Linux as a Desktop OS - how is it this time around?

Mark Vergeer's picture

Ever since the early 90s I have been experimenting with Linux. Editing the xconfig file with VI with all sorts of refresh rates and resolution values making sure not to make my monitor go poof in the dark. I am more or less system agnostic and like to tinker with all sorts of technologies and software so it is not in my nature to become a fan-boy or pick sides. I have been using Macs next to MS-DOS & Windows machines and have always more or less had a spare running some variant of Linux. Often with varying results where it was fairly easy to completely bugger up an install making you start all over again. The way to go was the command line interface combined with VI, both were not very intuitive and it could be a very nasty experience getting it all up and running. I never ended up replacing my desktop completely with a Linux install as there would always be cracks in the foundation, with certain things I needed not working or buggering up. So I stuck with Windows & OS X but the open-aspects of Linux really were a very big pull and I always kept an eye out for new Linux developments. So after many failed attempts to replace my Windows OS with Linux here I am trying it again to see if this time around it is all worth it.

Read more below to see/experience how it all went.

Ubuntu 12.10, downloaded the ISO file and burned it on a DVD. It was the 32bit version. I am about to install it on my HP mini tower with Core2Duo 1.8Ghz CPU, Nvidia 9800GTX GPU, 4Gb RAM as the Windows XP installation on it seems to move at a forever slower pace with the HD rattling so much that I thought it best to just wipe the system clean and do a fresh install. But NOT with Windows XP as that definitely is becoming too old. I do have a Windows 7 installation disc I can use or even a Vista one but I choose Ubuntu 12.10 32-bit version. As this is a secondary system in my study there are no essential files on it and it provides me with an excellent opportunity to see whether Linux cuts it as a replacement for Windows XP or any other Windows for that matter.

Okay the system is finished burning the disc. Shut down the machine and let it boot off the disc to install Ubuntu. The harddrive rattles endlessly and I decide to hold the power button for 4 seconds as I am NOT going to wait for that super slow Windows XP to shut down for one final time. There's no need. The system reboots and I have to press F9 to choose the DVD-ROM as boot drive and the system quickly boots into a purple environment known as Ubuntu. The installation of it is very simple. Very reminiscent of the ease of the Windows 7 and Windows 8 installs I did recently.

Wow after a couple of minutes the Linux desktop with some sort of OSX dock on the side is up and running. I guess they finally did away with the standard Gnome interface although this looks very familiar. The way the bar (not sure how to call it) on the side of the screen works is pretty much identical to that of the dock in OS X. Sound, ethernet, everything seems to be working. There's even Office apps installed and I can just work like this straight out of the box. And what's nice is that the HD isn't swapping constantly and that the system is snappy and very responsive. Totally different from what it was doing with Windows XP.

Hmmm my Nvidia card isn't automatically detected like normally, that is on older distros there would be an icon on the top right of the screen indicating that restricted drivers were available and gave me the option to install those providing the much needed OpenGL hardware acceleration and hardware acceleration of video playback. After digging around int he software library by just typing Nvidia I find a small utility that checks the system for me and gives me the option to download and activate the Nvidia drivers. I click that and after a reboot BOOM 3D and 2D hardware acceleration AND fan control of my Nvidia card.

I am a gamer so I choose to install some emulators - wow a huge collection is available - and some native Linux games. Fun but as a (non casual) gamer I am looking for native Linux games that provide somewhat more of a challenge. Hey there's that Linux port of Steam. Install, logging in, entering security code and BOOM I am playing some old classics. The list of Linux games is rather short compared to the Windows releases but hey at least I am able to play Half Life. Sadly no Halflife two.
Okay so my gaming needs are met. I install VLC and XBMC so all my media playback needs are met. But now the touchy part of video editing. This used to be very cumbersome and/or half done through the command line and I am looking for an easy to use GUI/application that does it all in a more user friendly way.
With my YouTube channel I do quite a lot of video editing and I see that there are quite a few video-editors out there for Linux. I choose to install them but I am not sure if they will provide me with the same or similar functionality as Pinnacle Studio, Sony Vegas and Premiere are giving me on the Windows side of things.
I will test these out later on as my eye falls onto something that is called 'PlayOnLinux' - wow an easy to use Wine (Windows Not an Emulator that enables you to run Windows applications natively on Linux). It even comes with an option to download and install Windows programs. Hmmm a lot of games are supported, even Steam! Ha two Steams on one machine. A native Linux one and a Windows one. Now this will be nice to experiment with. There's a lot of presets for all sorts of Windows applications but sadly no entries for Video Editing Software. Perhaps I should give that a go without the preset and check out how it works/whether I can get it to work.
Okay, distracted by games as usual I manage to install Steam for Windows on Linux, enter the security code, log in and choose to download Geometry wars. Whoa that works! Even with my Logitech Rumblepad 2 controller allthough the shooting movements with the right analog stick don't seem to work in the game. Outrun 2006 works too.

