2 Decades after the millennium and we still have yet to perfect the art of the computer operating system user experience. Here’s some of the problems I’ve faced this year. Some of them are problems that have existed for as long as the computers themselves, and some are new that I’ve only experienced recently. All of them are a nuisance.
Gripes with Linux
I’ve always wanted to run a full Linux computer, and yet every time I try, I remember why I gave up. This year I’ve been running Linux exclusively on my laptop. I’ve been using the latest stable releases of Kubuntu.
- It’s been working well, but I do have some gripes that I want to just throw out there, as a statement that I’m still not ready to fully switch to Linux. Some of these are the fault of the Linux distributions themselves, and some are because of 3rd parties just not playing well. Either way the result is the same: a sub-optimal user experience that I don’t have on Windows.
- Won’t run without proprietary software – When I installed Kubuntu for the first time on my laptop it ran so slowly it was just a pain to use. I re-installed it again, this time being sure to tick the “install proprietary software” box, and lo everything works. It’s a pity that the operating system that presents itself as being fully open isn’t usable unless you opt-in to the closed bits too.
- Screen tearing – Every single application I use has screen tearing. I’ve fiddled with all manner of config files and NVidia apps to try and fix this, to no avail. It’s not a deal breaker, but it just enough to be noticeable and annoying.
- Hardware peripheral instability. When I suspend/resume my laptop (one of the main reasons to use a laptop is this portability), the Wi-Fi hardware stopes responding, and I must reboot if I want the internet. My sound card sometimes fails to load, requiring a reboot if I want to listen to anything over the loudspeakers. Connecting to anything via Bluetooth is impossible. The drivers and software all load fine, but it doesn’t seem to recognise anything.
- Game compatibility. I play a lot of games. Developers build most games for Windows. Recent years have seen _massive_ strides in a positive direction, but it’s not there yet. Steam’s proton (a fork of wine) allows me to play most games, but it’s still not great. It often requires extra troubleshooting and configurations. And any game run through proton uses 100% of the CPU where it would only take a fraction of that on Windows. Not a problem on a desktop, but on a laptop this makes the machine overheat quickly. Emulation and compatibility layers are ok in a pinch, but not a real substitute for native apps.
- Still no HD support for Netflix on Linux. No, 720p is not HD. This isn’t Linux’s fault, but it is still a gripe that I don’t experience with Windows, or even android.
- Certain Windows-only apps still lack any decent counterparts. OneNote (and the regular Office suite) still require Windows and I have yet to find decent replacements. LibreOffice and Web Apps feel like I’m using software from decades ago. There are plenty of screen sharing apps for Linux, but none that I’ve found as featured and configurable as ShareX.
Gripes with Windows
Windows has its problems too, let it be known. I am well aware that Linux solves many problems that Windows experiences.
- It was only late into the year that we discovered why apps were requiring repeated log-ins. Turns out an earlier update borked the cryptography suite when scheduled tasks were used, causing user accounts to render their encrypted storage areas inaccessible. This is not an issue if you don’t use scheduled tasks, so it can be worked around.
- Windows still refuses to offer free encryption, pay walling its drive-level bit locker encryption behind multiple license levels. Access to encryption shouldn’t be an option in 2020.
- There still isn’t a decent common way to update applications on Windows. Despite several attempts, most apps still require they bundle their own auto-updater to distribute updates.
Gripes with Android
I use android on my phone, specifically OxygenOS from OnePlus. It is a decent mobile operating system but has several faults that still plague me.
- A god-awful implementation of gestures. There used to be a decent beta implementation of gestures that OnePlus developed, but since then the stock android gestures developed by google are the only choice. IT completely breaks the “swipe from left to go back/open menu” actions that is standard in so many apps by overriding it with the back function. They are also non customisable. A total disappointment.
- They keyboard has an annoying space below it that takes up a fair portion of the vertical screen space. You used to be able to work around it, but Google then removed the overscan system that could be used to fix the problem, so that they could force everyone to use their awful gestures.
- Night mode issues — Night mode (yellowing the screen) works very well on android. Except for the major annoyance that if you lock your device and then unlock it, the fade-to-yellow animation plays every single time. Leaving you with a blinding blue light for a fraction of a second if you unlock your phone during the night.
- The android ecosystem is as yet unusable without buying in to the full Google Play Services set of apps. It’s dishonest to call android open source, when the major components that make it work are closed and effectively mandatory.
