February 16, 2019

The StartX Files: Why X Foibles Don't Matter

Is complexity a help or a hindrance? Ask a Windows fan.

  • March 13, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

As many of you may suspect, I am a relative newcomer to the Linux operating system. Though I had some brief exposure to UNIX several years ago, I would have to say that I have only been really actively using Linux for about three years or so.

Despite even that length of time, I am still surprised at how many things there are I don't know about how this operating system works. Oh, sure, I know the basics: the kernels, the shells, the X platform. But when it comes to the nuances of running Linux, I still find increasingly large gaps in knowledge.

Just the other day, a friend of mine was helping me install secure shell access to his machine to help us handle file transfers back and forth. I also was going to start sending anonymous e-mails to people at other media outlets, but my friend put the kibosh on that idea.

It struck me, as he talked me through it over the phone, that here was yet another area I was a novice in. I even learned the trick in the bash shell where you hit Control+R to call up a past input line. And here I'd been using the up arrow key all of this time.

Not knowing everything the Linux has to offer is enough to give me an inferiority complex. Or, rather, it would be had I never been burned in the flaming crucibles of Linux Today's talkbacks. After those, very little fazes me anymore.

Still, it makes me wonder: is Linux's complexity a help or a hindrance?

Take, for instance, the trials and tribulations I endured to get my CD-R unit functioning. Because I am one of the many computer users who are blessed/cursed with an EIDE CD recorder, I had to face the daunting take of configuring LILO to recognize a ide-scsi type drive... yada yada yada.

Experts reading this are likely to start rolling their eyes. Another initiate complaining about something that they can't figure out off of the back of a cereal box, they say. But this is not another column lamenting the woes of hardware support in Linux. We all know how that situation stands and there are good hackers out there right now who are doing their best to alleviate the problem.

Nor am I going to complain about the documentation gaps in Linux. Those, too, are getting closed up all of the time.

This column is about X, and I am going to stick to that.

Linux is complex by its very nature. The way the kernel and the rest of the software works, it has to be. And while it can be daunting for newcomers to come into Linux for the first time, the influx of commercial funds into developer's wallets is giving those same developers enough money and time to smooth out the rough edges of Linux and make entry into our little band easier every day.

Still, industry analysts, typically funded by Microsoft, argue that Linux is always going to be a patchwork job held together by some chewing gum and bailing wire. "It's too cumbersome," they say, "no one can ever learn all of it."

This from the same people that make you take a certification class to learn "all" of their operating system. I have known plenty of MCSEs in my time, and none of the them know all about any version of Windows. To then turn around and accuse Linux of being to complex for its own good it nothing short of hypocritical. Ever played with the Registry Editor?

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