Linux FUD Pattern #2: Linux is not “officially” supported
When you hear the phrase “official support,” what comes to mind? Informative user manuals? A well-staffed call center? But what makes it “official”? This is the second item on my Top 10 List of Linux FUD patterns: the lack of “official” Linux support. The goal of FUD based on this notion is a mixture of fear and uncertainty, to make you believe that using Linux means having no place to turn when a problem occurs.
Generally speaking, “official support” for a product is provided by the entity that owns the intellectual property for the product and/or has the right to produce and distribute it. Products are typically sold or leased, both of which are types of business transactions; this implies that the entity in question is operating as a business. A third-party provider paid to support a product may be licensed by, or otherwise affiliated with the original vendor, but only the vendor’s fixes and upgrades are “officially” supported. “Official” support connotes a certain level of authority or expertise, but also implies consequences, usually legal or fiscal, for a failure to meet service expectations. This is the model used by businesses today.
Linux, however, is not a business-supported product (per se). Linux is not “owned” by a particular entity, nor does one particular entity retain the exclusive right to update and distribute it. It is licensed under the GNU Public License (GPL), which permits any software recipient to modify and distribute the software or derivatives thereof as long as the conditions of the GPL are not violated. This is coupled with the open source philosophy, but they aren’t exactly the same thing – an open source application may be licensed under something other than the GPL.
So then, who does “officially” support Linux? The answer is that Linux has always been a grassroots movement. Though it was originally created by one man, Linux is “officially” maintained by a community made up of individuals, groups, and yes, businesses. Different groups within the community support different parts of the system. These groups are commonly known as “maintainers” and usually include original authors or those to whom the torch of authority has been successively passed. For example, assuming the Wikipedia article on the Linux Kernel is not out-of-date, Mr. Torvalds still supervises changes to the core of Linux and has designated the maintenance of older releases to other individual maintainers. The parts maintained are typically called “projects”. Various entities, such as Ubuntu and Red Hat, bundle various system parts together as a unit and ensure that their respective distributions operate as expected, that is to say, that they operate well.
While maintainer and/or community support for a Linux distribution or a particular project may be “official”, technical assistance may not be readily available, on demand, free of charge, or for that matter, available at all. Most maintainers are polite and willing to help, but please remember that much of Linux has been contributed by developers and that support offered pro bono publico doesn’t help feed the family or pay the mortgage. This is where the rest of the community helps out, in the form of online support forums.
Paid support is available as part of the commercial offerings made by Red Hat, Novell, Linspire and others. Additionally, some of these companies offer professional services, such as consulting and training, though these services are typically meant for consumption by businesses, not home users. Any company offering fee-based technical support for Linux is free to set their own price, whatever the market will bear.
In an increasingly tech-savvy world, I think the difference between commercial and community-based support is rapidly decreasing. Consider the available courses of action that may be taken when a problem does occur with a commercial OS. Almost always, the first step is to search the Internet for a root cause, if not a full-blown resolution. This is often done as a cost-saving measure (easy fix) or so that the user/administrator can better explain the problem to tech support when a call is eventually made. Moreover, help may be actively sought in a multitude of discussion groups, mailing lists, blogs, chat rooms and other forums dedicated to supporting various operating systems. Another option is to consult with a friend or relative that knows about these sorts of things. Of course, the “official” vendor or (gasp) a consultant can be called upon, usually for a fee of course. At the discretion of the user/administrator, the problem may be eliminated by brute force: reinstalling the OS. (Actually, this last option isn’t all bad as long as no data were lost – it provides an opportunity to “clean house” and possibly upgrade to a newer release or move to a different distribution.) The order of preference for these alternatives depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the problem, but they almost always rank from the least- to the most-expensive in terms of time, effort and cash outlay.
Hardware support (or lack thereof) often appears as diversionary FUD regarding “official” support. Hardware must be able to communicate with the computer at several levels, starting with the physical. For example, a USB device can be attached to any machine with the appropriate port, but to use the device the OS must know how to communicate with both the USB itself and the device on the other side. Obviously, this issue quickly boils down to device drivers and brings us back to a discussion of “official” software support.
Rest assured, common devices such as keyboards, mice and thumb drives, almost always work using standard Linux drivers. In other words, they don’t support Linux; rather, Linux supports them. Newer device classes for which no “official” Linux drivers are provided often suffer a period of incompatibility or reduced usefulness. For example, Wi-fi network interface cards are now going through the same sort of transition that consumer-class Ethernet cards did about six or eight years ago. Many times, this is because drivers have to be derived from messages sent to and from the devices, often requiring many hours of experimentation. A general rule of thumb: hardware compatibility problems are more common as the hardware becomes more exotic. For example, I experienced new levels of frustration with the big-name vendor of a certain USB-ready programmable television remote control for which future Linux support was promised and never delivered. But, the fact is, hardware vendors have the right to choose to support Linux or not, a decision based on supply and demand. The need to operate specific hardware may dictate which OS is used.
The best advice I can give is to ignore the FUD and adopt a pragmatic approach to defining your support needs. Your needs are specific to you. Compile a scorecard and do some research. Questions that should be answered include the following. What is your level of expertise with computers? Have you needed professional OS support in the past? Do you expect to need it in the future? Are you comfortable doing your own support work? Based on community-supplied information? Is your hardware “officially” supported or listed in one of the various compatibility lists? Do you use exotic hardware components? Have you tried running a Linux Live CD, especially Knoppix? When buying a new PC or laptop, have other users posted their experiences with the same model? Research never hurts, but just be on the lookout for more FUD!
