I remember when I dove into Linux at full tilt boogie. It was 2004. Nickelback could still be found in the top 10 charts, The Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino and wireless support in Linux absolutely sucked. What a long way we’ve come. So these days, when people gripe about this or that not working in Linux, most of those complaints seem almost trivial.
Except when they are not.
I have the absolute privilege of introducing the Next Amazing Generation to Linux. The generation that will cure diabetes. The generation that will put the first human footprint on Mars. The generation that will turn many forms of cancer into an annoyance instead of a death sentence. Well, not the whole generation of course, but a small selection of that generation.
There are some extremely loud critics of Linux as a desktop operating system. They deride it as a hobbyist endeavor and enjoy doing so at every available opportunity. The truth is, much of the world’s computing population turn to desktop Linux to escape the cost and confines of Microsoft Windows. You can troll all you want, but facts are facts.
Our Reglue Kids are no exception. In over 1600 installs, Reglue has learned that kids have absolutely no problem learning and using Linux. We’re talking 12 year old kids here. Often, adults we assist complain about how hard Linux is. It’s then that I offer to have one of our 12 year olds contact them and provide individual tech support.
That’s not to say that desktop Linux isn’t without problems. There are some things that need fixing.
We use a modified version of Mint KDE for our Reglue computers. That being the environment in which I work, it’s that environment in which I am most familiar. My complaints don’t center on Linux Mint KDE, however, but represent the depth and types of problems users face release after release, regardless of the distro or DE. These problems are especially daunting to new users, no matter what their experience or skill level may be.
Let me address a problem way too many of our kids encounter when installing our modified system on another computer.
The fonts are way to big.
Since at least the Maya 13 release we’ve had fits with the Nvidia driver and fonts in KDE. Sure the recommended driver installs fine, but upon the mandatory reboot, all is not well in Linuxland. While the actual desktop and the bottom panel display properly, anything that has anything to do with fonts is wonky. They are huge.
I’d love to provide you with a screenshot, but it seems that the screenshot sees everything as being hunky-dory. The screenshot may show everything as being normal but in real time, every word and every font is screaming at you. Even the clock at the end of the panel takes up a quarter of the space the panel offers.
I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to fix this. My search for “Nvidia large fonts” and other such search terms were worthless on the Mint forums, that search string turning up mostly irrelevant results. Finally, and after digging around with Google search, I found the fix. Ironically, it was posted in the Linux Mint forums. Go figure. It was an extraordinary easy fix.
Set fonts to force a DPI of 96.
That’s it. No command line foo, no Bash scripting, no fuss or muss. Just open system settings and choose “force fonts DPI – 96.” Problem solved…for the local user at least. I’m not sure why this hasn’t been fixed at the KDE/Developer level. Let’s take a look. The bug exists and it has existed since…wait, you have to be kidding me. Really? This bug has existed since 2005?
I hope the king of Linux trolls, Rocklover Lovelace, doesn’t get wind of this. He’ll milk this one for a year or more.
And yeah, I’m sure someone will comment, “Well gee Ken, I don’t have that problem…” To which I would respond, "Well gee commenter, I guess it doesn’t suck to be you.”
For the dozens of kids that have contacted us about this problem, it most certainly sucks. This is one of the problems/reasons people give for deciding that Linux sucks. Look…don’t get me wrong. KDE is a beautiful and fantastically flexible desktop environment. After using KDE for a year, when I go into other partitions with other desktops installed, it feels…I dunno, I suppose “incomplete” would describe it best.
After the KDE 4.0 debacle I wrote KDE off as a lost cause. Only in the past year have I rediscovered just how good KDE is, but that doesn’t excuse a 9 year old bug, and possibly a show-stopping bug from being ignored. Imagine with me for a moment. Your buddy tells you how great Linux is and he gives you a disk to use and install. Since you are tired of the horse crap Microsoft has been feeding you for two decades, you decide to do something about it.
Everything looks great as you evaluate the live version, so you take a deep breath and follow your friend’s installation instructions. You feel like Neil Armstrong, Jim Bridger and Erik the Red all rolled into one great explorer.
Until you reboot. Then you begin to feel more like like George Donner…
I can’t and I won’t blame Clem Lefebvre or the Mint KDE development staff for this problem. They wouldn’t be the first developers to submit a glaring bug only to be ignored for years. And while this is only one example of problems within the Linuxshpere, it is a strong indicator of even greater problems.
It’s been suggested to me that if KDE or any other project were developed by paid developers, problems like this would not exist. Yeah, that’s probably true, but if fishes were wishes…I don’t see that happening any time soon.
What I will do is investigate to see if this bug can be fixed via a bounty. I will offer up whatever I can scrape together and see if someone on the KDE team wants to tackle it. This bug in particular has been a pain in the keister for myself and some of the Reglue volunteers who help our kids with system problems. We will report back here on what happens with the bounty.
In the short term we are fixing this immediately on all outgoing Reglue computers. But when our kids do installs on other machines, this becomes a problem for many.
And sure, other little things exist that drive the Linux collective crazy. I don’t care how many times I fix it in the settings, my spell checker consistently goes back to the British spelling. It wants me to type “endeavor” as “endeavour,” “favor” as “favour” and…well, you get the idea. I don’t know how easy that would be to fix but I suppose people much smarter then myself can answer that.
And please don’t suggest that I write a script for it. I was very proud to discover that others in the Bash scripting community referred to me as The General…until I found out they were using that for the shortened title “general parsing error.”
Actually, it’s nice to be able to pick nits instead of simply writing Linux off as a desktop replacement for Windows. Linux as a desktop environment has become a no brainer for those able to explore their options. Some simply cannot or will not and that’s fine.
There was a time when only the most determined and geeky of us would consider attempting to install Linux, not to mention use it daily. But now, millions of us worldwide have come to rely upon and improve desktop Linux…including 12 year old kids, one of whom will invent and develop transparent aluminum. Beam me up.
Now if someone could only tackle the insane way some of us name our Linux/Free Software titles…
Ken Starks is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue