So, you are sick of Windows, and you have installed your “linux distro” on your PC for the very first time. You want to edit slides and spreadsheets, so you installed LibreOffice using the package manager. You want to play video games, so you installed Steam’s binary package. You want to be certified as an AWS or CCNA professional, so you signed up for their online test at home. What’s stopping you exploring this new world of “linux”?
It’s the world’s dependence on proprietary software. You get error messages when you open that spreadsheet with embbedded macros someone from work sent to you. You open an old spreadsheet you made, and find that the font size is all messed up because the (non-free) font it uses is not installed and cannot be installed. Your favorite video game on Steam requires DirectX 12, an API that is only natively supported on Windows. You install the Proton engine, a compatibility layer for games that can only run on Windows, hoping it would work, but later find out that the game has an anti-cheat system that utilizes a kernel mode driver, as well as enforces software DRM. You prepare to take the online AWS or CCNA exam at home, but the exam provider only offers a .exe executable for you to install on your PC, while explicitly disallows “linux” or virtual machines in their exam requirements.
“That’s it! linux has poor compatibility and not user friendly at all. I’m switching back to Windows”
Does this sound familiar to you? Except the “kernel mode driver anti-cheat”, all of the above have happened to me, a not-so-new GNU/Linux user, but I do not blame the incompatibility on any free software. Rather, it was proprietary (non-free) software that places artificial limitation on free standards/protocols, deliberately manufacturing and imposing incompatibility, so that the developers of such non-free software can have more power over users. The smearing campaign against the GNU/Linux operating systems in the 1990s and 2000s places blame on free software for such incompatibility. Moreover, it is more often a choice for developers of non-free software not to support the software’s interoperability, rather than techincal difficulties. Especially for video games, developing a game that can also run on GNU/Linux systems is much less profitable comparing to making it very attractive to Windows users.
In August 2023, I translated a page on gnu.org to Simplified Chinese and Japanese, which sheds a light on this proprietary incompatibility. This was my first time translating an article after joining the gnu.org Chinese translation team.
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