Linux Brings Frustration

by Jonathan Gennick

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
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.

If you have any suggestions for improving the performance of that one Lego game, I'm all ears, or rather I'm all eyes.


2004-02-08 09:58:07
Answers to plugin issues
CrossOver Plugin lets you use many Windows plugins directly from your Linux browser. In particular CrossOver fully supports:

* QuickTime
* Shockwave Director
* Windows Media Player 6.4
* Word Viewer
* Excel Viewer
* PowerPoint Viewer
* and more...

I have deployed Linux ( RH8.0/9 ) desktop systems for business use. In general most users get by with the following "native" plugins :
* Real realplayer 8.0 with the additional RealPlayer 9.0 codecs
* Adobe acroread 5
* Macromedia Flash
* Sun Java 1.4.2_03

Real's next generation player Helix is in beta release.

If your using Fedora, check out ESR's
Fedora Multimedia Installation HOWTO.

2004-02-08 10:32:50
stupid individual.
1) You are whinging about a WEB BROWSER that came with your linux DISTRIBUTION. Linux ISNT responsible for the WEB BROWSER that you decided to use. There are plenty of web browsers available for Linux. If you could only be bothered to find out what they were.

2) Simply because a website doesn't run properly in Mozilla, does not mean it is a fault of Mozilla. There are plently of websites out there that do NOT comply to the HTML standard.

BONUS.COM DOES NOT comply with HTML standards!

LEGO.COM DOES NOT comply with HTML standards!

If people are unable to design websites which comply with STANDARDS then it is NOT the fault of the web browser. If these people cannot be bothered to design a website which will run in browsers other than Microsoft Internet Explorer, it is their fault.

3) LINUX IS A KERNEL. NOT A WEB BROWSER. your son now hates a kernel? because the web browser displays a few websites differently than IE. WHAT EXACTLY is the link between the KERNEL and the WEB BROWSER? Oh, dear.... your genius amazes me!

2004-02-08 11:30:11
stupid individual.
People that write replies like the one above are what give Linux a bad name.

Maybe, just maybe, you could offer some helpful advice before jumping down someone's throat. The article writer had just installed Linux yesterday, and his son is having problems with websites. Your answer to his problem is to attack him? How mature.

1) Two days ago, his son's websites worked fine in IE on XP. Today, they don't work in Mozilla on Linux. "If you could only be bothered to find out what they are" is not a helpful response to his problem, especially when he just discovered the problem. Suggesting an alternate browser that worked better for you when you had problems would be. Personally, I'm curious as to whether the sites work in Mozilla on XP or if it's an issue specific to Mozilla on Linux.

2) Try explaining to an eight year old that he can no longer visit because it doesn't pass the w3 validator. If you think this is an easy task, I suspect you don't have much exposure to small children.

3) In the public eye, Linux is not just a kernel. It's the whole distribution that comes on the CD or in the download. I love how Linux aficionados are quick to claim "it's just a kernel" whenever you run into a problem with Linux as a whole. No one uses just the kernel.

2004-02-08 13:16:36
stupid individual.
Firstly I do not give Linux a bad name. By my previous post I was not trying to sound intimidating OR elitist, and apologise if that is how I came across.

I was responding to the author's inference that he was thinking of abandoning an operating system distribution purely on the basis of the web browser that came with it. I was outlining the difference between the core of the operating system and the software that you run on top of it.

I have helped plenty of people with the switch to Linux, and surprisingly, I did not bite their heads off.

I do have exposure to smaller children, since I have younger sisters and a brother. All of which have not had a problem with Linux. The real issue here is that Linux and Linux software is _different_ than that on Windows. Unfortunately some people will just reject something, purely because they cannot be bothered to find out how to get it to work. And problems with Linux can be solved by using google.

While Linux is approaching the stage where it will be super easy and everything will just work, there are issues that are not the fault of Linux or the software running on top of it. The lack of support for Linux from proprietry software houses is one of these issues. Especially when they provide plugins and software which are inferior to the equivalent available on Windows.

I myself started using computers when I was 8 years old using Windows 3.1, and have used Windows far longer than Linux. (Ten years of Windows, 3.1, 95, 98, 2000, XP). I switched to Linux two years ago, there were *many* things which didn't work as expected - however most of these issues have now been fixed. I didn't immediately think of moving back to Windows. I learned Linux in my spare time. People seem to forget that they had to *learn* Windows in the first place. And there are bound to be some hiccups along the way.

Finally, while I refer to my machine as "running Linux", Linux *IS* just a kernel. I could just as well be running the X server and KDE on top of FreeBSD, or OpenBSD, or another *NIX. But I do understand why he refers to the system as Linux. Linux is just a kernel, but the kernel is arguably the most important part of the OS.

