I’m depressed. I used to look forward to playing with beta releases and new versions of distros. I’ve even been known to buy copies of distros just to check them out (well, I’ve bought SUSE and YellowDog and downloaded the rest… particularly because those ones were available locally).

After having messed around with a few distros these last few weeks, mostly for some comparisons for Annvix (install size, “out-of-the-box” memory usage, etc.). I’ve come to the conclusion that Linux desktops are getting fatter, slower, and more buggy. Some, like the latest SUSE, I couldn’t even get to install in vmware without a boat-load of work, and even then I only managed to do it once (I knew I should have taken notes). When I played with FC4 it seemed ok, but I just don’t like the feel of Red Hat/Fedora… never have. I admire the work they do, for the most part, but the distro just seems spartan to me. I’m probably not being overly fair as I’ve used Fedora for maybe a maximum of 5 hours… 3 of those I’m sure were helping my dad get it installed on his system. I’ve also heard that FC5 is a lot worse than FC4 was.

The new Ubuntu had some wierd install issues. I have it running on my Libretto since it seems to be the one distro that will handle all the hardware on that machine and it’s ok… Debian-style distros aren’t really my thing tho. I’ll give them a thumbs up on hardware support.

So what about my beloved Mandriva? Well, I have to be careful here as I don’t want to get in trouble but… well, I’m a little disappointed with the 2007 beta. Now, BIG DISCLAIMER! It’s a beta. I realize this. There’s probably a lot of stuff to be fixed. Unfortunately, it’s still a moving target… there’s no such thing as a freeze or a bug-squishing phase or even a phase to make it really solid, or at least, historically there hasn’t been. Here’s to change and hoping there will be one. Because the beta has left me a little… underwhelmed.

It looks pretty slick… I like the dual-arch DVD ISO idea… if only it would work properly. On my amd64 laptop I thought I was installing the 32bit version when, to my surprise, I found out post-install it was the 64bit version and the installer offers me no option to install the 32bit version. Pity because I can’t run my laptop wireless with WPA2 security in 64bit since the 64bit windows drivers I have for ndiswrapper don’t support WPA2.

Other issues with the installer, and some post-install stuff… I’m sure it’ll all get fixed at some point. But I had to jump through some serious hoops in order to make some things work. Things that the average user wouldn’t have a clue about. I’ve been doing this a while so it’s not hard for me… just time consuming and a PITA. Especially when things should be at the point where they just WORK.

I’m only 30, but I’ve been doing the computer thing for a while. When I was younger (relatively speaking), I enjoyed tinkering. Figuring out how things worked, debugging, testing, spending all hours of the night getting one thing to work properly was a challenge, and it was fun. Now I’m too busy. I want things to just WORK. (Oh, I’m not ranting about Mandriva here in particular… this goes for all Linux desktop distros).

As it stands right now, I’d rather spend the time I used to spend tinkering with my kid, or reading a book, or playing a game, or hanging out with my wife. I spend at least 12 hours a day in front of computers working. I don’t want to spend my spare time trying to get a machine to work properly, as that takes away time from other things that at this point I find more fun, more entertaining, and just plain more important.

I see all kinds of new features coming into Linux distros. There is a massive amount of feature-creep. There’s also a massive amount of bugs and other oddities that really just irritate me now. I find myself angrier with my Linux boxen these days than I recall being with Windows machines in the past (well, maybe not, but it’s getting pretty darn close).

The problem, I think, is differing opinions and the “please everyone all the time” mentality. I see this over and over again and it’s nothing if not problematic. For instance, on cooker the other day someone was saying that “the people” (whoever they are) want packages… lots and lots and LOTS of packages. The more the merrier. He also had the absolutely idiotic notion that maintainers a) use and b) test their packages. The problem with all of these packages (as if we like to sit around and thump our chests saying “MY distro has 132 more packages than YOURS does!”) is that there are more packages and less people interested and willing to use and/or test them. So distros end up shipping stuff that is half-tested (at best). I mean, look at the Mandriva beta. Some of the stuff I found shouldn’t have ever been there. I’m assuming people boot the thing, I’m sure someone has tested the installer before making an ISO with it.. so why are these things not fixed? I’m thinking they’re pretty minor. Same goes with stuff I found with SUSE. Good Lord, had no one tried installing SUSE in vmware during beta testing? If one person would have, they would have seen that it just plain old doesn’t work.

And yet it was shipped like that.

Am I the only person getting tired of seeing half-assed stuff? Now, again, I need to reiterate here that while the Mandriva beta prompted this, this is something I’ve been noticing for a long time. There is a distinct lessening of quality across all distros that I’ve played with (not that I’ve played with a lot, or even comitted much time to them). Some people will insist I need to spend more time with something. I have to respectfully disagree. If it doesn’t work, more or less out of the box (I can deal with some tinkering), I’m not interested. I don’t want to spend two days getting my hardware working properly. I want to spend two days tweaking my apps, fiddling with skins and desktop backgrounds and themes. I want to spend time doing fun and interesting things with my computer… not cursing at it because it tells me it can’t find some firmware for my network card that the previous version of the distro didn’t have a problem with.

This isn’t Mandriva-specific at all. In fact, I think the beta, as far as it is, is pretty good for a first beta. Aside from some installer issues and some boot issues, there doesn’t seem to be too much staring me in the face (although my menus seem to be pretty spartan for some reason). If these things can get fixed for the next beta, I think it’ll be pretty good. Of course, one has to wonder about the converse as well… it’s been almost a year that this thing has been in the works so why the really obvious bugs? (I don’t know how the development thing works, in particular to respect to new versions of stuff, stability testing, QA, etc. because I haven’t dealt with R&D for years so I have to honestly, from a user’s perspective, wonder this).

I think that the Linux community has been imitating Windows for so long that they’ve finally succumbed to things they had Windows beat on a long time ago… things like bloat, things like instability, things like wonky hardware issues.

Maybe I’m just tired because I’ve spent a few hours cussing at installs today… I’ve installed the 2007 beta, and I also had to install some other versions in vmware (Corporate Desktop 3 and 2006). All of them have issues. Hell, every Linux distro I’ve tried in the last 2 years have had issues.

I’m wondering when we’re going to stop having issues and start having fun.

Time to stop ranting and go read my book. I’ve had enough of computers for today.

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