One thing that holds Linux back

Recently a video card refused to work in the computer of my wife's parents. No video signal, no beeps from inside the case, no smoke (luckily!), just nothing. My wife being the second local computer geek (I am the first one, you know ;)) just took a card from our desktop and used it for replacing the faulty one in the problematic machine. It worked as expected, but she run only up to BIOS screen to receive some video output and confirm that the old video card was in fact broken.

After I got back from work I quickly started Ubuntu in the "single" mode, changed little bits in the xorg.conf and then the parents' Linux system worked as before. It took several minutes at best. Then I assisted the sister-in-law in the Windows XP routine: run in VGA mode, unistall driver, reboot in VESA mode, download and install a new driver (I don't like the drivers that come on a CD), reboot and tweak settings. At least twice the time, and I really tried to be as quick as possible. At home I dig out an old PCI card and did a similar thing to both OS-es on my own computer, to be able to search for a new video card.

Then it struck me: even though X.org has made great leaps forward, there was still something tricky with configuring it.

I was quicker in Linux, and even though I don't like to admit this, it was possible to guide a person through the Windows way of replacing the video drivers. Even though the procedure was lenghty and required reboots, most of time I was able to explain each step in a simple way. On the other hand, after several years of Gentoo experience I think I do know the Linux stuff. Things like "X -configure", horizontal and vertical frequencies, settings for additional mouse buttons - I tried them all throughout last years on different hardware (and I really could go on and on). Just a couple of quick edits and the X server worked again; a simple procedure in my opinion, however rather hard to explain to the said person.

And yet, I still felt like there was something tricky.

You see, it's perfectly possible to configure the X.org server up to the user's heart. Despite this you can see here and there a call for help: "black screen", "unsupported frequency", "unable to set correct resolution", "extra mouse buttons don't work", "issues with additional monitor", you name it.
To all these people it is this one specific program, the X.org server, that gives them impression of Linux being "hard". Most of time problems with the graphics makes the less skilled users unable to jump into the Linux land or unable to do their work if they already have Linux installed (as may be the case for replacing a faulty video card).

What I really mean is this: it seems like all the bases are covered for X.org. The drivers work, all the functionality is there. It's just that X.org lacks serious attempt at handling errors like these, should they arise. Even more user-friendly than it is now. Yes, it's getting better - BulletProofX, displayconfig-gtk - but for example, not all Linux distributions offer a way of booting into a safe graphical mode (PCLinuxOS stands out nicely here). With the other OS from Redmont, there are at least means of failing back into safe defaults. I guess someone should get a hint here.

From the end-user point of view there are two biggest roadblocks that should be improved: better X.org error handling and configuration tools, as well as better wireless support. But the latter is worth an article on its own.

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