Tool Shed 1
This is not a fiction series. I needed a way to signal to readers the prophetic approach to computer technology or any other means to the end of God’s Message. It could as easily be about the various cutting tools I use for firewood, or my bicycle, etc.
Background: There are four competing desktop interfaces dominating the field in Linux right now. KDE 4 is all the worst of KDE 3 but not nearly so useful. It’s got a jillion settings possible and no sane defaults. Nothing about it is designed for ordinary people trying to get work done. The developers are part of the majority who despise common ordinary computer users. GNOME 3 hates them in the opposite way, by taking away every possible option and hiding basic functions behind the most bizarre keystroke and mouse combinations. Ubuntu’s version, called Unity, is just as bad. LXDE reminds me of the worst days during the development of GNOME way back when. So far as I know, it’s the only current desktop capable of crashing catastrophically and biting holes in your file system on its way down.
So that leaves us with XFCE. It’s a little short on features, but it’s workable for most situations.
But the folks at OpenSUSE can ruin anything. They make XFCE look just like LXDE and I don’t know of any way to simply remove the idiotic SUSE defaults and let XFCE do what it does best. Then there’s a thousand little things like Lynx. Those of us who love Lynx know how to make it do what we want. SUSE has done their best to remove critical features, like disabling the option to use an LSS file to set color options. Stupid. If we don’t want it, we know exactly how to cut it out, so stop making arrogant and bad decisions for us, developers. There are good points with SUSE, but they are overwhelmed by inexcusable anti-user decisions.
After choking on this for awhile, I decided to try Scientific Linux 6 again on the laptop, but stayed with the 32-bit version this time. Everything worked as I hoped, adding a couple of extra package repositories (ATrpms and EPEL) to get the stuff RHEL doesn’t offer on the basic system. It works they way I work. Unless you have more than 4GB of RAM or run server operations, you don’t need the 64-bit version. I’ve got Word 97 working beautifully under Wine and there is some hope someone I know will come up with a version of WordPerfect that runs with it. Right now, about the only versions reliable at all are 7 (NT enabled) through about 11 under Wine.
Mint with MATE is tolerable. However, far too many of what should be MATE applications are still pulled from GNOME 3 and those suffer the basic arrogance of GNOME developers. Also, way too much depends on the anti-user decisions made upstream by Ubuntu. Probably the most hateful thing is the convoluted path to adding backports available from various PPAs (Personal Package Archives, where some enterprising packager keeps up with some particular package or related group of packages and upgrades them on various versions of Ubuntu). So if you really have to have the latest version of something, you can’t easily build it yourself the Debian way, and there is no simple, user-friendly method of adding the extra goodies. Even SUSE gets this part right, with their one-click install.
Other distros describe themselves in ways that tell me they have no interest in my needs. Those most likely to be user friendly are frankly few if you understand “user” as not exactly a techie or fanboy. So for now I still cannot recommend any Linux distro to non-techie users. If you are willing to learn, it will most certainly give you more options than Windows in terms of control over your system. However, Windows remains much easier and more reliable in the sense of fewer hassles getting things the way you probably like them. However, after Windows 7, it’s apparently going downhill fast. You may want to consider whether you wish to face what’s coming. If you feel the need to jump, I still recommend RHEL and clones (CentOS, Stella and Scientific Linux). Maybe somewhere in the near future, someone will wake up and realize there are an awful lot of users who refuse to use a cellphone interface on their systems because they have work to do.