Wednesday, June 24

Linux 64-bit Desktops Not Worth Your Time

Recently, I've gotten several new computers. They are nice 64-bit computers with 6 GB+ of RAM. I have Linux on both (Ubuntu 9.04 and Centos 5.3) and I'm regretting it.

Here are some 64-bit Linux desktop grievances:
  1. No cutting-edge browser. The following browsers would be acceptable: Firefox 3.5, Google Chrome, or Safari 4. No luck. The best you can do is Firefox 3.0, but at this point it's aging, unstable, and slow. (update: there are unsupported builds for 64-bit linux if you add the right repositories)

  2. Driver issues. I spent several hours fighting with X and the NVidia drivers to get my multiple monitor support to work correctly. In fact, I'm still fighting with the drivers on my new computer, see this thread.

  3. Limited 64-bit application support. Currently, this means no Acrobat Reader. There is limited Flash support with the version 10 Alpha. I also can't use my Cisco VPN client, at least not without significant hassle.
Of course the usual suspects haven't improved:
  1. Movie and Game support. Netflix and my other games depend on Windows-only software: DirectX. The people at Crossover/Wine are working on it, but it's still a ways away. I don't expect anything Microsoft to work on Linux properly within my lifetime.

  2. MS Office. Yes, again you can run Crossover, etc... but there are problems with stability and fonts. Granted, this isn't a 64-bit specific problem; it's inherent in all Linux desktop platforms. Don't get me started on Open Office. It's a good tool, but it has serious compatibility and usability problems.
Not to mention all the little annoyances that come with a Linux desktop install: the GPL java and flash versions shipped out of the box that you immediately have to rip out replace because they screw things up.

Why not Windows?
I connect to Linux/Unix environments all day and night for work and other projects. Some of the tools we use only run (well) on Linux. For example, don't even waste your time trying to run Hadoop on Windows. Trust me, it's a time sink.

The reality is that I have to compromise and run both. I live between two worlds at any given time.

One of my solutions is to dual-boot with Windows 7, which works well. However, even a 64-bit Windows platform has it's own compatibility problems. For example, my venerable Cisco VPN client doesn't support it, instead I had to go with a third-party NCP. My other solution is virtualization. My computers are now fast enough where I can run Linux inside VMWare (although not the other way around; there are still Direct3D and DirectX issues).

My punchline: install Windows and run Linux in a VM (or dual-boot as a backup-plan).

A throwback to the old days of 64-bit
I remember back in 2002 at IBM we had problems with 64-bit support on the Itaniums ("Itanics") we were testing. However, with 64-bit being mainstream for several years now I didn't expect as many issues as I ran into. I still love 64-bit for servers, but as a desktop it's annoying. I'm most disappointed with Firefox for their lack of support in 3.5, c'mon, really?

End Rant.


  1. Good question. I've owned a Macbook in the past. I think they make solid laptops, albeit expensive.

    The main reason that I don't have a Mac is that Mac Pros are expensive and overpriced. Don't get me wrong, they're sexy and OS X is fun to use. However, you pay for the brand and experience over the hardware. I built my desktop from the ground up and hand-selected every the best of every component. A comparable Mac Pro is 2.5x the price.

    Furthermore, I have similar compatibility issues with games (DirectX, etc...) and even still some inter-platform Office compatibility issues. In the past, I've also had issue with their Java platform support lagging significantly behind (Java 1.6 was only recently released for OS X).

    Apple and I have philosophical differences on form over function and developer freedom (or the lack thereof). It's one of the reasons I'm trying to hold out for a solid Android phone instead of getting an iPhone.

  2. I'm personally willing to pay for the experience (and support). I find linux interfaces incredibly grating and seem slapped-together. I even dislike Firefox on the mac -- the UI doesn't completely jive with the rest of the system. I've had very positive experiences with purchasing refurbished Macs as well as with Mac support. And, you get 64bit support with none of the issues you listed (except DirectX) -- Netflix streaming, MS Office, Adobe products, etc. all work beautifully.

    The Mac Pros do seem to be geared solely to business purchases -- starting at $2500 is a bit crazy.

    I disagree with your comment about developer freedom (outside of of the bizarre iPhone app approval process). Its my impression that Apple does a fantastic job of courting and supporting developers, and their development tools are generally excellent.

  3. Anonymous1:56 PM EDT

    Ease up on the coffee dude! I use both Win x64 and Linux x64 exclusively as I work with >10Gb images and rendering them with <4Gb of RAM is just not possible. All the applications I use are native 64 bit and work flawlessly on the 64 bit o/s. In the Windows environment, everything I need works perfectly; in fact, I don't even notice any incompatibilities at all! Linux is set up for specialized work and runs without a hitch. I understand the point you're driving at though - Adobe, for example, has been dragging its heals with complete 64 bit support, but things will change quickly over the next year. With installed RAM in most machines being 4Gb or greater (Macbook Pro now comes with 8Gb), the need for 64 bit o/s's is rapidly becoming the norm and will be paramount in the future. Bottom line, there may be a couple of headaches now, but that will disappear quickly. Use a VM for legacy apps.

