Is Linux Ready for Primetime?

In a word, no. Not yet anyway. I have been playing with desktop versions of Linux for several years now and have really enjoyed watching this operating system grow. Several of the distributions have even begun showing up on mainstream PCs, coming pre-installed by major manufacturers like Dell and Lenovo. They are becoming more polished with each iteration and have matched or even surpassed both Windows and Mac OSX in the “eye candy” department. For example, the latest version of Linux Mint 7 is downright gorgeous.

Unfortunately, looks aren’t everything when it comes to a mainstream desktop OS that can be used by the masses. In its favor, Linux systems can easily surf the Internet, do e-mail, play video and music files and do office applications as well as the big boys. It is constantly being improved by talented developers – and let’s not forget its biggest benefit… it is free. If you can get a new computer with Linux pre-installed on it, I daresay that most would not even notice that they were using an alternative OS. All of your hardware will work out of the box and the overall experience should be good.

However, my experiences with Linux are not always so positive. I have downloaded and installed just about every major (and some not so major) Linux distributions. Every single time, I have run into a snag of some sort that required consulting forums, help sites or blogs in order to solve. Wireless internet drivers have been the single largest offender in my experience. I can not think of more than 1 or 2 times out of 30 Linux installs where the wireless worked properly without tinkering. Other problems include lack of video card support, laptop touchpads not working at all and internal LAN cards not being recognized and installed. Of course, some of these things can happen on Windows PCs as well, but drivers are readily available for most hardware on Windows PCs. The same is not true on Linux. Most vendors still don’t support Linux at all and others do so only in beta form. Users are forced to rely on open-source alternatives and these are slower to come out and not as easy to find and install.

In general, I love Linux and, as a geek, the solving of the problems is part of the fun. Unfortunately, my mom (and most moms), would not share my enthusiasm for hacking the file or tweaking the GRUB list just to get things working straight. Certainly, individual experiences will vary widely. I can only speak from my own experience and until Linux distributions can match the ease of use that Windows and Mac users enjoy, I feel that it’s just not ready for primetime. It is oh so close, but just not yet.

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