So, it's been a few weeks since Rhapsody ceased being a Windows machine. We're (fairly) stable with Mandrake 9.0, and I'm considering Mandrake 9.1. I thought this would be a good time to stop and take stock.
- The first thing I'm noticing with Linux is that the whole experience is less about Linux than about how it's affecting me .
It's an oddly user-oriented experience. Note that user-oriented doesn't mean user-friendly. Perhaps I should say user-dependent. Windows was both more flexible and more OS-centered. No matter what I knew or did not know, Windows accomplished certain tasks for me, almost independent of input. Helpful wizards whisked me through the steps of a task, and in the end, the task was done, and whether I learned anything from doing it was immaterial.
Linux's first lesson is: I am ignorant. Blunt, straightforward. When I have reached the limits of my knowledge, I must either find more, often painstakingly, or give up on the task and retreat to something I do know. I know I went through the same newness and cluelessness when I first came to Windows. I also know that it was never so apparent to me that I was a rank tyro. Which approach is better? Neither, as far as I see. I'm glad I started with Windows -- Linux would not have been the right starting place for me. I would have been too intimidated to ever touch another computer. But once I started wanting less of the coddling Windows gives, well... I'm in the right place for me now. I wanted more knowledge, faster. I can't have that if I'm not very aware of how much I need to learn.
- GUI matters less to me than it did, or than I thought it did. That has happened partially perforce -- Linux GUIs, so far as i have seen, suck. The many small programs that can be chained together approach works only as long as all the program creators are operating from a common set of baselines and assumptions on how the GUI should behave. And especially if you're going to make the GUI look like Windows, it should behave in the ways we expect of Windows. Windows-like icons should do what they would do in Windows. And if I'm going to make the time trade-off and use the GUI instead of the command line, whether by force from not knowing the command line alternative or by choice, I should be rewarded for the choice by being provided with an intuitive, smooth experience. I should not ever have to spend more time thinking about the interface than I do accomplishing my task. Given the choice of a poorly designed, inconsistent, clunky GUI and a slightly-intimidating but much more streamlined command line interface, the choice for anyone who can get past the intimidation is the command line. Whether this dissatisfaction is going to develop into disdain for the majority of GUIs in my particular case remains to be seen. The fact is, anyone who knows the commands can accomplish from the command line in half the time or better anything that can be done using a GUI.
- The key to the last part -- and the majority of Linux so far as I've seen -- is knowing the commands. As far as I'm concerned, every install disk ought to be distributed with a booklet listing basic commands, what they do and the all-important syntax for using them. As nearly as I can tell, Linux provides tools for solving almost every situation you'll face in it. But someone thought it would be amusing to disguise the toolbox and hide it. The only thing more frustrating than facing an insurmountable problem is facing one where you are convinced there is a simple solution, if only you knew what combination of arcane abbreviations would implement it.
- Transitioning, for me, has been harder than I think it should have been. I have some non-standard hardware (a Promise Ultra 133 TX AT adapter, to name the prime culprit) -- and the Linux approach to that is, frankly, a shrug and a careless, "if you don't know what to do about it, what do you expect me to do?" The which, while I can't exactly blame it on anyone or anything beyond my own lack of knowledge, almost caused me to run screaming back to the sanctuary of Windows and its kindly wizards. "Insert manufacturer's disk and click OK" would have been looked upon as manna from heaven at one point.
- And speaking of gifts from deities, I'm still switching off between desktop and laptop to play my favourite game, Nethack. When I figure that out, I think I'll stop griping for a long while.
Until then, well, I'm learning. I'm very satisfied with that. And overall, I'm happy with Linux in general and Mandrake in particular. I've a few books on order that should help greatly -- but I wouldn't have wanted to take a study course before using my first computer. I'm glad I waited for this.