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The next version of our favorite Linux distribution Ubuntu 7.04 is scheduled for release on April 19, 2007 and will include proprietary drivers to help Ubuntu emphasize on desktop effects and multimedia enablement.
Read more at DesktopLinux.com.
What’s your view on this move?
Day 2, Part 1
Configuring Display Settings and Resolution
The first thing I had to do once I got to my Ubuntu desktop (after login, of course!) was to reconfigure my display settings. The maximum resolution allowed was 1024×768 with a refresh rate of 60Hz. My default is usually 1280×1024 @ 75Hz. So my screen was too small and flickered at such a low refresh rate.
To fix this screen resolution issue, I did a sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg.
I also had to Google my monitor’s specs so I can correctly tell the xserver what my horizontal and vertical frequency ranges are. When I ran that command in terminal and followed the steps, I noticed that Ubuntu had set my X Server Driver to “vesa” for some reason. I changed that to ATI, my video card manufacturer. I continued with the other steps and mostly hit Enter throughout unless I knew what to change. I got to the frequency range and inputted the correct numbers.
After finishing the reconfiguration of my display settings, I did a CTRL+BACKSPACE to restart the xserver and make the settings go into effect.
My display was finally normal again.
As always, the great community called Ubuntu Forums has a great guide to troubleshooting your sound problems in Linux, specifically Ubuntu and Kubuntu.
If you can’t hear sounds or they only work in some cases, or whatever the problem may be, check out the Comprehensive Sound Problem Solutions Guide.
I decided to change from Gnome to KDE today. Why? The Gnome interface is too simple that it makes it very difficult to customize it the way I want. Many normal customization settings that I expect to find in a good environment – that I can easily access in KDE – are not accessible or don’t even exist (as far as I can tell) in Gnome. I find that the KDE environment is much more “geeky” and customizable than Gnome. I’m geeky that way…
Besides, I find that the Gnome GUI is “unsteady” or “unstable”. Not that it crashes all the time (cause it doesn’t), just that it seems weak in the way the windows are created. It’s just the “feel” of it, I guess. It’s kind of hard to explain. I find the KDE environment – although not as “pretty” as Gnome” – to be more robust, and that includes KDE software. I feel safer, more confident, with KDE.
I’ve used Gnome in different flavors in Linux over the years, and the Gnome environment is much better in Ubuntu than it was in previous versions, but I’m still not convinced that it is ready as the Desktop Environment to conquer Windows.
Now I just have to get used to KDE. I may have a different opinion after a few months in KDE. Who knows?
But if you are a user that only has Gnome (Ubuntu) and would like to have KDE available as a Desktop Environment option at logon, do the following command in Shell:
sudo aptitude install kubuntu-desktop
I ran into a few “issues” after. I ended up with an ugly KDE login screen. I had to do the following to get it back to normal:
sudo dpkg-reconfigure gdm
Follow the steps and choose GDM when asked.
Now that you have KDE installed, you can login to it by hitting F10 at the login screen or using the Options menu at the login screen.
The boot-up and shutdown splash screens also get changed to the blue Kubuntu splash, which I find really ugly. I like the default boot splash and shutdown splash.
To restore the original splash screens, open a terminal window and do the following commands:
sudo ln -sf /usr/lib/usplash/usplash-default.so /usr/lib/usplash/usplash-artwork.so
sudo dpkg-reconfigure linux-image-$(uname -r)
THE FIRST AND SECOND LINES ARE MEANT TO BE ONE COMMAND. IT IS TOO LONG TO FIT ON ONE LINE IN THIS POST.
And now you are back to the normal Ubuntu splash theme, but with the option of loading the KDE Desktop Environment.
If your login screen’s resolution suddenly becomes too big to fit your screen, read this post.
Enjoy your new KDE!
I forgot to mention the other piece of hardware that I can’t get to fully work. My ATI Radeon 9200SE video card works perfectly, but Linux doesn’t support the TV output, and that’s the most important part for me!
I was hoping I wouldn’t have to buy a new card, but it looks like I’ll have to. I will definitely be purchasing a card that has Linux drivers by the manufacturer.
This is just another thing preventing me from going fully Linux.
I’ve Googled this issue to death and searched many forums, but there isn’t a way to get my TV output to work. If anyone out there knows how, let me know and I will pay you! Okay, no, that’s a lie. 🙂 But I still want to know…
One of my biggest issues with using Linux with my computer is getting ALL of the hardware to work. The only hardware that I’ve had a hard time with is getting my Logitech Cordless MX Duo (keyboard and mouse) to work completely and getting my Lexmark x1110 (remind me to get a new printer) to work at all.
Tonight, I found a solution to my printer issues. I searched the Ubuntu forums and fell on this post. I followed the steps on the first post exactly and my printer works! Even though I installed the z600 drivers, my cheap Lexmark x1110 printer works in Ubuntu 6.06 LTS! Nice! The Ubuntu Community is great!
I haven’t tested the scanner on it yet, but who cares? Who uses scanners now? Well… okay, I admit. I use it mainly as a photocopier to save important paper documents digitally… oh, and printing Xbox cheats… hehehe.