Why I gave up using Linux
At the beginning of 2008 I decided to install Linux on my shack computer. I disliked Microsoft treating me as a software thief with its constant Genuine Windows checks, I was fed up with all the hassles of constant updates and security software to keep Windows free of viruses and spyware, and I had no desire to eventually be forced to use Windows Vista with its unnecessary glitz, pointless user interface changes, and which broke many of my programs. As an amateur radio enthusiast, I liked the idea of using an operating system developed by other amateur enthusiasts, where the software was free and open source for all to see and learn from.
After several months, during which I found myself booting from the Windows partition more and more often, the situation arose where I had to reinstall the operating system. When it came to the point, I found there was no compelling reason to reinstall Linux. This was not due to any major defect in Linux itself, but simply because there are so many more applications and products that only run under Windows.
Could do better
That is not to say that I found nothing wrong with Linux itself (or rather, to satisfy the nit-pickers, the combination of Linux and its GUI - KDE in my case.)
Despite claims that Linux is leaner and runs faster than Windows, I actually found Windows XP runs better on the same computer. Admittedly I'm comparing performance with a reinstalled Windows XP, without any anti-virus or security software. It just goes to show the extent to which this security software drags down the performance of a Windows PC.
I didn't find Linux particularly stable, either. The file manager would often freeze up when trying to access files on a shared drive across the network. Applications crashed more often than I was used to under Windows. Firefox would sometimes vanish instantly from the screen, something I have never experienced with the Windows version.
The user interface is clunky and inconsistent compared to Windows. Some things can be done through a control panel, but too many required editing a text file or typing commands into a console. You can move files by dragging with the right mouse button and selecting Move when within the file manager, but not from the desktop. The potential for a serious rival to Windows is there, but it needs a lot of work on the small details. Linux could be a lot better, but it isn't.
Limited choice of applications
But the main reason for my giving up Linux on my shack computer was the lack of radio applications.
I don't use a lot of ham radio software so I didn't think this was going to be a problem. I used MixW for data modes on Windows, but Fldigi is just as good in most areas. Fldigi is limited on the logging side, and there are fewer logging applications available for Linux - though there are a couple of quite good ones. But as I was developing my own logging program KComm, which uses MixW-compatible log files, that was not an issue.
The problem was not just a lack of applications, but a lack of applications for my particular Linux distribution. And that highlighted what to me seems to be a serious flaw in the design of Linux - its inability to run generic precompiled application binaries. I wanted to use the latest Fldigi, but I could not because it was not available in the application repository of my distribution. Dave, the developer, provides a precompiled binary - quite an unusual thing for a for Linux developer to do - but I could not use it because it was compiled to work with a different version of Linux than the one I was using. Contrast this with Windows, where a single program will run on any version of XP or Windows 2000 and quite probably on Vista, Windows Me and Windows 98 as well. In fact, I could run Fldigi version 3 on my Windows partition, but was stuck with version 2.07 under Linux.
But the lack of good quality radio applications in general for Linux is the real killer. Someone on qrz.com asked recently what was the Linux equivalent to Ham Radio Deluxe. The short answer: There isn't one. A few months ago some people started raving about a new Morse decoding program for Windows, CW Skimmer, that I was interested in trying. There's nothing like it for Linux, and it won't run under wine (a sort of Windows emulator for Linux) either.
Nor are there anything like DX Atlas, or Faros, to name just a couple. The only serious contest logging software that I am aware of is Tlf, a console mode program. Windows has about half a dozen to choose from. If you're into EchoLink then the client for Linux, Qtel, is a shadow of the Windows version. When interesting new data modes are developed, the first applications that support them are almost always Windows applications.
Then there is the problem of using ham radio accessories that require computer software to operate them. If you want to use a USB sound card interface such as the US Interface Navigator, for example, you won't find any Linux drivers for it. I sold my RigExpert interface a few months ago because it wasn't supported under Linux.
A while ago I bought a RigExpert antenna analyzer. It can be controlled from a PC, if you want, and includes software that can be used to capture data or SWR plots to computer files. This software is Windows-only, does not run under wine, and an email to the manufacturer asking for details of the communication protocol so I could write my own went unanswered. Not the fault of Linux, of course, but hey, I'm just a guy who wants to use a computer for things related to my hobby. Why should it become my problem?
Most recently I have decided to explore programmable microcontrollers or PICs. Needless to say the compilers and support software for the manufacturers development systems are for Microsoft Windows only. I believe there are GNU PIC programming tools and circuits for programmers you can build yourself but I am a complete newbie, I don't need the extra obstacles to overcome and I want to be using something mainstream so I can get support if needed.
I was recently Googling for information about a PIC development board I was thinking of buying and came across the following post in a Linux forum: "Hi I have EasyPIC5 development system from mikroE for PIC microcontrolers, it have no driver for linux. I need to write my own driver in order to get it to work on my laptop with Fedora OS. Where can i find some tutorials, or hints about this issue? Help me please. I'm desperate." The poor guy never received an answer.
This seems to me to be the problem with Linux in a nutshell. Linux is potentially a great system but in practise there are numerous obstacles to overcome that take time and usually require considerable technical knowledge. If Linux itself is your interest then this is obviously acceptable, but if your main aim is to use your computer for something else it's just too much time and trouble. Rather than write my own drivers, I'm going to take the easier option and use Windows. Sorry, Linux.
This is not meant to be an anti-Linux article. In fact, most of the main criticisms I have made about the lack of really good quality Linux ham radio software and the lack of hardware that is supported under Linux apply to the Mac OS as well. I would love to be able to use Linux with my radio hobby and not be helping to perpetuate Microsoft's dominance of the OS arena. But Linux was getting in the way of my doing what I wanted to do. Some of the obstacles could perhaps be overcome given time and knowledge. But I'd really rather spend my hobby time using the radio than trying to find solutions to problems that wouldn't be problems if I used Windows. Life's too short to be using Linux!
When I was younger and working in corporate IT I was often told that the problem with IT people is that they try to make the user requirement fit their preferred solution. The correct approach to an IT problem is to analyze the requirement and then try to find the best solution. So you should think about exactly what radio and electronics applications you need, and then choose the computer and operating system on the basis of what will run them. Just deciding to run Linux is putting the cart before the horse, unless your real objective is to try out Linux, in which case don't let me stop you.
I don't like Microsoft any more than I did when I first decided I was going to use Linux for ham radio. But the bottom line is I'm able to do a lot more with the software Windows offers me, and that, for me, is what ultimately matters.