Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
How Not To Switch To Linux With Your Hosts Linus and Luke

10/30/2021 14:13:38

So over the last few weeks Linus and Luke over at LTT / FloatPlane have been teasing us with tales of their so-called Linux Challenge. The basic premise being that whichever of them can switch from Windows to Linux on their daily driver home PCs, wins the challenge. Simple enough, right? Well as it turns out, not actually.

From a high level this could've been a good thing. This challenge could've helped to expose the benefits of choosing to be a Linux gamer to a wider audience and effectively helped to propel what is now a niche-gaming platform to another level... perhaps even the mythical "next level". Alas that is not going to be the case here. After watching a significant portion of last night's episode of The WAN Show it has become clear that Linus and to a lessor extent, Luke, went into this challenge with what I can only describe as the "wrong attitude".

Now before you start composing those nasty emails and tweets to me, give me a chance to explain. I'm not gate keeping here. I'm simply calling out their apparent original expectations as unrealistic and ultimately self-destructive notions that have effectively ruined the challenge and the good exposure it could have generated. This is a real shame too, because this could've been absolutely great.

Linus essentially went on a huge rant last night, with Luke intermittently contributing to back up whatever misguided point that he was currently making. Going into this I was worried about how Linus might approach it but I was hopeful that Luke would prove to be a moderating influence. I'm sorry to say that this expectation was not met. In any event, I'd to address a few of the points Linus made with sober and rational responses as The WAN Show was sorely lacking in that last night.

  1. "I paid for it in the Microsoft freaking stupid launcher!"

    So in this portion, Linus complains that his kids are mad at him because Minecraft Dungeons doesn't work under Linux. Except it does. I wrote about playing this very game on Linux earlier this month. It doesn't work for Linus because he bought it on the Microsoft Windows Store and proceeds to complain that it doesn't work on Linux.

    Well of course it doesn't work. Why would you expect anything you purchased on the Microsoft Windows Store to work on Linux? That's not even remotely reasonable and in fact is utterly misguided. How can one reasonably skewer Linux for this particular failing? That same game purchased from that same store won't work on the PS5, or the Switch or the Mac. So WTF?

    He then tries to point out that people telling him that it works perfectly fine on Steam in Linux are wrong because he already paid for it. Too bad. You switched platforms. Not everything is going to transition perfectly, especially in an age where apps and games are largely offered up via proprietary storefronts hellbent on locking you into that platform.

    He may as well complain that the apps he bought on the Apple App Store don't work on his Samsung Galaxy Fold, because that's just as nonsensical as what he's complaining about here.

  2. "The troubleshooting process is worse than Windows"

    To put it bluntly, this might actually be the worst comment of the entire exchange. I have wasted years of my life troubleshooting both Windows and Linux and let me tell you, there is no comparison. Just last week in fact I had to troubleshoot a user's computer at a client that was randomly blue screening. In order to figure out what the problem was, I had to download and install Microsoft's WinDbg utility and analyze a fucking MEMORY.DMP file.

    I had to do this because Windows doesn't tell you anything useful in these situations. You get a code and maybe an obscure error message and that's literally it. You have to use WinDbg to figure out which driver caused the problem in order to trace the root cause to a piece of hardware or a virtual device that is misbehaving so you can actually solve the problem. Meanwhile all I'm getting from Dell Support is, "REINSTALL WINDOWS".

    Long story short, the problem was Dell's own SupportAssist software drivers which apparently invasively monitor activity on the system in a very flawed manner. Removing that software and the drivers it left installed afterwards fully resolved the issue. For good measure I switched out the RAM and the SSD in the users laptop as well.

    In any event when shit hits the fan with Linux, I can look at a log and see exactly what went wrong. I don't have to install weird debugging tools to know what broke because the damn system just tells me. I'm not afraid to go into the log and look at things like on Windows because its not generally being filled up with useless crap that nobody in their right mind except some Milton-like developer hiding in the basement at Microsoft HQ in Redmond gives a shit about. Seriously if you've never looked at the event log in Windows, its a mess of useless and pointless garbage that makes getting information on actual errors near impossible sometimes.

    The reality here is that Linus only thinks this is worse because in his egocentric viewpoint (a failing we all suffer from at times in our lives) he believes that his high level of technical knowledge in Windows should, can and has somewhat translated over to Linux. Only it hasn't. Linux is a totally different ballgame. It's not the same at all. Being an expert Windows user doesn't make you an expert Linux user. The reverse of that is also true.

    Switching OSes isn't something that fits well into the context of a three week challenge because its harder than that. The more experienced you are with the OS that you are coming from, the harder it will be. It took me ten years to fully switch from Windows to Linux. I spent years going back and forth between the two until Windows finally forced me to fully divest myself of it's nastiness with the forced upgrade campaign for Windows 10. Until that moment, I didn't have enough motivation to go whole hog.

    That motivation is valuable because it forces you to consider the idea that things can benefit from being very different. Until you get to that point, you'll always view the thing you are attempting to use through the lens of the thing that you used to use.

