17 Jun 2012

Linux on the test drive

You have just passed your driving test and got your full driving license.
You are fed up with Windows and want to try a new operating system.
You go to the car dealer to buy a new car, and the manager offers you a test drive.
You go to the Linux distribution web site and see the Live CD option there.

You agree to try!

You sit down in the car, and it refuses to start the engine until you shut the door, fasten the seat belt and say your full name and address, after the manager tells you the correct sequence of operations.
You cannot boot from Live CD, because it requires some special boot-time parameters, which you are initially unaware of. Finally, you find the correct parameters somewhere on the Internet.
You put the shifter in first gear and release the clutch. The car is still motionless. That's because you need to have a special adapter between your boots and the pedal. The manager finds the necessary adapter in the warehouse.
You start your new operating system, but cannot connect to the Internet. That's because there is no driver for your specific network card. You must find the necessary driver on the Internet.
Finally, you're on the move. You select second gear, third, and then see a red light. You push the brake pedal, but the car continues to move. You are in a panic. The manager says that you can put your foot out of the door to stop the car.
Finally, you're connected. You try to run one application, and it works OK. You try to install another application from the repository, and it is there. But the third, and most critical application for you, is not there. You realize that the only way to get this application is to compile it from source. .

Are you scared by this perspective? If you're a beginning driver, or user, then you are!

Finally, you can't stop in time, and the car crashes during your test drive. Or hangs on the edge of the cliff. You sit in the car motionless with your hair turning white.
Finally, your Live CD run crashes. Or hangs. The only way to revive the computer is to push the Power button.
And still the manager tries to convince you that this is only a test drive, and your real car will be different and much better. .
And still the community (fanboys) of this particular Linux distribution tell you that everything works fine in the installed version. .
Will you buy the car? If your answer is yes, then you are very likely to be a suicidal person.
Will you install that Linux distribution? If your answer is yes, then... Just read the phrase one line above.

Why should a Linux Live run be any different from the test drive of a new car?

Also to read: Why do I do Live system reviews?


  1. If I had that sort of trouble with a car, I'd visit a different car yard, or two or more, until I find the car I want.

    If I had that trouble with a Linux Live Cd, I'd try a different Linux distribution on live Cd until I found the one I want.

    Seriously it's a no brainer.

    1. You exactly got the point. Car buyers and computer users vote by their feet and dollar, where applicable.

      But this should make the car producer, dealer or distribution team wonder: why test drive did not lead to the purchase or installation? How to make product better? How to "sell" the product, so to speak?

    2. Given that, the GNOME devs keep on coding that abomination known as GNOME 3, in the face of huge negative feedback, I'd guess that the economics of Free Software aren't going to force anyone to do anything they have not already decided to do.

    3. Whatever is personal opinion of yours, GNOME 3 still has some positive results.
      Fedora seems to settle with GNOME3. 8-)

    4. Perhaps that's why Linus had so much negative to say about GNOME 3. Fedora has been his favourite distro for many years.

      The point I was making is that in Free software, negative feedback seems to rarely have any affect on what the devs do.

      What negative feedback does in Free Software is generate a Fork. In the case of GNOME 3, Cinnamon. The original project devs either continue down their personal rabbit hole, or, if enough of them join the Fork, those that are left eventually abandon the original project.

      The consequence of this is that rarely does a distribution team stop to consider why few or any are using their project, they simply continue their merry way until they have insufficient devs to continue.

  2. On a personal note. I'd like to apologise in person for not being around to give you a hard time on LXer. Unfortunately I've been travelling in my motor home, and we have been off the grid for a lot of that time.

    1. You're lucky as you travel around the country. I am only travelling my usual commuting route. :-)

  3. Not a very good analogy, but, point taken.

  4. Ya, and on Windows you ain't have that sort of trouble. you paint your front window blue and Hit the gas until it crashes. But wo cares ? Because of your blue screen you don't see anything, anyhow.. :D

    1. Don't see your point in regards to this article, sorry.

  5. An odd analogy, to say the least...

    I've driven Windows for years, and still do. Over the years I've had to recover from a 2 or 3 serious system failures due to malware. The systems get slower all the time until I need to spend half a day or more reformatting, defragging, scanning...

    In the last two days I've had to spend close to 30 minutes just waiting for two laptops to update before they would power down, the update before starting up.

    With Linux (I use ubuntu and increasingly, arch...), sometimes a device has issues when there's an update. Almost every significant bug gets fixed, although sometimes it takes 1-2 years(!) Performance is improving all the time, especially in graphics. Software is improving noticeably too (compare OpenOffice 2.x to the latest LibreOffice). It's sort of like driving a sporty little European model, which you just know is going to need more attention than the Japanese or Korean model, but drive is fun, and if I learn to tinker with the car, then the whole experience is a lot more rewarding.

    1. Have I written anything about Windows here, apart from the first paragraph "You are fed up with Windows..."?

  6. I think this article was written not as a comparison between windows and linux but as a reason why reviewing live distributions is as valid as reviewing fully installed distributions.

    Many people have commented on the reviews on this blog stating it is unfair that the reviewer has slated certain aspects of the live distribution as he should have tested the fully installed version.

    This article basically points out the fact that if you test drove a car with faulty brakes you wouldn't be confident in buying that car on the promise that the brakes would be perfectly fine when you purchased it.

