Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Are personal computers really personal?

Ever wonder why they call it a personal computer when vendors use every means possible to get you hooked to their product line, support systems and associated software? Is it customer loyalty or vendor dependence? The original thought might have been that if they got their product on your hard drive, they owned your loyalty/dependence. After all you only need one operating system on your computer and it will only run its compatible applications, right? This loyalty/dependence thing is built into some OS's. The rarely read user agreement says you can not install this copy of the OS on more than one machine. And some OS vendors stopped handing out install CD's with pre-installed PC's to curve our tendency to put the one OS we've bought on every machine we own. The who owns the hard drive metaphor extends down into the design of the OS. But still, you put the OS on the hard drive and it determines the destiny of the computer's usage. To name names, MS windows is made with one hard drive in mind. MS windows when installed, configures itself for the machine that it is on. Since hard drives are not usually swapped between two computers, MS windows doesn't have to be concerned with reconfiguring itself to multiple computers. It is meant for one machine, which is why you must buy a new copy of the MS window's OS for each machine. This whole scheme guarantees a customer's loyalty/dependence and a cash flow.
In one way Linux is not any different, once you switch to Linux you use Linux compatible applications and such, but developments in Linux and in PC's are changing the landscape. Linux has been redesigned to run from a CD. While there are still hard drive install versions out there, to be able to run from a CD is a great thing. You could pop what is called a "live-CD" of Linux into any compatible PC, reboot and run Linux. That same Linux disk on any compatible PC. It will not disturb your precious MS windows installation on your hard drive in the least. You could partition a little disk drive space for Linux user files or use a flash drive. Which brings me to the second thing. The flash drive or jump drive is a very popular and a necessary replacement to floppy disks. The one I have is only 128MB (still a lot of floppy disks) and they come as big as 32GB. While I still have a hard time filling up a 20 gig hard drive to have up to 32 gig on a portable memory stick is insane, yet practical. But the cost needs to come down. Right now, 4 to 8 gig jump drives are reasonable. OK, we have live-CD Linux and large jump drives, so what?
With live-CD Linux, you have to be satisfied with the applications that are on it. Some live-CD versions give you tools to design a new ISO image, adding or deleting the applications you want. Then you make a new live-CD. If your PC can boot from a USB device, you can copy your live-CD Linux ISO onto the jump drive. The trick of live-CD's is that they can be run on any compatible computer. To put the live-CD on a bootable jump drive makes it even more portable. You can move "your" OS and the applications and files to any computer. Check the forums for details. What does this do? First it breaks the he who occupies the disk drive owns the user's computer metaphor so you could do away with the hard drive altogether or use it just for user files. You could tryout many Linux versions without having burnt CD's laying all over the place or being forced to buy a DVD burner as some iso's are really big (over 700MB). You could separate your OS from your data so that when you upgrade or change your OS you don't have to backup your data that usually is on the same disk as the OS. Also in the event that your OS crashes or becomes corrupted (not an on going problem with Linux), your data is intact because it is not on the same disk. There are other possibilities but I haven't discovered them yet. As you can tell I am really excited about what this will do to personal computing. Gamers enjoy all kinds of high power demanding cutting edge technology. Jump drives are very low power static memory devices and live-CD Linux is free to download. This is technology that has filtered down to "the rest of us".
Questions remain, can you do a regular Linux install to a jump drive and will the computer regard the install the same as on a hard drive? If so then can MS windows (any flavor) be installed on a jump drive to be used on any computer? Does MS windows have a portable nature? I don't think so but in any event it violates the user agreement. There are issues with jump drives in secure environments like businesses and banks, but home users are free to plug-n-play. Data encryption and access permission codes will become normal in business. You might be scanned for carrying a concealed jump drive. I'm spiraling off into the darkside of the force so I'll stop it here. Have fun with your jump drive!!!1

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