Hmmm this Linux environment has become a lot more user friendly than before. Productivity and gaming - with a little bit of fiddling and tinkering around are very well possible on this machine. Even Minecraft with the Fancy shaders and Magic Launcer are fairly easy to get up and running. The downside of things are the abilities to edit video with native or Windows based apps. I still have to delve further into that but I think I could live with this as a main OS on my machine if I wasn't making YT videos.

What are your experiences with Linux as a main OS? Any suggestions for good video editing solutions on this OS?


Joined: 03/02/2012
Linux is the one and only OS

Linux is the one and only OS installed on my hard disk. There has been no reason to switch back so far.
The only thing that does not work out of the box are proprietary media codecs like MP3 that don't come preinstalled. But they can be fetched later with one click. I can do all my work and hobbies on a Linux machine. It simply works (for me).

Cinelerra and OpenShot are good programs for video editing. Blender can be used for video editing, too. Lightwave should be released as open source for Linux in a couple of weeks.

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006

gilgamesh wrote:
Linux is the one and only OS installed on my hard disk. There has been no reason to switch back so far.
The only thing that does not work out of the box are proprietary media codecs like MP3 that don't come preinstalled. But they can be fetched later with one click. I can do all my work and hobbies on a Linux machine. It simply works (for me).

Cinelerra and OpenShot are good programs for video editing. Blender can be used for video editing, too. Lightwave should be released as open source for Linux in a couple of weeks.

I've gotten all the apps you mentioned, for Cinelarra I had to add a repository but I had it up and running in no time. It does seem I need some trancoders as not all edit software likes the video streams I throw at it.

Joined: 03/02/2012
Missing codecs

Yeah, that's what I meant. It's simple but I think new users aren't made aware of that clearly enough.
Those problems usually go away when you install

If you work with some really exotic formats and the problem persists, you can add the repository and install non-free.

Salty Pretzels
Salty Pretzels's picture
Joined: 02/28/2012
Similar experience

Ubuntu's OSX dock-like thingy is called Unity (yes, same as the indie-friendly game engine). I've been using Linux Mint as a secondary OS for a few weeks and had a similar experience as Mark. It infected me so much that I'm using open-source software even under Windows where I can. I'm happy with LibeOffice, Gimp, Double Commander and so on. I personally don't do much video editing, but I also noticed that there really isn't any good alternatives for Vegas or Premier. Yet, anyway. But there's hope on the horizon: Lightworks. Currently it's a windows-only freemium non-linear editor but it's in the transitional state to become open-source. Here is a video showing Ligthworks under Ubuntu. The King's Speech, Martin Scorsese's Hugo and Pulp Fiction was edited in Ligthworks.
Bottom line: Linux is now user-friendly enough for the average computer user, we only need better video editors and more naively supported games, much more. But these issues will be solved soon enough.
Does anybody have any ideas how to get the GOG version of Kingpin: Life of Crime working under linux? I've tried the PlayOnLinux wizard, but it didn't work. After the intro videos it crashes :( Funny thing is that Kingpin was official ported to linux and I still can't freakin' play it.

Joined: 03/02/2012
Most users report KingPin

Most users report KingPin works just fine with wine, so "winetricks d3dx9" (installing the native DirectX 9c DLLs) will likely solve the problem. If that is not the case, there is an extensive trouble shooting guide here

ruthan's picture
Joined: 01/22/2012
Linux is good as second

Linux is good as second system as save mode, but otherwise i can be used, but if you are advanced user (want you more that surf inet or play mp3) you will strugle and you will continuely lose your time..

