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Rethinking Linux on the Desktop

For the past couple of years now, I have been running Gentoo Linux on my personal desktop at home and while I haven’t been 100% happy with it, it has served me well. I’ve been able to bend the system to my bidding–eventually. :) One downside to Gentoo Linux, at least with my box anyway, is that it occasionally and inexplicibly gets into a state where it boots, but not correctly. Today, it decided that networking would not come up correctly. KDE is also acting very weird when it comes up as well (after manually configuring networking of coruse).

Unlike most distributions who use fairly standard packages for all the various software components, Gentoo is a mostly “compiled” OS. As new software is added to the system, the software in question and dependencies are typically downloaded, compiled, and installed before your eyes. This has some serious advantages. You have lots of control over the entire process. Almost too much control. But you get more or less the exact system you want that way.

There are some disadvantages as well. Larger software packages such as Firefox, OpenOffice.org, and the KDE window manager can take several hours to compile and install. The “emerge” process can also affect critical system boot files (since these packages also get updated), and though they don’t usually lose the config, the boot scripts can be in different states causing the system to act unusually, like networking not being able to come up. Probably what annoys me worst is what I have to do everytime I compile a new kernel–remember to re-emerge certain kernel moules so that X windows will load.

Maybe I’m getting old, but I think I’m getting tired of constantly having to “tweak stuff” to make it work right. I just want my computer to work and I don’t want to have to constantly mess around with it. I don’t want to have to mess with “Windows emulation” to make those “must-have” Windows applications work. I’m tired of Multimedia not working right. I’m tired of fighting it all. I just want my computer to work.

Should I buy a Mac? Maybe. I’m really thinking about it. But it’s money I’d rather not spend at the moment. A Mac would give me all kinds of Unix goodness and a much better user experience overall. However, I still run into the problem of needing particular Windows applications all the time. And I can’t really justify spending the dough on Apple hardware when they’re about to switch over to the Intel processor. Once that happens, there are a ton of interesting possibilities that may occur. Rumors are suggesting running Microsoft Windows apps “seamlessly” in Mac OS X. Dunno if that’s gonna happen, but if it does, I’m there.

Meanwhile, back in reality, I think I’m gonna have to go back to Windows for now. It’s not perfect. Nothing is. But XP Service Pack 2 is not bad. It’s certainly better than anything else Microsoft has put out so far. And it’s not as if I’m giving up Open Source entirely because I think Linux is wonderful. Trust me, I use it on all my servers and will continue to use it where it makes sense. But Windows is “just easier” for me right now. It does feel like I’m giving into Bill Gatus of Borg ™ though…


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