Sunday, May 27, 2007

What do I get for using Linux?

Well I am here to report that there are some things in life that are free and worth being bothered with. Linux is one of them. When you examine the economic hold that Microsoft has on computer hardware and software users, you figure that the choice a user has has been greatly reduced. I faced this when I switched to Windows XP and I am faced with this again with the coming of Vista. So I have to ask if I really can afford to upgrade my entire but modest collection of hardware to accommodate this new operating system with its associated applications and products. Will this new system give me the ability to do more than I am already doing or just cost me more because it is new. Do I now also need to upgrade my applications? Gee I really like new stuff and eventually everybody else will decide to buy the new system and I will be left behind. So what am I to do?
What if somebody offered me a choice where I would not lose anything yet still be up to date. What if I could continue to compute on my present hardware and still have new stuff? What if I could try it out myself even before I installed it, to see if I even like it or could use it?

Linux comes into play to answer the questions. Of course those new to Linux have questions of their own. And those who have had so called bad experiences with Linux will shoot it down.
But Linux offers a choice that Microsoft wants to keep from you. I guess it was bad enough that Apple's Mac is out there. Now there's Linux and it will run on the same hardware as Windows. A couple of things have made Linux attractive to me. First is the fact that it will run on my present hardware, including the older machines. The second fact is that it is free. When you look at Microsoft, it was about making money from the start. Linux started as an idea shared between folks who loved to code and make a free operating system work. Where Microsoft has a history of acquiring and appropriating technology, Linux has emerged from programmers who just wanted to make it work. Microsoft developed into a money making conglomerate. The Linux programmers developed into a community with a shared purpose. So knowing the source from whence they came you have to ask can a community of programmers really offer a product that can rival that of a company dedicated to owning your desktop? Fortunately I can say yes. It was not so clear a few years ago when I first tried Linux, but it is now.

So is Linux really free? There are companies who are trying to make money from Linux. Linux is basically a small program called a kernel, packaged together with other programs to do all the computing functions. When these packages called distributions are offered to the public, a company or person can make money. Usually they have added programs to make installation and management easier. Another money maker is to sell support services to users.
Some Linux distributions can be downloaded for free and the support can be had from the community of programmers and users for free. Also Linux is free from per computer/user licensing meaning you can install it onto as many computers as you have and give it to your friends. Linux is free in the sense that you are free from the domination of the so-called Microsoft standard file types. Linux is free from the restrictions of propriety software as it is not owned by one person or company. Linux is free to be changed by the user who has the ability to change it as long as the changes are put back into the community. Changes are incorporated into the next revisions of Linux programs by the maintainers of those programs, even the kernel is still maintained by inventor of Linux.

Just what do you get with Linux that makes it so attractive? For free or a little money you can get an operating system that is stable, efficient and looks good. It comes with enough applications to meet most computing needs. I am talking about the usual stuff, internet, networking, email and office stuff. It has the ability to read/write most Microsoft file types and with a little help will do multimedia. You can tinker with it to your hearts content as there are a variety of desktop environments and window managers, each with their own look and ability to transform the user experience. But will it satisfy most users right out of the box? I don't think any OS product from any one person or company can ever accommodate all the hardware situations and all the user needs. For instance, gamers and multimedia users have had the world offered to them in Microsoft products and support. They might be disappointed with Linux. The extensive support, products, and applications are not the same as with Microsoft stuff. Linux has stressed the free availability of code and many vendors don't share that view. But I do think that users who don't have extreme computing needs would be pleasantly surprised by Linux. I also think it is a short matter of time before things with Linux improve even more. As there is more user demand, programmers add more functionality to Linux and as more vendors support Linux with drivers and applications the better Linux becomes.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

What to do with Ubuntu

There are far too many questions ask by Linux newbies. Why, because it is new stuff. So here is my take on the situation.

First, get the "live CD" version of Linux if you can. You then can test out Linux without tampering with your Windows install. It will show you if you can run out of the box with your current hardware. Then find a Linux Hardware Compatibility List for the Linux you are attempting to run. There are many dissatisfied folks who run into driver issues because they have exotic video cards or motherboards. Laptops especially need to be looked into because they have their own requirements. There are lots of internet descriptions of installs so I'll skip that part for now.

