Monday, January 18, 2010

Linux: The last 10% will take another 10 years

Note: The blog post bellow was written on the 6th of December 2007, but I never published it. It seems to still be valid today and given that the laptop I'm talking about went dead and was sent for repairs last week (but most likely they won't be able to fix such an old model), I'm finally publishing it now as a remainder of what that little machine had to endure :-)

Everybody in the Linux world will tell you that Linux has GoodEnoughTM hardware support. Meaning of course that all the good stuff is missing but that your system is fairly functional.

Which is fine ! I mean, as a programmer why would I want to squeeze 100% of my machine ? We can always buy another one which will be even faster but, due to the "LackOfLinuxDriver compensating factor", will fell just like the old machine would have felt with proper drivers.

That is, bad hardware support makes you feel on today's hardware as if you are using a refurbished machine.

Ok, enough ranting. The reason I'm evil in this post is because Linux killed my laptop's battery.

I have an old Dell C840 which had a battery that only lasted about 30 minutes. So I spent about a quarter of the laptop's current value on a new battery (the Dell has two battery bays which is kinda cool).

So now, with the new battery I had about 4 hours off the grid, which was acceptable.

That is, until one night when I just let my laptop with the lid closed but, somehow, it didn't suspend/hibernate as it normally did. Instead it kept on going and going and going upto total and 100% battery drain.

Strangely, the old battery (Li-Ion), after being at 0% and about 16 hours of charge recovered and it's now back to the regular 30 minutes.

But the new battery, after days of charging is dead. Hello LI-Ion deep discharge ! Now, why in the world didn't Linux shutdown my machine when it was clear the power was running out ? Or course, some weird hardware support-related fluke. Do I care ? No: my new battery was killed.

This is sadly a losing position for Linux as they can't write those drivers in some situations (due to so called evil corporations) but it sure makes me mad to use less then what my hardware has to offer...

Another example: Linux (Ubuntu) on a MacBook Pro. It's like the ugly duckling ! The scenario is like this: I use OSX with the nice fonts, Expose, I reboot, I select Linux and then I see the horror. It's as if the machine was reduced to a cheap NoName laptop: the image doesn't "look" good, you see pixelated things, then you see ugly fonts, then you see windows that barely drag/refresh due to lack of a proper driver, then you install the binary-blob-driver from nVidia and notice that the "effects" don't hold a candle to OSX' experience (and some more pixelated stuff).

It's this last 10% threshold that I'm talking about here. Sure, hardware works 90% of the cases, but I sure would like to know I'm using the full power of my machine. Gnome does give you some GUI but I sure would like to see fonts I can stare at for 10 hours a day or some decent effects that aren't there just to show what OpenGL does.

In conclusion: I really like Linux and the reason I bought a Mac was because I needed an "unix" with proper hardware support. Because Linux still doesn't have a place as the main machine.

Linux on a headless server ? Sure ! Linux on my main machine I have to stare at the whole day: not if I have a choice.

1 comment:

Erik I said...

My machine (hp nc 6320, Core 2 Duo, 2 GB memory, 7200 RPM hard drive) runs slow and is sluggish with OEM Windows XP. With Ubuntu linux it runs way smoother. I have to admit the hardy release broke suspend/resume and I've seen plenty of other glitches too, but for me it's worth it, compared to a sluggish Windows. If it doesn't work I'll just roll back to the previous release.