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This is long. Plan your time accordingly. Please also be aware that coarse language does make quite a few appearances here.


I just had to tear down a computer because of a huge Linux screw-up, the results of which prove a very basic reason why the non-technically inclined run away with their hands in the air shrieking from UNIX. Which is unfortunate because people worked hard to bring Linux to users. The good intentions and efforts, however, despite resulting in a product that looks pretty and gives the appearances of working, is just that. As a result of having a GUI hacked on top of it, Linux might just as well have been written in Inuktituk.

GUI tools and huge manuals are not good enough. You have to think about who is actually going to be using the product. Not every computer user is an expert hacker. The Linux programmers unfortunately have failed at doing this.

Before I continue, this is NOT a rant solely picking on Linux. This is meant to show people and programmers alike that thought must be put into what you do. Just having a slick GUI does not make it a good GUI nor does it make your product a good product. What an idea, eh?

The configuration of my system is simple. I have an iMac G3/600 running with 640 MB of PC-133 RAM and a 15GB Western Digital hard drive. I had wanted to try out Linux for PPC for a while, and I had finally gotten around to picking the distro I wanted. Linux MintPPC. I had downloaded a copy, burned it to a CD, and then something came up and I never got around to installing it.

I then revisited the project a month after I first burned the disc. However the only installer available is a network installer. Want something else? All you get is the good old One-Finger Salute. So I set up a connection over FireWire as I was using in OS X prior. No problems, I could connect to the internet.

The first hint of trouble came when it popped up an error stating that it could not download the necessary packages. It did not mention why and it is with that I present the first big problem. I know an error has occurred, obviously the bright red screen indicates that. But I do not know why the error has occurred. Thus I am left in a dark room trying to solve a problem I don't know the cause of. And apparently it's too difficult to tell the user that you have to have a real connection to a hardware router. It is not mentioned in the installer nor is it mentioned in the manual.

So I first thought that it simply wouldn't accept my FireWire connection, so I tried to connect via ethernet. No dice, same error message. Thinking it must have been a problem with my install media because MintPPC 11 is a nightly build thing, and I vaguely recall some statement about the build needing to be the most recent or install will fail, I download the latest version, burn it to a disc, and try again. Keep in mind I've just wasted another two hours of my time, and it still pops up that useless error message again. So I grudgingly resort to lugging my 30 or so pound iMac down two flights of stairs and plug it straight into the router. Four hours after I started, I had a working installation of MintPPC.

Or so I thought. Could it get worse? Yes it could, and it did.

I boot up the system, and I'm greeted with an X-Server failed to launch message. Again, no indication as to why. Pressing enter locked up the system. Instead I had to force it into a command line to at least be able to change the xorg.conf file. After trying each individual file, I finally got one that worked. But that isn't the point. There is no form of autodetection of graphics hardware, and there is no standard failsafe graphics mode in the event that it doesn't recognize your graphics chipset.

Speaking of graphics chipsets, this system happens to be running on what appears to be an ATI Rage 128 chipset. In other words, a pedestrian and very common chipset. The fact that a 2013 Linux still manages to get wrong hardware that has been out since 2000 is inexcusable and almost intolerable. In fact it is at this precise thought that I knew I was going to be writing a rant about this at some point.

Could it get worse? Watch and see...

After that ordeal, I decided to check out my install. And I find that it's slower than OS X was. Which granted is reasonable considering the Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment (LXDE) which MPPC is based on is not PPC-optimized. Then again X11 runs like dog crap on anything because it is not lightweight in any way, another example of bad programming practices but that is besides the point.
But it's not just a little slower than OS X, no it's noticeably lagging. I don't know why X took nearly two seconds to redraw the screen after clicking on something, but that sort of behavior is inexcusable. Especially considering the hardware this is running on is more than capable of handing graphics that are far more 3D-accelerated than this. The Rage 128 is not 2D-impaired either, that's for sure.

