Linux Brings Frustration

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Jonathan Gennick

Jonathan Gennick
Feb. 08, 2004 08:43 AM

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Last night, Saturday night, was the big night. Jeff (my eight-year-old son) and I sat down to install Sun's Java Desktop on the family PC in the dining room. Almost four hours and a few frustrations later, we had a working, Linux PC. Jeff was very pleased at the improvement of his login time from 2 1/2 minutes under Windows XP to a mere 16 seconds under Linux. Wow! What does Windows do that it takes 2 1/2 minutes to log a user in? After I showed him the snake game that ships as part of the Gnome desktop, Jeff went to bed happy.

Unfortunately, things have taken a turn for the worse. As I began to write this blog entry at the breakfast table, Jeff was trying to play some games on his favorite websites, and with very mixed success. My eight-year old has gone from happy to grumpy in the space of a half-hour. In fact, he's downright mad, says he hates Linux, and just stormed out of the room in frustration.

I took a look at his browser. It's Mozilla, and identifies itself as:

Mozilla 1.4 for Sun Java Desktop System
Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; linux i686; en-US; rv:1.4) Gecko/20031111

His problems begin when he goes to, and tries to sign in to his Lego Club account. Mozilla clearly shows focus to be in the nickname field, the cursor is blinking in that field, so Jeff looks down at the keyboard, types in his username, and looks up to see, NOTHING. That puts him in a bad mood right off. I sat and watched him click twice on the field before he succeeded in making the focus really go there so that he could type in his username. It's a small glitch, but enough to frustrate an eight-year-old.

The game he wants to play called The Quest for the Golden Dragon. There are some serious performance issues with this game under Mozilla. At first, the game appeared not to work at all. The game window has a help button (a question mark) at the bottom, but hovering over it does not change the cursor to a finger like it should. If I hover long enough, and click enough times, eventually the cursor will change to a finger, and I can click the help button. Much worse, from a playability standpoint, there's far too long a delay when Jeff clicks the spacebar to switch from one character to another in the game. He clicks. Nothing happens. He clicks again. Nothing happens. The clicks stack up, and all of sudden the game madly cycles rapidly through several characters. Walking the characters around seems to perform well-enough. The result is a game that is frustratingly close to playable.

Jeff also got mad when he visited, only to find that none of the games that he finds simple enough to play will run under Mozilla. I haven't yet had a chance to look into any of those to see what the specific problem might be.

I just asked Jeff whether he wanted Windows back. Here's what he said:

I'm not sure yet. There are some things nice about Linux, and there are some things not nice about Linux, and that makes me not know what to do.

So that's where things stand in my grand, Linux experiment. Things are looking frustratingly dim. StarOffice and Evolution will probably satisfy my wife's needs for email and word-processing, we like the fast login time, and I like the faster shutdown time, but if Jeff can't get his games to work, then it's back to Windows we go.

Jonathan Gennick is an O'Reilly Media, Inc. editor specializing in database and programming titles.