2004-02-08 13:31:15
It's not the "fault" of, et. al. It's the unfortunate consequence of

1. Microsoft is allowed to bulldoze competing browsers out of the market,
2. Web sites that are trying to make a buck make their applications work with the dominant browser, rather than with standards.
3. Microsoft doesn't care about standards, indeed, deliberately skews them and invents their own proprietary features, so that web sites only work with said dominant browser.

It's just the state of things. Also, unfortunately, an 8-year-old will neither understand nor care. I do hope the plug-ins suggestion below works for you. Other than that, is it possible to run IE under Wine, and will those sites work that way? Seems like a long shot, but I would at least try it.

After that, the only other thing to try is running XP under VMWare. Ugh - more money to spend. It's a trade-off you'll have to evaluate yourself.

2004-02-08 13:53:07
kenengel: This is true, "unfortunately, an 8-year-old will neither understand nor care". I have seen this myself, people are willing to call something rubbish straight away. Which is understandable if they are used to having everything work fine under Windows.

I didn't want to mention the Microsoft monopoly. But this is definately a major issue, and also the way that we depend upon so many things which are patented/commercial/closed source, which do not have Linux support because the vendors know that Windows is the most popular platform, and do not see the financial gain in supporting Linux. I personally believe this is one of the major factors holding Linux back in the mainstream, in the end most people don't care what they are using, as long as it works the way they want it to. However, open source always seems to find its way around obstacles, the future is definately brighter. I admire WINE and the Crossover Office suite for enabling my friends to carry on using the Windows software they *need* on Linux.

I do believe Internet Explorer works under the crossover plugin, but I think it may also work with the free WINE implementation.

Jonathan Gennick
2004-02-08 15:59:56
stupid individual.
To say I'm whinging is not entirely fair. As an experiment, I've installed a distribution of Linux on the PC used by my wife and son. Now I'm writing about their reaction to it. Frankly, I'm just plain curious how the whole thing goes over.

I understand that Mozilla is an application that, in this case, just happens to run on top of Linux. I also am aware that websites are all over the map when it comes to standards compliance. None of that matters to my son. He sees the new system as a package, and it either works for him or it doesn't. To his credit, after he calmed down, he agreed that I could have a week to try and work out some of the kinks. But in the end, it's just possible that a few browser-based games could be the stumbling block that prevents me from using Linux on that PC.

Jeff is also being quite honest when he says that he likes some things about Linux, and doesn't like other things.

The Lego game issue seems entirely a performance issue. The game functions ok under Linux/Mozilla, but performs poorly. It performed better under Windows. Maybe in the end Jeff will decide he doesn't want to give up Linux just for the sake of one game. That's not clear to me now.

Interestingly, Jeff just bought himself one of those USB flash-drives today. So far, he seems to have an easier time using it under Linux than under Windows.

Jonathan Gennick
2004-02-08 16:03:09
Another possible solution is for me to buy a PC with a faster CPU. From what I can tell so far, the issue with the Lego game is entirely one of performance. I'm running on a fairly old box, with a 466mhz Celeron.
2004-02-08 17:34:39
gennick: Sorry if I sounded very critical before. its been a bad day :( bad excuse.

In actual fact, I shouldn't be scorning criticism, since it is accounts like yours which will improve Linux and Open Source software. Every now and again I try different distros on an old machine which my sisters and brother use, I try to see how easy it is for them to use out-of-the-box without me tinkering with it. Its certainly getting there, but criticism is important (what a U-turn). There is even a section on Mozilla's website where I believe they request that users submit websites which do not work, so that Mozilla can become more compatible even with websites that do not comply with standards.

As for the flash game. I think that perhaps the difference in performance is down to the Flash plugin made available by Macromedia for Linux. Although I could be wrong, I have personally found that flash movies run with better performance on my Windows XP 400Mhz, than on my Linux 1.7Ghz laptop. Even with Linux on that 400Mhz machine, the performance is often choppy. The older version of the plugin even used to crash Mozilla.

WINE allows you to run Internet Explorer. I think that should solve the problem for your son. Of course you would need to install WINE. I make the assumption that you are new to Linux. Installing WINE isnt exacly easy for a beginner and can take a while :(

You can get it here:

This is mostly from memory...I'm not sure whether Sun's Linux comes with WINE? These breif instructions show installing WINE from source (this takes a long time).

You can download the source tar.gz from the download section on

Open the console terminal. Change directory to where you saved the tar.gz file. "using cd", ie "cd /home/jonathan/"

The following command will extract the source code:
tar -xzvf Wine-*.tar.gz

then cd into that directory
cd Wine*

as far as I can remember you execute:

It's best to then leave the computer chugging away for a long time, until it has finished compiling the source code.