Which brings me to sound. Sound is something that is taken for granted these days. Every computer comes with either onboard speakers, a set of speakers, or at the very least the capability to add speakers later. Windows and Mac OS both accept a wide variety of sound chipsets. I have no idea what runs at the heart of the G3, but as far as I can tell it's a standard chip. Nevertheless the only thing I get out of Linux is a PC beep. And it isn't even coming out the front speakers either.

MPPC is a PulseAudio-based system. PulseAudio is a poor excuse for an audio driver on regular PCs as it is; I can't even see why its around today, if you ask me it should have been dead right out of the gate. MPPC is also based on the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture, or ALSA. ALSA doesn't even come with a GUI built-in, and the add-on program is practically useless. On a good day I get muffled audio, even with the volume cranked. Usually it fails to work completely. I have all the levels turned up, and I even tweaked the configuration based on the suggestions of a few others. Nothing resulted. I do not understand why Linux still manages to get sound wrong, but because I don't know what the audio chipset really is I will give them the benefit of the doubt and call it an in-house chip.

My microphone wasn't working either. Why? It was turned off by default. Why was that? Absolutely no conceivable reason other than to cause a non-technically inclined user grief. And holy crap even with gain cranked does it ever sound like balls? It's the same hardware, what is going so horribly wrong?

Speaking of hardware, I initially installed MPPC with a Chinese POS "Luxor" keyboard and some cheap Logitech USB laser mouse. For my recent birthday I had asked for and received a real Apple keyboard and mouse, which albeit don't match the machine but I wasn't about to buy a used keyboard. I do have one; it's a match to my G3/350 Blueberry system and it isn't going anywhere. So I hook them up and boot the machine, assuming the terminal and X would both see them as new devices. Well, we all know what assume means.

The console identified them as new devices, yes. But X was a different story. The mouse worked perfectly, however it failed miserably with the keyboard; it was still in standard PC-mode. Looking up what to do gave me nothing that functioned. All the terminal commands were either not found, and get this. When I went to sudo something, it gave me the One-Finger Salute and kicked me out of the terminal. Considering I am the ONLY user on that system, I don't understand why in the hell I can't sudo something.

Terminal. More like Urinal.

But it gets worse. I found this thing called "xkeycaps", which is supposed to be the GUI end of "xmodmap" or whatever. I download it, and install it, and guess what? It's not even in the menu. Looks like more going into the god damned terminal and loading programs that way.

Upon loading the program I look at what is supposed to be easy to use. I see a graphical map of the keyboard and what particular keys are assigned to what. I can also change the layout to something else. So click on the "Change Layout" button. It brings me to a dialog box with a bunch of options. I try to scroll up, and the scroll bars don't even work. All they do is drag down. Maximizing the window brings me to the "Apple" option. I click it and I am greeted with horror.

The only options under there are "Extended II" and "Standard ADB". ADB keyboards were dead with the advent of the original iMac G3 in 1998. The "Extended II" keyboard was phased out much earlier than that. So why are either of these options present? And why is the modern layout (which hasn't changed much) not present at all?

The worst part of all of this is it automatically applies any changes. I can't think of any good reason for doing this. This is poor practice and is a great way to turn away good users. Autosaving is for documents, NOT for important settings. So of course it messes up my keyboard layout. Supposedly you can change keys manually, but there was no obvious way of doing that and all documentation was utterly useless. So I change the keyboard setting back to what it was before, and hit quit. Then X crashes.

Now I am stuck at a point where X won't load and my keyboard is somehow set in the wrong layout (even though I set it back to the PC-105 layout that is was at before I started). There is no obvious fix short redownloading the configuration file which I can't do because the keyboard layout is jacked to Jupiter's core. Thus I can't do anything short of a reinstall. And guess what? I can't reinstall because I don't have access to a god damn router anymore as we switched ISPs and no longer use a router.

Bottom line is this. I am tired of the trapdoors and crash landings in Linux. There are too many points where the floor just falls out from underneath your feet or you run into a stone wall. Slick-looing GUI tools are not the answer to usability. Usability is the answer to usability.

Design your tools with thought as to who in the f*** is going to be using them.

Page created Saturday April 20th, 2013, last modified Friday August 9th, 2013
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