Linux General

What You Can Expect From a Linux Distribution

Posted on 2011/01/09. Filed under: Computing General, Linux General, Operating Systems, Uncategorized |

There are some things that you can expect with a new installation of a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu or Fedora that you would not get with an OS such as Windows 7 or OS /X.

Free of Cost

The OS is without cost for the operating system or the applications that run on it. Free does not mean poorly written. Most developers work for major companies in IT and computer related work. Many are paid to work on Linux on company time and the rest do it because they are users too. They want something that they or their company would like to use. They like the collaborative atmosphere and are excited about what they do. It is not just a job for them.


The OS can be given away, changed or even sold provided that you abide by the conditions of the GPL. Anyone can fork any distribution and can build on the work of others. Every distribution is standing on the shoulders of giants who pioneered Linux and made it what it is today. It is part of what makes Linux unique. That is why we have well over 300 distributions. There is rivalry among the distributions but they are held loosely together by a bond of respect for free and open software.


When you install most distributions you get with it most of the applications that many people would expect to run. You should get a web browser, email client, instant messenger, music manager, photo editor and manager, office suite and plus all of the applications needed to manage the distribution. You do not need to download applications from web sites or search for them online. They are found in an application called a package manager that displays the applications in a menu with a description of each.  They are stored securely in locations maintained by the distribution called repositories. The package manager takes care of downloading the application, checking dependencies,  installing the application, creating an icon in the menu and removing the application and its dependencies if that is your choice. Many applications are high quality and compare favourably with ones that you would pay for.


The operating system allows you to control updates including the interval and frequency. It never forces you to re-boot after an update. At most it will advise you that an update is available and that a re-boot will allow you to take advantage of that change. It will never nag you to re-boot. You can safely run a Linux computer for months or years without re-booting.

If you are a power user then you can edit many of the settings and take full control of the OS. If you are inclined to you can even build your own distribution from scratch or use a distribution that is intended to be built like a do it yourself kit.


Linux is all about having choice. That starts with a choice of over 300 distributions. However, choice is not limited to that. Many distributions come in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, desktop and server editions, and versions for different architectures. Once installed you have a choice of several desktop environments, window managers, compositors and window decorators. Some distributions have over 35000 packages in their repositories. Choice is seemingly endless and it may boggle the mind of new users, but Linux veterans would not have it any other way.

Drivers Included

In many other OSes you need to insert a driver disk for the hardware to work. In Linux this is the last resort. For the most part drivers are installed automatically or selected from a list supplied with the distribution. Given that many OEMs do not support Linux directly it is surprising to most users that most hardware works out of the box. Sadly people seem to remember the old days when most hardware did not work. It is hard to lose an image once it is established. Today’s Linux is compatible with most hardware.

Confidence and security

Security is built in. There is no need for antivirus or anti malware applications. Some people choose to run AV software in Linux out of courtesy to Windows users in order not to spread viruses to friends and colleagues who use that operating system. There are very few Linux viruses and those that do exist do not propagate if the user follows established Linux protocols. At first it will seem like an annoyance when you are prompted for passwords, but they suddenly it reaches a point where you decide that the OS has your back covered and you see it as a benefit. You can have confidence that applications are virus free and work as advertised because they are in maintained secure repositories by developers or people trained in package management. Data loss is rare because file systems are journalled and robust. You have to be very disorganised and actually go out of your way to mess things up. It can happen, but it is rare. For that reason Linux file systems are trusted on servers for many of the largest corporations in the world. It is the backbone of the internet. Many people use them without realising that Linux is behind it all.

Low maintenance

There is no need to defragment the hard drive or registry. The file system allows for file growth and works silently in the background to keep it efficient. There is no registry to corrupt or maintain. Uniformity of package management means that applications aren’t messing up your system because developers are all working from the same set of rules and protocols. When you install something it never makes an icon on the desktop or tries to run from the system tray. Icons are added to pre-determined groups. It never creates its own group in your menu and the menu does not usually need to be cleaned up manually.

Free and timely upgrades and patches

There are vulnerabilities in any operating system, including Linux. Because Linux is open there is transparency and collaboration. Vulnerabilities are discovered quickly and patched often the same day. There is no denial as the existence of a problem, blaming the user or waiting for patch Tuesdays. When the OS is upgraded to a new version you can upgrade for free. Many distributions have a new version every six months. Some are constantly being renewed in what is called a rolling release.


Power users can geek out all they want. They can compile source code and run from the commandline as they choose. That does not mean that everyday users need to do it as well. Most distributions can be run from the GUI from installation to every day use. The commandline is not to be feared, but it can be avoided entirely for those who choose. It is there as a reminder that the GUI sits on top of a powerful OS and if you know the right commands and how the operating system works then you have more control and way more fun.

Save time

Linux takes less time to install, maintain and it usually boots faster than competing operating systems. In addition you do not lose productivity by having to re-boot and wait for updates to finish installing. In Linux updates take place in the background while you keep working and it you can keep working as long as you want before you decide to re-boot. Some updates will only take affect after you re-boot, but updating will not limit your use of the computer in the meantime.

Easier on the environment

When many users might be tempted to buy an new computer, Linux users can just switch to a lighter desktop environment or switch to distribution that is low on resources. That way you can use the same computer for years longer and not get caught up in the need to upgrade.


