This post was inspired by some controversy with Valve and their support for Linux, but the bulk of it comes from long-term observation. One of the biggest impacts with the viability of Linux on the desktop was Valve’s Proton, a Wine fork integrated in Steam allowing almost any Windows game to work out of the box. To Linux users, life was good. However, with the recent announcement of the Steam Deck, a handheld device powered by Linux, Valve’s marketing towards developers explicitly mention no porting required. Valve’s been aggressive with this message enough that they’ve allegedly told developers simply not to bother with Linux ports anymore; enough that it makes commercial porters like Ethan Lee concerned.
However, I suspect this is the long-term result of other factors, and games are only one aspect of it. After all, we all know the Year of the Linux Desktop is around the corner, along with nice applications. Linux won’t rule the world just from games, even if some people really want it to be true. How did it come to this, and why?
I’m someone who cares about making software portable. In fact, I actually have a job basically doing so. For most Unix-shaped things (better known as things, since Unix destroyed all competition), the POSIX standard exists to codify common attributes and provide a common ground. Unfortunately, this is made far more complicated by systems both doing many things outside of POSIX’s lowest common denominator, and systems just not implementing POSIX correctly. People tend to think “portability” is whatever operating systems they use, and assuming the lowest common denominator is that. While many guides recommend writing software in a disciplined (or tortured, if you disagree) manner with separate compilation units for platform differences when possible, the reality is your codebase will have
#ifdefs and a configure script if it does anything useful. Not to mention the increasing irrelevance of the standard itself.
tl;dr: As much as I respect the efforts undertaken by groups like Gnome and elementary, I have to wonder if what they’re building is barely enough, and provides an illusion of substance.
There’s been a lot of effort spent on the Linux desktop. The groups I respect the most on this front are Gnome and elementary, due to their focus on UX design and trying to do new things. While Gnome has been controversial due to their design and stance towards design, I think a lot of the controversy on that front is unmerited (i.e Gnome’s design isn’t actually appropriate for tablets as much as the peanut gallery thinks). I appreciate that someone is trying to do something other than “Windows 98 stomping on a human face, forever”, and it’s what I use on my desktop. Controversial for other reasons (also unmerited, a man’s gotta eat; that desktop won’t happen with getting paid in exposure), elementary’s design has been considered very nice (often making it recommended for “my first distro”), if a bit derivative at first glance. What makes it more interesting in the morass of many OSS UX clones is UX as a priority/value (instead of something that’s just there) and iterating on existing UX. Sometimes it works out, doesn’t it doesn’t, but I respect the attempt at trying something new and seeing if it’s better.
However, I wonder if what they’re doing is enough. They have a desktop, many components of that desktop, and human interface guidelines (elementary, Gnome); all components you need. What I think is missing is the substance. Where’s the ecosystem of applications that embrace the HIG, and how does the intricacies of the of the environment come into play for complex applications and situations?
I needed to connect to a Fortinet SSLVPN, but the certificate on it had expired. While the official Mac client prompts and lets you connect anyways, Linux with NetworkManager (and the FortiSSLVPN plugin) would refuse without providing any messages. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask the administrator to renew the certificate. What you can do is add the certificate as a trusted certificate for that VPN. Unfortunately, the interface to do this is unclear, so I’ll try to explain it here.
After upgrading my system to Fedora 33, I realized voice chat in Overwatch didn’t work. The symptoms included:
- The microphone worked in other applications, and there was no permissions issues involved
- When joining a voice chat (like a group), the message saying that you’re in a voice chat would never appear, and you would never hear anyone else
- The microphone icon in the game was forced to mute
Switching the WINE audio system from Pulse to ALSA didn’t work. What did work was changing the system cryptography policies:
$ sudo update-crypto-policies --set LEGACY
No reboot is required. This is an awfully big hammer though – I’d like to know what exact ciphers or protocols that Overwatch needs that are disabled in the stock crypto policies.
After I upgraded to Fedora 33, VMware stopped working:
/usr/bin/vmware: line 105: 90845 Segmentation fault (core dumped) "$BINDIR"/vmware-modconfig --appname="VMware Workstation" --icon="vmware-workstation"
This is due to two changes in kernel 5.8…