You then need to change to "superuser" mode, by typing "su", hit return, then enter the root password (I think this is the Sun Linux serial number - maybe?)

Then execute the following command:
"make install"

When that's done, WINE is now installed on your system. A SUPERB website with help and advice on running Windows software under WINE is available here:

This includes configuring WINE.

A mini-tutorial shows how to install IE6.0

Frankscorner even has a forum, where people have most likely had the same problems you have encountered.

I hope that this might be helpful.

2004-02-08 18:50:57
Answers to plugin issues
Hello-my name is Antonio Sanchez from Mexico. I am running Sun's linux. I am running Mozilla 1.6, I tried to install the Macromedia Flash plugin from I tried to double click on the executable, FLASH_PLUGIN_INSTALL.exe, however I was faced with an error saying it can not open such files. I am complete lost for word, why can I not run the Flash plugin installer? I have spent the last 16 hours compiling my 2.4 kernel to 2.6 - yet the problem still exists. Since that did not work due to some issues, I decided to re-install the whole operating system from scratch three times. I am lost for words.
2004-02-08 18:57:19
Try this
Minimize and then restore the Mozilla window may fix your son's problem (not being able to type in an input field).

Give it a try.

2004-02-08 19:31:40
Answers to plugin issues
I think that you tried to install the Windows program. I Believe that flash 6 is a tar program...
It requires copying a file to a certain directory..
I couldn't get it installed in Mozilla Linux, but did in Opera for Linux...


>Hello-my name is Antonio Sanchez from Mexico. I am
>running Sun's linux. I am running Mozilla 1.6, I
>tried to install the Macromedia Flash plugin from
> I tried to double click on the
>executable, FLASH_PLUGIN_INSTALL.exe, however I was
> faced with an error saying it can not open such
>files. I am complete lost for word, why can I not
>run the Flash plugin installer?

2004-02-09 03:57:57
stupid individual.
By your very response you DO give Linux a bad name, or at least the existing user community.

In your response (and it's a typical one for Linux users) you:
1) call someone who has a problem "stupid"
2) tell him his problems aren't with Linux but with Windows (it worked there but shouldn't have...).
3) claim that there are no problems in Linux but only some imperfections in software running on it (software that most users consider part of the operating system)
4) you didn't even try to help solve the problem after chewing out the person having the problem.

Fine sample of the friendly and ever helpful Linux user you are...

2004-02-09 04:37:24
First impressions
Unfortunately a lot of people probably judge an entire system by the way in which their "favourite" application runs on that system. In this case it's unfortunate that a compliant but "not microsoft" web browser is the first thing that the user reaches for: the subsequent bad experience results in overall dissatisfaction which is a shame. Maybe if the young user had been an avid solitaier player he'd be saying how cool the new Linux was !
2004-02-09 04:37:30
First impressions
Unfortunately a lot of people probably judge an entire system by the way in which their "favourite" application runs on that system. In this case it's unfortunate that a compliant but "not microsoft" web browser is the first thing that the user reaches for: the subsequent bad experience results in overall dissatisfaction which is a shame. Maybe if the young user had been an avid solitaire player he'd be saying how cool the new Linux was !
Jonathan Gennick
2004-02-09 07:39:40
First impressions
Actually, Jeff's opinion is a bit more balanced that you might think from what I wrote in this weblog. His frustration threshold though, is quite low, and he gets mad pretty darn fast when things don't work.

Someone sent me some pointers to some Linux games. I'm going to try and get some installed this week. If he gets a good selection of games that he likes, that run under Linux, that will greatly contribute to a favorable impression. And, frankly, I'm rather hoping to win him over.

I'm also thinking of CrossOver office, and wondering whether that will be enough for him to run some of those Mercer Meyer games that he likes. Crossover is on my list of things to experiment with.

2004-02-09 09:06:29
dude you were running WinXP on a 466 Celeron??? No wonder it took the thing 2.5 minutes to boot up! How much RAM did you have in that puppy, 128mb? (sorry, just giving you a hard time ;-)

Having worked with the stupid thing for as long as I have, I don't even consider putting WinXP on a machine unless it's over 1ghz and has at least 512mb of RAM (DDR preferably).

Windows 2000 might have been a better choice (though I suppose not for gaming) for the hardware.

In any event, I totally get what you're saying about your son's frustrations. Hehe I remember that one of the first things I tried to do when I installed Linux a few years back was to try to play that Tux Racer game...except it locked up everytime. And took the whole OS with it.

Sometimes I get the feeling that Linux is better than Windows...only if you don't run a GUI and have the exact right type of generic hardware...

