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LINUX Without The Hype

Linux is an alternative operating system to the ubiquitous MS Windows.

It is:

Linux is stable. No virus or malware problems. Linux is hardware independent, supporting community choice and international Internet standards.

Linux contains components that make it sustainable in a multiple input/output, mobile computing dominated future:

  1. It is open source (similar to freeware)
  2. It maintains and develops standards, with ease of use and modularity as a goal
  3. It has an excellent penguin (Tux)


Lobsters - How I became a penguin Edit

My first experience of Linux was a Slackware distribution double CD set. My computer friends had never even heard of Linux and could not understand my interest. They thought I was mad. Five weeks of suffering ensued. I used a 9600 modem dial up for questions about graphic cards to anyone who would help. I eventually got the X window terminal and "Midnight Commander" and then eventually Netscape running in low-res. Frankly it was dire. Like eating tar. (Health warning for the curious - Do not eat tar!)

Patience and the inclination to go any further evaporated like the dream of a mermaid diving for pearls. I knew Linux was important and kept an eye on its development and progress. I did not require servers or routers or specialist Unix type programs. I did not even know what these were at the time. Most of the networking I came across was Windows based. A desktop Linux was emerging. It was the only sort of Linux that interested me.

One day I came across Redmond Linux on the cover of a computer magazine. It gave me only one problem (getting the mouse to work) and it ran smoothly and looked familiar.

mmm . . . this was a lot better than the tar eating. The mermaid was back and the pearl was Linux.

I decided Linux was advancing sufficiently to move away from the 'We own your computer' Borg mentality of Microsoft. No cold turkey for this crustacean - hell no. Take your time - take a couple of years to migrate.

First I needed a good distro and I eventually settled on Knoppix. 100% free Debian (a style of Linux). Knoppix does not touch your hard drive (the whole thing is booted from CD - by changing your bios settings) and later you can install a working Debian Linux from Knoppix on a hard disk. Be cautioned, however, that because Knoppix is designed for use from a Live CD, some choices have been made that are good when running from a live CD, but do cause problems when attempting to install Knoppix to hard disk, particularly when updating and installing new software. There are many and frequent reports of things that worked fine from the CD but stopped working after a "hard disk install". It can be done but is is not recommended. Knoppix now even has the ability to save your settings from CD to hard disk. Knoppix is designed to run primarily from CD. Knoppix is good. It works. It is stable. There it was on my hard disk after learning about partitioning. I liked it - eh but now what? It looked like Windows and had many similar programs. Similar but different.


Well I decided to program, something quite alien to me. I choose programming in XBasic as it was dual Linux/Windows. I tried very hard to do all the development in Linux; learning by doing but ended up in MS Windows again. Yep gentle reader, I am a slacker. My efforts to program led to ALMS A simple program that at present only compiles for Windows. I also realised that a new type of programming language was required. This led to ASQ but all that is another story . . . Back to the Linux pearl.

Knoppix taught me many things and introduced me to Bash (one of the command line shells - similar to MS-DOS). Whilst trying to program I tried an old Red Hat distribution and started reading up on Tux (a fellow fish enthusiast). I was trying to burn Mandrake distros (a few dozen fried disks later I can burn distros - no problem). That however is a hurdle. Then I went into distro frenzy. Broadband available now. Very quickly I developed a liking for small distros (shorter downloads) and self booters. They were a good introduction. I am trying to get one "Featherweight" Linux, installed to hard disk right now. As a bootable, small, KDE distro, it is a delight.

Soon I was installing Linux versions such as Kanotix, Ubuntu and Fedora to hard drive, yet still preferring the smaller distros. I have Puppy as my main system with Ubuntu, Kanotix and other Linux flavours in the wings. For Kanotix I had to partition the hard disk, and almost learn German whilst resolving the resolution and sorting out the broadband connection. The CD booting version was easier. I persevered with Kanotix as it uses cutting edge, 100% free Debian. It took me about six hours. In other words Linux is not as simple as it promises. Life is not that simple. It was also not five weeks and it was no longer tar. Puppy incidentally just worked for me and continues to do so.

Learning takes time. All these little niggles need sorting. Nobody but programmers and incessant tinkerers should be concerned with an operating system. An operating system is after all just a carrier for a browser and the few niche programs we require. An OS is nothing more than a glorified CMOS BIOS. Incidentally, Linux turns every computer user into an opinionated expert. So be careful, you might feel in control of your computer again.

