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My Truce with the Penguin
Richard S. Wright Jr.'s Blog

Disclaimer: My opinions on Linux are not the official viewpoint of Software Bisque, or any other of its employees. In fact, I believe either Matt and/or Tom are rather fond of Linux. I know they both run Linux for various reasons.

I, however, am most certainly not.

My view of Linux can best be summed up as follows: It’s free… this of course assumes your time is totally worthless.

I just recently finished the fourth edition of my book on OpenGL programming ( 100 sample programs, 86 of which are cross platform running on Window, Mac OS X, and of course… Linux. We (I have two co-authors) did this in the last edition, but I really didn’t have to do anything. I had a co-worker who was a Linux jock and he made all the make files for me. This time however, I foolishly committed to doing this as one of those “learning experiences”.

I’ve played with Linux in the past. All but once I was unable to complete the installation because I had some hard disk controller, or something or another that was not recognized (but of course essential). Once I got Red Hat running, with 3D hardware acceleration via NVidia’s Red Hat driver… this lasted a month before the hard drive crashed. I could probably have built Stonehenge in the time I have spent trying to install Linux. Recently, my luck has improved somewhat.

A couple of month’s ago I was able to install Ubuntu Linux with very little pain. In fact, it was the first time I have ever had a Linux installation go smoothly and actually work. I installed under a Parallels VM on my MacBook Pro. I could not get the video out of 800x600 mode without Googling for a step by step guide to fix this, but it only took an afternoon, and I didn’t want to smash anything glass at the end of the process.

Getting all the development libraries installed was another matter. After spending quite some time on it, a friend at the school where I teach sat with me for a couple of hours and got me up and going. He uses Linux almost exclusively. Did I mention it took a couple of hours? And I thought installing Visual Studio was a chore!

He was giving a Linux seminar the next day, and I decided to attend and further my Linux experience a bit more. I installed Fedora 7.0 on my HP laptop during the course of his presentation, and of course every time I booted, I had a garbled screen occasionally punctuated by the friendly message “The X Server has restarted 7 times in the last 90 seconds. This is probably not good.”

Wow… ya think? Amazing. Linux is so easy after all! How could I have been so dense?

Gary Miller (my friend from Full Sail) to the rescue. “All” we had to do was switch to a terminal screen (cool trick), and run “yum update”. Thank God I had a 100mb/s Internet connection at the time. An hour later, ta-da, pretty Linux screen! My next adventure was trying to get ATI’s Linux driver to install so I could do hardware accelerated OpenGL (can you say “Seeker on Linux!”). No go. Gary had left, and I spent another two hours Friday night trying to get it to stick. I’ll see Gary again tomorrow… poor guy doesn’t know what’s coming ;-)

All my free time this last weekend was making sure all 86 example programs compiled and ran on Ubuntu. I’ve learned a lot in the last week, and I now have two (somewhat) working Linux installations to play with. I first came to Unix on SGI workstations. Not a great deal of experience there, just some exposure and I liked it. Since moving to the Mac (BSD based), I have come to really like the Unix underpinnings. I almost always have a terminal window open, and like doing things on the command line. I will probably learn to like Linux over time. It’s just hard when you have over 20 years experience to suddenly be put in your place and feel like you’re an idiot who shouldn’t have been allowed to spend so much of his own money on a computer. It’s also hard when you have real work to do, to spend the 40 to 60 hours reading up on Linux so that you can be fairly competent trying to get anything done. All the information is “there”, but it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack sometimes.

My conclusion at the end of all this is that Linux is a fine operating system, but it is built by programmers, for programmers. Ubuntu is a nice step in the right direction, but Linux will never be a popular consumer operating system. You want your momma running Unix? Get her a Mac. OS X is everything Linux wishes it could be. Technically minded people’s brains are wired differently than “most” peoples, and this is why most Linux fans cannot understand what’s so hard about all this. Everyone at Bisque has read Alan Cooper’s book “The Inmates are Running the Asylum”. Anyone doing software development (or any engineering discipline) should HAVE to read this book. Now that I’ve been baptized so-to-speak, Linux will undoubtedly grow on me, but only a little. I can see the attraction, and for many industries it’s a perfect fit (even in ours to some degree), but for my day-to-day productivity needs, I just don’t have that kind of free time.

Posted 07-09-2007 3:46 PM by Richard Wright


David Toth wrote re: My Truce with the Penguin
on 07-16-2007 8:23 AM
I feel your pain ... I subscribe to the Ubuntu users list Richard, and I can't believe how much troiuble there is just getting basic things going. I have NEVER gotten my printer to work. They bash Micro$oft, but at least it runs after a fashion.

I will say this - once installed, Linux is rock-solid and I've seen systems run for a year without a reboot, even with updates! Of course, if the libraries get updated, there really should be a reboot.

Once things are ported to Linux, I DO believe it will be the O/S I use in the observatory though.

Richard Wright wrote re: My Truce with the Penguin
on 07-17-2007 1:11 PM
Hey David. I did manage to get HW 3D support running on my ATI based laptop (Fedora 7.0), and without any help from Gary ;-)

Alas, the support is not that great, and is a bit dated. I think I like the Mesa 3D software implementation better, but it's not suitable for playing games (or for experimental Seeker builds for that matter). Since posting my source code to the book, a few readers have written in with some useful tips. My demenour is improving ;-)

There's tons of open source astronomy stuff that's fun to play with too. I think I enjoy playing with Ubuntu more than Fedora, but that could just be that  Ubuntu is available instantly (via Parallel's on my laptop), where as Fedora is on a seperate laptop that I don't like to lug around that much. Anybody will become more comfortable with what they spend the most time on... how else do you explain Windows (LOL).

