What Kind of Person Uses Linux, And Should You Be One Of Them?

Linux window managers

Fluxbox is an incredibly lightweight window manager, with a minimal interface and an interesting twist on the desktop metaphor. In Fluxbox a blank screen is not treated as a desktop, exposed desktop areas are simply areas to access the ‘Start Menu’ of sorts. Right-clicking on an exposed desktop element shows this menu which allows access to all programs and can be easily customized. By default Fluxbox does not use desktop items, although there are programs to allow desktop items. Fluxbox includes four virtual desktops by default and also has the interesting feature of tabbing programs. By middle-clicking and dragging a program’s titlebar over another titlebar the two are joined, and become tabs, the active tab displaying that program in the window. This sort of highly configurable system is perfect for low memory systems, but users with a little more machine muscle might want to flex theirs.

linux fluxbox

Probably the biggest three window managers for Linux are Xfwm, KWin and Metacity. These are usually not referred to explicitly, because they come packaged in Xfce, KDE and Gnome respectively. These are complete desktop environments, designed to provide a working set of common applications for users and common libraries for programmers. This is perhaps the greatest asset that Linux possesses in terms of usability, as most of its programs are free it makes a huge number of full versions of software freely available on first boot. Many distributions also maintain a repository of all the applications available, which can be automatically downloaded and installed. Software management is incredibly user friendly on Linux, with applications such as Synaptic making finding software easy and fast. KDE applications are programmed around the Qt library, so they all have a reasonably uniform look, and Gnome and Xfce programs work with GTK libraries. KDE is generally considered to be based on a Windows style, while Gnome and Xfce have a more unique feel to them. Consistency can be a real issue here, as both KDE and Gnome have excellent sets of applications, and though these can run on either desktop environment they frequently don’t sit right with everything else.

KDE linux
linux transparency

Gnome Linux widgets

Compiz Fusion sits at the highest end of the scale in terms of fanciness and having the most impressive eye-candy generally. It shakes up the desktop metaphor by placing all desktops, and there can be up to 32, side by side on a 3D object that starts out as a cube with 4 desktops and gets progressively more cylindrical. These desktops can help organize a cluttered system, keeping one for writing, one for the media player and one for web browsing for example makes it easy to switch between all tasks. For general window management Compiz Fusion has a wealth of options. Some reflect the advances of other operating systems, like the OS X Exposé feature or themes similar to Windows Vista. The rest are unique to Compiz Fusion and highly animated, for example windows can be configured to burn away when closed, or even be stretched and wobble when moved. All of these effects don’t even require that much in the way of advanced hardware; it is possible to get Compiz Fusion running perfectly on an Nvidia Geforce 4400MX.

compiz fusion linux

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  • tstebbens
    This article made me angry. For a start the assertion that Linux supports the most hardware of any OS is unfounded in an article that starts off with the tag line "Why Linux might feel at home on your desktop." That implies PC hardware and Windows rules the roost there no matter how you cut it. If you were talking non-Intel hardware then, yes I'd agree.

    Next the author contradicts himself with the statement "although Linux supports more hardware than any other operating system, compatibility issues can occur. Since Linux isn’t designed specifically for desktop systems more specialized hardware, like 20 button mice or even some graphics cards, may not be fully functional." So what this is basically saying is the hardware is NOT supported.

    All-in-all this article gives the impression of being written by a Linux Fanboy rather than being a balanced piece of objective journalism which is what I was hoping it would be.
  • audiovoodoo
    I also see the contradiction and can perhaps clarify a little. Out of the box a modern distribution such as Ubuntu will support an awful lot of hardware without the need for a user to find and install 3rd party drivers. My experience with XP was that whilst I could get every last thing to run it took the installation of a lot of drivers from a lot of sources to get the last mouse button working etc.

    The point I would make is that a lot of HW out there is supplied only with Windows binary drivers and for whatever reason the HW manufacturers do not seem keen to allow others to see the specifications so they can write drivers for the community. There is no physical reason why Linux can not support this HW other than manufacturers refusing to provide a spec to the community.

