The Penguin And Me

I am in love with the concept of Linux. It’s possible, at the very same time, I’m not in love with Linux itself. I have spent the last 2 days loading at least 10 different configurations of Linux onto the new ‘old computer.’

First, an explanation. Every time I mention Linux I see eyes glaze over. What is it? Why is it there?

Linux is an operating system. It is based on Unix, a wonderful operating system which (I think) was devised at Bell Labs a long, long time ago.

An operating system is what stands between you and your computer. It knows how to wake the computer when you apply power and it provides a handy set of commands and protocols to speak to the computer.

Like French, Spanish and English – each operating system can tell your computer meaningful things, but using different words. And, each operating system understands different words.

Programs meant to run on Windows do not run on Linux (this is a simplification, but the exceptions are really out of the norm right now). Obviously, the opposite is true as well.

So, why run Linux, when everyone else is running Windows?

Not only is Linux free, that is immediately evident. But Linux represents a different way of doing business. In its simplest form, anyone who uses the basic building blocks and adds to them for their own purposes, contributes those additions to all other users. Even without charging for the software, there’s a reasonable business in charging for technical expertise.

Most web servers are run on Linux. Many scientific applications run on Linux too. Google is either running on Linux or something closely related (I can’t remember at the moment).

My hope is to run Linux alongside my Windows machine and use it for utility purposes, including developing new pages for my website, and weather analysis using GrADS.

The problem is, in a somewhat anarchistic community, the various Linux flavors aren’t always compatible with one and another. Not only that, Linux is nowhere near as good as Windows in recognizing the hardware within your computer. So, it is hit and miss as to whether any particular Linux distribution will be able to do anything that another distribution can.

I started with Fedora Core 2. It is the latest rendition of what is the desktop successor to Red Hat Linux. Then Mandrake 10 Community. Later Fedora Core 1. Each time I configured my machine a slightly different way, loading some programs and excluding others.

None of the Linux variants could see and understand the video controller for my computer. I am running video, but not at the speeds I should be getting. Some of them saw my audio card – well, all of them saw it. They just didn’t see it in a way that would make it work. In some flavors of Linux I was easily able to switch to a working audio solution; though I know about the solution only through a lucky find while looking for something else.

All of things things would be fairly painless in Windows.

As I type this, I am loading Red Hat 9. It is an older distribution, one that Red Hat itself doesn’t support any more. There seems to be a lot of software that I want to run which is already packaged for this particular variant. I’m in the final stages, which means over 300 MB of fixes and updates, all of which were downloaded through my cable modem.

Sometime later tonight I will be finished. Hopefully, RH9 will be the answer to my prayers. Otherwise, it’s back to the drawing board and more installs.

One more thing. Here in the Fox household, Linux is referred to as “The Penguin.” That nickname is based on Tux, the Linux mascot, who is a penguin, of course.

One Response to “The Penguin And Me”

  1. Kyle says:

    I love Linux. I used to be an avid Mac user, and since OS X is based on UNIX (and the commands are pretty much the same), it was like a dream come true. When I made the transistion to Windows though, I tried to keep the Linux idea going. I tried Mandrake many times, as well as Red Hat, but all to no avail. Driver problems galore.

    At first my video card wasn’t recognized, but when I finally upgraded it to an ATI Radeon, I ran into my wireless networking card not being recognized, and that’s what threw me off right there. I tried site after site looking for an answer to my problems, but all to no avail. Since I only have one computer, reformatting it every five minutes was getting old. Quick. Linux would be so great, if things would work with it. Once I get my computer hooked up via ethernet, I’ll try again, but until then why use Linux if it can’t get online? These days it seems like computers themselves are pointless when not connected to the internet.

    When you start surfing the web from your cell phone (which I regularly do), you know there’s something wrong.

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