Linux: Windows Made Hard

April 21, 2008 – 1:06 PM

For the past few months, we’ve shown how Linux has emerged from its early murky reputation of being cool to have but impractical to use. And there’s no question it’s refreshing to use an entire desktop system with nary a Microsoft or Apple product. But as some of our readers have pointed out, Linux is still finicky, particularly if you’re used to Windows. Here we look at two of the mundane tasks you’ll find much harder on the open-source OS—assuming you already know Windows, that is.

If you’re interested in some usability data on the differences between Windows and Linux, check out Relevantive’s very good report, published in August 2003 (opens PDF). Interestingly, the study shows that at the time Windows XP was easier to use, but only slightly. Since then, Linux has improved, while the jury is still out on whether Windows, with the release of Vista, has done the same.

Most five-button mice are a snap to reconfigure in Windows. Just open the Mouse applet in Control Panel and configure as you like. In Ubuntu , however, the story is different. The Mouse Preferences applet, available from the System | Preferences menu, is a stripped-down utility that assumes a two-button mouse and doesn’t get any richer if you have more buttons.

If you’re an enterprising sort, you’ll run an Internet search on the situation and head for the numerous Linux help forums. There you will find advice such as making changes to the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file. To do so, you’ll have a hard time discovering, you need to open a terminal window (Linux’s equivalent to a DOS box) and type gksudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf. (Be absolutely sure to back up your original xorg.conf file before changing anything—you might very well need to recover it to get back to where you started.) After providing the necessary administrator password, the configuration file opens inside the gedit text editor. Scroll to the section called InputDevice (the one with the identifier Configured Mouse), comment out the Option line that says Emulate3Buttons (by putting a pound symbol in front of it), and add/change a few Option lines:

Option “Buttons” “7”
Option “ButtonMapping” “1 2 3 6 7”
Option “ZAxisMapping” “4 5”

If the scroll wheel still doesn’t work, try changing the “ZAxisMapping” line to read “6 7”. But even with these instructions, it’s entirely possible that your mouse requires a different configuration, so search the Web for its particular setup.

Admittedly, this task isn’t dirt simple in Windows, but the Fonts applet in Control Panel does work. In Ubuntu, however, the process is downright arcane. First you must be logged on as an Administrator. Then open the Fonts folder, via Places | Computer | File System, then usr\share\fonts—and copy the font file (TTF if you’re using a Windows font) into that folder. Finally, you’ll need to open a terminal window and rebuild the font cache by typing fc-cache -f -v at the prompt.

The GNOME project has easier font manipulation on its to-do list, so this situation will likely change—and font viewers such as kfontview can certainly help—but for now this task is simply harder on Linux than on Windows. Once you’re actually inside the Fonts folder, Ubuntu outshines Windows in showing you exactly what the font looks like: The icon itself resembles the font.

Source: PC Magazine

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