I alluded to this briefly, but it is worth separating out. GNU/ Linux is not just an operating system. It is a community and within it there are sub communities. Linux users tend to congregate together to discuss, problem solve, collaborate, and humour one another along. Linux has developed with the community. Some distributions are more community driven than others, but all have community in common. Some communities transcend the differences between distributions and others are peculiar to a distro. There are developer communities and user communities and places where they meet. You can develop your skills by getting involved in the community because Linux users love to mentor and strengthen whatever they are working on. By joining an IRC channel for example you could find yourself talking directly to the developer of an application that you use every day. They are interested in hearing from you and helping you. Many package managers start out in IRC as newbies and are helped along, until soon they are mentoring others. Not many users start out as experts. We all learn to walk before we can run.

Downside of Linux

Not everything is perfect in Linux. We need improvements and it is up to the community to test and give feedback to developers. They also need your financial support. Many developers accept donations to help pay for servers and the on going cost of making their work available to us. Also you can help spread the word as Linux has no advertising budget. It is spread by word of mouth. Linux users can appear to be evangelists because they know that this is the only way to get the word out. You will have to forgive them if they seem to be inordinately enthusiastic at times. If you know more than one language you can translate or if you are good at just one you can help with documentation. There are many ways to get involved and along the way you will learn much about community. Linux relies on its community and you will quickly find that this is part of the appeal.

Linux has some shortcomings. Games and commercial applications are few. That is changing slowly. The biggest impediment is not technical. Linux could run Photoshop or World or Warcraft if the developers wanted it to run on Linux. Usage is on the increase particularly in Europe and Asia but the commercial market is not developed. Once the demand is enough then commercial vendors should respond and Linux users have been willing to pay for games and good software.  The other big issue is that unlike Macs and Windows PCs, Linux does not come pre-installed. The user has to take the initiative and decide that they want an alternative.

Many of the things that at first seem to be negatives are actually positives. Linux is different. It is meant to be. The key to being successful is to forget most of what you know and embrace the way Linux does things. A second key is to manage your expectations. Separate the hype from meeting your actual needs. If you really want powerhouse or hyped applications such as Photoshop or iTunes, then perhaps Linux is not for you or at the very least you are a good candidate for dual booting or virtualisation.

While the community is an asset, it can also be an impediment. Some distributions tend to attract purists and they can be a turn off. There is only one way for them and if you don’t accept that then you can be told to take a hike. However, many distributions welcome newbies and are genuine in their interest in helping you. If you encounter the wrong type of Linux user then try to remember that it takes all kinds.

Note: Linux is not an operating system strictly speaking, but I have used is generically that way rather than specifying specific distributions which more correctly are operating systems. Linux refers to the kernel. The operating system includes the Linux kernel, GNU libraries and various parts added by specific distributions to enable the user to interact with the computer. I am just trying to keep it simple.

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It’s All in the Wording

Posted on 2010/11/08. Filed under: community, Kubuntu, Linux General, Mandriva, openSUSE, Ubuntu |

There is more than one way to look at anything. I read hundreds of RSS feeds and blogs daily. I see it all of the time. Writers taking potshots at things that they don’t like. Currently it is open season on Ubuntu. But it has been a long hunting season. Backlash has been going on for some time.

This headline caught my eye:Ubuntu To Ditch X For Wayland. Note the word ditch. This gives a negative spin on an otherwise positive story. Ubuntu is supporting Wayland which the person writing calls a “more modern alternative” to X and likes the decision. So why write it in a negative light if they are supporting something that is worthy of support?

There have been hundreds of such posts. Ubuntu Ditches GNOME or Ubuntu Dumps GNOME are examples. The theme here is that Canonical or Ubuntu are bad boys. Words like ditch and dump are succinct, but pejorative, implying that Ubuntu and Canonical are disloyal philanderers or worse.

After enough of these headlines, Jono Bacon, Canonical’s Community Manager issued a call for respect. I don’t blame him, but we have to put things in perspective. This has been going on for a long time. If it is not checked then it gets nasty and this is what is happening. You cannot ignore it and expect it to disappear.

I am not using Ubuntu at present, but I have in the past. I like the fact that Canonical is changing things and even rocking the boat a bit. The community needs a shake up every now and again. We are a complacent and isolated lot. But there is more happening here.

The community does not have to agree on everything, but we don’t have to be a beast that devours its young either. We seem to delight in trying the destroy what someone else is building, even if we do not plan on using it. In fact, most of the critics of Canonical and Ubuntu come from outside the community. It is like Republicans trying to change the Democratic party. They can’t, so instead they seek to gain advantage by politically motivated responses.

The way to change something is to join and participate. Otherwise your criticism rings hollow. In the end you do not want to do anything positive at all. Your goal is not to be an agent of change, but to criticise for the sake of criticism. You are like a film critic that goes to movies and never stops to enjoy them. You get your kicks from finding fault.

I don’t think that most people are like that. I think that most Linux users are happy and satisfied. They want to feel part of something that is bigger than they are. They embrace a distribution and its community. That is why Ubuntu has been so immensely successful. Ubuntu is based on a philosophy. With Ubuntu you get a package deal. You get the distribution, community and the ideal. They all work together and I think well. When you dump on Ubuntu you aren’t just criticising the distribution, but people and they can take exception.

I don’t think that Ubuntu is alone in this. Each distribution has its advocates and community whether it is big like Fedora or Debian or small like PCLinuxOS or MEPIS. The way to build up your community and to promote your distribution is to work within and to promote it to others in a positive manner.

Ubuntu has a code of conduct and by and large its members abide by it. I don’t see them trash talking other distributions or raiding the user base of other distros. I see it all of the time in forums and in blogs that users from other distributions love to take shots at Ubuntu, hoping it will improve their chosen distribution. It doesn’t help. It makes you seem small and petty and your community seem to be unfriendly and uninviting.