2004-02-09 12:16:53
Mozilla issues
I am sure almost everyone here has encountered compatibility problems with web pages. Version 1.4 is already quite old (a few months) and 1.6 has already been released. Although not perfect, it is better. Konqueror (with KDE 3.2) has been vastly improved due to the help of the Apple Safari team in regards to compatibility. My recommendation though, instead of playing with Wine or crossover or anything like that, check out It generally compatible with almost all sites and works very well. Its a shareware app and not open source but I use it on all the stubborn web sites (bank sites etc..) and it does the trick.


Jonathan Gennick
2004-02-09 13:24:20
Mozilla issues
Oh, duh. I'd forgotten entirely about Opera. Yes, I should give that a try. Why didn't I think of that? It's not like I haven't used it before. Well, no matter. I'll also upgrade Mozilla, to see whether that helps. Thanks.
2004-02-09 18:05:20
linux brings frustration
I use Xandros Linux and have found no problem accessing and/or playing the games you mentioned. All these sights I believe require macromedia flash to work. Xandros comes with macromedia flash pre-loaded. Sun's Java desktop probably doesn't have flash and that's why Xandros works and Java doesn't. I may be wrong but check it out.
It took me only 10-15 minutes to load Xandros on to my machine. It recognized all the hardware. I was ready to go and play in no time.
2004-02-09 22:20:17
That's what I believe we should all do. The comments were disheartening for me to read, I just hope Jeff hasn't read any.

The plugin that Jeff needs to play the game is Shockwave Player, not flash. Macromedia has released a flash player for Linux but no Shockwave player. I suppose that's because not many developers visit, but they do need the occasional fix.

The only solution for Linux kids is to have mom or dad shell out $30 for Codeweavers Crossover Plugin. or buy a distro that packages the Crossover Plugin.

I hope Jeff gets to play his game and enjoy his computer time again, whether it's with Linux or Windows. Kids need to be happy, otherwise they grow up to be miserable and post irrationally to a simple problem.


2004-02-09 22:35:50
Perhaps I too "spoke" too soon.
The game does call for Flash.

I appologize for that.

2004-02-09 22:53:20
After being frustrated myself. I got the games to work.
Using Mozilla 1.6 I downloaded the latest flash plugin, untarred the archive and ran the installer (from the command line).
I went back to the page but no dice. Turns out there is either a cookie issue or a browser cache issue. I came in the long way from's front page and voila it worked. fun game too.
Jonathan Gennick
2004-02-10 05:20:39
Thanks for taking the time to look at this. I am going to upgrade Mozilla, but just haven't had the time yet. We're running a rather old and slow, 466mhz Celeron box, and the issue with the game seems to largely be one of performance. On the same box, the game performed better under Windows. Perhaps upgrading Mozilla will help. Perhaps Opera will perform better. Perhaps I should just buy a new box! I just need to find the time to sit down and work through some of these options.

Last night I took some time to hunt down some other games suggested by John Helms in an email he sent me. I managed to latch on to Pingus. I started it, the music played, Jeff took one look, and then he shoved me aside so he could play the game for the rest of the evening.

I may eventually try a different Linux distribution. I went with Sun's because I was curious to see what it was all about, and I'm actually favorably impressed with it, but in the long term I'm beginning to think some other distribution might be better for us.

2004-02-10 12:18:32
If you do try another distro. Give Mandrake a try. I run it on a 333Mhz with no problem. Reccommend adding RAM before junking the 466 box.
My girls(7 & 11) love Frozen Bubble ( which comes with Mandrake.
2004-02-26 09:03:04
Linux Frustration
Well, I certainly understand where Jeff is coming from.

There are various frustrating factors which, I suspect, may decrease in the upcoming years.

One major one has to do with the whole web application arena.

Not all web application developers write portable code.

In some cases, the authors never think about there being anyone other than a Windows Internet Explorer user. In other cases, they know others are out there, but either don't care, or don't consider it a high priority. Finally, in a very small number of cases, the developers do recognize there are others out there, and do care, and go to extraordinary efforts to support at least some degree of cross platform capability.

The latter group are a wonderful bunch. It's the first two groups however, that dominate the web landscape, in my experience.

In many of these cases, however, Linux plus the latest browser plus the latest of a few well chosen plugins will work well enough to get by - sometimes even in SPITE of intentional efforts by web developers to turn legit users away when they don't use hardware and/or software identified as 'supported'.

Sometimes, one can find alternatives that are acceptable. Sometimes, that is not possible.

I wonder if, for Jeff, there is any sort of Windows emulator under which Windows Internet Explorer could run to access the site, or sites, which don't work for him normally.