Linux Matures

My desktop machine at work runs Linux as its operating system&#185. It has for years.

I’ve always used the excuse we run some applications on it that can’t be easily run on Windows. That’s true. It’s also my toy.

As part of my bargain with the technogods at work, I scrounge around the IT department, looking for PCs pulled from service. Over the past few years, my desktop has always been a generation or two behind state of the art.

That’s fine.

Recently, the station was ‘retiring’ a server. It no longer had a hard drive or any RAM. It was a dual core Pentium machine with an integrated Intel video system on the motherboard. It became mine.

I tried loading Linux on this machine a few months ago with limited results. In fact, I ended up going back to my Pentium III 800 mHz machine with 128 mb of RAM.

Now, with Ubuntu Linux v7.10 out, I tried again.

Wow! Linux is here.

The distribution installed easily and this computer sings. And, since it doesn’t run Windows programs, it won’t ‘run’ viruses and spyware aimed at a Windows audience.

Unless you really need Windows for a specific application, I’m pretty sure Linux will easily fill the bill.

Today, there are Linux office suites, graphics programs, multimedia players and pretty much everything else you’d find on a store bought PC. They, and Linux itself, are free.

Companies like Asus are selling off-the-shelf Linux loaded laptops and Wal*Mart is stocking Linux equipped desktop machines. The prices are hundreds of dollars less than comparable Windows boxes.

If I was Microsoft, I’d start worrying. There has been a loud cry of unhappiness from their users.

Their most recent operating system iteration, Vista, seems designed more to satisfy the RIAA and MPAA than its actual customers! Some features that existed on earlier operating systems have been removed or neutered on Vista. Meanwhile, Wal*Mart and Asus are legitimizing their free competitor.

Propeller heads like me aren’t what’s going to give Linux critical mass. It’s going to take exposure in retail outlets. And that’s what’s happening.

If you’re at all curious about computing… if you’ve got an older PC you want to play with… I recommend Ubuntu Linux. I’m very happy with it and I suspect you will be too.

&#185 – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

An operating system (OS) is the software that manages the sharing of the resources of a computer and provides programmers with an interface used to access those resources. An operating system processes system data and user input, and responds by allocating and managing tasks and internal system resources as a service to users and programs of the system. At the foundation of all system software, an operating system performs basic tasks such as controlling and allocating memory, prioritizing system requests, controlling input and output devices, facilitating networking and managing file systems. Most operating systems come with an application that provides a user interface for managing the operating system, such as a command line interpreter or graphical user interface. The operating system forms a platform for other system software and for application software.

The most commonly-used contemporary desktop and laptop (notebook) OS is Microsoft Windows. More powerful servers often employ Linux, FreeBSD, and other Unix-like systems. However, these operating systems, especially Mac OS X, are also used on personal computers.

Wow – Thanks For Responding

Yesterday, I asked for laptop advice (which continues to come in). I appreciate it all. I have not made up my mind yet, so don’t stop.

I do want to address one suggestion – Apple. There are two consistent comments I hear from Apple owners.

  • I love my Mac
  • Why don’t they write this software for my Mac?

I am much more familiar with the Windows world, where I know how most things operate – even ‘under the hood’. Mac’s operating system is based on BSD (a Unix flavor), which I’m not quite as conversant in. So, yes, that lack of deep knowledge is also a problem.

But, again, it’s the easy availability of software that’s my main concern… and the price. A comparable Mac seems to be 40-50% more than its corresponding PC.

Steffie will gladly tell you how much prettier Macs are than PCs. I agree. That isn’t entering into this decision.

I have looked at all the brands you have recommended. Believe it or not, at this time, Dell seems the best value. I have looked at a Dell laptop with Vista home premium (or whatever the second step on their ladder is called), 2Gb RAM, 120 Gb drive, 14.1″ WXGA+ resolution (love them pixels), for under $1,000.

Software or OS tech support, the scourge of PC buyers, is less of a concern for me since I do most of my own IT work. We were very satisfied with Dell when it came to hardware support.

I also appreciate the two of you who wrote to explain the difference between Core Duo and Core 2 Duo (32 vs 64 bit processor). Why don’t the laptop manufacturers reveal this on their configuration tools?

As a guy, by law, I have difficulty committing. Hopefully, tonight or tomorrow I’ll make up my mind and pull the trigger.

Reading Slashdot

I like to read Slashdot. It’s one of my top two websites.

For the uninitiated, (no www necessary – thanks) is where geeks go for geeky news. If someone has built a monorail in their backyard, perfected stovetop fusion, or said anything good about Linux (or bad about Microsoft), it can be found on Slashdot – “News for Nerds. Stuff that matters.”

There are no Slashdot reporters. This is a site that aggregates from other sites, much as Matt Drudge does. Everything that’s posted is submitted by one of the zillions of readers.

Because of the site’s dedicated readers, smaller sites that get mentioned get overloaded with the aptly named “Slashdot effect.” It is funny to see an interesting post and then note comments, only moments later, proclaiming the linked site as unreachable!

I like reading Slashdot, and I like submitting articles. It’s good to help steer the nerd news agenda.. It’s also a good way to get this website a little free publicity, as they list the URL or email address of those who submit stories.

I’m sure my Slashdot posts had something to do with my rise in the Google rankings. Slashdot is a 9 or 10 in Google’s page rankings. So being mentioned there is very important.

If you’re interested in what interests me, here’s my list of Slashdot submissions – some accepted, some rejected. You’ll notice there’s one pending, a story about burning audio CD’s at concerts.

2004-05-03 17:02:03 Take Home The Concert on CD (articles,media) (pending)

2004-04-28 18:00:25 Sweet News for Open Office Suite (articles,software) (rejected)

2004-04-28 07:34:19 Outsourcing Doesn’t Always Pay (articles,tech) (rejected)

2004-04-25 18:03:14 Linux/Unix computers hacking target (articles,linux) (rejected)

2004-04-06 00:44:51 My personal Linux frustration (askslashdot,linux)(rejected)

2004-03-01 05:06:14 Fighting Piracy is Bad for Business – Honest! (articles,media) (rejected)

2004-02-23 03:38:55 How Geeks REALLY Use High School Gyms! (articles,tech) (rejected)

2004-02-15 02:15:35 I’m Watching Those Who Watch Me (articles,internet) (rejected)

2004-02-08 22:39:48 Microsoft search (askslashdot,microsoft) (rejected)

2004-01-19 23:08:31 Commercials come to the net (after this word) (articles,media) (accepted)

2003-12-06 23:09:58 Perfect Weather on the Net (science,science) (accepted)

2003-11-23 20:27:55 Synthesized Singers (articles,music) (accepted)

2003-11-19 22:37:35 Bill Gates and the Nightclub Video (articles,windows) (rejected)

2003-11-03 01:58:19 Is this the future of TV? (developers,tv) (rejected)

2003-10-29 08:10:39 Fire photos – amateurs as the new chroniclers (articles,media) (rejected)

2003-10-24 07:17:56 Here Comes the Sun(spots) – they’re huge (radio,science) (rejected)

2003-10-24 04:37:54 AOL tweaking users computers… and not telling (articles,spam) (accepted)

2003-10-02 06:41:07 Experience one hour in only thirty minutes (articles,games) (accepted)

2003-09-25 03:12:13 Do geeks really need planes to fly? (articles,hardware) (rejected)

2003-08-20 18:38:39 If you know… how can you stop it? (askslashdot,tech) (rejected)

Blogger’s note: McD points out, all my accepted Slashdot submissions can actually be seen in context by clicking here.

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.