Why use a *nux distro?

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Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Kappes Buur » Sun Apr 10, 2022 11:17 pm

So many posts are concerning problems with *nux distros that I have to ask, as a happy long time Windows user:

Wasn't Linux supposed to be the wunderkind of operating systems to unify and ease the use of computers, to answers the "Monstrosity" that Windows was perceived to be by some.

Instead I see one *nux distro after another to muddle the field beyond any reasonable expectation to be taken seriously. I don't know, it may have some benefits in some particular setting.

I can see, though, that *nux can be something interesting to fiddle with as a hobby.

So, why are so many people using a *nux distro, what do you see as a benefit?
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Rachael » Sun Apr 10, 2022 11:47 pm

Why would people use Linux and not Windows? - well consider these, then:

Why do people use Chrome and not Firefox?

Why do people use Eternity and not GZDoom?

Why do people use Apple phones and not Android?

Why do people use GOG and not Steam?

Why do people use Mac and not Linux *or* Windows?

The answer is all the same: It comes down to choice and preferences.

Much as it would be nice to have one unified standard (which Windows does have, and pretty much no Linux distro ever will), the advantage of using Linux (in most cases) is privacy, a bit higher resilience against viruses without needing a CPU and Disk hogging bloatware AKA Virus Scanner, and the ability to customize your system in a multitude of ways that it is simply not possible on Windows. Of course this customization comes at a cost - obviously - which means Linux standards take a lot longer to take form, and when they do there can be more than one. (GTK+ vs Qt, anyone? 😟)

The world would be awfully boring if literally everyone used the same thing for every little thing. I think it's better to embrace the diversity of choices, both in what's available and what people use. Having alternatives always makes everyone happier because you can't ever please absolutely everyone with a single thing.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Graf Zahl » Mon Apr 11, 2022 12:43 am

And still - all those alternative options for certain things come at a terrible cost for all.
If there's multiple standards for certain things it often means there are none - if you can't take things for granted there is little chance for finding widespread adoption.
That's nice for the individualists but bad for the potential user base as a whole. The state of technical issues is just a result of this attitude.

Don't expect this to ever go away. I've always been saying that Linux's biggest problem is not the OS itself but its core user base which doesn't show any sign of willingness to make the system more mainstream friendly.
Where "more mainstream friendly" must also mean to make it easier to distribute commercial software. If this "open source or the highway"- attitude persists it will forever remain where it has been limping around in the desktop space for the last 20 years.

The world really needs a free desktop OS for all, and yet we still sit here with two of the most customer-hostile corporations calling the shots, while Linux is caught up in some idiotic turf wars between people who have been failing to see the bigger picture for their entire life.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby KynikossDragonn » Mon Apr 11, 2022 1:06 am

I personally use Linux because it costs nothing, I'm not licensing or pirating it, and Wine runs a lot of the stuff I play far better than Windows bothers to try.

I used to just be happy enough being on Windows 7 Ultimate, then when Windows 10 started knocking on everyones doors, I somehow ended up with a situation where trying to boot the system would just soft-reset whatever motherboard you tried to boot the system drive on. Didn't lose anything but it became excessively irritating to try to recover that I went with Linux and never looked back. Probably for the best given the direction Microsoft forcefully took Windows towards.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby nova++ » Mon Apr 11, 2022 2:05 am

Graf Zahl wrote:I've always been saying that Linux's biggest problem is not the OS itself but its core user base which doesn't show any sign of willingness to make the system more mainstream friendly.


From where I'm sitting, it seems like that particular tectonic plate has been moving faster as of late. Thankfully.

...of course, the FOSS holy war slap fights continue apace even still...

I won't say any more than this though. This subject is an absolute pirannha pit.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Chris » Mon Apr 11, 2022 8:37 am

Kappes Buur wrote:Wasn't Linux supposed to be the wunderkind of operating systems to unify and ease the use of computers, to answers the "Monstrosity" that Windows was perceived to be by some.

No, there's many parts to what "Linux" is. Technically, all Linux is, is the kernel. Android runs on Linux, even though few people look at it as "Linux". Linux started as a personal project by Linus Torvalds to create a kernel similar to MINIX. At the same time, there was also the GNU project, a complete separate project developing an open source OS, and many of the GNU userspace tools and programs were easily ported to Linux. Distros started popping up that combined the Linux kernel with a GNU-based userspace. and this is what many people see as "Linux" today. Incidentally, GNU had its own kernel in development, GNU Hurd, but the Linux kernel is far and away more widely used than Hurd. This is part of the reason why you'll see some people prefer to call it "GNU/Linux" to make it clear they're not talking about just Linux the kernel but also a GNU-based userspace, though to most people it's the same thing.