I do not use Ubuntu for many reasons. None has anything to do with the community, which is not perfect, but it is very good. I stick up for Ubuntu because I respect what they are trying to do. They are trying to change Ubuntu and make it a better experience.

You can ascribe ulterior motives if you want, but what purpose does it achieve? People say that Canonical is taking but not giving back. All I know is that if they stopped developing it, a lot of people would be out of work. So they are giving something to Linux. You just don’t appreciate how much or the nature of it.

Critics say that they are developing in house for themselves. Every distribution does that. Debian is not thinking of Ubuntu or Fedora when they develop. When Mint made its Mint Menu it wasn’t thinking of downstream projects, but they were adding value for their users and promoting their brand. I have used openSuSE, Mandriva and Fedora. They all do it to one degree or another. Nobody criticises Mandriva when they make a new applet that is on their platform alone or when Fedora tries something new that other distros don’t use.

Ubuntu cannot win. If they switch to anything they are criticised. If they add Banshee they will be criticised for adding Mono content. When the switched to Shotwell they were criticised for abandoning Mono based F-spot. When they change their buttons to the left they are criticised for becoming Mac like. If they add windicators then they will be criticised for developing in house. When they created Launchpad people cried out that they were not giving back to Linux, but whe they released it those critics were silent.

There seems to be no satisfying Ubuntu critics. So they should not try. They should stick to their game plan and work within their community to communicate their vision better. They need to concentrate on community building which is a strength. Criticism from the outside should be expected and they need to stop being naive about it.

For the most part, it is just sour grapes, but they need to address it by being proactive, instead of fighting fires afterwards. When Shuttlworth is to announce a big change at UDS then they should be ready with press releases and responses to anticipated criticisms. That should silence much of it. Right now, people are playing on their naivety and they are coming across as unprepared, which only makes it look as if they have not thought things through or are hiding something. I take them at face value, but some people want to find fault and this gives them fuel.

We need to learn to ignore sensationalist headlines or to take people who post them to task. Mostly, we need to learn to build the community at large up. I am supporting Ubuntu, but I am using Fedora 14 at present. (I am trying to experience other distributions by walking a mile in their shoes. After that I will try a different distribution. Kubuntu is my baseline and has been for awhile. But, I am determined to understand the larger community and for that reason I am using a distribution for one month solid.)

A strong Ubuntu is no threat to Fedora. Fedora has a different vision and a different sort of user base. Because Fedora is strong I don’t see Fedora users as promoting division and spreading dissension. That is what having a strong presence and a consistent vision can do. Users do not have the need to bushwhack others and be constantly looking over their shoulder. Fedora users do not need to compare and as a consequence do not feel the need to attack Ubuntu.

I could point fingers where most of this is coming from, but I won’t. Distributions that feel threatened have good reason to feel that way, but Ubuntu is not the threat that they imagine. The threat comes from within. They are not growing because of decisions that they have made (or more importantly not made) and not because of things that others have done. The way to improve the situation is to communicate your vision to others or if they reject it to accept that gracefully and work to ensure your vision persists. The problem as I see it  is in the last part. They cannot accept that others would reject it or can’t be graceful about it, so they lash out. The consequence is that they are harming their community, but don’t realise it.

We can build or we can destroy with words. We can promote unity or division. When we choose to use certain words then we are doing one of these things. I hope that writers will choose words carefully and weigh the consequence of using them. What do you want to achieve and is this the way to do it? Is it helpful or harmful to the goals of Linux at large and my distribution in particular? Finally, is it being done in a respectful manner which reflects positively on me and the community that I represent?

Words, say a lot about you, perhaps more than you intend when you write them.



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What Microsoft Linux Would Mean

Posted on 2010/11/05. Filed under: Apple, Computing General, Linux General, Microsoft, Operating Systems |

Telling me that it is a bad idea does no good. Like that bad song you hear on your clock radio first thing in the morning and it stays in your head all day, it is an idea that won’t go away. My son who is a Linux user and advocate and I had this conversation about five years ago. I think that it was even before Microsoft and Novell struck a deal. It was pre-Vista because we thought that Microsoft’s next OS could be Linux-based. We thought that it would happen, but are still waiting. (I’m being a Devil’s advocate, so don’t take me seriously or send hate messages)

So, this is just a pretend game. What would happen if…?

Instant credibility

Let’s face it. Desktop Linux is a bit of a joke. They cannot even agree on a name. Some call it GNU/Linux? How silly is that? Linux plateaued along time ago.We have little credibility in the board rooms of the world. Game developers don’t take us seriously.  We are stuck and going nowhere fast.

Microsoft has credibility. It isn’t what it once was, but it would certainly elevate our low standing. There would be Linux games at last and Linux versions of Photoshop and Microsoft Office. We would feel wanted. We would feel important. When the word Linux was mentioned people would suddenly think Microsoft and all of the great associations that brings to mind. We would be right next to all of their great operating systems, Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, Windows 95, Windows 98 SE, Windows ME, Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows Linux. We would rate an entry in Wikipedia.

Market Presence

Linux has no market presence. We have no advertising budget. We have no retail experience. We are not even has beens; we are never have beens.

Microsoft Linux would mean that we would be in the stores, under Christmas trees, on TV ads, and come with every new PC. Can’t you just see it now? Apple would make commercials against us. We would be worthy of being dissed on network TV.


