Thursday, June 7, 2007

Linux

At the beginning of the '06 Fall semester at TCC I took a Linux course because it was required as part of my degree. I had used Unix in the past. When the internet first came out I used it with tfn.net. They provided free (but very poor) dial-up service and a telnet login to their nix machine. I used to to host my meager website and to check my mail. I'm not sure but I think I used PICO. When tfn started offering web based e-mail I eventually switched, and their nix login was disabled.
I ran Apple ][ series computers for a very long time until I finally saved up and purchased my first Dell around 1998 or 1999. I knew how to use Windows very well from taking programming (HTML and C++) in high school and from friend's computers. I stuck with Windows because at this point primarily because it was the default operating system. OSX had not come out yet, and I frankly did not care for OS9 or anything before it.
So, back to present, I was taking this course, and I had heard more and more about Linux. I am a frequent poster at http://dslreports.com and they have a very active Linux forum that I had started paying some attention to. I was also having some exorborant problems with Windows giving all sorts of error and in general just being stupid. Reinstalls were frequently necessary. I decided to give Linux a try and see what it was all about as a desktop OS. You can read my post where I am considering the switch at http://www.dslreports.com/forum/remark,16921181.
One thing about Linux is that it is just a kernel. While Windows is the kernel and a whole bunch of applications built on top of it (like the explorer interface, IE, and much, much more) Linux is just a kernel. The kernel itself doesn't do anything but interact with the hardware. On top of that kernel you can build configuration files, install programs, and make things work and infinate amount of ways. The good news is that there are lots of projects out there that have already done all of this. These are called flavors or distros. These distros go from various desktop machines, to routers, PBXes, routers, and on and on. Even some cell phones use a flavor of Linux for their operating systems.
So, in the desktop world of Linux there are lots of choices out there. I went with the very popular Ubuntu. Ubuntu's moto is "Linux for human beings." The idea is that you shouldn't have to be a computer genius to use it. Depending on your machine, installation can take well under 20 minutes and is very easy. In fact, some have complained it's too easy, not even giving the option to enter an advanced mode.
At first there was the inevitable re-learning that anyone switching OSes must do. Things I wanted to do where in different places. I had to find new software to replace the things I used to do.
One of the biggest problems was trying to get drivers for all of my hardware. I had an ATI card for my graphics card. It support dual-monitors, video input, and had a TV tuner. The Linux drivers from the ATI site didn't work. I went through many how-tos and I only got it partially working. I finally had to settle with my two monitors being in reverse order and with the video in and TV tuner not working. I have since purchased an NVidia card which works great under Linux.
The other problem was with my USB Wireless NIC. I never got that working and from my research USB Wireless NICs just don't work well on Linux.
Through it all I have really enjoyed Linux. Except at work, I barely ever boot in to Windows. I really don't have any reason to. Everything I need works in Linux. The wealth of available programs (for free mind you) out there is excellent. The community is even better. There are so many places out there that have great how to's, and lots of forums with people eager to assist you in solving any problems or answering any questions you have.
Even my kids and my wife use Linux without a problem, and that really is the real test for ease-of-use.
With the release of Windows Vista I have happily passed it by. The basic version of Vista is very crippled in capabilities. Lots of things I used to enjoy doing in Windows XP Pro (but are also available in XP Home), are reserved for the more (much more) expensive versions of Vista. Meanwhile I can do more in my free Ubuntu than is available out of the box of the most expensive version of Vista (which currently costs $348.99.)
A few of the things I frequently do in Ubuntu are as follows:
  • Use Kopete to sign in to AOL IM and Y!IM and do video chats with friends/family.
  • Use Skype to place telephone calls over the internet (and gives my unlimited calling in North America for ~$25/year.)
  • Browse teh Internets.
  • Manage my church's webpage. This includes using FTP to upload the new PDF bulletins, and ripping the weeks sermon, processing the audio, and saving it as mp3 files and uploading those to the website, and updating the website code to reflect the new additions. I would like to add that this is all much easier to do in Linux than in Windows, especially the FTPing.
  • Use my wireless router so I can use the laptop around the house wherever I want.
  • Log into any computer in the house, from any computer in the house. I can log into another computer, even if it's currently in use by another person, and it won't affect them at all. I am given my own new workspace that is independant of the local user.
  • Use Lacy Lightscribe to draw pictures and text on the top of my laptop CD/DVD's.
  • Burn CD/DVDs.
  • Backup my music and videos.

The hardest part for me is not being that annoying Linux's Witness guy that preaches the gospel as if his/her soul relied on converting people over. I really do like my Linux a lot. I also want others to discover this same happines, but I have to remember it's just an OS, and most people just don't care. They use Windows because it's what's there and it's what they know. They have no interest in relearning anything. It just doesn't matter enough to them. I have to respect that. I also have to respect that for many people Windows probably is the better choice. When I buy hardware I have to research how well it supports Linux. When I go to a store I have to realize that software wasn't written for my OS (though I usually have no problems finding free software the does what I want done.) Most people don't care enough to go through this.

So should you try Linux? I would say absolutely. You can download somehting called a Live CD. With the Live CD you simply put the CD in your CD drive and reboot. It will boot from the CD into the operating system, without touching your hard drive. From there you can see what it's like to use the operating system. Once you are done you simply remove the CD from your drive and reboot and you are back from whence you came.

Should you use Linux? Well, that's up to you. Try it and see if you like it. If you don't, the only thing you've lost is a blank CD.