One of the things that helped Linux take off was, aside from being a competently-developed piece of software, it latched on to the open source/free software movement. Anyone can use, look at, contribute, and improve the code. No license fee for users or companies to buy/use it, you can modify it in any way that you need. You don't have to wait for a company like Microsoft to see some financial incentive to make some improvement to Windows, anyone can go and do it if it's something they want (this is double-edged sword, though; if no one with the appropriate skill wants to do something, then no matter what it is, it won't get done without someone providing an incentive). Of course, there are a number of companies that work with Linux these days. Intel, AMD, Valve, and even Microsoft contribute to both the kernel, and various userspace aspects. Companies like Red Hat and Canonical also work directly with Linux and have their own distros (fun fact: Microsoft has their own Linux distro too that they use for the WSL, and Valve has their own Linux distro that's used by the Steam Deck). Of course these companies will only focus on aspects that are pertinent to their usecase; Microsoft focusing on things that help interoperability with their Azure cloud services and WSL integration, for example. But it's still a collaborative effort. Even if a company only focuses on what's important to it, other companies that also have an interest in that same thing will be helping too. Over the last 10 to 15 years, for instance, more big-name companies have gotten involved in the Linux graphics stack, starting with Intel, then AMD, even nVidia pitching in, and also Valve, and there's been significant improvements all across the board. Aside from nVidia (who still largely does their own thing for graphics support and uses their own internal shared codebase for Windows and Linux drivers), graphics support for Intel and AMD devices has improved drastically over the last several years, in some respects even better than Windows (e.g. OpenGL support for AMD today is better performing and much more stable compared to Windows with AMD's own drivers).

Kappes Buur wrote:Instead I see one *nux distro after another to muddle the field beyond any reasonable expectation to be taken seriously. I don't know, it may have some benefits in some particular setting.

A distro is effectively a set of preconfigured packages and a curated repository of common packages. Some distros may use KDE by default, some may use Gnome, etc. So if someone doesn't like KDE and prefers Gnome, they don't have to have KDE preinstalled for them and be made to go around installing Gnome packages and removing KDE, they can just pick a distro that uses Gnome. And for any popular distro, the packages available will be largely the same, so except for some edge-cases, picking a distro isn't going to lock you out of things that only work with another distro.

It would be inaccurate to say there are no differences at all, obviously. Some distros may update packages faster or slower than others (especially for Long Term Support vs Rolling Release), and different distros will have varying level of quality control. It's rare for something to outright break your OS or important packages (distros with really poor quality control tend not to become popular, for obvious reasons), though it's not unexpected that some issues may only show up in some distros and not others as a result of particular package collections and versions. But that's the price to pay for choice. Some people are fine being told "this is what you get with this OS, take it or leave it" as it means a more consistent, if less flexible, experience. Other people prefer having choices, even if it means dealing with more rough edges.

Kappes Buur wrote:So, why are so many people using a *nux distro, what do you see as a benefit?

I simply prefer the open-ness of Linux. It promotes open standards like OpenGL/Vulkan (which are designed by companies making the hardware/drivers, and has open specifications that anyone can implement) instead of DirectX (which is ultimately designed by Microsoft, who only provides information necessary for developers to use it, not for others to make their own implementation), as an obvious example. But there are smaller and less visible things too, like the use of the X11 protocol used by various Unix systems for display server capabilities; XFree86 was the defacto X display server for Linux systems for quite some time, but at some point that project ran into problems that caused it to slow down development and not implement features that were being asked for. But instead of that being the death of display servers on Linux, a new project called Xorg sprung up that was also an X display server, compatible with programs written for the old one since it's the same protocol, and quickly supplanted XFree86. And now that the X11 protocol has been pushed to its limits and something new is needed to bring things into the future, people are working on Wayland as a replacement to X, but Wayland is able to implement its own X server so that old stuff using the X11 protocol continues to work even still.

In some cases, the way it promotes open-ness and interoperability can be easily overlooked when dealing with custom software. For example, PulseAudio became a defacto audio server on Linux. For most people, it worked perfectly fine, although there were issues some people had with it, and it has architectural problems that prevent it from being able to do low-latency "pro audio" work. Along comes PipeWire, a separate audio server project for Linux that aims to fix the problems people had with PulseAudio while having a better architectural design that lets it work for both low-latency and normal desktop usage. In a normal scenario, either PipeWire would be dead on arrival since audio software was written for PulseAudio (or ALSA) and one would use it, or it would cause a schism and result in some software being written for PipeWire and not work with PulseAudio, and vice-versa. However, all this stuff is open. Even though PulseAudio is a completely custom audio server with its own protocol for client communication, the PipeWire developers were able to implement their own PulseAudio-compatible server on top of their PipeWire server relatively easily, so all existing apps using PulseAudio continue to work with PipeWire. As a result, PipeWire is gaining a lot of traction fairly quickly. For many people, it's already a seamless transition, for some others, it makes audio work noticeably better, and it's still being improved to smooth it out even more.

