Things that one cannot do in Linux

This page lists some common tasks that cannot be easily or comfortably performed in Linux-based operating systems such as Ubuntu. Generally, I restrict these entries to tasks that are easy to perform in Microsoft Windows, and cannot be overcome in Linux by using common sense or searching the Internet for solutions. I do not consider Wine, web-based workarounds, or OS virtualization to be a solution. As always, if you have a suggestion, correction, or if this information is out of date then you are encouraged to contact me.

Annotate PDF files

There is no single application available for reading and annotating PDF files. Here are some of the applications that I have tried, and their show-stopper shortcomings:

  • Okular: This is by far my favorite PDF reader. It has too many good features to list, so excuse me while I focus on the application's deficiencies regarding PDF annotation. The major issue with Okular is that PDF annotations are stored in a proprietary format, external to the PDF file. This means that no other application can display the annotations, and there is no export function. Furthermore, if the filename or location changes then the annotations are lost. This is completely unacceptable dataloss and the showstopper issue for me. A second issue with PDF annotation in Okular is the inability of the application to select a continuous block of text in a multi-column layout. Doing so selects text from both columns. Although the Okular developer maintains that there is no workaround, other PDF readers do have this functionality. A final issue with Okular is the need to select the Highlight tool after each block highlighted. This, combined with the previous issue, makes using PDF annotations in Okular time-consuming and frustrating.
  • Evince: Evince only recently developed the ability to annotate PDF files, and as of now the annotations are limited to text notes only. I need highlight and circle functions, both of which are missing. I have not yet checked if the annotations that Evince does support are available to other PDF readers.
  • PDF Studio: I have no problem paying for quality software, and at $60 USD PDF Studio is an expensive acquisition. However, if all were to work as it should, the price would actually be a bargain. In theory, this is the PDF viewer that I have been dreaming of. However, in practice there are quite a few bugs and problems. Firstly, the application is written in Java, so it looks out of place on my Qt desktop and is very slow to start. Then, there are bugs. Lots of little bugs. However, I must state that the PDF Studio developers have been extremely helpful in identifying bugs and I know of some issues that they are currently working on. Even feature requests are greeted with enthusiasm, more so than in many FOSS projects that I am involved with. So although PDF Studio is still not able to be my everyday PDF viewer, I suspect that it will be the first one to meet my needs once the bugs are squashed.
  • Xournal: If the main intention is to annotate PDF files, then Xournal is one of the best software available. However, my main intention is to read a PDF file, and to highlight or otherwise mark some parts for later. Xournal makes for a terrible PDF reader: no search, annotations are done literally on the page with no regard as to the location of text (for instance, one cannot select a passage of text to highlight it), and no bookmarks.

Interoperate with other users using an office suite

There are a few ways to go about this. Do both parties need to use the same office suite? If so, which? If not, then which are interoperable? In my experience, the only way to interoperate is that both parties use the same office suite. Using the same software reduces the already myriad problems of interoperability, both personal and software issues. Therefore, the remaining question is which software to use. Although I personally prefer the / LibreOffice duo, other cross platform solutions include Google Docs and a host of smaller projects. However, there is no doubt that the de-facto standard office suite is MS Office, and in fact few people realise that any alternatives even exist. In order to run MS Office, Linux users must either install it in a virtual machine or in Wine, the former which in addition to the price of MS Office one must add the price of MS Windows, and the later which runs so poorly as to be almost unusable. Both solutions are resource hogs and neither integrate well with a running Linux system.

Read and send MS Office documents from / to other users

Although fundamentally this is an applied case of the previous issue (Interoperate with other users using an office suite), I list it separately as the issue is expressed differently in real-world usage and has different solutions. Specifically, many organizations publish or request information in MS Word format. The "Save as .doc" feature of Open Office suffices for simple documents, but complex formatting, mathematical equations, and other non-text elements are very often displayed improperly when opened in MS Word. The reverse is also true: Open Office, Koffice, Abiword, and Google Docs all open MS Office files with varying levels of fidelity, each has its weak and strong points. I usually turn to MS Office Web Apps now, though, which reads most Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files. However, writing support is still very limited.

FSF High Priority Free Software Projects

The Free Software Foundation maintains a list of High Priority Free Software Projects concerning use-cases for which no FOSS applications are currently in an end-user state. Notable among them are the need for CAD applications and voice transcription software, for which there exist no FOSS nor proprietary alternative for Linux.

Date Published: 2011-04-23
Date Revised: 2011-10-10


Things that one cannot do in Linux, but can do in Microsoft Windows.

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