Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Peaking into the Linux box

I see, you are wondering what am I getting you into by suggesting you try Linux. Don't worry it's pretty painless and you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find. If not, you can back out at any time.
Part of the terror of trying something new is not knowing what to expect. It is not like driving a car with the steering wheel on the right side and driving on the left side of the street. Let's say you've downloaded and burned a live-CD version of Linux, popped it in the CD drive and rebooted. On the screen is the usual boot screens showing what is being loaded and run, some distros hide this activity with a progress bar in its' place like MS win does. Eventually, if all goes well, you come to a login screen. Info tells you how to login and then flashes some configuration screens for graphics, timezones, keyboard, language. Some distros will read your hardware and bring up the user GUI which you could adjust later. Once you get to the user GUI, "you are free to move about the country". Since this is a live-CD, it is running in ram and off the CD, so you can explore and quit and not damage your present MS Windows installation (if you have one). Just don't click the install button unless you intend to install. When I got my computer that came with MS WinXP on it, it also came with extra stuff, MS trial and demo software and internet service offers. It came with HP system and user management software and a few extra softwares for multimedia. Needless to say I deleted much of the extra software because it was mostly useless to me, sort of like the previews on a movie CD. Then I had to purchase applications to get real work done. So I am looking at my live-CD Linux desktop, let's say KDE desktop and there are icons for all of my disk drives and a menu bar much like MS WinXP. Gee, this is just like ........ What a surprise, I can do this. Hey, and not a bad looking desktop, point and click and tool tips on the icons. Now you can explore all the stuff and find out what it does. I know you probably have your favorite MS Windows applications for different functions but can you do the same stuff in Linux? That you will have to discover. Let's say you're into graphics. There is the GIMP (graphic image manipulation program), it is similar to Photoshop. Gimp doesn't do color separation for print publishing, but if you don't need that, you still have the power to do much of what Photoshop does for free. Gimp usually comes with most distros. If you decide to install Linux on your hard drive, you can download other graphics applications to fatten your tool box. Linux comes with Open Office which does what MS Office does or a combination of other productivity applications. The trick is to be able to read and write MS Office documents, no problem. Internet browsers that give you access to the net is enhanced by the fact that most live-CD's will figure out your internet connection without your help. It's like test driving a car, you get to not just kick the tires, you get to drive it too. So, use the live-CD to try it , use it for taking a break from the MS world, for emergency's (when your MS system breaks) and then for installing into a permanent situation or dual-booting, your choice. If your bringing an older PC back from the dead, live-CD Linux might work for you. If you want a set up for grandpa and grandma, the live-CD Linux is great because once you know what to expect, it won't change. Why subject your folks to the problems of older MS Windows and older hardware too. Yeah, yeah, you hear so many people nit-n-pick about the look and feel, the quality of this and that, the polish and comparison to this and this other stuff is better, more popular and.........ya know, it all gets me tired. Just try it, use it, and if by any chance you like it, install it, enjoy it. If you find it doesn't stand up to your personal scrutiny, move on, there are other choices in life.

To clear up a few things, Linux is really just the kernel (heart of the operating system) and some utilities and libraries. The rest of what we call Linux is tools and applications (programs). These are what make up a "distribution" or distro. There are some very, very cool distros, easy to download from the web. Yes, I do have favorites. I like Xubuntu and I have it installed on one PC. It is good but it is not the best for portability. For hit and run computing I like Wolvix (small and lean) and SimplyMepis is very sweet and comes up fast. Puppy Linux is also worth a look and so is DreamLinux. Each has a particular look and feel, desktop tools and a focus of applications. DreamLinux is focused on multimedia for instance. Be careful as the terrible tendency is to compare and rank distros, to be picky and will have you collecting a number of assorted distro CD's. You will not know which one to pop in next. Oh, the pleasure and pain of Linux......... so many distro's, so little time. To narrow down your prospects it is wise to research the web a little bit to see "what is hot and what is not" and what might be a good fit. Even if you are a die hard MS Windows (all you know) person, you might find a live-CD version of Linux useful. Anyway, for me the Linux experience has been fun. In the words of Jedi master Yoda, "there is another".

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