Why can we not have a “common Linux”?

Mitesh Budhabhatti March 16, 2012

I have been a Windows user for the past decade or so and I switched to Linux just for a change. I have observed that there are so many Linux distributions available, and each distro has several desktop environments. If somebody asks me where the control panel is in Linux, I have to ask my own questions about which distro is installed.

The answer for this would be simple if the user is on Windows or Mac. My question here is: can we have a simple/common user interface for everything in Linux?

  1. Hvk
    June 19, 2012 at 6:14 am

    In every POSIX based systems (most linux versions actually) you have the same set of commands to do things, it doesnt mean you will find "graphical interface" but you can directly ask the hardware what you want to do if you know how examples of commands found in control panel:
    lspci - list hardware
    lsmod - list modules loaded (module = driver for windows users)
    modprobe - load a module
    rmmod - remove a module
    ifconfig eth0 - asks network configuration for board ETHernet 0 [0..N])
    df - lists disk volumes mounted.
    fdisk -l list all disk volumes.

    interfaces are just windows that execute these commands! and if you learn to use specific linux distribution, you will never be able to use real linux

  2. rms
    March 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    I'd just like to interject for a moment. What you're referring to as Linux, is in fact, GNU/Linux, or as I've recently taken to calling it, GNU plus Linux. Linux is not an operating system unto itself, but rather another free component of a fully functioning GNU system made useful by the GNU corelibs, shell utilities and vital system components comprising a full OS as defined by POSIX.

    Many computer users run a modified version of the GNU system every day, without realizing it. Through a peculiar turn of events, the version of GNU which is widely used today is often called "Linux", and many of its users are not aware that it is basically the GNU system, developed by the GNU Project.

    There really is a Linux, and these people are using it, but it is just a part of the system they use. Linux is the kernel: the program in the system that allocates the machine's resources to the other programs that you run. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself; it can only function in the context of a complete operating system. Linux is normally used in combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU with Linux added, or GNU/Linux. All the so-called "Linux" distributions are really distributions of GNU/Linux.

  3. Lee
    March 18, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    The main reason I think Linux hasn't really become popular with average users is because it doesn't come pre-installed. I think Dell tried pre-installing it on computers but when an average user is buying a computer, they want what they know, which is most likely Windows. For Linux to become popular with average users, I think there would need to be one distro (for support reasons) that's standard and it needs to be offered on a cheap computer without any other options. If you could get a new computer for $100 or something with Linux installed (and it was advertised well) then I could see a lot of people buying those just because it's cheap.

    • James Bruce
      March 18, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      A single distro would help, perhaps. But isnt that the whole point of Ubuntu?

      And I really dont think "just because it's cheap" is a valid argument nowadays. If it were, we would all be using computers that were dumped years ago (but can still run any linux); and look at the success of the ipad - that certainly isn't cheap!

      No, perhaps there's a more fundamental flaw in the OSS philosphy that prevents it from being installed by the masses. As Richard said - any competant use of linux requires at least basic use of the command line. Users dont want that - they want it to work. It is, and always will be , a hobbyist OS. 

      • Mitesh Budhabhatti
        March 19, 2012 at 6:00 am

        But Ubuntu does not even come with very basic drivers(like audio, video), as it is against the policy !!

        • James Bruce
          March 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm

          Which is exactly my point. Ubuntu was *supposed* to be the single distro for new users, yet it doesnt even come with an mp3 decoder. It's pathetic. Until they fix that fundamental philosophical viewpoint of not including proprietary software, it will always be just another distro for hobbyists. 

        • Jim Blaich
          April 2, 2012 at 9:39 pm

          Mitesh, what you are expressing here is a contradiction.  That's not as bad as it sounds and it isn't yours. 

          Linux doesn't require drivers, not in the sense that Windows does.  Driver installation under Windows is a secondary step that is not necessary in Linux, as most of the drivers are already there and they just work.

          What you are expressing as "against the policy" is neither policy nor is it a valid point.  I'll explain a little.  Linux is open source.  That means that all the code is available for anyone to take, read, modify, and redistribute.  That's a wonderful thing.  Closed source is the opposite.  Only those that own the code can look at it, modify it, and distribute it.  That is not a wonderful thing.  The point you are making is a matter of the closed source not distributing their code so others can use it, modify it, etc.

          Here's an example.  For a long time "wireless" didn't work under Linux well because there were limited drivers available.  When we say drivers in Linux we really mean the source code that drives the component (wireless in this case).  One of the most common manufacturers of chipsets for wireless is Broadcom.  They would not release their driver source code nor provide a driver for Linux.  They also would not release the specification so that the open source community could create their own.

          Fast forward and we find that Broadcom has been much more open and has finally released their drivers to the open source community to have that integrated into the kernel.  Now that Broadcom is cooperating the last hurdle to solid wireless support is there and we no longer have many (except older hardware) that have difficulty with it.

