Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Pete Zaitcev, a well-armed blogger with deep knowledge of all things anime and linux, says my recent commentary on Linux was “hilariously retarded“. My crime was my poor choice of examples of Linux hardware compatibility: USB thumbdrives and optical mice. He’s absolutely right, those are poor examples indeed (unlike, say, graphics cards, TV tuners, webcams, …). However, my broader point stands – seamless, plug and play compatibility of a generic USB device (or for that matter any peripheral) is not guaranteed with Linux. Were it otherwise, this site wouldn’t need to exist. All in all, I think my comments about Linux were rather optimistic, and hardly hostile.

Incidentally, Pete’s skepticism aside, GE MRI scanners do indeed run Linux on HP Intel workstations, starting with EPIC software release 11.0. Prior versions of EPIC ran on Octane workstations running some flavor of Onyx, IIRC (I did pulse sequence design for my dissertation on EPIC 9.1 – my initials appear in the source code for GE’s product diffusion tensor sequence).

What I was trying to do was simply plug a USB drive into the workstation, and then issue a standard cp command to get some image files off. There was no “medical stack” or “image export function” that Pete refers to – this was a straight attempt at copying raw data. The USB drive simply would not mount.

4 thoughts on “Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball”

  1. The question is: Why *should* anything be guaranteed in Linux?

    Heck, it’s not even guaranteed to work in Windows; many a corporate administrator disable the USB drive capabilities on their Windows workstations to prevent the spread of virus and worms via USB drives. I’m not going to attempt to use a USB drive on such a system then complain that Microsoft should *guarantee* it will work.

    And take it a step further: Plug in a USB webcam/printer/scanner (or other *non-generic* USB device) into a Windows XP system for the first time and what happens? Oh, a window pops up asking for a driver CD. Not exactly “seamless, plug and play compatibility”. If Microsoft’s O.S. can’t do what you ask of Linux, why demand that Linux has to?

    In your GE MRI scanner case, it looks like the administrator/installer did not setup the auto-mounting ability of the USB drives. This is a setup issue, not a Linux issue. Use the standard install of a recent version of, say, Ubuntu; Plug in a USB drive, and a nautilus window pops up showing the contents of the drive.

    Also, define “generic USB device”. Any “generic” USB device I can think of work in a modern desktop Linux setup. Unless you mean, say, USB webcams? Those are not generic devices; each manufacturer have their own proprietary interfaces with their hardware that’s encapsulated by the USB connection. Hence, for them to work in Linux, the manufacturer has to either provide the Linux driver to the kernel maintainers or Linux hackers will have to reverse-engineer the interface to get the device to work in Linux.

    Hell, if you want a counter-anecdote: I got a Canon Point-and-Shoot camera for Christmas. After taking a few test pictures with it, I got the provided USB cable and plugged into my laptop running Ubuntu Linux. Immediately, I get a pop-up if I want to import photos from the camera. Starting the image transfer from the camera took a total of 5 seconds, most of that reading time. No need for the O.S. to set it up, no need to insert driver CDs, just true plug it in and play.

    It’s not that I think that Linux is the holy grail of operating systems, but I (and I think Pete too) am interested spreading information and reducing misinformation. I use Linux because it suits my own purposes well.

    Frankly, I think more people need to read this article (and that includes the Linux zealots that do more to hurt Linux than anything): Linux is NOT Windows.

  2. The question is: Why *should* anything be guaranteed in Linux?

    Linux is NOT Windows.

    well, agreed. But then why all this talk about Linux on “The” desktop? Note – not your desktop. THE desktop.

  3. As for “THE desktop”? I don’t know. I don’t subscribe to it. I’d argue for Linux on the company workstation before trying to put it on the desktop.

    I’m guessing the success stories of Ubuntu and the other “easy” distributions plus silly anti-Microsoft hate = push Linux on everyone’s desktop.

    There’s much that Linux *can* do, but when people come to me asking about Linux cause they’re tired of having to maintain Windows, I point them to Mac OS X. The few that actually take that advice never did have to come back to me about computer problems (One did have hardware issues, but they dealt with Apple directly). The ones that say “they aren’t ready for a Mac”, well, they aren’t ready for Linux either then. It may be free as in cost, but it’s not free as in time and knowledge.

  4. Nick, I pretty much agree with you. I don’t think that Linux is teh suck or that the desktop is the holy grail. I’m not an anti-Linux zealot. But yes, a webcam is a generic USB device – and until such things work flawlessly on the L side, people are still going to get flamed for taking positions on one side or the other of “can Linux make it on the desktop?” issue rather than – as you allude – “should Linux make it on the desktop?”

    I kind of see Linux and OS/X as being in opposite directions from Windows…

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