Because what is in Windows out of box, or could be installed in 3 minutes by some external app, in linux is unpossible, or with throught some terminal dos like commands porn.. - What is good for mental exercises or for deeper understanding of OS.. but is OS, something what you need deeply analyse? I dont think so.

Few cases (it is problem in linux / bsd):
- CPU / GPU cooler speed regulation, also power saving is generaly worse that in case of Windows (source Phoronix)
- change resolution without restart computer
- set primary monitor for for new windows, in multi-monitor settings
- save icon position on my desktop (simply load / save after some problem mess up - becuase force resolution)
- dont be paranoid, i want click ok button, dont write password on keyboard, everytime, when i need something to change.. i have headaches from that
- lots of important setting arent avalaible through GUI, what is worse, some GUI operation, dont works, you simple setup something, system say its was done, but nothing happens and in configuration file, you could check, that nothing changed.. but GUI says opposite.
- slow response time of GUI, compared of Windows
- impossible to runs TV tuners, 3G modems, bluetooth devices without few hours configuration and headaches
- Gaming (Wine, Playonlinux) again, it could be configured, but in comparision to Windows, you will lose you time..
- directory strukture and filesystem philosophy - i hate it. I Win, you could rename every system folder - even Windows, program files, users.. But here you have lots of mess in root directory and should work in !3rd level! home folder..

Ubuntu should be Linux for human beings but it failed.., because old Linux boys, arent is able to understand, that.. terminal is dead end, that security for price of enable everyf*cking step is important only for servers, that swap partion and filesystem strucure is dead end etc..

Who: Brujah Zealot, the pimp of babylons bitch. / Location: Scorched heart of Europe. // Sorry for my moldavian sort of english, i have 2 possibilities, to be silent or try to say something +look like idiot..

Joined: 03/02/2012

Linux is good as second system as save mode, but otherwise i can be used, but if you are advanced user (want you more that surf inet or play mp3) you will strugle and you will continuely lose your time..
Well, I don't know any tech guy using Windows.

terminal is dead end,
Just no. ;-)

security for price of enable everyf*cking step is important only for servers,
There's a reason Windows is not complete without virus scanners...
If you absolutely want it, you can have auto login for a standard user.

that swap partion and filesystem strucure is dead end etc..
That's simply a matter of taste. Windows usually has way more stuff in C:\, let alone C:\Windows. A swap partitions are a cleaner solution in comparison to swap files.

As for your graphics&resolution problems: Sorry to hear that. Sounds pretty bad. Try updating your system and install the latest drivers.

Joined: 01/21/2009
I have held off on this.. I

I have held off on this.. I was a huge Linux user in the past (when I had more time and had to know how everything works) and I have to agree with Ruthan on one thing.. LINUX=MORE TIME for almost anything.. Yes Linux is much more user friendly then it ever was.. reason being its bloating up like windows..Linux strength was its speed, open source and FREE.. its slowly trying to become WINDOWS.. and right there is its first problem. Linux was for the "work/hacker/enthusiast" it was lighting fast, ran on 1/10th the resources of most anything else.. its taking more and more to run it fast. they are tryign to pull in the "dumb" users and making it do all the work for them on setup.. which just causes problems down the road when they HAVE to tinker and actually work with it to configure it. As it slowly turns into windows, why have 2 versions? I have heard the arguments it does everything windows does.. yes, for sure.. WIndows gets great new Video card (drivers) day of release.. linux has drivers for it a week or two later, actual good optomised and working drivers a month or two later.. Windows gets new program everybody wants, linux guys create version that does all this months/year later.. Linux does it all.. for free, later.. sometimes (often) just as good, but sometimes a bit clunkier (free is seldom designed for end user, its designed by person making it and follows there rules).

linux is still much faster and efficient, I wont argue that at all, but for 90% of the users in the world its not right choice.. most people "learn" on Windows.. this is changing slowly as Apple gets Ipads into schools (i would prefer linux anyday over this).. as Linux mimics windows and Apple.. yes.. it will be more friendly for those people.. but its like taking a corvette adding 2 more doors, a back seat and trunk, dropping the price so it can compete with a mini van.. if you just want to copy.. to succeed.. why bother?

I still use slackware (creator lives in my (used to)home town and I have talked with him many times (let me correct that, talked with him several time in the past, the 90's)) and like it.. but as time goes on.. and Linux becomes more windows like i just don't swap to it.. I do still use it alot for work related stuff (password recovery, bad drives, etc..)