- Pretty much all OEMs stop providing OS updates a few years after release. PCs get updated until their hardware is no longer supported. Mobile phones lose out far quicker.
Gripes with iOS
I don’t use any apple devices, but I had to help someone else this year with their iPad. And hoo boy, does apple not like letting you use their technology.
- You still can’t just plug an iPad into a computer and drag-and-drop files over. WHY?
DRM still exists in 2020. I don’t think I need to say any more than that. It infects every proprietary operating system to the core, or in Linux’s case just makes stuff stop working altogether. IT can go die in a fire. Hopefully 2021 will be the year for that.
IoT continues its virus-like proliferation throughout nearly every new piece of technology, making me paranoid that should anything of mine break, I won’t be able to replace it (or fix it, if DRM has its way).
It’s not all bad
My ranting above makes everything seem very doom-and-gloom, but there are many positive experiences I’ve gotten out of this year.
- My experimentation with KDE this year has proven it to be a pretty good desktop environment, when it actually works. And I found that despite a lack of official drivers, KDE functions well with drawing tablets, though I haven’t had much chance to play with that yet.
- Every Windows update makes little quality of life improvements, slowly making Windows more and more usable. Also, Microsoft finally ported Halo to the PC this year.
- The individual independent software projects I use all work fine and continue to receive updates, and unlike the OS I tend to have fewer gripes about them. It’s often easy to overlook the positives, but I think it’s a small miracle that software support is (mostly) stable in spite of everything else.
I suspect some of your Linux woes may be due to your hardware, as most of the experiences you report are alien to me. I partially switched over to Linux in 2003 and that switch is now effectively complete. I occasionally boot windows to flash a new map to my car’s ECU, and that’s about it. I haven’t had screen-tearing or suspend/resume problems on Linux since around 2004. I use it because it “just works”. Even if I haven’t booted a box for months, a single update brings me current in a matter of minutes (unless it’s a Gentoo box, in which case emerge will churn away for hours or days – but that’s still better than my sorry experience of Windows updates).
If you have issue with updating software on Windows, I’d recommend you take a look at Chocolatey. It doesn’t contain every software program in the world, and can sometimes hiccup a bit on certain package updates, but the vast majority of common and regularly-updated packages seem to be on there. It essentially gives you Linux-style updating on Windows. I can update every program on my Windows box with a single “choco upgrade all -y” from the command prompt (there’s a GUI as well, if you prefer point-and-click). I think there are other package managers for Windows too, but Chocolatey is the only one I’ve tried. It’s an absolute Godsend and if you’re a fan of the good bits of Linux but can’t leave Windows, then a Windows box with Chocolatey on sounds like your dream machine.
I don’t really game at all anymore, but I’ve never had a problem with running games or Windows programs on Linux using plain old Wine. That said, I’ve always kept Wine stuff to an absolute minimum. Most of my old games ran at higher framerates under Wine than natively in Windows, but as technology moves on things undoubtedly change. I used to keep a full install of Office 2003 installed on Wine and it ran flawlessly. I don’t know (or care) if later versions of Office work too, but the Wine HQ compatibility database may shed some light on it. I suspect all the connectivity, activation and things like that are probably hampering your usage of Windows programs in Wine now. I consider software activation basically another form of DRM so I avoid programs that implement it – and therefore probably never run into the issues you see.
I’m not sure what proprietary things you need to make your hardware work properly, but I suspect it’s binary blobs (i.e. firmware). Free-software purists would consider an OS that uses these “non-free” or “non-open” etc., but I think a 90% free and open OS such as *buntu, with the odd firmware blob to make your wifi or 3d work, is still generally “open” and a lot better than nothing at all. They’re not ideal but I don’t think they’re such a big deal.
