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Is usability breaking Linux adoption?

o Dennis Mbuvi
03.08.2012 kl 16:46 | CIO East Africa

I have been a Linux (Linux in this article refers to Linux based Operating System) user for a quite a number of years, actually, since I owned my first PC about four years ago. All through I have been using Fedora Linux , and it has not been an easy ride all along.


I have been a Linux (Linux in this article refers to Linux based Operating System) user for a quite a number of years, actually, since I owned my first PC about four years ago. All through I have been using Fedora Linux , and it has not been an easy ride all along.

Linux users have to learn how to use text editors, and how to work their way around configuration files. Initially, the issue was that Fedora Linux ships without a number of drivers, so called proprietary drivers and software. Proprietary drivers are drivers that do not conform to open source licensing terms. This means that the operating system ships lacking support for common media formats including MP3 and will also lack firmware drivers required for the functioning of some hardware such as sound cards and graphics drivers.

The missing proprietary software can however be installed by the user from the Internet, or one can opt for a Linux distribution that includes such proprietary drivers by default, such as Ubuntu or Mint Linux. Some flavours of Fedora such as the Russian Fedora Remix also include them.

Sadly, it just doesn't stop here. Once in a while, mostly every six months when most distributions release new versions, a major issue will most likely crop up.

Fedora 17 shipped with a bug that left some users unable to connect to the Internet through an ethernet cable. The issue was quickly fixed. This however required downloading of an update to fix the bug in NetworkManager, the app that connects network connectivity on Linux.

Today, after five days of trying and Googling everywhere, my Nokia Bluetooth headsets finally worked with my Linux. The issues here was PulseAudio, the default sound server for most Linux distribution is missing an audio configuration files with two lines of configuration. Bugzilla, which tracks such bugs and issues has a well documented report on the issue there is no update yet to fix the issue.

While Linux has arguably the best software distribution system, all packages are held in online repositories and can be downloaded to one's PC according to needs. However, on Fedora, the RPM Package Manager which does this job suffers from a flaw too. While one can choose to update all out-of-date applications, and easily upgrade from one Linux version to another, RPM has an irritating issues known as "dependency errors"

On Linux, applications usually depend on other applications to provide some functionality, requiring both to be installed. Usually, the dependencies are usually tied to a particular version of the package since newer versions can result in changes or even no longer provide the required functionality. RPM usually checks for such dependencies and resolves them. However, the checking of dependencies does not work as intended at times, and this might lead to packages requiring packages that no longer exist after a previous upgrade. A package may also be required by two others, each requiring a different version.

Setting out to update your applications might leave you poring through bug reports and forms hours later on how to sort out your dependency issues.Other issues that have left me poring through forums for days include broken graphics on a version upgrade and poor video playback quality after a version. This excludes the long running suffering endured by Linux users due to Adobe Flash issues. It does not help that Adobe has given up on newer Linux versions of Flash, only promising to issue bug fixes.

Linux market share is estimated at between 1 percent and 1.5 per cent. Android, the hugely popular mobile operating operating system has a share of between 2 percent and 4 percent while rival iOS has between 3 percent and percent.

Android is based on the Linux kernel, same as other Linux based operating systems, however is quite easy to use for many.

Linux on the other hand, has seen usability vastly improve over the years. However, it looks like usability is yet to become a critical factor in Linux development, yet remains a stumbling block for many adopters, despite being free. This leaves Linux a preserve for technical users who can figure out the many configurations that need to be tweaked time and again.

Android is proof enough that a more usable linux experience would lead to more Linux users. How long before we get there?

Keywords: Software  
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