Supporting open standards and portable APIs also means software written for Linux has an easier time being ported elsewhere, as opposed to the Windows APIs being exclusive to Windows and substantially increasing development costs to port elsewhere (and/or requiring a lot of reverse engineering effort for other OSs to provide compatibility, and it always being a moving target they have no input on). Many of the APIs used for Linux (OpenGL/Vulkan, SDL, OpenAL, Qt, GTK, etc) can be used elsewhere, even on Windows, which reduces the amount of work for an app to support more OSs.

This kind of open-ness and portability of software is what I really like about Linux, and I want to see more of it. To not be locked to a specific software vendor because they have sole control of the API and implementation, to promote collaboration and make something better than one company or group alone would produce. To be able to improve it myself if I can. That's the benefit I see. More generally, I also feel more comfortable with the amount of control Linux offers. From the command line (which, regardless if someone thinks it should be "required" to use Linux or not (hint: it's not), it is a good tool for me), to being able to better control what software is installed, and the available options in what software to use, a system like this is more comfortable for me.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Talon1024 » Tue Apr 12, 2022 12:11 am

Graf Zahl wrote:Don't expect this to ever go away. I've always been saying that Linux's biggest problem is not the OS itself but its core user base which doesn't show any sign of willingness to make the system more mainstream friendly.
Where "more mainstream friendly" must also mean to make it easier to distribute commercial software. If this "open source or the highway"- attitude persists it will forever remain where it has been limping around in the desktop space for the last 20 years.

The world really needs a free desktop OS for all, and yet we still sit here with two of the most customer-hostile corporations calling the shots, while Linux is caught up in some idiotic turf wars between people who have been failing to see the bigger picture for their entire life.


I don't think the situation for commercial software on Linux is as bad as you say it is. The Linux people I've seen are welcoming toward proprietary software (such as games) for Linux, but there are some among them who don't want a single piece of proprietary software running on their computers.

Commercial software for Linux can be distributed on Steam (it's not just for games), Snapcraft, or the Elementary OS AppCenter. I don't know whether Flatpak would be suitable for commercial app distribution, but Steam, Snapcraft and Flatpak smooth out the differences between distributions.

I personally use a Linux distro (specifically, Kubuntu 20.04) because I see the Linux community as "fighting the good fight" against recent corporate malpractices such as excessive data collection, and I'd like to support them. Although I may be in the wrong, because the majority of people use Linux because it suits their computing needs better than Windows or macOS.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Rachael » Tue Apr 12, 2022 12:57 am

Personally I always use Windows and Linux simultaneously, which is enabled by the use of WSL2. There's rarely a time when I don't have an Ubuntu terminal open on my system, usually through the Windows Terminal app, and if need be it's easy enough to use the built-in Weston relay for Wayland/X support in apps. Bonus: it even supports OpenGL to some extent. The only real drawback is that rendering is done via RDP/mstsc.exe - which means mouse support is absolute garbage.

I recently discovered a project called Cairo which changes the Windows shell to something completely different. (Visually it looks like Mac OS but functionally it is not, it is completely its own thing) I have been experimenting with this lately but I am not sure yet whether or not I like it. It does not have proper support for UWP so some Windows settings are missing. I really would prefer a project that more or less just mimicks Windows 95's explorer.exe and that shell - I don't need bells and whistles, I just like the Win95 start menu and taskbar and that's all I need for a shell. I don't want something that modifies the existing explorer.exe to accomplish this, either, since Microsoft changes that way too frequently and introduces breaking changes.

Anyway, I like what Microsoft is doing with WSL2 and hope that they continue to make improvements. I hope that someday Microsoft decides to simply create their own Wayland/X11/PulseAudio servers so that they don't have to rely on a "thin" Linux distro to relay these functions to Windows.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Graf Zahl » Tue Apr 12, 2022 1:02 am

Talon1024 wrote:Commercial software for Linux can be distributed on Steam (it's not just for games), Snapcraft, or the Elementary OS AppCenter. I don't know whether Flatpak would be suitable for commercial app distribution, but Steam, Snapcraft and Flatpak smooth out the differences between distributions.