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
I adore Linux in principle,

I adore Linux in principle, along with all the arguments for FOSS. Hell, I've even emailed with Stallman and read his stuff, and wrote for awhile for Free Software magazine (my stories actually made their covers).

All that said, the important thing is to have a shared standard. That's what I've learned writing books and studying computer history. It's the club effect. If there are three clubs in your town, and one is crowded and the other two are dead, you're going to the one that's crowded. It doesn't matter if the other clubs have better drink specials, furniture, music, etc. If the people aren't there, it's going to suck. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, Windows will be the crowded club.

Windows has a unique advantage in that they've got the lion's share of the market and it can be run on a huge variety of devices. Compare that to Apple, where all the hardware is owned and manufactured by them--they will never approach Windows. I think Android represents a greater threat to Windows than ios or linux, actually.

The problems with Linux: (a) designed for and by fussbudgets. The great majority of users simply do not need to make ten-thousand decisions on esoteric technical matters. It'd be like your car constantly asking you to make minute decisions about the fuel/oxygen mix or some such. We're mostly content (and better off) letting somebody who knows more than we do make those kinds of decisions for us.

(b) There are too few of us who are in a position to change anything anyway, making the open part of this a moot point. Yeah, it'd be great if I had a peculiar need for a functionality in, say, GIMP, and had the ability to grab the script, integrate it, and re-compile it all. That would be great. Feasible for me? Hell no. And my experience with trying to make suggestions or requests in other open source projects has resulted in exactly zero actual changes.

(c) "Free" is irrelevant if, as Ruthan and Clok have pointed out, it takes more time. How much is my time worth per hour? As long as I'm enjoying the activity, it's not an issue, but if suddenly I'm trying to "git r done" and using a "free" app is busting my balls, then it quickly becomes a waste. If I can pay $60 for a stripped-down Vegas and git r done, vs. doing god knows what to get the same results from a "free" app...

I think Kickstarter (or other crowd-sourced solutions) will be way out of this quandary, though. But that's not really "free" as in zero-dollars. In fact, I think getting a really good video editing solution for Linux would cost us a lot more, at least those of us who aren't content to sit on the sidelines. But most coders and designers I know would be willing to do professional work for professional pay up front, and the only way I see that happening with FOSS stuff is crowd-funding. Obviously, the donation system doesn't work. So, in short, I think the best thing we can do to support FOSS at the moment is support the relevant crowd-funding projects--and make sure whatever we do support isn't locked down with DRM or restrictive licensing.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
It's a catch-22 with this

It's a catch-22 with this stuff. While for most people most of the time computing needs are extraordinarily modest, i.e., they can literally get away with an app-friendly browser (aka, the ChromeOS approach), for the 1 - 5% of the time when they need to do something else, that's where alternatives fall down and the value of the "lowest common denominator" (arguable) approach - even if it costs money - becomes the better option. As was stated, with Windows, we have that. It may not be the best at anything in particular, but it is ubiquitous, can do anything in a relatively straightforward manner (as straightforward as modern computing can be), and has everything available for it. Linux may be cheaper and could be configured to be just as easy as Windows, etc., and will meet the vast majority of most people's needs, but for times when you want to use all the features of that all-in-one printer, or play that latest game, or do any number of other things that pop up, you just want the thing that makes that happen without extraordinary effort, if it's possible at all. Honestly, that's worth the premium in price.

Linux's chance to shine passed when it failed to gain significant mass traction prior to the release of the first iPhone. After that singular event, everything changed. Android is now clearly the biggest threat to Windows dominance since Windows 3.x, and these devices whether through form factor or shear brute force of mass adoption have already solved many of the challenges running a Linux installation has had and continues to have.

With all that said, Linux, by its very nature, will likely never go anywhere, and will continue to maintain its few percentage points of the market, and be quite useful running on the Raspberry Pi's of the world, at least until Android matures even further and arguably takes on that role even more completely...

Finally, while there was a time in the early 1990's through the early 2000's where there were few platforms and options to choose from, it's arguable that we have almost as many choices (certainly higher quality choices) now on more devices than we've ever had at the peak of multi-platform computing madness through most of the 1980s.


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