A Debian/Lenny User Experience — A Glass Half Full (Part II)

Now it is approaching the Chinese New Year — the Year of OX and I am in the mood of using Linux/Debian again. But this time I am not going to pretend I don’t hate the usability issues of Linux for a desktop environment. There are many applications under Linux which are touted as ‘replacements’ for Windows applications, luring Windows users to take the plunge and use Linux. While it is true that you can do the same thing under Linux, you will find many so called replacements have one thing in common: they stand in your way when you are using them to do the tasks.

Ironically, the very best desktop applications, I mean if they are really excellent and free, all come with Windows versions (vim, Firefox for example). Sad but true, the best and free desktop applications under Windows stay in Windows. The outcome of this situation is: Windows are still the best provider for a convenient desktop environment.

I’ll list some of the programs I use daily to demonstrate to the “free inferiority” of Linux desktop environment to that of MS Windows:

  • SCIM (the Smart Common Input Method) is the default tool I use to input Chinese. It’s input algorithm for Pinyin is no comparison for Google and Sogou Pinyin freely available under Windows. The result is I spend more time typing the same amounts of words.
  • Amarok and Rhythmbox can play the music alright. But they can’t delete the music file I don’t like on the fly with a shortcut. And deleting a music file under Rhythmbox doesn’t even work. Not to mention the garbled display of non UTF-8 ID3 Tags under the *nix players. Foobar2000 is still the best music player on this planet.
  • Nautilus File manager only have two views (detailed and icons) compared to four views of Windows Explorer. Dragging a music folder from it to Rhythmbox is impossible. By the way, pcmanfm, made by a Taiwanese, has a compact list view and a much smaller footprint.
  • Firefox/Iceweasel is slower under Linux than on Windows.
  • VLC, Totem, Mplayer all look like alpha version compared to Korea-made player Kmplayer. Like Foobar2000, it is the killer application under Windows.
  • aMule is not as good as eMule, which is actively updated and maintained. aMule is prone to become the victim of leech mods and its update link for server.met is outdated.
  • Notepad++ under Windows has replace Gvim as my default text editor. Gvim is powerful but its power is sealed in voluminous manuals. Do I really have to read manuals just to edit some texts?

The list goes on. All the better Windows applications I mentioned above are either free or free and Open-source. I agree that judging which application is better is subjective on some occasions, but there is one rule of thumb to tell which one is better — the one that has more functions and takes you less time to perform those functions is the better one.

Many Linux applications can do the same job as their Windows counterparts, but if they take you ten-fold of time to learn to use it or perform the task as you usually do, they are inferior applications. My experience of using Linux desktop applications is that I have to always lower my expectations of their usability and use them in a make-shift way. It might take at least five to ten years for Linux to match or surpass the usability of Windows desktop environment.