Tell somebody now that you use Linux and people ask, “Linux, What’s that?” They act as if you have some disease and promptly change the subject. It isn’t something that you can talk about and expect many people to be able to hold up their side of the conversation. Linux has no status. It is less than zero. Using Linux marks you as someone one who can can read binary numbers which is about as socially useful as having two heads.

But if there was a Microsoft Linux, all of a sudden you would ahead of the curve. You were ahead of your time. Prescient.  You were misunderstood and mistreated in the past, but now we would get sympathy. People would feel sorry for all of those nasty things they’ve said and thought and want to make it up to you. Suddenly, everybody would want to be your friend.

People Would Write Viruses For Us

Admit it. You feel left out. We are unworthy of people writing viruses and putting trojans on our computers because we use Linux. It is like never getting invited to a party. We know they exist because other people tell us they go to parties, but we’ve not actually been to one.

But if there was Microsoft Linux, people would want to write viruses for us. They would want to infect us and we would be honoured to have them do it. It would mean that we had made the big time at last.


We have a leadership crisis. We are a captainless ship, adrift in the sea with no destination in mind. But that would all change if there would be a Microsoft Linux. They would step up and fill that void. We would have a worthy captain in Steve Ballmer and more importantly we would have direction. We would be able to tell all of the other distributions to fall into line or better still to just go away.

We could change standards and Linux practices, if we only had an able captain who would be able to explain it all in terms that we could understand. We would see the error of our ways and fall into line. We would no longer be a diverse and fractious lot. We would be unified under a strong leader and there would peace at last in the Linux community.


Come on you’ve thought about it. Everybody needs money. Why not Linux? We could buy the best developers. We could take over companies and kill innovation. We could write bloated code and nobody would question us. We could force users into buying new computers whenever we chose not to support old hardware. Why are we giving it away when we can charge good money for it?

Not only that. We could be on the stock exchange. We would see LNX drift across the screen when we watch the business news and our heart would leap with joy.


They say that power corrupts, but who cares? The corrupt have power and don’t seem to mind. Because we will now be the powerful and nobody will dare to question us. It is only the peons that worry about trivialities like corruption. Once you have power you are above the fray. You can pay off politicians. You can change laws. You can force your will on lesser individuals.

You become respectable because you hang around with better quality people, not because you have high ideals. If you got convicted of a felony it would not stick. You would become made of Teflon, because you have power.

Ahh! Microsoft Linux. It goes together like peanut butter and bacon. Mmmm Good.

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Why Windows is Better Than Linux

Posted on 2010/11/03. Filed under: Apple, Computing General, Linux General, Microsoft, Operating Systems |

Don’t be fooled by the title. I use Linux. I avoid Windows. However, all is not rosy in the Linux world. I am active on many Linux help forums. I know the types of problems that most new Linux users face. This is my list of things that could make Linux better, courtesy of Windows users that I have encountered.


This is the big one. Windows comes pre-installed. Everything is working perfectly at the time of purchase. The user does not have to do anything, but use it. Things may go downhill from there, but at least the user starts off with a clean slate.

Often times new users to Linux face barriers. Most can be overcome, but in a few cases, not. The question is, will these users go to the time and effort? It, of course, depends on the user and the skill of those trying to help them.

These problems could be avoided if Linux came pre-installed. It doesn’t come that way for most users. They buy from major retailers in the hopes of getting the best deal or using equipment from a name brand. But it is not a level playing field. Windows or Mac OS is pre-installed. There is no reason that the same could not be done for Linux, but that is not the case. You need to search around and go to much trouble to find someone selling Linux computers. It is not worth the effort for many users.


Most hardware is made to work on one of two platforms, Windows or Macs. Equipment often ships with disks for one or both of these two platforms. Seldom, if ever, do you find a Linux disk. This has nothing to do with Linux not being able to run said equipment, but rather speaks to the size of the market. Linux is small time.

There usually is not a problem finding Linux compatible equipment. Almost anything relatively new is Linux compatible. But when you buy new equipment, it is a bit of a crap shoot. You don’t know for sure unless you do your homework, but you know that Windows and Mac OS will likely work, so if you are choosing an OS on that basis you are likely to be happier.


Most games are written for Windows. There is no reason why Linux cannot run games, but the sad fact is that if you are a gamer, then you must use Windows for PC gaming. The only other alternative is to buy a console or to try to find a Linux solution. This again requires much effort on the part of the user and in many cases more skill than many Linux newbies have.

Specialised Software

If you use AutoCAD, QuickBooks, Photoshop or other specialised software then you have likely found that it is made to work specifically for one or two platforms, neither of which is Linux. Most of us do not fall into this category, but many users do. Some users also find that there are some barriers to using Linux equivalent software, such as trouble with files or formatting, so you prefer to use applications such as Microsoft Office because you use that at work and know that you will have consistency.

Community Issues

Other OSes do not have the same community issues. They can be seen as a strength or a weakness. We are a fragmented community. What distribution should companies support? What package format should they release their software in? What happens when you upgrade your Linux distribution? Does the software need to be upgraded, too? Surely, that means more work for developers.

We are also a fractious lot. Whenever someone takes the bull by the horns and tries to deal realistically with any of these concerns as Mark Shuttleworth has done at times, then he is accused of trying to speak for the Linux community at large and having ulterior motives ascribed to him. He is after all, trying to push his own agenda, so his detractors say. But, isn’t it in every Linux user’s best interest to deal with these issues? Why should he or anyone else step forward if he is going to be subjected to scorn and abuse?

