Where have I been over the last week? Well, I’ve been on a whirlwind ride of anger and frustration during the last few days, but thankfully things are settling down. It all started with a story of how Microsoft is censoring personal messages on their Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger). If there’s one thing that I can’t stand in the world, it’s limitations and censorship… I guess that’s two things, but you get the idea. I was so angry that I decided (for the eleventieth time) that I was done with Microsoft products… forever. With the disaster that is shaping up to be Windows 8 with all the tiles, charms, metros, and swiping features (swiping, on a desktop PC… seriously??), I figured now was as good of a time as any to make the switch to Linux.
After doing a little research, I decided to try Linux Mint. It was, according to many reviews, the most user friendly version of Linux, and was supposedly a good starting point for people that were making the switch. Well, I downloaded the live CD, tried it out, and actually enjoyed my time on it. Then I installed it… and oh, wow, what a mistake. The first challenge turned out to be the only challenge, and the one that may have forever changed my mind about Linux as a usable operating system for desktop computers. I have two monitors, and like to use dual monitors on my PC. One has a resolution of 1440x900, while the other is 1024x768, and because of the way my desk is built, the only spot to place my bigger screen that I do most of my work on is the right side, meaning I have to put my spare monitor on the left. Windows has never given me any problems with placing my spare monitor on the left, and just extending my desktop to the left screen, while leaving my taskbar and everything else on the right. Welcome to Linux, where even something as minor as hooking up a second screen becomes a painful, tedious process!
I was so happy when the dual monitors worked just fine on the live CD. I figured that maybe Linux, as a whole, had finally turned the corner from being the bug filled mess that I had experience with in the past (I’ve used several different distros, and all with the same results — frustration), to being an easily useable operating system. I installed it, booted it up, and my second monitor wasn’t recognized in Linux. No problem, right? Just install the nVidia drivers (I have an nVidia graphics card) available in the repository and everything else should be simple, right? Right??
After installing the drivers, going into the nVidia settings, and setting up the dual monitor support, everything, taskbar, windows, icons, all switched to the left screen… exactly where I didn’t want them. I struggled mightily in the dual monitor settings, switching every possible option that I could think of, hitting errors, blank screens, and finding that there was no real way to make my right monitor my primary screen, even when the option to make my right monitor the primary screen was selected. Every file I test downloaded popped up on the left screen, every new window that opened appeared on the left, and I finally gave up. I ended up downloading Ubuntu, figuring it would do what I wanted since it is by far the most popular and widely used Linux distro.
In all honesty, I really liked Ubuntu. The way their Unity desktop operates makes things really enjoyable and easily understandable, and it’s just as pretty as any Aero that Windows can offer. However, setting up dual monitors gave me the same problems that I had with Linux Mint, and was possibly even worse than Linux Mint. I understand that Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, so they’re going to have some of the same issues… but the dual monitor thing shouldn’t really be an issue at all. The only way to keep everything I wanted on the right screen and strictly have the left screen as a spare was to set my left screen up as the right screen… confused yet? So, if I wanted to drag a window over to the left screen, I actually had to drag it to the right. I was willing to deal with the monitor issue if it meant finally being free from the clutches of the evil empire of Microsoft. Now, remember when I pointed out that my monitors had different resolutions? That comes into play next.
I restarted my computer, ready to continue setting up and customizing my Ubuntu installation. However, a nice fat error message popped up when I got to my desktop. It read something along the lines of the virtual screen size wasn’t the same as the physical screen size. Apparently the the way the nVidia drivers work on Linux is that it creates a space that is equal to the width of both monitors together (side by side) and the height of the highest monitor, and slaps your desktop on it. Since my monitors are two different sizes, there’s a nice blank spot on the desktop that the smaller monitor doesn’t see, and the desktop extends off of it, creating the error message. That was it, at that point, I was done with Linux on my desktop PC. I really wanted to like it, I really wanted to use it as my everyday operating system. I was fully prepared to commit to it… but when it can’t do something as simple as allow me to use my monitors in whatever configuration that I want, that’s a huge strike against it. I know that there’s probably some magical workaround using the terminal and command line crap and the sudo apt get this or that, but there’s no reason that something so simple needs to be so complicated.
I don’t play many PC games, and the ones I do play are easily playable on Linux. I use my PC more for music and media purposes, which Linux can easily do with XBMC. One thing Linux apparently doesn’t easily do? Dual monitors.
That’s not to say that I’ll never use Linux again. Every year or two, I do try out a couple of different distros. I’m sure after I’ve had some time to cool off, I’ll be ready to give it another go… or whenever my new Windows installation decides to bog down and crap out again. As I said before, I really liked the Unity desktop that Ubuntu offers as it’s quite functional, and it even has enough eye-candy so I don’t get bored with it. If/when I get a laptop, I’ll probably immediately install Ubuntu on it (since a laptop obviously wouldn’t have two screens). Now I’m off to sit and wonder what could’ve been if only Linux was functional enough to perform a few simple tasks.