"My" primary interest is that building for three platforms is a great way to improve code quality. My primary loyalty though is going to remain with the Mac ;-) There are a lot of people putting Linux in thier observatories... _my_ dream is native OS X apps that do everything you need. A cheap Mac mini, or a dated G4 laptop has more than enough horsepower for most tasks... except image processing, and I've been doing a lot of thinking about that too... but that will have to wait for now!

Roystarman wrote re: My Truce with the Penguin
on 08-24-2007 7:34 PM
My expierence with Unbuntu is that I can get it to run and as long as you don't do something exotic like try to play a store bought DVD it workrs fine. I have had a lot of difficulty trying to get the system to play a DVD with the CSS code scheme. AS far as I know there is not a legal DVD player for Linux. There are fixes online but they are potentially copywright violations. However for the free open office as well as firefox and the extra security of always asking for your password. BTW I didn't have a problem printing. I keep it on an old laptop for remote websurfing.
Matthew Ota wrote re: My Truce with the Penguin
on 10-29-2007 11:01 PM
After sixteen years on DOS/Windows systems I am finally compelled to learn The Penguin due to a job requirement at an observatory. I am going to run SOLARIS from Sun Microsystems.

I find the OS to be totally non-intuative and user-hostile. It will add hundreds of hours of unproductivity to my work at the observatory.

I have to learn it though because it is firmly intrenched into the organization.
Richard Wright wrote re: My Truce with the Penguin
on 11-04-2007 8:25 PM
You have my sympathy! I don't think I ever would have come to appreciate Unix without OS X. It makes Unix very palatable, and I can "learn at my own pace" without being penalized along the way by not being able to get any useful work done.

astrotrf wrote re: My Truce with the Penguin
on 11-06-2007 5:42 PM
You know, the thing is that all of this boils down to what you're *used* to and what particular set of user/system knowledge you've accumulated.  After 20 years of using Windows systems, you can't expect to reach the same level of proficiency with Linux in just a week.

Yes, Linux doesn't support every device in the world.  This is because most manufacturers don't write Linux drivers for every weird device they make.  However, they *do* write Windows drivers.  There's only so many device drivers the Linux world can write.  Dell, in particular, sells systems with Linux preinstalled - perhaps that's a route you should consider.

Me?  I build my own systems, selecting components that are supported by the OS I'm installing (FreeBSD, in my case).

Installation of Linux isn't as daunting as it seems.  I'm reminded of the Linux evangelist who installed Linux on a computer in something like 10 minutes with his hands tied behind his back, typing with his *nose*.  You, too, could do this if you'd spent as much time on Linux systems as you have on Windows systems.

I'm a Windows novice myself.  I can't make Windows systems do *anything* I want them to do, and frankly, I don't see how anyone else can, either.  I've spent untold hours mousing around a Windows box, looking for some place to click that will magically do what I want done.  My reaction to this is not that Windows is somehow lacking and has a ways to go before it becomes a "real" system, but rather that I simply don't know enough to make it function properly for me.  (Although I do have to say that I much prefer the Unix viewpoint of letting me tell the system what to do rather than the Windows point of view of presenting endless menus, one of which, buried somewhere, may or may not tell Windows to do what I want done.)

So my rejoinder to your opening statement is that Windows is inexpensive, but only if your time is completely valueless.  And, as in your last statement above, Windows *constantly* penalizes me by not allowing me to get any useful work done.

And to Matthew Ota:  if you put me on a Windows system instead of my Unix boxes, I'd write exactly the same second paragraph as you did!

Terry (astrotrf)
astrotrf wrote re: My Truce with the Penguin
on 11-06-2007 5:51 PM
One more thing:  it's also true that if you're going to try to do unusual things like install a PC version of Linux under Parallels VM on a Macbook Pro, you've got to expect that things could fail.  The odds are that such a thing was never tested by the relevant Linux developers, and there are a LOT of things about such a setup, both hardware and software, that can trip up the installation process.

Installing Linux on bare iron with compatible components will doubtless work a LOT more smoothly.  That's not the fault of Linux; it's just the basic economics of a free system with volunteer developers vs. the hugely corporate world of Windows.
Richard Wright wrote re: My Truce with the Penguin
on 11-08-2007 11:36 AM
Well put. When I first started using a Mac a few years ago, I found it very awkward. Then I became proficient, and it became awkward switching back and forth. Now it's just awkward using Windows. It is true, that the easiest platform is the one you know best... knowing both, I prefer the Mac now. Linux is still very awkward and time consuming. But I have friends who are wizzes because that's where they spend their time. A lot of what I like about the Mac is the Unix underpinnings. I have a feeling if I spent enough time on Linux, it would be a close second to OS X, if not on a good par (the fact that I could build my own Linux box cheaply would surely tickle me plenty ;-)

AK1E wrote re: My Truce with the Penguin
on 12-06-2007 2:26 PM
Hi, perhaps doing a "Linspire" installation is closer to the "user" style operations. Use 5.0 or 5.1x, unfortunatly version 6.x is not complete. My 5.1.472 is very user friendly and has all the usual "stuff". The version 5 is debian, and 6 is ubantu.
WARNING, SP3 for W2000(pro) and XP have severe problems and will not install unless you let microsoft into your machine.


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