The problem is that we have no history of working together. Everything that does work together is on a project by project basis. By its nature this creates divisions. There are insiders and outsiders where those on the inside fear or don’t respect those on the outside.  If someone does step forward and try to create a new project then they get labeled and frequently raked over the coals by people who have their own agenda. We hear, you could be helping us, instead you are doing your own thing, therefore, you do not support us and must therefore be against us. It is even worse, if you try to join an existing project and work from the inside. You are branded as someone wanting to take over and a despot. You become the enemy, just for trying to be an agent of change.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy and I sometimes think that Linux is what is and will never be any different. I am okay with that. As long as people understand what that entails. We will remain divided. We will remain on the margins of the PC world and that will always be the case. Everything will continue to be an uphill struggle, as it has been for a long time.

Meanwhile we will have to continue welcoming new users and fight fires as they get used to Linux and our peculiar ways. We will have to continue to buy our own computers with Windows or Mac OS pre-installed and fight to get refunds or build our own computers or accept second rate ones with Linux pre-installed. We will have to face limitations such as not having games or big commercial programmes. Some of us say, hooray. We do not need either, but we may be shooting ourselves in the foot the process. In getting our way, we isolate ourselves and limit our options.

Windows users have things handed to them (although they pay money up front for the privilege). But we are in control of our own destiny. We create our own world through our actions and many times impose limitations on ourselves by the decisions we make. We need to be clear on that.

Final thought. Technologically there is no reason why Linux cannot do all the things that Windows or Mac OD does. Things are the way they are for many reasons. Linux in itself is not the limiting factor.

Note: I am playing  a bit of Devil’s advocate here. I use mainly free software and do not long for Photoshop. However, I sometimes wince at what sometimes comes out of the Linux community (and even at some of the things that I write in trying to speak out). 🙂

We risk being seen as crusaders for speaking out one way or the other. The silent majority sits back and wonders as both sides try to sort it out. I don’t think that we are creating division by speaking out, but we are certainly drawing attention to division that already exists. These conversations do not occur in other communities and most people are not even aware of debates that rage within the community. The GNOME and Ubuntu Unity debate springs to mind, but there are others.  Mono. Qt or GTK.  Package manager. Release cycles. Desktop environments. Number of distributions. Forks of all kinds. Basically where there is an issue we divide and become even more split.

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A Tale of Two Computers

Posted on 2010/11/02. Filed under: Apple, Computing General, Kubuntu, Linux General, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Ubuntu, Windows |

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times … (Sorry I could not resist. It has to be the best opening ever for a novel. Kudos to Mr. Dickens.)

My wife and I bought two computers at the same time. Hers was a laptop and mine was a desktop computer. Both came with Windows XP pre-installed. She uses Windows every day and I never use Windows, but instead have run a version of Kubuntu or Ubuntu since the day that I bought it, almost five years ago. Those are the facts.

In all of that time I have but one problem with my desktop computer; I had to replace the power supply and bumped up the RAM to run VMs. I have had no software issues. I have re-installed Ubuntu every six months or gone the upgrade route once or twice. I have run alpha versions to final releases of many distributions including the above mentioned.

My wife has had problems with several viruses, trojans and the like. She has used anti-virus software from all of the major distributors, Symantic, AVG, Panda, Avast, Kaspersky, and Trend. In addition, she runs anti-malware and anti-hijacking software that detects changes to the registry. She does not indulge in any risky practices. She uses lots of email and clicks on links that people send her. In short, she is a typical user with average skills.

Her computer slows down to a crawl much to her frustration every month or two and it needs to be defragmented, the system tray needs to be cleaned out, her desktop needs tidying, her menu need to be cleaned up, her temporary files need to be wiped, and her registry tidied up. I am not making that up. She cannot do these things herself, so I do it.

In comparison, my computer which runs Linux needs none of that. I run no anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-torjan, anti hijacking software in the background. My system tray has no applications running in memory that did not come with the OS. My desktop is clean of shortcuts. My menu does not need to be re-ordered. My computer runs as fast as it did when I got it almost five years ago.

When I have had to re-install Windows on my wife’s computer after say a virus infection which trashed the computer, I was able to back up all of the data (using a Linux Live CD, BTW) and get it back in running order. After dedicating a full day to do it.

Each time I had to re-install Windows. It takes at least three times as long to install Windows XP, as it takes Ubuntu and Ubuntu comes with much of the software that I use. I must add to my Windows installation time it takes to install drivers, install four years of Windows updates, download and install anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-trojan software, and re-boot countless times. Then I must install all of her applications and add updates to those. Yes, re-booting even more. Finally I have to put all of her data back in place.

When I re-install Kubuntu, I download the ISO, put it on a usb stick. I only back up my package list. I re-boot. I re-install Kubuntu to the same partition. I keep my home partition unchanged and re-use my user name and home folder. I re-boot. I do updates which are at best a few days old, so there are few of them. I do not have to play with any driver disks. Everything works out of the box. I open my package manager and point it to my text file of the software that I had installed before the re-installation. I hit Apply and it does its work. While it is doing that, I can use my computer with no problems and not once did I have to re-boot. The process is completed in an hour and a half or less. No fuss, no muss, no pain.

I could be accused of being a fanboy of Linux for mentioning the obvious differences. It could be just my imagination that Linux is better. Or it could be just my subjective opinion. But if anybody could choose to have Windows behave the same way, then my money would be on that they would choose to have Windows behave like Linux. They would love to have there computer run without anti this or anti that. They would love to have to not worry about viruses and the like. They would love it if their computer did not degrade in performance over time. They would love it if Microsoft actually improved things when they released an new version.