Anyways . . . I was getting up to speed. Linux has strange ways. For example Linux sometimes denies access to your own CD/ROM drive. This is a security/sharing measure called mounting but it feels like censorship. "Give me back my CD, you fascist, fish eating, Geek", would be heard on numerous occasions and in stronger dialects. Existence is suffering and Linux was helping to drive this piece of Buddha dharma home.

I now spend most of my time in Puppy Linux which I consider a cute and fun distro. I love Puppy. The pearl is real and the mermaid smiles.

Slow Migration is it even required? Edit

For the average punter an operating system comes with the computer. This really is the test. When a hardware seller says, 'I can sell you this system for X amount with Windows XP but with the Free OS it is $100 less. Which would you go for? Most will still go for the safe Windows route. The ever fabled, smoother and easier and better and update in a years time for more fleecing. Baaa! Baaa! The more savvy might say 'Is it a penguin?' 'Tux powered?' Eventually the salesman will not know because the operating system will be a generic component. No longer a complication. Systems such as Xandros, Linspire, Mandriva, Red Hat and Suse Novell are all commercial operating systems based on Linux and being shipped on hardware. Even Puppy is experimentally available built into hardware.

Q: Is Linux better than XP?

Answer:
No. For the average user no. Not yet. I estimate a year or two and Linux will be increasingly shipped on hardware. Microsoft is powerful and have lobbied, marketed and bullied their way onto nearly every new computer. Linux is in phones. Running PDA's. Running Tivo. Why should a license be paid to Microsoft, when a free option is more reliable, flexible and easier to use? Why? Because so far it has been engineered that way. Times and markets change. Bill's gate will shut when we can no longer afford defunct and high maintenance glitz. First something better is required.

Q: You get what you pay for - right?

Answer:
IBM, SUN, Novell, Sony and other major companies are investing in developing a commercial and free Linux environment. They are moving towards open source and paying for the required desktop enhancements, tweaks, professional and commercial infrastructure. They are the suits and they know where the future is. Linux is already considered reliable geek technology. The truth is Linux works well from phones, PDA's, Play Station 3, super computers and next generation quantum computers. Linux development investment in terms of man-hours far exceed that of any other Operating System.

Q: Commercial software is better - right?

Answer:
Yes. There is freeware that is good quality and worth making use of. Open Office is completely stable and works well. Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird all work (you can use them on Windows too). That ease of use will continue. Is the real debate about whether your computer has Intel inside or whether it works? A working environment is the criteria. Linux is working for more and more people. It is ready for mass migration. The global commercial benefits of Linux, far outweigh the interests of closed source Microsoft. The Bill Gates closed legacy, is coming to an end. The service orientated Microsoft is completely dependent on charging or leasing what is neither required or viable long term. When Linux is simply more usable, for more people, it reaches critical mass. It is happening. Are you an early adopter or a flock mover?

When should I move to Linux? Edit

The truth is that Microsoft has done the computer industry a great service. Every desktop PC has the same generic OS and it has evolved into a good, simple, general purpose, usable, working OS. Yes there are Windows variants and problems but Linux too is very varied (more so). We will move to Linux when it is convenient to do so. In other words when it is fully compatible and no different from running Windows. Most people do not care if it is Intel or AMD inside. Both work. Who cares about what OS is running on your hardware? To most people it is all geek.

Desktop standardization has been a boon in workplace environments. Years ago, I remember working at a company that was deciding which computer to go with - the then new PC, or another microcomputer not MS-based. The 'other' computer had superior hardware features, but the microcomputer with the MS software won out because of ease of use. And then later on, I was supporting in a PC and Macintosh environment, PC software support was simple, because of the standards people had adopted, but the Macs? Sheesh! It seemed like every person with a keyboard and a design idea was writing and selling software for children and students, and support was exceedingly difficult because it was an era of 'anything goes.' And even on the PC, one OS I supported, the wonderful PICK OS, had at least 12 variations. Linux was/is the same, but I see it winnowing down to commonalities that are wonderful now.

Installing software Edit

Do you know what any of these are?

  1. tarballs
  2. apt-get install (Debian and derivatives)
  3. RPM (Red Hat Package manager)
  4. Synaptic
  5. Klik
  6. Portage (used by Gentoo and the semi-commercial VLOS)
  7. Yum (Fedora)
  8. Autopackage

No reason why you should, unless you are a Linux user. They are all involved in installing software. Who cares? I want to go to a web site click on install or download. Check, verify, download and install. If I want gibberish, I'll talk to a Microsoft consultant. Installing from the command line went out with the ark. Is that too much to program? Pah! Penguins, sort it! Tux depends on you. Did I mention that most Linux software is free? You have to install as root incidentally. Don't know what that means? Why should you. Root and su (super user) and mounting and . . . all geek gibberish. Those on a network might be served by some of these restrictions. Installing should be as easy as going to a site and clicking a button (this is what new generation installers are attempting). It is coming. Snapshot3

Which is the best Linux Distro? Edit

Distro = distribution. It means how Linux is configured and what packages are provided.