All fine and well, but that system highlights all the problems with app stores: You got a small number of gatekeepers which control the software that can be used. While it should be fine for mass market software, there's another segment - highly priced special purpose software that isn't openly distributed. For this kind of software it may be essential that it can be installed as a self-contained package without any external software installation service.

In the end, from where I stand, I see many, many Windows users who would gladly switch to Linux if they could get an OS with a roughly similar mode of operation (yes, that includes getting weird software from sometimes shady sources and manually installing it.)
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Rachael » Tue Apr 12, 2022 1:04 am

Graf Zahl wrote:In the end, from where I stand, I see many, many Windows users who would gladly switch to Linux if they could get an OS with a roughly similar mode of operation (yes, that includes getting weird software from sometimes shady sources and manually installing it.)

If Linux didn't have the colossal clusterfuck that is the system shared object library, that would be fairly easy. It would also be kind of nice if they started naming their executable binaries .elf instead of simply "programname". However, unlike Windows, Linux does not use file extensions when determining how to execute a given file - it instead relies on the #! (hashbang) system to run scripts, or uses binfmt to figure out how to handle executables.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Graf Zahl » Tue Apr 12, 2022 1:13 am

Rachael wrote:Personally I always use Windows and Linux simultaneously, which is enabled by the use of WSL2. There's rarely a time when I don't have an Ubuntu terminal open on my system, usually through the Windows Terminal app, and if need be it's easy enough to use the built-in Weston relay for Wayland/X support in apps. Bonus: it even supports OpenGL to some extent. The only real drawback is that rendering is done via RDP/mstsc.exe - which means mouse support is absolute garbage.



WSL2 is certainly good enough for my current Linux needs, but it's not really a full system (yet)

I recently discovered a project called Cairo which changes the Windows shell to something completely different. (Visually it looks like Mac OS but functionally it is not, it is completely its own thing) I have been experimenting with this lately but I am not sure yet whether or not I like it. It does not have proper support for UWP so some Windows settings are missing. I really would prefer a project that more or less just mimicks Windows 95's explorer.exe and that shell - I don't need bells and whistles, I just like the Win95 start menu and taskbar and that's all I need for a shell. I don't want something that modifies the existing explorer.exe to accomplish this, either, since Microsoft changes that way too frequently and introduces breaking changes.


That Cairo Shell thing looks interesting, I gotta have to check that out. Yeah, getting an Explorer replacement that mimics Windows 95's desktop with more modern visuals would just be great. Open Shell does handle the start menu part,but sadly does not replace that crippled taskbar in Windows 11 which is just too feature-deprived.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Graf Zahl » Tue Apr 12, 2022 1:23 am

Rachael wrote:If Linux didn't have the colossal clusterfuck that is the system shared object library, that would be fairly easy.


100'000% agreed here. That thing is a menace of epic proportions, sadly it's also a seeminly holy cow. Start a discussion about this with a die-hard Linuxer and you get all kinds of ridiculous arguments:
- "I do not want to waste hard drive space for redundant libraries" (reality check: on my Windows system all those redundant DLLs make up les than 2 GB of hard drive space, i.e. less than 0.2% of total capacity!)
- "having global libraries allows updating them for all apps in case of security issues" (big fail because in any serious production environment an application update needs a careful review to avoid breakage, and swapping out any shared library would void that review. My company's server guy is in a constant fight against these problems on customer machines when installing some other software breaks our server package due to some broken third party library.)
and some other nonsense. I think there's very good reasons why macOS app bundles are self-contained and why it is very rare on Windows that shared stuff gets installed into Windows/System these days.

Rachael wrote:It would also be kind of nice if they started naming their executable binaries .elf instead of simply "programname". However, unlike Windows, Linux does not use file extensions when determining how to execute a given file - it instead relies on the #! (hashbang) system to run scripts, or uses binfmt to figure out how to handle executables.
[/quote]

This is something I can live with. I personally find having a file flag to denote an executable a lot better than solely relying on the file's extension like Windows.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby nova++ » Tue Apr 12, 2022 6:44 am

Ok, I'll jump back into the pirannha pit.

I strongly support the AppImage project as one way to implement distributable executable files - even Linus Torvalds is a fan of it and doesn't care for the package dependency hell and shared library tarpit that linux has become https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AppImage

See:

I have seen this first hand with the other project I'm involved with, which is my dive log app. We make binaries for Windows and OSX, we basically don't make binaries for Linux. Why? Because making binaries for Linux desktop applications is a major fucking pain in the ass.


I, as the app maintainer, don't want my app bundled in a distribution anymore. Way to much pain for absolutely zero gain. Whenever I get a bug report my first question is "oh, which version of which distribution? which version of which library? What set of insane patches were applied to those libraries?". No, Windows and Mac get this right. I control the libraries my app runs against. [...] With an AppImage I can give them just that. Something that runs on their computer.