With all of the money that Microsoft has, they keep on doing things the same way. They churn out a product that is only marginally better and in some cases (Vista) worse than its predecessor. They do not fix the problem of lax security, but add glitz and add a few features to disguise it. Their code is bloated and still there exploits built in.

Once a security hole is discovered, it takes them days to admit it and weeks to plug it. Meanwhile it has travelled half way around the world and caused untold hardship. Yesterday, they discovered a security flaw in Firefox. It was fixed the same day. It is not Linux, but it is open source and follows the open source model which is collaborative. Things are shared. They are out in the open and fixed in a timely fashion.

In my opinion, this points to the glaring weakness in using proprietary software. You are paying for something that essentially belongs to someone else. They do not have to fix it. They can take their sweet time about it. And there is little that you can do about it.

Users have free choice and I would never deny them that. Use Windows if you want. Pay for the privilege. Just don’t cry and whine when you have problems. And don’t tell someone who makes a different choice that he is being a fanboy for telling people that it does not have to be this way.

The problem is that most users are prisoners. They do not know that there is such a thing a software freedom. They are denied that information. It is partly the fault of the software freedom community. We do not have an advertising budget. We tend to be quiet and just do our own thing for the most part. As a consequence people do not know of our existence.

It is also because those who sell proprietary solutions do not want the truth to get out. They launch FUD campaigns at great expense to counter anything that we might say. They pay bloggers and writers to deny the truth and to strengthen their own position. They use their muscle on hardware manufacturers to make sure that Linux does not come pre-installed.

Some people would say that desktop Linux is where it was several years ago. I say, no, it is much farther ahead. Its user base is much larger in absolute numbers, but it is proportionately the same. We have not grown in terms of percentage, but we are not going away either. But for me, progress isn’t in the numbers, but in the experience.

There was a time when you needed to be a total geek to use Linux. Now anybody can try it by putting the disk in your computer with the advent of Live CDs, and now DVDs. You can run it from a usb stick. You can install it from inside Windows  without having to partition, through the wonder of WUBI. If you choose to install it, it can share a drive with another operating system. It takes care of shrinking and partitioning. But that does not tell the full story.

Linux is on par with any OS in terms of its features. It can be incredibly stable if you opt for something like Debian stable. It can be bleeding edge if you opt for Fedora or Ubuntu. It can be in between. It can be a rolling release that you never have to upgrade or one that you can make new every six months. It can be a very basic system that you build from ground up yourself or a complete working system that is easy to install and use. There is nothing to compare with it. If I was a company that produced anything less than this, then I would be scared, too. I would set in motion FUD like you could not believe since ignoring has not worked.

Some people want us to be quiet. They cry foul when we mention the problems with other OSes. It is rude of us to gloat about the superiority of Linux. They denounce us as fanboys. There are trolls who masquerade as one of us and say that we are letting the side down, or worse.

But if people are to know about Linux in the face of the all of the FUD that comes out of Redmond and Cupertino, then how do we get the word out? If we stay silent then we are playing into the hands of people who want us to do just that.

My wife is not about to use Linux, just because I say that it is better. She has heard all of what I have written here. Sadly, for her. Windows is all that she needs and she does not have the time to try anything else. She uses Windows because that is what she uses at work. One operating system is enough to handle for her and many others. I get that.  I am not speaking to users like her when I write these things. People who are happy with Windows should continue to use it.

I am wring to people who are unhappy with Windows and want to try something different. I am writing about not only a different operating system, but  a different way of doing things. Many people accept the Windows experience because they think that everything has to be that way. They know that Macs exist, but are too expensive. They don’t know that they can transform their own PCs and enjoy a totally different experience.

You do not have to accept the status quo as normal. You have real choice. Some people will investigate. Others will not. Each is fine. After all, I believe in freedom to choose. But I won’t be quiet. It is not in my nature.

Note: This posting was prompted by criticisms of a previous post that accused me of being a Linux fanboy and that there is no problem with Windows or that Linux has no advantage or some such thing. 🙂

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The Great Thing About Newsfeeds

Posted on 2010/10/31. Filed under: Computing General, internet, Linux General, RSS |

I am a news junkie.  It can be almost any kind of news. It does not matter, so long as it is newsworthy. I read news about politics, religion, technology, science, the environment, photography, society, and more. From all around the world. As a consequence, my head is stuffed with useless information.

I know more about the Simpsons than many devotees, yet have never watched a single episode, or much other TV for that matter. (I know it is sad, even pitiful, to live without such high class entertainment, but I do not like commercial TV. At all. It isn’t TV that I detest, but commercials and commercialism.) I know that Mariah Carey is pregnant and suffers from morning sickness, poor girl, courtesy of this morning’s news. And that Katie Perry married Russell Brand in a Hindu ceremony.

I care about none of this, but for every one such bit of useless information, I get hundreds of really good and unique bits, such as how to create stunning vector graphics effects with Inkscape, or to learn what no good Oracle is now up to, things that mean nothing to ordinary people, but which I care about.

That is the great thing about news feeds. You can be a geek, but seem like a normal person when you can discuss politics, banter trivialities, or talk about really serious things, like why Microsoft is spreading FUD about Next time some normal person goes on about Taylor Swift’s love life, you can commiserate and sound sensitive and caring. You can reply: Yes, poor girl. Did you see that she dodged Ellen’s questions about Jake Gyllenhaal? I can understand that after the way Joe Jonas and John Mayer treated her without having to actually listen to Taylor Swift, the Jonas Brothers, John Mayer or know who Jake Gyllenhaal is. Bonus! That’s the beauty of news feeds. You stay on top of things, but don’t have to actually care about anything in particular. It is instant character building. We can stay shallow but appear wise and understanding.