The best Linux desktop distro does need consistency. It has not fully emerged yet. There is great variability in the Linux world. It is likely to be Ubuntu as it has both the Open source and commercial people involved. Some Linux distributions such as Red Hat, Mandriva, Suse and Xandros are sold. Commercial programs also provide free versions (no support and other service features). Wannabee billionaires are providing excellent commercial versions such as Xandros and Linspire with computers. A penguin is coming. Debian with derivatives such as Ubuntu and Knoppix are free. Linux is varied in style, presentation, content and goals. Variability ideally should come after consistency and a common core. However Linux is not about should. It is about variability and freedom to do it better and differently. It is the kernel or core of the operating that is the same.

Of all the distros I have tried, four stand out:

  1. I use PCLinuxOS an easy Mandriva (Mandrake) based Live CD/Installer in preference to Suse or Fedora (Open Source Red Hat) for flexibility and professionalism.
  2. Puppy for speed and long term potential. Puppy is leaner and faster than anything else. It is simple and Windows like. It is not designed to compete with the more developed Linux systems - but it does. Lately projects have included reading writing to DVD-RW, embedded control system for a submarine remote and Open Office compression. It is also being put in commercial hardware and the new Puppy2 is available in Bare Bones and Opera Browser format. I have been using and growing with it over the last year.
  3. Kanotix based on Knoppix/Debian with ease of use and simplicity from the CD running operation
  4. Ubuntu for presently being the most practical

Screenshot2

Ubuntu will send you a free CDs, so you can try out Linux. This includes a run from CD operating system that does not need installing on your hard disk.

Is Linux more reliable? Edit

What you are familiar with feels more reliable. Potentially yes but for most users and most desktop machines (not servers where it undoubtedly is more reliable) at the present time (January 2006), the answer is still, 'Not quite!' Linux is more secure when you know it. If you have no experience of Linux, ways of working will be unfamiliar and it takes a little time and effort to adjust. However increasingly a generic operating system is emerging. Many Linux programs crash or are incomplete (because they are in early development or badly/hastily written only Betas are avaialable or whatever). Linux sometimes combines working with barely started programs, often to the complete bewilderment of Windows users who expect polish.

Linux programs behave differently. Commands are different. Menus are different. It is sometimes not choice, just chaos. People do not easily adopt Linux because of invested time learning Windows. They do not want to think about using an operating system. Linux is however becoming transparent, simpler and generic. Most Windows users can easily use a Mac. Most would find a modern Linux to be familiar and straightforward. The chaos is becoming friendly.

Linux programs and environment are all improving very rapidly and will continue to do so. Linux is becoming easier for desktop users. I always feel more secure in Linux. Sometimes too secure. Can not get into my own system half the time . . . With Windows I am being bombarded by phishers, trojan writers, system hijackers, spyware, advertisers and other Gates to nowhere.

Q: What software is reliable on Linux

  • The core system (kernel)
  • Firefox
  • Thunderbird
  • OpenOffice
  • Gaim
  • Audacity
  • Inkscape
  • Java programs

. . . you may be familiar with. Many, many more programs are available.

Question: Can I use my microphone?

Sometimes. Maybe if you fiddle with esoteric settings for a while. Maybe it just works. It did for me. Plug and play and autodetection is there for ever more hardware. I have problems setting up a microphone on Windows (less so with XP)

Question: Can I use my modem?

It depends on type of modem you have. If you have got a winmodem, you'll have to look for some Linux driver on linmodems.org It will be a hard job to install it. Real external modems usually work. Ubuntu tends to recognise hardware very well and increasingly the autodetection utilised so well in Knoppix is beginning to fruit. If you are using cable or ADSL with DHCP it is likely to be auto-setup or very simple to configure.

Question: Can I use Wi-Fi?

Increasingly yes. Puppy 1.0.5 has wifi support and most Linux distributions are configuring for ease of use in this area.

Question: USB?

You may have to reboot and maybe not even then. Though I did get my USB camera working with Ubuntu Linux easily and this was a major struggle with XP (I had to wait 2 years until the drivers were created)

Question: What works?

Practically everything else. Your software will be free. Your data secure. Your system dependable. Your support free. Your choice widening every month. It is a great adventure. Linux puts you back in control of your computer.

