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Four stupid mistakes I made when installing Linux to get a free Team Fortress 2 penguin

I wrote this because you were all incredibly mean to me and I'm very sorry.

Earlier this week I called Linux a dumb operating system for jerks because I'd had a bad time with Ubuntu, which in hindsight is like saying wheels are a terrible idea because you saw a car crash. Ubuntu isn't Linux, it's just the damp towel around Linux's waist, the gaudy umbrella in its cocktail, the lens through which its light shines, the hole in the cubicle wall through which its genitals protrude. Ubuntu is a contentious facade wrapped around the innocent Linux, and I didn't make this clear enough in my previous article. A few people got in touch to point this out, offering friendly advice and helpful direction, taking me softly by the hand and whispering gentle wisdom in my ears. So here are the four biggest mistakes I made when installing Ubuntu, that you might avoid doing the same.

MISTAKE ONE: I used the Wubi installation of Ubuntu

When installing Linux my goal was to retrieve the free Team Fortress 2 penguin Valve were dishing out to new Linux players, not because I am particularly interested in TF2 tchotchke, rather because it seemed like a reasonable test of how straightforward a Linux setup would be for the average migrating Windows user. So I took the path of least resistance, adopting the Linux distro recommended by Valve and using the Wubi installer (again, without wanting to apportion blame, this was suggested by Valve themselves), which sets up a bootable version of Ubuntu within Windows. This isn't the ideal way to install Ubuntu, as was pointed out to me, as it's essentially running an emulated, hobbled version of the OS. No wonder it was spewing out error messages like digital confetti, poor Linux was under some duress, struggling to breathe with a big Windows 7 fatty sitting on its chest.

This time around, I didn't use the Wubi installer. I gave Linux a whole hard drive to itself and used GRUB, a boot loader for managing multiple operating systems, to boot to it.

MISTAKE TWO: I used the latest release of Ubuntu

I've quickly learned that Linux and Ubuntu are not really "for" people like me. My idea of staying on the bleeding edge of OS tech was that time I installed Windows XP Service Pack 2 against the advice of friend. "I can handle it," I told him as he stood, mouth agape, staring at the progress bar. And I could. But the latest versions of Linux distros, I now understand, are more like lawless Wild West frontier towns. They're half-constructed, embryonic, problem-infested works in progress and they're presented with the chunky caveat that things might not work as they should. At the best of times, Linux is unfriendly to newcomers, at the worst of times it's Ubuntu 12.10. So if you don't know what you're doing, you should stick to the LTS (long-term support) release, which is Ubuntu 12.04. 

This time around, I didn't install Ubuntu 12.10.

MISTAKE THREE: I even used Ubuntu in the first place

There are a buttload of popular Linux distros available, of which Ubuntu is but one. Apparently it's falling out of fashion with the Linux community, while distros like Linux Mint are rising through the ranks like twinkly eyed boy pop stars. Mint looks a lot more like Windows than the waywardly designed Ubuntu (which, like a petulant teenager, slings its taskbar to the side of the screen, where it's at its most useless). It has a start menu that doesn't advertise trousers to you, it has helpful tooltips for gutless novices like myself, it's much faster (probably as it's not installed under Windows this time) and far less intimidating.

It's not without its own set of bizarre problems: YouTube videos would play at 5x speed until I changed the default audio device, streamed music would skip whenever I sent or received a Skype message, and most of the software I use for entertainment and work simply isn't available: Adobe Creative Suite, Spotify, basic stuff that makes an operating system actually useful. That said, I can understand the appeal of how nothing is obfuscated by an invisible Microsoft nanny, how you can nuke your system with a few keystrokes in the terminal, how you're trusted to act like a grown up with the technology at your fingertips. Linux puts you nearer to your PC's guts than you'll ever get with Windows, for better or worse. But for me, a regular Joseph Schmoseph, there's no benefit to be had.

Regardless, this time I installed Linux Mint. It was better.

MISTAKE FOUR: I'm a massive idiot

I think this raises the most interesting point of all. I'm the epitome of the average PC gamer, somebody with a modicum of tech savvy, just enough to update drivers, partition a drive, replace a graphics card, install an operating system. But this middling degree of know-how isn't enough to get by with either of the two Linux distros I've tried, not without putting in the time and effort required to learn how it all works. Time and effort that results in me owning a system that, as far as the average PC gamer is concerned, doesn't do anything Windows already does better. A system that in fact does many, many things worse.