There seems to be a shift toward this very slowly too. The Godot engine's linux binaries even compile libc into the engine for maximum portability and will run with just the binary and an asset package. Things like Krita and Blender are distributed in standalone binary format (Krita in appimage, Blender in a binary + folder with related files)

Overall, I try to get software in that way whenever I can. We no longer live in a world of disk space being precious and holy outside of embedded systems or whatever.

(You know on that note, I'd sure like a version of gzdoom with minimal dependencies so it's easier to maintain parallel copies for different collections of mods without having to make a bunch of scripts with different -file flags... I mean, I've done this before by compiling it myself but well that's a whole other linux user hairball)


I would like a combination approach - something that has low-dependency binaries that are loaded into a more user-visible location akin to Windows' program files etc. A software manager could do this, or the user themselves. Both are valid approaches with their own benefits and drawbacks as discussed.

GoboLinux has such radical anarchist conceptions of the linux filesystem, and I've entertained the idea of manually going into my distro to try and follow its lead (but that is a lot of work so eeehhhh) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GoboLinux

Who knows, maybe someday I'll go completely off the rails and start assembling my own distro based on these concepts for all of the 12 people who are interested.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Graf Zahl » Tue Apr 12, 2022 7:34 am

Why "piranha pit"? Those quotes you posted perfectly sum up the problem, both with depenency hell and with that Linux attitude of deferring all bookkeeping to the distro's package manager.
We've seen it ourselves with GZDoom, too, that some distro insists on sticking with some outdated packages which in turn cause serious problems for everyone, but if someone says "update the package" all that comes back is a shrug with "that's what my distro has to offer". Well, eh...

Sorry, but it clearly shows that this does not work. It barely works for the hobbyists that run private stuff on their machines, but once professional use comes into play, it is of supreme importance to be able to rely on stability/suitability reviews of software - and these are just rendered a joke if the underlying support code can be swapped out at a whim. THe result with our server package is that it is being distributed as a monolithic Linux distro with a fixed set of libraries that May Not Be Updated - or all support is voided. Having sane app packages would completely eradicate the entire issue at play here.
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Re: Why use a *nux distro?

Postby Chris » Tue Apr 12, 2022 7:47 am

Graf Zahl wrote:In the end, from where I stand, I see many, many Windows users who would gladly switch to Linux if they could get an OS with a roughly similar mode of operation (yes, that includes getting weird software from sometimes shady sources and manually installing it.)

I think that's what things like Flatpak and AppImage are able to do? They're not things I use for various reasons (mostly not having any need to), but from what I've seen of them, that's the kind of operation they're useful for.

Graf Zahl wrote:100'000% agreed here. That thing is a menace of epic proportions, sadly it's also a seeminly holy cow. Start a discussion about this with a die-hard Linuxer and you get all kinds of ridiculous arguments:
- "I do not want to waste hard drive space for redundant libraries" (reality check: on my Windows system all those redundant DLLs make up les than 2 GB of hard drive space, i.e. less than 0.2% of total capacity!)

/usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu is 3.4 GB here. If each app kept its own copy of all the libraries it uses, or even if identical versions were merged while every minor update was installed side-by-side for each app built against a slightly different version, that would be a fair bit of space taken up. Maybe not a lot a lot, but still way more than necessary.

Graf Zahl wrote:- "having global libraries allows updating them for all apps in case of security issues" (big fail because in any serious production environment an application update needs a careful review to avoid breakage, and swapping out any shared library would void that review. My company's server guy is in a constant fight against these problems on customer machines when installing some other software breaks our server package due to some broken third party library.)

This comes up in response to apps that have stopped updating but are still used. It's a point specifically for when a developer won't or can't take the time to do a proper review/update with an updated library, but you want to update it so you can better keep the system safe when you use it.

As far as I'm concerned, though, that's less about "global libraries" than it is third-party dynamic libraries in general. Using global libraries does make it easier to update many apps by changing just the one file, but as long as the app has it as a separate replaceable dynamic library, that's sufficient for technically literate people to deal with it. For instance, there was a severe bug found in zlib recently, that's apparently been there for 15 years. How many apps have static-linked an affected version and are no longer updated, meaning those apps will remain forever vulnerable? For a normal desktop user that's going to be running various bits of software from various places, you can't be sure you don't have something vulnerable. If the apps dynamic-linked it instead, you at least have the ability to search your system to see what apps have a copy of the library, and update it to a fixed version (as long as there's no DRM shenanigans).
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