          The issue isn't that Linux doesn't have drivers.  It does.  You just don't install them, they are there.  They just work.

          In Windows you have a second stage during your install.  You first install the OS, then you install the drivers.  If the manufacturer provided you discs fine.  Otherwise you have to go out and locate them for the OS version you have.  It's a tedious time-consuming step.  I know. I do it all the time.

          So, the issue isn't with Linux at all.  Driver support is there for a vast amount hardware, and when you install Linux it activates it and it all just works.  There's no second stage. 

          The reason some things aren't available is due to the fact that say "Broadcom" licensed some of it's technology from another company that had a patent on it.  Well, Broadcom couldn't very well give away that for free for the open source community to use. Understand?  If it remains a binary blob and they distribute it then that's the way they intended.  Some people in Linux are true to the "totally open" ideology. That's not the way the majority of people in the open source community feel.  Most of us don't care just so it works in Linux.

          nVidia has similar issues.  Some of the video driver components that they make are licensed.  They can't give the open source community the source code, because they'd be in violation of their license.

          That means that the open source community must then reverse engineer the chipset and drivers in order to make an open source version, and it is the reason some of the driver features do not operate.

          There was a guy that used to take the Creative Labs drivers and modify them to enable certain features that Creative Labs disabled.  He was then sued by Creative Labs.  He had modified the binary blobs that were part of the Windows driver.  They sued him to make him stop.  After a lot of negative publicity Creative Labs explained themselves.  After more negative publicity they decided not to interfere with him and dropped their lawsuit.

          That brings us to things like codecs, such as DVD playback and MP3.  The other person to reply to your post indicated it was pathetic that mp3 support doesn't exist in Linux by default-- that you have to add it after the fact.

          That is a very disingenuous argument which becomes obvious when you take into account what I stated above about intellectual property (licensing patents).  MP3 is a technology that is patented.  In order for any entity to provide built in support they must license each copy for each machine it is installed on.  In the case of Windows Microsoft purchased a license.  That allowed them to incorporate it into the OS.  They knew how many machines it was being used on and thus they had an accountancy.

          Many years later the owners of the patented MP3 technology sued Microsoft and won over a billion dollars in damages.  Microsoft claimed they had a license in perpetuity.  The entity that owned it didn't believe that, and the courts backed them up.  Microsoft had to pay over a Billion dollars.

          It becomes more significant when you understand the DMCA which prohibits the unlicensed decryption of encrypted technology (**if that encryption can stand the test of time**).  DVDs are encrypted.  You can't install software on a computer, Windows or otherwise, to play back DVDs without a license.  Microsoft didn't have a license for it in WinXP or earlier versions.  That left it up to the  hardware OEM to provide it.  So, when you bought your computer it typically came with a copy of some cheap DVD software player.

          Linux is restricted in the same way in the US.  They can't just add MP3 support and they can't add DVD playback (Blu-ray also) without a license.  Since Linux is free, the code is free, etc, it is not possible to provide a distribution of Linux with those technologies (without a license) and it isn't legal to provide the source code as is required.  At least not in the US.  The DMCA only covers the US.  That's why the US media companies are trying to get ACTA passed in these other countries--to bring their laws in line with ours.

          Other countries are free to take and reverse engineer the encryption process for DVDs, and Blu-rays, and to distribute the source code.  Certainly every big media company is trying to stop that from occurring so they are trying to change the laws in these countries.

          The point behind all this is that intellectual property laws in the US keep free and open software from the uptake to a certain extent.  Linux distributions are not legally allowed to distribute proprietary software technologies except as licensed.  Canonical, which distributes Ubuntu, does provide an online store where you can purchase the codecs necessary to play back MP3s & DVDs.  Or, individually you can download the codecs from a source that isn't bound by US law.

        • Mitesh Budhabhatti
          April 2, 2012 at 10:53 pm

          Thanks for explaining this.. but, my only point is that being a less tech savvy guy, what matters to me is that my work should be done no matter what the OS is - be it installing a new software, playing MP3, watching a DVD.  Linux is bit far from being the OS of the mass.  Isn't it ??

        • Jim Blaich
          April 9, 2012 at 8:02 pm

          Nothing is prohibiting you from doing just that.  

