After the near ten years that I have toyed on and off with different Linux distributions, today it is still slow. It has really come a very long way, I do admit. It’s capabilities are growing all the time, and with popular open-source apps like Firefox and OpenOffice, you can do most of the tasks you could ever want to do with your computer using only Linux. But it is still a bit slow. I am primarily talking about screen refreshes and video speed in desktop Linux distros using both Gnome and KDE.
I know that video drivers from nVidia and ATI have been tweaked for Windows for years. Windows has more direct hardware support than Linux does, but I have always heard of Linux as being touted for older, slower PCs. Supposedly, it has fewer system requirements than Windows or Mac OS does. This makes no sense to me, because my PC is an old Intel P-3 933 mhz, with 1 GB ram, and a 128 mb video card. My system is surely outdated, but I have seen even new releases with memory requirements as low as 128 mb! No way.
When compared to Windows XP Pro, jumping through applications, dragging onscreen windows, and video playback in Linux is way slower and more sluggish. If it can run on an even slower PC than mine, I wouldn’t want to be there to see it. I have found this to be true in Fedora, Ubuntu, and SuSe. The most obvious example is dragging open windows on the desktop creates trails and tracers all over the screen from start point to finish.
This weekend, I wiped my Ununtu partition. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is the best available today, as I have said before in this blog. But I like to test out some other releases, so I installed the just-released Fedora Core 6. It has newer programs, libraries, and visuals, but the root of the above problem remains unchanged. Web browsing is fast and IP connections are surely speedy. But when I played flash videos on YouTube, the video wasn’t quite keeping up with the audio. There was a slightly noticeable delay on the screen. Granted, this may be due to the crappy Flash Player version 7 for Linux. I know that there is a new beta of version 9 available, but I did not try this. Besides, since that just came out a few weeks ago, so does that mean everyone watching web video and playing flash games in Linux for all this time has been tolerating slow, sluggish performance? If so, then why use it? When I tried playing a locally installed pinball game in Fedora, the system response was so delayed that I had a hard time hitting the ball with the flappers because there was a half second delay from when I hit the button and when the flap actually moved!
In the end, Linux is going to need some more tweaking and optimization to eve bring it close to the speed of Windows. I think it desperately needs some direct hardware driver support, especially in the video card arena. The system boot time has surely decreased over the years, but actual running performance for anything other than email, documents, spreadsheets, and the web, has got to improve if Linux is ever to be a real desktop contender.