  3. "One of the responses from the community was, you shouldn't want to do that"

    This is where the rubber hits the road for me because this is when we start running headlong into Linus' steadfast unwilling-less to approach Linux as anything other than a drop-in replacement for Windows.

    In the example he gave, the community was 100% right. You shouldn't want to do that. We have systems in place that make it so that you should never have to actually do that. If you still insist on screwing with system level folders and files in your system, then guess what? You have to use the command line / shell to do it because there is a real chance that you are about to really mess something up. GUI File Managers in Linux largely don't accommodate this because there is no legitimate reason for them too. If you want to install something into system folders or remove something from system folders, you either need to go through one of the official methods the system offers for this (app stores / package managers) or you need put on your big boy pants and open up the shell and do it.

    If you can't be arsed to open up the shell to do it, congratulations! The community and your distro maintainer just saved you from your own self-destructive impulse. This isn't Windows. These kinds of critical file system level operations are generally not required outside of a server context (which generally is a largely exclusive command line / shell experience anyway).

    So even though you will not appreciate it Linus, let me on behalf of the entire Linux community respond to this misguided criticism: "You're Welcome". I would also like to thank the community on the Manjaro forums for keeping Linus from shooting himself in the foot even further. Goodness knows, that's the last thing this challenge needed anymore of.

  4. "The social aspect has honestly been the biggest impact I didn't forsee"

    This is one of my favorite quotes as it cuts to the core of why so many Internet associated things, such as gaming, are stunningly caustic. Everything has been turned into some sort of parasocial experience. One thing I have begun to realize when I see how some of my friends game or my nieces and nephews game is that gaming for them is a very social activity. It's a very dysfunctional mechanic too as it centers around everybody flocking to the this weeks coolest thing and trying to be the first among their social herd to achieve a particular thing or to be the best at something.

    This topic frankly deserves its own post and maybe it will get one someday. But in any event, I feel bad for gamers that have bought into this idiocy. They have committed to wasting both their time and their money on chasing some sort of prize that they can't ever actually claim. Social fulfillment will not be found through gaming. It will never happen.

  5. Choosing Content versus Choosing a Platform

    Near the end of his largely misguided rant, Linus makes two statements within a single minute that not only are inherently contradictory to one another, but illustrate why switching to Linux with the goal of replicating your gaming experience on Windows is nothing more than a massive failbaot waiting to happen:

    "We don't choose games based on what runs on the platform. That's the definition of ass backwards"

    "It's almost like people choose platforms based on content"

    The problem here is simple. In the first statement he's admonishing community members for giving him grief for expecting that every single Windows game ought to work under Linux, which is absurd. There has never once in the history of computing been a platform that has allowed for a perfect level of compatibility with software written for a totally different platform. It's simply not a reasonable expectation. People are right to push back on it.

    In the second statement he's basically explaining why people still buy the Nintendo Switch despite its technical disadvantages. He fully accepts that in the case of a console device, you can legitimately choose that console based on the content it has available for it. Yet on the flip side, he refuses to acknowledge that switching from Windows to Linux can be expected to create some variation in what content is available to him as a gamer.

    This is of course nonsensical. It cuts to the core of the problem with this entire exercise too. Linux gaming just like Linux general purpose computing is something that can quite clearly stand on its own. If you want to ding Linux because less games work on it, please do so. That's a legitimate criticism. But pinging us because some script written by some random dude on the internet two years ago doesn't get that same game working today doesn't make much sense.

    The reality is that most people choose platforms based on content. They generally buy a PlayStation because it has a game they can't play somewhere else. Likewise with the Xbox and the Switch. The reality is that in the Linux community most of us made a different choice. We choose to accept less content in favor of the other advantages we get due to running Linux. If Linux is being viewed primarily through the lens of the Windows Gamer, it is always going to have a bad time. But the same goes for Xbox versus Playstation and Switch versus Windows and so on and so forth.

That point leads to me my closing statement which is this: If you aren't happy with the gaming content on Linux, don't switch to it. Save yourself and the Linux community a lot of time and grief by just opting out. If Windows offers you the gaming experience and content that you want, you should absolutely 100% stick with that.

As for me, after years of getting accustomed to Linux and Linux gaming, I'm perfectly happy over here. Steam and Proton both work great and I largely ignore other Windows only game stores on Linux. I generally don't run Windows apps at all outside of a few games on Steam that I run via Proton.

Transitioning to Linux isn't about getting a superior gaming experience. It's about getting a superior computing experience in general that also allows you to game. Looking at it any other way is a recipe for disaster and it truly saddens me to see that this is the route that Linus and Luke have gone with their challenge. I hope that as they get more time to accumulate and reflect further on their experiences that they will come to appreciate that there are different points of view that absolutely allow for the Linux gaming experience to be a satisfactory one.

If they can't at least do that, then they will have fallen victim to one of the same things they keep accusing members of the Linux community of: Gate keeping. The idea that you can't be a "real" gamer without running Windows is utter hogwash and anybody telling you different is selling you a pack of lies.

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