          You didn't have all the goodies when Windows was first released.  It took years for the technologies to develop, for them to become established, and to get them licensed.  Any technology "after the fact" will be the same.  You need to add them.  Just like your software.  Your computer doesn't do it all upfront.  You have to purchase that Office product, or download an alternative and install.Factually, there's a more complete and comprehensive install of a desktop under Linux than any other OS, including the Macintosh.  You can pop in a CD, install the software (almost seamlessly creating a dual boot), reboot, and go.  When the OS install is finished your word processor is there.  So is your audio and video playback (during the install you can click a check box that says you want the mp3 codec (and others, not including dvd playback).  When you boot into the install virtually everything most people do has one or more program choices.  Under Windows, even when you buy a pre-fab computer, you still have to go to a lot of sources to find your programs to install them. Off to Adobe to install flash and Reader, off to Sun to install Java, off to Microsoft for system updates, off to find a anti-malware provider, off to find a chat client, off to find a extra games, extra utilities, extra everything.  Then you pay for much of it.  When you do that you'll also be tasked with keeping all those updated.  That means a lot of extra effort and dealing with constant update prompts from your system tray (and dealing with the limited resources consumed by those).Under Linux, a great percentage of what you install during the OS setup, and the programs and utilities after the fact, are all updated together, at once.  Some opine that updates happen to often, as you can get some updates every day.  Others say that is a real benefit because you get the updates shortly after they are created.  Even so, there are ways to turn off the updates if you would like.

        • James Bruce
          April 6, 2012 at 8:33 am

          Linux doesnt need drivers because they are already there? Wow, what a load of nonsense. You mean, linux has generic low-performance drivers just as windows does… excellent. I guess that's why gamers choose linux because of the really great quality high-performance open-source graphics drivers?

        • Jim Blaich
          April 9, 2012 at 8:11 pm

          Are you intentionally trying to mislead people?  Do you even use Linux? Realistically I shouldn't even be responding to this.  I don't think most people would even consider what you said to be fair and honest.

          There are open source drivers for video that can cause problems for people.  There are some 2d drivers installed instead of 3d due to "older" hardware and issues with a lack of action on the part of the hardware vendor.  For instance, for a long time Intel video had just 2d and just barely there--open source provided some 3d support.  Intel has since released full 3d supported drivers that are incorporated into the Kernel for most chipset and system. Intel is now a member of the Linux Foundation, so is nVidia.

          If you have issues with nVidia drivers you can go to nVidia's website and download and install their 64bit and 32bit drivers for virtually all their cards (most older models included).  ATI, well, their drivers have been poor going all the way back to the EGA wonder card, and though they have repeatedly rewritten them they have always had issues (Windows and Linux).  Great hardware but problematic drivers.

          Mind providing some proof of your "low performance" drivers?  That would help everyone to understand your point of view. 

          The alternative is to have someone install Linux on their hardware (bare metal) and then judge whether hardware is missing and whether the performance is poor.

  4. Anonymous
    March 17, 2012 at 1:02 am

    I am probably going to crap for saying this... but here it goes anyhow :) If you are going to use linux, you are going to need atleast moderate command prompt experience to really get the most out of it. If anything at all breaks, there is no gui at all that will aid in fixing... all CLI.

    Ubuntu (or Linux Mint preferably) is about the friendly linux distro you will find. I personally use FreeBSD, but that is more of a pain than it is worth really... especially in 21st century...

  5. Anonymous
    March 16, 2012 at 11:23 am

    perhaps if there is a common user interface then all linux flavors becomes one, Linux United?

  6. Mitesh Budhabhatti
    March 16, 2012 at 8:40 am

     Thanks.. great links !!

  7. Mitesh Budhabhatti
    March 16, 2012 at 8:38 am

    I posted this question after I wanted to download Oracle Virtual Box and found that there are atleast 20 different types of packages for different type of distros (not considering 32bit / 64bit).  I could determine which one I wanted bcoz I've some experience with linux.. But what abt the person who is not that tech savvy ?  Is linux really user friendly ?  Sorry folks, this is kind of asking for opinion.

  8. James Bruce
    March 16, 2012 at 8:21 am

    And therein lies the reason linux will never, ever have mass appeal. 

  9. Indronil Mondal
    March 16, 2012 at 7:17 am

    no there cant be as because its free ,free to copy,free to modify ..individuals will come with new ideas and create a new destro except some all others i find useless and outdated  except a eye catching name,different branding nothing else is there,,this might be a strent to choose but its more like a weakness ..
    we have freedom to choose the os but we dont have plenty of choices while using the programs and drivers as all end up using the same thing..so as long as my fav app work i get support for my machine and get what i want ...i will end up using the most popular supported ones the freedom of choosing is useless

  10. Denis Paley
    March 16, 2012 at 5:53 am

    That's the strength of Linux,a distro for whatever suits you or what your needs may be. You're not forced to use the same Windows or Mac release as everyone else.Isn't it great to have a choice of what flavor operating system you may require.

    • Indronil Mondal
      March 16, 2012 at 7:05 am

      yes so many  destros but i don't think its the strength as the kernel is same with slight modifications and they all end up using common desktop environments with just the change in default apps and a app store which provides same apps..
      people will always prefer the fastest and the most popular and easy ones except some fanboys and research groups i think linux destros should work for common aim to provide a better computng
      as much as i have used i find all looking alike except the unity in ubuntu and the launcher in mint
      others rather then the branding and package formats used ...just make no change in general

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