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What's Missing from Typical Linux Distributions?

As mentioned earlier, the major Linux distributions (Red Hat, Debian, SuSE, and so on) include at least the base-level Linux kernel, a browser, and some combination of GUI productivity applications. But most people need—or at least want—to be able to do everything with Linux that they can with Windows or Mac, and that isn't always simple. The typical distribution is lacking strength in several areas:

  • Multimedia
  • Microsoft Office compatibility
  • Backup capabilities
  • Graphics
  • Drivers for peripherals
  • Installers

Let's look at some of the specific problems.

Multimedia

There are good multimedia apps for Linux. Multimedia files I can't play in Linux are rare. But getting them to work correctly is considered an accomplishment. Why?

A workable Linux multimedia environment requires installing in this order:

  1. MPlayer
  2. mplayer-skins
  3. w32codecs (required for AVI/WMV/QT compatibility)
  4. RealPlayer for Linux (RPM/MP3)
  5. xine (DVD)
  6. xine-lib-devel
  7. flash-plugin
  8. plugger

Why isn't all this software preinstalled? And if applications invoke w32codecs (which can't go into a free Linux distribution due to license problems), why don't those apps help the user get it? MP3 licensing for a free distribution is also a problem, but couldn't you solve it with a pop-up that would appear when you try to play a proprietary format, providing a one-click download/install? Or perhaps MP3 support could piggyback on a licensed product; RealPlayer is already partially open source.

Why isn't a DVD burner application installed? K3b is open source, comparable to Nero, works well, and took me too much time to find/install.

Microsoft Office Compatibility

Nothing is available with 100% Microsoft Word compatibility—by Microsoft's choice. OpenOffice.org is reverse-engineered to be almost completely compatible with Microsoft Office. But if "almost" covers something that must work for you to get paid, you're stuck with Microsoft Office.

Backup Capabilities

Why isn't a GUI backup application included with Linux distributions? The backup scripts I had to write—because nothing out there would enable me to easily back up to a drive mirror or DVD-R archives—work just fine, but I shouldn't have had to write them.

Graphics

The GIMP 2 paint program is almost universally hated by graphics pros. Its user interface and lack of true CMYK support are usually the first problems cited. The KOffice paint utility Krita may evolve into a usable Paint Shop Pro substitute, however.

Is there a vector drawing program comparable to CorelDRAW? Not at the moment, although Inkscape will probably eventually develop into a useful product someday. Another project, the port of Xara Xtreme to Linux, also has great potential. Both are open source and free of charge.

Drivers for Printers, Scanners, Cameras

There probably is no Linux driver for many available peripherals. Check before buying the equipment. The Linux community needs a project to find a way to extract the information from Windows drivers and convert it into Linux formats.

Installers for Applications

Linux applications are usually installed from the command line:

rpm –Uvh filename

On the simplest self-contained programs, this method works fine. If the install fails, you usually get error: Failed dependencies: followed by a list of missing program modules to explain why. Have fun trying to find those modules and install them.

Automated installation programs such as yum, apt-get, and urpmi will track down dependent software modules, find and install them, and then install the program. This is better than Windows. They have several problems, though:

  • Coverage is limited to little more than the details on the programs bundled with the original distribution, although an aggressive web search may find alternate repository sites that have the programs you need.
  • These are command-line utilities only. (Although Synaptic is a very nice apt-get GUI shell.)
  • You can't simply download a binary file into a specific directory and have the program analyze the dependencies and download/install them; you must download from repository sites.
  • Before the installer is of practical use for multimedia installation, you must use a text editor to add repository sites to the installer configuration file. Why can't these installers track down new repository sites themselves upon discovering that a program is unavailable, and add the information to the configuration file?
  • Why don't installers always place icons in the Start menu, where they can be dragged/dropped to the desktop if desired?
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