    Any car dealer who is slack enough to let a car out for test drive with faulty parts cannot necessarily be trusted to fulfull their duties once the vehicle is bought.

    Similarly if something doesn't work in a live distribution should you really get rid of the distribution you are using now on the premise that the fully installed version might just work?

  7. Just by way of additional information. I've had exactly the opposite experience with live CDs to what DD alludes.

    In my case the Live CD worked perfectly, it was after the install that the System failed.

    1. This is why it is a good idea to read reviews of both live CDs and the fully installed version.

      Whilst test driving a car the sales guy could have got a mechanic to make sure there was loads of oil, loads of wd 40 and a nice smelling air freshener. Shortly after buying the car you might realise it drinks a litre of oil a day, has a rusty heap of an engine and the air freshener is disguising the smell of wet dogs and cigarettes.

      In Linux terms the live cd will have a nice gui, will connect straight to your wireless connection and will appear to work perfectly. Things you might not test in the live version such as running videos from a network drive or importing mp3s into banshee may suddenly become a problem after a full install.

      To sum up...

      1. Read a few reviews of live and full installs.
      2. Give the live cd a spin.
      3. Make an informed decision whether to fully install or not.

  8. Just WTF distro are you commenting on? All the Live CDs for the popular distros work. If this is your first experience with Linux, don't go far from the beaten path.

    1. First of all, watch your language.
      Second, I am blogging about Linux for 1.5 years now, and not all the Live Linux distros work.
      From the recent experience: OpenBSD Live, Kubuntu, ROSA.

      Please read more about the site/author before accusing anyone.

    2. Actually DD you should amend that statement to

      "and not all the Live Linux distros work on my hardware"

      This is pretty common, I've had lots of distros that work perfectly from Live CD on my hardware fail on some arbitrary laptop (usually) that someone has purchased and asked me to install Linux on.

      It's simply impossible to create a live CD that manages to cover all possible cases. By and large most Live CDs cover a (largish) section of what most people use. That, however, is no guarantee that distro X will of necessity work on the particular mainstream hardware that any arbitrary person is using.

      I personally have never had a Live CD fail to run on any of my present or past hardware. I may be the exception to the rule, because I don't buy retail, but instead from a factory that guarantees that most of their hardware will work with Linux.

    3. This is of course the reason why Apple produce their operating system for their own hardware. They can limit the amount of failures because they have a static hardware list.

      It is also a battle Microsoft have been fighting for years. It is impossible to get an operating system to work consistently across so many hardware devices.

      Having said that it is important that reviews are written by as many people as possible highlighting their experiences on the hardware they have used. This gives potential users a chance to see any issues and developers a chance to fix those issues.

  9. @DarkDuck,

    Which distro's LiveCD/DVD is the article referring to?

    One could keep in mind that LiveCDs should not necessarily
    be expected to have the kitchen sink with regards to
    drivers and utilities.

    One can also not get any real sense of what the distro's
    performance (with regards to stability, speed etc etc) is
    out of a LiveCD.

    And finally there are many reasons why a LiveCD distro can
    crash where others would not. Scratched or wrongly burned
    DVD, kernel incompatibilities, bad DVD Drives etc etc.

    Personally I don't expect anything from LiveCD/DVD Distros
    other than to see what they look like and whether my
    hardware could work the way I want it.

    Any other expectations arising from the use of LiveCD/DVDs
    of a distro are frivolous at best. But that's just my 2c
    worth of computing wisdom.

    1. This particular article refers to no particular version of Linux, but rather to attention developers (do not) pay to Live versions of their distributions.

    2. Considering that neither Windows (even Windows 8
      cause until we see the finished product it's still
      PR hype for me) with the exception of the severely
      limited Windows PE, nor OSX (and those are traditional
      commercial products) can boot from a CD/DVD/USB
      Linux is already ahead of the game.

      The fact that a typical LiveCD/DVD/USB distro can mount 3rd party partitions such as ntfs puts us further ahead in the game.

      As for other drivers such as wifi and graphics,
      well that is a design decision for every distro
      maker whether it is a FLOSS community or a commercial vendor.

      Whereas Live Distros might not cover the complete
      gamut of the supported hardware perhaps developers
      can disclose the list of supported hardware on the
      Live versions of the distro therefore educate the
      users instead of creating the expectation of
      everything working out of the box.

    3. That would be a good idea to list the supported hardware.
      Unfortunately, hardware issues are not the only ones I saw in Live versions.

  10. Maybe you should test drive cars from reputable dealers. So, should you test drive distros from those companies that know how to get it right. Are all car dealers the same. NO Are all distros the same NO.

    1. That's the difference between bad and good dealer, good and bad distro. Good ones invest in the opinion their customers get from the test drive (Live run). Others do not. Hence, good ones get more customers and users.

  11. Seriously, how many people know anything about installing operating system?

    The sole focus should be getting OEM's to sell Linux directly to the public.

    Google with Android and Canonical, by way of Ubuntu, have been making great inroads in this manner.

    Linux Mint has begun to sell overly priced Mint devices, but I think they get the hint here as well.

    Re: Live CD's I never had an problems with any of them.

    Re: OpenBSD Live, Kubuntu, ROSA those three are not in the top 25 distributions on Distrowatch.

    I need to create a list of awesome LiveCD's now that I think about it.