I could spend hours reading newspapers online and opening various bookmarked sites. I used to do it that way. For years. Now, thanks to newsfeeds I get what I want delivered to my desktop. It is always current. It is always relevant to me. The best thing of all is that it is centralised. I go to my news reader and it downloads the feeds as they become available, in real time.

Newsfeeds save me lots of time. I can therefore do more with my time. So the first benefit to me is it makes me more efficient. Some would say, that it is a waste of time, but that misses the point. I would still be me and get the news from another source which would be even more time consuming.

The second thing that I like is that they give me more control. I choose the feeds and I can unsubscribe at any time without having to send excuses or worry about getting unsolicited emails. If I relied on something like Yahoo or Google portals then I would get whatever they choose to put on that page. Newsfeeds allow me to pick and choose what I want.

I also get news by email which is what I did in the past. But that way, if I unsubscribe, they still know my email address and can send me emails to plague me or even sell my address to someone who is even worse. Also, if you have ever unsubscribed, then you will often be forced to give a reason, what have we done to displease you or how could we make our service better, that sort of thing. In the worst case, you will be subjected to a bunch of advertisements before, after or during the unsubscription process, in one last effort to get something from you.

The third thing that is great is that you can group feeds and only read what is most important or by theme. I can put all my feeds for China in one group for example and if I don’t want to read Chinese news that day, then I can just mark it all read with one click. I could also group things by interest and have all of my photography feeds in one group. Since there are fewer of them and they are not as time sensitive, I can let them slide for awhile till the feed count gets to a couple hundred or so and then go on a reading spree.

The fourth great thing about news feeds is that most news is propaganda. Pure and simple. They tell you what they want you to hear, use words that get you worked up or pacify you as is their intent, and more importantly they do not cover what they do not want you to know. Propaganda by exclusion.

By comparing multiple sources you have a better idea of what is really happening in the world and have a tiny chance of escaping without being brainwashed. I say tiny because most people do not think critically about things they read and hear anyway. I saw it on CNN so it must be true! Wow, you must be really informed!

Most people just don’t get it. Fox is selling entertainment and nothing else. Frank Zappa said that government is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex, but Fox News and just about all TV news, is the entertainment division of global capitalism. They want to own you and so far they are doing a pretty good job of it. Even worse, we invite them into our living rooms and let our kids watch. Now you know why I hate commercial TV.

Finally, the best thing about news readers is that there is so much available that you can read just about any news from anywhere in the world on about just about any subject at any time of the day. For a news junkie that is important. We can’t have limits, can we?

News feeds are really easy to get. Many pages have an RSS icon and by clicking on it or copying it you can add the feed to your reader. You can also export all of your feeds into an OPML file and then import the feed list into a different feed reader or computer. A good use for Dropbox is to store these types of files for future use.

There are two ways to go on choice of  feed reader. You can use an application on your computer or you can use a web based one. I have done both. There are advantages to each. Privacy freaks should opt for the feed reader on your computer. It is centralised into one place, that you control and it makes it more difficult for anyone to track your activities. I prefer the online feed reader because I am not trying to hide my activities and in fact share most of my newsfeeds links. Also I use more than one computer so that I can synchronise my reading. I can read for awhile on my desktop and then pick up where I left off later on my netbook.

There is a third way that I use a newsreader. I use Calibre to download news feeds, mostly from magazines, and then I can read them on my ebook reader. I can therefore save good articles and maintain an archive. If you have a smartphone then you can have your favourite feeds in even more convenient places.

I can archive things from a web based reader, too. I use Linux and that allows me to print to pdf any article that appeals to me. The only tricky part is when the person who wrote the article spans multiple pages or use flash slides and these do not allow for the option of printing it all on one page. Seriously,what can they be thinking?

For web based readers, I have used Feedbucket, Feedburner and Google, but now Google owns Feedburner. There is also Fastladder which I have heard about but not used. There are probably more as this is an ever changing landscape with the advent of new technologies such as widgets, smartphone apps, and browser add-ons. There are several different feed formats. I confess to not knowing much about either. What you will see most often is RSS, but Atom is also quite common. Many feed readers support both.

Feed reading clients vary depending on the type of device and operating system. There are clients that work from smartphones, desktop computers, and from common web browsers. My preferred method these days is to use Google Reader. I figure that they know just about everything that I do already anyway and like the convenience and interface. I tweet and dent (I believe notices are the official term but it does not flow nicely in the way tweet does) what I discover and find interesting. I am probably a privacy advocate’s nightmare because of this. Google plus Twitter, Facebook and I hate to break it to you, but they know whatever they want to know. Secrecy is a thing of the past. I don’t like it, but hey I did not vote for them.

I am no expert and my experience is limited to computers that run Linux. So feel free to chip in with your knowledge and experience, good or bad. What works for you? Is there a better way to get the news?

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People Who Should Not Run Linux

Posted on 2010/10/30. Filed under: Apple, Computing General, Linux General, Operating Systems |

Let’s face it. Nothing is perfect and everybody is different.  So it follows that no one operating system can be for everybody. With that in mind, I came up with this list of people who should not use Linux.