    I run a fairly standard PC that is 3 years old. My mouse is fully supported, my MS ergo keyboard is fully supported, my TV tuner card is supported and so is my web cam. I can use any USB mass storage device without issue so cameras etc work fine. I can get Bluetooth support for my phone working, although I admit this took a bit of work it was no more than it took me under XP. The point I make is this.. all that works without installing anything other than the OS. Yes HW tends to be built and drivers designed with Windows in mind but things have improved radically over the last 3 years that I have been using Linux. Perfect.. NO. An option for most home users.. YES. About to destroy MS.. nah.. not for a while yet.
  • gmuppet
    "It’s an operating system that looks like a clear winner by most standards, from technical to functional. Linux supports more hardware than any other operating system"

    Um... don't know what to say, man... RHEL 4/Centos 4 supports neither my SONY camera, nor my Canon flatbed scanner, nor my Logitech webcam. What gives?
  • cbxbiker61
    The Redhat/CentOS twins are server distros. I'm not sure why you'd use either of them for that type of hardware. My instinct says you're a flamer and don't really care for a real answer.

    For those that want a real answer.

    Just like any OS. Selecting supported hardware is still important. Cameras? Buy cameras that support the open Mass Storage format and you won't be locked into any OS. Webcams? Buy a webcam that has a driver (there's a European going nuts writing drivers that support tons of webcams). Scanners? I'm not into scanners, but if you are then I guess you can do your own homework. Let's say searching "linux scanners" would do the trick.

    One thing I do like is that when you select hardware that is supported, it usually stays supported for the useful life of the device. Which is quite the opposite of the Microsoft franchise where they typically get you coming and going. Hmmmm, you bought that two years ago for XP, sorry no drivers for Vista. Hmmm, you want to buy a new one of those and you have XP, sorry the new device only comes with Vista drivers. It's always a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Interestingly enough all of the hardware I used with Linux in '95 still runs with Linux in '07. 12 years of OS improvements still works on the old hardware.

    In my experience Linux quite often doesn't support the crap devices which often get used with Windows boxes. Ever heard of Mustek scanners? Who in their right mind would waste time writing drivers for crap devices?

    Linux is about having choices. That's not going to change. If you want Linux for Dummies there's a version for you Linspire/Freespire. If you want a Linux with long support cycles that's available too. Roll your own Linux, sure. Personally I use Slackware, if you're comfortable with VI and shell script (or want to learn) it's straight to the bone configuration is an advantage.
  • Cabelo
    I'm very much in agreement with the above post.

    The other thing to remember is that, just because so many users are comfortable with Windows doesn't mean they instinctively understood how to use it.

    I've used Linux from time to time, and while I've never managed to stick with Linux as the default OS on my desktop, I like knowing the option is there.

    In truth, the biggest reason for not sinking some time into learning to use Linux (as I did with Windows) is that I'm a far older man now than I was when I first started using Windows... and I just don't have the kind of time.

    I am however, continually impressed by the steps Linux is taking towards being immediately friendly to people like me, who just can't find the time to learn... it's nice.
  • perzy
    Well apart from being free, Linux is worse in every area than windows for desktop use. Stability, gaming, driver support, ...you name it.
  • marclane773
    hi ive allways used windows ever since 3.1 over the last few years ive been tempted by linux but never bothered because i didnt want to learn my way round a new os and i was concerned about software compatability ive now had a look and it doesnt seem that daunting can anyone recomend a version for me i mainly use my pc for D/L and gaming P.s what is the network support like thanks any advise would be great i would love to leave xp's childish moronic feel behind
  • Anonymous
    The main reason why Linux hasn't taken off: games. If Wine ever became fully compliant with DX9 or even DX10, we might be able to play the latest games right out of the box. But, for now, practically every teen will be using Windows at home and will carry on using it in their adulthood, because, let's face it: games are a big part of the modern culture and cannot be ignored.

    And, no, it is not enough that Linux users can play 2-3 year old games. How many kids go around the schoolyard talking about 2-3 year old (or older) games? They want the latest games and they want them immediately.
  • Anonymous
    This all misses the point. The biggest reason why Linux has never taken off is because Microsoft made it prohibitively expensive for the PC vendors to offer pre-installed OSes besides Windows. They were by the civil courts found to have abused their monopoly position in the U.S. Unfortunately, by the time they were caught at this, Windows was pretty well established.
    Want to know just how good Linux is? Wait and see what really happens this year and next with the UMPC market. If Linux is as good as those of us who use it regularly believe, it will continue to be pre-installed on a big chunk of these little boxes. (It's been on the eee since last fall and selling quite well, btw.)
    Hint: The Asus CEO figures he'll sell 40% of the eees this year as Linux. Assuming Asus meets their sales targets, that's 2,000,000 devices. MSI has stated publicly that he expect to sell about 50% of the MSI Wind as Linux.
    Many, many people are finally getting a good look at Linux for the first time. If they like it, it'll sell. If they don't, you'll see only the WinXP UMPCs around in a year or two.