Jan 31 2007

Linux falling short

Published by at 11:59 am under Tech

Last year when I put a computer together for TJ to use, I just used some spare parts laying around and a decent computer I had received. In fact, the only purchased part was a wireless PCI nic so it could get on the internet without me running copper. One of those pieces was a 14″ Gateway monitor that I had gotten from a tech support call center I worked at back in the day. It worked and was sufficient for the amount he was using it. For the few times I’ve tried to show him something, I keep realizing just how inferior it is to have any computer that can’t display at least a resolution of 1280 x 1024, but with the 14″ screen, we were limited to 1024 x 768. I bothered me to no end. So I trolled on the local LUG mailing list about a new monitor. I knew I would be able to get something. Found one. I got a free 17″ Dell from one of my coworkers, actually.

This is where linux is still falling short. Every time I keep thinking it’s getting to be “ready for primetime”, I run into an issue like this. I hook up the monitor and it works – but I am unable to change the resolution to anything higher than the restriction I had with the 14″ monitor. Since I’m waiting for the day when I can honestly make a good argument that desktop linux is feasible, I try and do as much as I can through the means that an average user would. I could go in and edit the X11.conf file, but 1. an average user would be put off by doing that and rightly so cause 2. editing that file sucks ass. So I look though all the settings that ubuntu provides ( I have the edubuntu variant installed ), but I’m unable to find any way of reconfiguring the monitor or changing the config in any way.

Here comes the good news. Since the linux and open source community is such a powerful resource, it didn’t take me long to find what I needed. But again, it wasn’t a solution the average user would want to use. I ended up running the sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg and go through the setup in the terminal window I had open. This wasn’t the smoothest process in the world either since it took me through an entire xorg config which included redoing the config for the video card, mouse and keyboard all before I even got to the monitor section. Fortunately, the defaults were all fine and it was a click-next-fest. That is, of course, until I got to the monitor options. It correctly picked up the monitor, but for some reason, couldn’t determine the screen resolutions that were compatible. So I looked up to make sure it supported 1280 x 1024, and clicked the setting. Configuration done. I could have tested out to see if the new resolution was available, but I’m used to restarting services. I ended up pressing Ctrl+Alt+Backspace to restart the xserver before I even thought much about it. When the login screen popped up again, I was pleasantly surprised to see it defaulted to the highest resolution available, so I didn’t even have to go back in and change it. So, I got it to work, and everything was fine and I have to say situations are improving, but these aren’t steps you can expect a normal user to have to try and fumble through.

Someday I will be able to say it’s ready, but that day isn’t today.

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5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Linux falling short”

  1. mr-potteron 31 Jan 2007 at 1:29 pm

    If I remember correctly, when X starts, then it probes the monitor for its native screen resolution. If the monitor is plug and play then it will respond and then X will set itself (unless told otherwise) to that resolution.

    The problems start if either your monitor is switched off when you boot up, or if your monitor is not plug and play. I have been caught out by the switched off monitor one a couple of times.

    I suspect that your monitor did not do the PnP thing (for whatever reason) and you had to resort to the old-skool X configuration.

    If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t have to do anything for my brand spanking new monitor.

  2. Gadzooks64on 31 Jan 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the Linus operator… on a good day you’re the bug.

  3. Anthonyon 31 Jan 2007 at 2:26 pm

    I stopped keeping up with xservers when it was switched from xfree86 to xorg, so I wasn’t sure if that was the case. I had remembered hearing something to that effect before, so I had shut down the computer before unhooking and plugging in the new one – which would be another nice thing, is to detect when it syncs like windows and OS X do. The monitor isn’t that ungodly old that it should be PnP compatible. The monitor worked fine if I didn’t want to use the new resolution. Oh well, maybe some day I will look into it some more. Likely not though ;)

  4. rommelon 06 Feb 2007 at 12:48 pm

    well i didnt read the entire post but having run gentoo linux since 2000 i can tell you its most often the case of the users ability to configure the applications correctly… so the person using linux is the weakest link.. i find this true in windows as well… as not just a user but as a pc tech most all issues encountered with an os including *nix, os x and windows is almost always related to the users computer skill level… the more knowledgeable the person the less problems the encounter and the easier they are able to determine and resolve the issues they do have… knowing what i know now of computers and operating systems i would see using a pc without the know how i have as a frustrating experience. so buck up buddy… the fact that the os is indeed free doesnt mean it isnt going to cost you something and in this case the something is your time to learn to use it correctly.

  5. Anthonyon 06 Feb 2007 at 1:00 pm

    I think you missed the point of my post. I wasn’t complaining that I had issues, I was saying that linux still has short comings that a normal competent computer user would have issues with. I had this working and up and running in about 10 minutes even with searching for the easiest way to do it. If I just wanted to get it running, I would have had it done in half that time.
    Making linux ready for the average user isn’t about saying that “You get out of it, what you put into it”. It should be easy and intuitive enough for a normal user to be able to figure out on their own. I’m just saying linux isn’t there yet. I want to be able to see the day when I could have my parents use it and have no more issues than they would if they were running windows (pertaining to usage).

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