I want to try Linux . . .Edit

Q:I want to try Linux . . .

A: Want to be part of the future eh? Welcome to the Real World. LOL. Try one of the live distros mentioned below. They all run from CD or try this distro chooser
  • Knoppix Based on 100% free Debian. Secure. Well supported and developed. Highly influential. This is a big 600-700meg distro. It is very stable. Klaus Knopper listens to his users. I sent off for the distro as it was practically impossible to download by modem. First read the Knoppix Downloading FAQ since it is a handy one-stop source of information about downloading, verifying, burning and booting a Knoppix CD. You can also read the Knoppix free pdf Book
  • Kanotix Better than Knoppix? I think so. The HD install has been much improved.
  • Featherweight Small, slim very usable. Install to HD is a work in progress
  • Austrumi Latvian language with English support. Excellent. Looks good. Fast. Great programs. Small download. Slackware based.
  • Puppy Ay Chihuahua! Small and Windows like. Runs best from CD or keydrive. So cute. So usable. Such fun. I liked the way Barry responded and helped clarify. He is also doing something rather unique with Puppy+
  • Beatrix Simple Gnome based. Vast potential. Excellent cats, including Beatrix. This is so elegant. 200 meg. It only has the programs the average user requires. Probably the most pleasant Linux to just use for those not interested in computers.
  • Lnx-bbc Experienced users. 'Leave no trace' rescue CD
  • Damn Small Linux A business card size (50MB) bootable Live CD Linux distribution, it has a functional and easy to use desktop. Based on Knoppix. Good recognition of older hardware.
  • Feather Linux Small dark and cool. Knoppix based. Based on Damn Small Linux.
  • Luit Modular version of Damn Small Linux
  • Ubuntu Developing into the best Gnome/Debian distro. Will send you a live CD for free and one (or more) for your friends.
  • Slax - Slack Linux based. Easy to use. Good presentation. Making the original slackware accessible to more users.

To run one of these distros:

  • Download the ISO file and burn using BurnCDCC or send off for the CD (Ubuntu is free incidentally)
  • If you need further help downloading & burning the ISO file, then a good place for info is the Knoppix Downloading FAQ.
  • Enter your Bios
  • Change to boot from CD
  • Play with distro
  • Change back to boot from hard disk in the BIOS

There now, you are a Linux user . . . Nothing on your computer was even effected not so difficult was it

More Live CD's

Conclusion - Tux is THE Penguin Edit

Moving to Linux was slow and gradual. I would pop in. I would do a task and return to the devil I knew. For the last 6 months I have been using only Linux. The distro I chose after much research and trials was Puppy Linux. The gains in productivity have been considerable.

  1. Working Operating System files on a secure, non interferable CD (no malware in the Operating system)
  2. New Operating System required? Change the Boot CD. Data files remain on hard disk but the operating system and program is run from CD.
  3. USB Keydrive Operating Systems allows portability of knowledge (files) and Operating system

Ubuntus commercial wing (they will be charging for support and consultancy) have just employed a Desktop designer, whose first job was to find everything wrong with their existing presentation. Linux is strong enough to examine and rectify and learn. Windozers are you waking up yet?

IBM, Sony and Toshiba are working on the cell processor, (10 times) faster than Intel's best. The cell processor, initially for the Play Station 3, is a grid-style super computer consisting of many small computers, connected on-chip, in a grid pattern to work together. Linux, will move easily onto this processor, already supporting grid computing now. Microsoft Windows becomes increasingly influenced by 'that little Penguin'. The many processor and adaptabiity of Linux will enable its eventual integration into public usage.

We have been using a rubbish operating system - a non-working or lethal product because hyped. You think lives have not been lost due to critical systems relying on unstable or insecure operating systems? Think again. We are fleeced and endangered and dependent on a flaky operating system. Mission critical Linux systems exist and are reliable. Linux is used by computer hardcore power users, requiring more robust facilities. Increasingly desktop and easier to use distributions are encouraging people to try Linux. They like it and want more. Firefox is doing well because it works - and well, with 74 million downloads and the potential 10% market share by mid 2005 already well exceeded with parts of Europe having a 30% take up rate. Open Office 2 offers a free, sensible Office Suite. New Gnome Office and KDE Office suites are being developed. High quality and specialised programs are often designed for and on Linux, with Windows users being provided for as a courtesy. Windows will eventually have support for running Linux. If it does not, then Tux will just swallow the imploding and collapsing Gates empire. Microsoft is no longer a healthy model. So you can just wait or become involved.

The future is penguinated. Take a bow Tux.

Links:

TuxGasho50

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