  4. Another Win fanboi rant, Adobe x64 flash benchmarks better in Linux than Windows, check the Phoronix benchmarks, Adobe Acrobat reader 8.1 is in the repos as well, the point is why would you install bloat when Linux comes with better lighter pdf readers. If you are hooked on Windows games etc. Linux is just not for you but the other issues you post here is simply crud, you just didnt' have the resilience to look, thats all. Are you aware that FF3.5 is default in Fedora and in other distros, all you need to do is add the repos and you will get it automatically updated. Opera 10 which is quickest browser around is also available for x64 Linux and runs quite well. Now that you mention Java, the latest Sun Java 1.6.0_14 benchmarks better in Linux than in Windows, check the Phoronix site. All Java plugins work fine and speedier in FF and Opera compared to Windows. Open Office 3.1 is fully compatible with any MS Office format and I regularly save documents in docx format for other places and they face no issues. In the end, all this you are getting for free, x64 Linux distros run pure x64, don't need to run WoW or other emulation, all apps are legit x64 with few non-free exceptions, in terms of overall speed, encoding, editing etc, x64 Linux handily beats Windows. Also when was the last time Windows got a file system update, Windows keep adding new names to its old OS for typical marketing ploy for immatures who jump on new GUI, some game features etc.inside Widnows till today is the same old NT with the ancient antiquated ntfs and registry, when will that ever change.

    Lastly the less I say about Mac, the better, I would rather use Windows over that hype of a OS, its now among the most vulnerable and easy to hack, just check security sites on recent Mac issues.

    Enough said.

  5. Macs are nice, but he already has hardware.

    I'd say take a look at the recent OpenSolaris 2009.06. All of the tools you're used to on Linux are there with a real Java (and real flash and Adobe reader if you want them.) All with 64 bit goodness and none of this "can't run 32 bit applications on a 64bit OS" foolishness that Linux and Windows force on you.

    Also, you get ZFS goodness for your home storage needs.

  6. I think some people here run VirtualBox on their Ubuntu machines and have windows as the guest OS to use when needed.

  7. Jon on Apple developer support:
    Besides the app store issues, there are other problems. For example, there was the NDA controversy where Apple banned developers from writing/sharing experiences. It took them six to fix it.

    I'll consider the refurb option for my next laptop.

    Arup -
    I don't think Firefox 3.5 is standard on other distros, I think it's FF 3.0. I agree that Linux has great Java support, that's one of the key reasons I use it. I strongly disagree about OO being fully compatible; a lot of things break.

    Thanks for the Opera 10 tip. The Chromium alpha was recently released, which give me some hope.

  8. Anonymous3:03 PM EDT

    Just a quick post to say I have (currently) come to the same punch line: run an x64 version of Windows, and run Linux in a VirtualBox session when necessary.

    I tried going the other way - installing a fresh Ubuntu 9.04 x64 and then running Windows as a guest. But I quickly got tired of having to edit this file or that file just to get the basic components of the machine working.

    I only need Linux to build embedded linux kernels, and with the virtualization technologies and VMs so good now, it is basically running at full speed. And even if it is not, I am willing to forgo some performance if I do not have to reboot or give up my fancy 3D games...


  9. Anonymous4:03 PM EDT

    Thanks for the mention of CrossOver. We'd like to think that we'll have numerous Windows apps running well before your tenure on this planet ends. Heck, we think we already do. ;-)


    -jon parshall-

  10. I sympathize with the x86_64 woes, I have just came back from running a Ubuntu 32bit OS back to openSUSE as it wont allow you to install a 32 bit OS over a 64 bit machine until the general situation with 64 bit cleared up and i have to admit that its got a bit better.

    I am running the Alpha 64bit flash plugin and it seems a bit more stable then the 32bit that had been shoved through ndiswrapper (i hate something not running natively)

    I do sympathise as well regarding cutting edge browsers, my is of course firefox (would hate not to have scribefire for bloggin...) and the 3.5 beta version for Ubuntu which temporary name escapes me is very wobbly when i made the choice to go back to openSUSE. The version from the openSUSE devel repo is like a different machine

    Also i do remember installing the Nvidia kernel driver on Ubuntu and i think its better to do it manully.

    Good luck anyway

  11. Anonymous4:21 AM EDT

    Sorry dude - obviously you don't know enough about Unix to judge. Maybe you didn't make run like you wanted, but that doesn't mean that it won't work .
    You want Firefox 3.5 ? So take the bloody sources and compile it !
    If you need some Steve Ballmer to do it for you then pay him and stick with Windows.
    (Windows seven is a fine system - so why not)
    It's quite funny you used Ubuntu - For me the M$ in the Linux world - same intentions: The user is stupid and knows to use a mouse - keyboard is only to type Letters.
    Get yourself a real Linux like Slackware, compile it yourself from sources and you'll end up with an operating system with no edges :
    A word to 64 bit apps:
    There are *tons* for linux and just a few for Windows as most of Win "64" bit apps use the wow64 subsystem as all Win64 are multilib.
    Acrobat reader ?? You don't need it as there are plenty of alternatives. btw Acrobat (not only the reader) works on Lin with winedoors in 5 Minutes.
    Flash-player ? There is one (even in alpha) for Linux grace of the community, which bombed Adobe with petitions ans demands.
    But there is none for Windows. Did you ever realized, that you are using a 32bit Browser by default on 64bit Windows? Maybe not ....
    I'm a Software developer myself and we will certainly need Windows for some things like for the lambda user in companies where support is an issue etc etc.
    But when we talk about software quality Linux is far ahead as most tools are around for ages and the *paying* users is not used as an alpha tester as all these Ballmers on this planet like to misuse them.
    So maybe next time THINK before you WRITE