears to be very powerful when it is setup complete.

    Sincerely, Larry

  3. Try the via82cxxx_audio driver. This is slightly different from the

    default, with the addition of the word ‘audio’ in the driver.

    After I got it working, I found some applications with no sound. Then I

    found this:

    All the best

    Geoff Fox

  4. Dear Geoff,

    I don’t normally comment on posts like yours but for some reason, I felt the need to. I don’t think that people realise the amount of work Microsoft have put into their system and the amount that vendors of hardware for Windows live and die by whether their hardware will work with Windows. Microsoft has spent billions building windows, Linux has spent relatively next to nothing. I’m not trying to discredit the developers working on Linux, they are a great bunch, but they never got fired for introducing a bug into Windows or breaking the build as was done during the development of NT.

    Linux is still mainly a “home grown” product. Volunteers and entrepreneurs work on Linux in the hopes that it will grown to something big. I run Linux at home and have just as much frustration with it as you do BUT it does not make me that angry. C’est la vie. It’s a hobby and I treat my home system as such. I treat the problems I face as fun obstacles to overcome.

    Now in my office, we also use linux on our mainframe BUT it is supported by many software engineers and they try to stay away from anything that is not “really” tested. Of course, we don’t need sound cards or video cards to work, only Samba, Websphere, DB2, Java and the like. Nice stable software that only relies really on the kernel working properly. We don’t even use Gnome or KDE.

    So, what’s the up shot…if we all keep fooling around with Linux and try to get other people involved, then eventually companies will start testing and releasing drivers for it. Next software developers will start releasing packages and the next thing you know we’ll have Windows 2. Mind you by that time it will cost some money because all this work cannot go unpaid.

    So for now, think of it as an experiment. You never quite sure how it will turn out. If it frustrates you too much, then just switch back to Microsoft and give Bill a few more dollars. While Linux is mostly free, enjoy.

  5. Yep. I’m a very knowledgeable Linux user, and hardware support– especially for “desktop-y” things like video and audio– is way behind Windoze, which is still way behind the Macintosh.

    I think there’s a continuum of “user-centeredness” there, with Apple way over on one side and Linux way over on the other.

    I have Linux boxes installed which have been running for 250+ days. I’ve run them for over a year at a stretch. If you want a server, I highly recommend Linux.

    For a desktop, I still wouldn’t recommend Linux yet. I am willing to put up with the spotty hardware support and hacked-together GUI, but most people aren’t. Then again, I use rxvt, Mozilla, emacs, and Vim, and that’s pretty much it. No problems there.

    I think the company to watch on the desktop front is Linspire (formerly Lindows). They are aggressively marketing to home users, and are willing to put in the effort (read: pay the money) to hammer out support for desktop GUI’s, hardware support, etc. If Linspire starts doing hardware certification, then we’re a long way towards solving the “desktop problem”.

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