A common criticism I've seen of users who fail to wrap their heads around Ubuntu is that they're simply unwilling to learn something new, but these same confused Linux-newcomers would have no such problems learning the differences between Windows and Mac OS, or iOS and Android. That highlights a real usability gulf, one that's preventing Linux from ever becoming more than a playground for an insular community of programmers. And that's what frustrated me. That's why I called it a dumb operating system for jerks, because I'm a petulant, spoilt idiot who's come to expect much, much better.

So it's interesting that Valve seems to be expanding into a space where the vast majority of their customers will be unable to follow. Which suggests to me that Valve's plans are grander and more long-term: they want to establish Steam as a Linux-compatible platform, promote development of Linux-compatible games and eventually, at some point in a hazy future, have an open-source operating system — perhaps their very own distro, a SteamOS — to stick in a box and sell. The decision to dangle a free penguin in front of TF2 players makes some sense too: if just 1% of players are converted to Linux, they'll have gained a invaluable foothold and put into action a mighty anticipatory swing of the wheel ahead of a potential commercial iceberg years down the line.

Whatever their plans, I doubt Gabe is expecting a Windows exodus any time soon. Not as long as idiots like me are playing his games.

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I don't agree with the people saying that Wubi was a bad choice, it was actually the best choice since you were only trying it out and not installing it permanently.

I used the Wubi installer to install Xubuntu 12.04 and it worked out great, got TF2 and all of the other Linux steam games (that fit in to the limited space) working.

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I can't help be feel that both these articles were written deliberately misinformed to create 'rage' hits for the site.

A lot of your problems in the original article actually have nothing to do with Linux, and in fact have to do with driver manufacturers, or how the Steam binaries are made (which is Values fault).

You go on about how you're 'the average PC gamer', and it's already too difficult for you. How many average PC gamers have actually ever reinstalled Windows? Does the average PC gamer even know what partitioning a drive means? How many PC gamers desktops have you ever gone and laughed at the stupid toolbar they mistakenly installed.

If you bought a computer pre-installed with Linux, you'd have the same problems trying to install Windows side by side. (Actually they'd probably be worse because Windows doesn't have support for side-by side installs. Why don't try installing Windows RT on the Ouya to see what'd be like doing it from the other side?).

So your complain essentially boils down to "Wah wah wah I don't understand computers and I tried to do something that expected me to know what I was doing"

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I doubt that Valve's point is to attract gamers from Windows to Linux. More likely preparation that the idea that maybe more people will be running games on non-Windows devices in the future. This household has been running Linux full-time for a long time now. For my two sons that means "more than half their lifetimes", while at school they might use any of Windows, Linux, iOS or OSX at different times. These kids aren't geeks, they're just more familiar with Linux than with those other choices. My oldest son got his first job over christmas, so he's starting to get a disposable income and were he to go buy games with that newfound freedom he's hardly going to blow a few $100 on an OS before he can buy a game.

So really, Valve are interested in getting money out of customers that otherwise would not have the option. As for offering the free game: I bet they got a lot of cheap problem reports out of that. Nothing like persuading some couch potatoes off their bums to get some bad-ass grumpiness hating on all of the rough edges of your UI. I'd buy that. Sure: maybe it comes with a little bad press, but I've heard that "no press" is worse even than that.

After all, these days there are more devices running Linux than just about any other general-purpose operating system you can think of, once you take that special-purpose "Android" flavour into account, and a game that can be made to work on general-purpose versions of Linux can normally be ported to run on Android pretty easily +/- things like mouse vs. touch etc.

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The real problem is that what little the author knows about "computers" is really about how to deal with Microsoft Windows problems, not how to problem solve, or follow directions; two critical skills when using GNU/Linux.

"these same confused Linux-newcomers would have no such problems learning the differences between Windows and Mac OS, or iOS and Android"

Android IS Linux, just like Ubuntu is Linux. The difference is in interface, neither Ubuntu's interface, nor Android's interface is Linux. Linux refers to the operating system kernel, and it powers a LOT of different devices, and services. Linux is arguably powering more devices, and services than any other software on the planet.

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As a professional user of UNIX for more than two decades and system administrator of more Linux PCs and HPC clusters than you can shake a stick at, I must say:

You are right!

The latest distros are experimenting with user interfaces dreamt up by a computer science graduate on amphetamines, with tablets in mind, because that's surely the next step of computing (maybe, and you are the guinea pig. Drivers for your hardware may or may not exist and may or may not work. For help, you are directed to forums where you are told off for asking a question if you could have found the answer in a 600-page document on sourceforge. You may be a better driver if you know how a car works, but you shouldn't be required to assemble it from parts before you drive off.

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