I’d argue that the Android ecosystem is now perfectly usable without anything Google, unless you’re specifically locked-in to some particular Google service. Most custom ROMs (and some official ones such as Fairphone Open) default to being free of Google apps and services, so the only proprietary bits they come with are the firmware blobs to make things like your phone’s camera or bluetooth chip work. It’s not ideal (completely open), but better than most manufacturer’s bloated stock ROMs. If you use a store such as F-Droid, you can find a usable app for virtually any purpose, whether it’s maps, weather or music. The only problem is if you’re locked-in to using a specific proprietary service (e.g. all your friends use Whatsapp and never send SMS). Or if Google maps covers your region better than Openstreetmap (my region is the other way round). Even then, you can sometimes save your phone’s resources and use that service’s web site rather than their app (Google maps and Facebook come to mind here). Even then, you can get your proprietary apps from another source such as Uptodown, which is possibly safer than Google’s play store anyway. The play store is convenient because everyone’s already familiar with it, but I think Android has become not just usable – but actually very good sans Google in the past few years. I share your frustration at lack of update support, though. I’d add lack of replaceable batteries to that too. I’d rather pay double the price for a phone that gets software-updates for 5 years and has a replaceable battery, than upgrade every year or two. In fact, I’d pay double the price again for the same phone manufactured in Europe rather than the far east, like my 3310 was. Just like payig twice the amount for the “made in England” version of Doc Martens boots, I’d happily pay double the price for a “made in Finland” Nokia that’s not 19 years old. It’s not supposed to be a frequent expense, after all.
I liked that you mentioned KDE. I have recently fallen back in love with it, after a decade of despising it from the depths of my very soul. When I first installed Linux on my own personal machines, I ran a dual installation of Gnome 2 and KDE 3. KDE was by far my favourite. When KDE4 was launched, it was such a bloated, convoluted, buggy mess that it completely put me off anything QT until I recently had to borrow a machine that was booted into a current version (KDE5). It looks and feels slick and fast, even on modest hardware, and it seems to have recaptured some of the spirit of KDE3. Those same killer programs that blow everything comparable out of the water (Soundkonverter and K3B I’m looking at you) are still there. People who want a fraction of the power of Gimp without any of the learning-curve have Krita. If Cinnamon is what Gnome3 should have been, then KDE5 is what KDE4 should have been. I’ve no idea what it looks like on Kubuntu, but if you spend half an hour putting pretty themes and things on Debian/Devuan’s stock KDE, the results are stunning. And that’s coming from someone who hates “modern” UI, too.
My laptop is only a few years old, so I doubt that the problem is one of hardware incompatibility. I have read elsewhere that nvidia drivers have some difficulty with linux, that may be the cause.
Chocolatey is a good mention – I used it in the past but haven’t done so recently. My main problem with it is that not everything is available on chocolatey, which means I end up having fragmented ways to install updated, which I find makes things more difficult for me to manage.
The issues with android are very much that nowadays any of the apps that I might need to use (not necessarily overlapping with those that I want to use) will only be available on the play store, or require some specific google play services API. One prime example: the recent round of government tracing apps (my feelings on those aside for now) only work if you have google play services. I do use f-droid wherever possible but alas, that isn’t always an option.
And yes, KDE5 is the first desktop I’ve found that really makes linux feel usable. Gnome2/Cinnamon were OK, but KDE (desktop and app environment) is great.
I must agree with most of your comments regarding Linux. I have been using it on secondary PCs for years.
So far the most stable on older PCs/Laptops have been using various distributions over the years with varying levels of success.
– A white 2008 aple runs just great with LinuxMint 17.3 Cinnamon as its only OS
– A 2006 (?) HP netbook, ditto, but slow
– A 2013 HP laptop which only seems to like PCLinuxOS Xfce (even better than Windows). It will eventually get a new hard drive and become a media server.
Still I can’t see myself moving to Linux permanently for some time. I am tied to MS for email, VS and Onedrive and am still trying to de-googlify myself as much as possible so it will take some time after that to de-MS myself.
As more software becomes Multi-Platform I think things ***may*** become easier.
As to updating MS, I lose a day a month to that process 🙁 though I try to go to MS Store often to update some installed software and drivers but still.
My biggest ‘gripe’ is with my ISP. I think I was doing better on dial-up.
Interesting reading thx. I’m not going to challenge anything you wrote, but only offer this alternative thought on your Linux part. Some might loathe me for this, but IMO your choice of Kubuntu was most unfortunate. I love KDE & have used many distros’ takes on this DE. For me, Kubuntu has always been the most problematic unhappy Plasma experience [not even mentioning the underlying Achilles heel of it being Ubuntu-based]. All manner of stuff that simply “just works” for me in Plasma by Arch, Manjaro, ArchLabs, openSUSE Tumbleweed, EndeavourOS, KFedora etc, has been at varying times & to varying degrees a PITA on Kubuntu.
I’ve only ever used various flavours of ‘buntu on my devices, so I can’t really respond much to this (I have experienced CentOS, but never in an administrative capacity where I could modify it, and even then it only had earlier, much less friendly forks of KDE). Perhaps at some point in the future, if I ever had the time, I could try out something truly different.