Second, realize from the beginning that Linux is a different animal, a different realm, a different adventure. You must add stuff to it if you want it to be "like windows" or most of your expectations are bound to be dashed. But if you don't mind learning new ways to do things, you will have fun exploring Linux. Do some homework, read a little. The web has stuff and there are good books out there.

Many, many folks new to Linux have heard that Linux is "Command Line driven", that they must learn "DOS like " commands used in a terminal window. Linux has all the gui you could want. Typing commands into the command line interface is not that scary. But as you get into Linux you will see there are a number of ways to get things done. You once had to learn Windows, so now you have to learn Linux. The help available is very good.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Latest Turn of Events

What's the latest preoccupation in my life. Well I have been messing around with Linux for some time now. I've played with Red Hat 5, Fedora 2, did a stint with Knoppix and a couple of other distributions. This last year I have been into Ubuntu Linux. I am so impressed with this version of Linux. It just worked with the hardware I had. Of course my computers are modest by most standards and I do not have any exotic video cards or a dial-up modem as I had in the past. The experience has been overall a good one and my computing needs have been met.
I dual-boot, which means I can start my computer in Windows XP or Ubuntu Linux. I am always comparing the two operating systems. Choice is sometimes a confusing thing, but it serves to keep the competitors awake to the demands of their market. If they want the bucks, they had better make the customer happy. What is interesting here is that this competition between the makers of MS Windows (Microsoft) and the makers of Linux (a community of programmers) have engaged the users in what amounts to a religious war. This is a war over what the user puts on his/her desktop and the underlying philosophy, support, goods and services behind that desktop. If you don't think there's a war, I'll explain. First on the users side, the attitude is and still is show me the product, if I like it, I will buy it and use it. Many OS's have come and gone. Today MS Windows is expected to be on the computer when you buy it, so it and its associated software are the defacto standard. Many, if not most users today have grown up with Windows products. Mean while, in the background another OS (Linux) is being developed and used. Linux steps into the light of user availability offering the user the chance to make a choice.
Users immediately go about making it work for them and compare it to what they have been used to with MS Windows. Opinions, rants, raves, people sharing their experiences trying to exclaim why their operating system, associated products and support is the best and the other is junk.
Now what about the hardware and software makers in this war. They have to satisfy the demand of a customer who can make a choice. When there was only one OS, the standard one (MS Windows), they could tailor a product to support it. Now that the demand for a choice has been made they must make a product that accommodates that ability to choose. Some have a hard time with this, others press on with new product opportunities.
What do I think? Choice is a good thing. It forces the product producers to keep me, the user, in view when they design this thing I will eventually claim as my own. I think that this war on many fronts is a healthy expression of the struggle to put a good product in the users hands.
So, what is the real deal? I use both MS Windows and Linux right now and I am in the mist of comparing the two. I can point out the problems I have had with either of them over the last few years. While either OS will suffice, that is, meet my computing needs, there remains a philosophy and a mental mindset that I enjoy with the Linux side of things. Others who ask can they do this or that with Linux are really asking can they run the software they are used to using in Windows on a Linux machine. We could go around all day explaining about emulators and virtual machines running Windows applications on a Linux machine. I think the operating system, its applications and associated products become such a part of a users world that to enact a change disrupts a users world view. Computing is so much a part of our lives (of those who depend on them).
So, what's so big about Linux that it warrants a fuss? It is basically free from a lot of things that MS Windows binds you into. I like the idea of a product that can cross boarders and cultures without criminal activity being the instigator. I like the fact that the growth and development of Linux continually allows me choice on a level I can deal with. I am not a programmer/developer, so I can't offer code fixes or new applications, yet as a user I can still find ways to participate in the community to share ideas, etc, to improve on what I have invested in. I think that if I have to steal to own or pirate a copy because the economics are too strong or my conscience is weak, (the opportunity is there) to keep current, I do damage to myself, I can not do things with clarity. Yes, I am a Christian after all.
Now, with all the above being said, I have chosen to keep up with Linux because it is improving. I have chosen Ubuntu Linux in particular because it works on my collection of hardware and introduces me to an expanding user experience. What does that mean? This means that I have not been crippled by cost or knowledge in order to get some usefulness out of this contraption called a computer.