1) People with money to burn. There are people who buy a new car every year, have a chateau in the south of France and do not have to save to buy a house. That’s not me, but I hear that they exist. So if you are not money conscious, then you can afford to pay Microsoft or Apple for their latest creation. In fact, you can buy their super, deluxe edition with all of the bells and whistles and probably pay someone else to install it for you. For the rest of us, there is Linux, which is free as in beer and free as in speech, meaning that it costs you nothing and you can give away the disk after you have installed it.

2) People with time on their hands. If you are watching Seinfeld re-runs for the thirty thousandth time and have nothing better to do, then you can probably find the time to maintain your Windows computer. For people who shave or get dressed while they drive to work (not a good idea, I am told), there is Linux. It is low maintenance and it takes less time to install. You can install the operating system, plus drivers and codecs and all of the applications, in less time than it takes to install just Windows.

3) People who are not security conscious. If you do your banking over an insecure wireless connection or in Starbucks, then you probably do not worry about such trivialities as updating or even not running anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-trojan software. Some people make life simple. They run Linux which is more secure and they do not have to deplete system resources with running anti-anything. Also, they know that the bank or online retailer on the other end of the transaction is probably running Linux, too, and they like that.

4) People who like clutter. I know people like this. In fact, I live in close proximity to one, so I know that they exist. Such a person does not mind having their system tray choked with stay resident in memory applications or having every application that you install in making a shortcut to your desktop, plus in the quick launch toolbar, plus add its own group to your menu which grows incrementally large and which is always out of alphabetical order. No, they like having to search for things and then every once in awhile go on a house cleaning spree. People who like order choose Linux where applications do not make shortcuts to anywhere and where the icons are stored in predetermined groups and nothing runs from your system tray unless you want it to. (Now, that I sound totally anal, I confess that I am a messy person who lives a cluttered existence, except on my computer where sanity reigns supreme.)

5) People who like a slow pace. If it takes you ten minutes to climb the stairs, then watching Windows load would seem like but a flash. You would not mind the extra time that it takes for Windows to update your anti-virus, check for updates and run all of those programmes that run in the background, or even the time it takes to click through all of the nag screens to re-boot. You would use that time to walk to the kitchen and have breakfast. When you came back, Windows would hopefully be ready to work. However, if you like a faster pace, then you would choose Linux which boots faster, has no anti-virus updates and it never slows down with time.

6) People who do not care about the environment. So you’ve got more cars than people in your family and one of them is a Hummer. You’ve got a TV in every room and they run 24/7. You never turn off the lights when you leave a room or sort your trash, and speaking of trash, you throw out more than six of your neighbours combined. Linux is not for you. You probably do not care that Linux can be used to make old computers work faster and make them run longer. If I told you that some people run Linux on tiny machines that could not run Windows, you would not be impressed, so I won’t tell you.

7) People who have trouble making up their mind. When I went to east Germany, I saw a store that sold socks, just socks, blue or grey. You got in a line up, so you had time to decide between blue or grey. There were no different brands to choose and only one quality. It was perfect for someone who does not like choice. Windows is like that. So is Mac OS. You get what Microsoft or Apple decides is right for you, one size fits all. You do not have to think or choose, in fact they prefer that you not. But if you like having options and do not mind selecting from lots of choice, then Linux is for you. There are well over 300 distributions or flavours of Linux. The choice does not stop there. You can choose a different desktop environment and choose to run a different one each time you logon. Its kind of like a vacation on your computer. You get a change of scenery whenever you want it. Does this mean that Apple or Microsoft are like communist dictatorships? Hmmm?

8 ) People who do not like change. If you can wait for the next operating system from Apple or Microsoft to come out whenever they make up their minds or to release a fix for that vulnerability that you have heard about six weeks ago that allows people to steal your identity, then Linux is not for you. Sorry. Most Linux distributions come out with new releases at regular intervals and vulnerabilities are rare because Linux is a collaborative effort. Fixes are usually prompt, too, often the next day. But then, you probably like patch Tuesday and look forward to having to instlal 49 patches all at once. Linux is always being developed. A new kernel comes out every few months and distributions offer updates that you can install or not, as you choose.

9) People who like DRM. If you like digital rights management, then you probably do not mind the operating system checking up on you or being told by Apple or Microsoft what you can or cannot do with your computer and files stored there. In fact, you probably do not mind that Microsoft and Apple believe that they own the operating system that you just paid for and that they can decide if you are using it properly or not. If they don’t like what you are doing, then they have the right to lock you out of the operating system or install little bits to check up on you. Linux is open and free and when you install it then you can do anything and everything that you want and nobody checks up or even cares what you do.

10) People who like software shopping. If your idea of a good time is to hop in the car and drive to Staples and look for software or to surf the web and type credit card information into boxes, then Linux is not for you. Linux software is stored in repositories on the internet and it does not come in layers of cardboard and shrink wrapping. Sorry to disappoint you. Linux applications are maintained and checked for compatibility and stored in these secure locations are are accessed from a application on your computer. You select items from a menu and you don’t get to give out your credit card information ahead of time.

11) People who like planned obsolescence. If you think that it is a good idea that Microsoft and OEMs can work together and decide when it is time for you to get new equipment, instead of making old equipment work with a new operating system, then stick with Windows. If you think that it is a good idea that Apple alone makes and sells the hardware and software and that they can determine the level of support without your input, then Mac OS is for you. Linux developers have no cushy relationship with OEMs, so they must work hard to get your old equipment to work and if it does not work there is probably a good reason that goes beyond wanting to sell more.

12) People who have been living under a rock for the past decade. You probably believe the old stories that Linux is hard to use and for geeks only. You probably believe that you need Red Hat certification and a computing degree just to run it. That’s okay, you are not alone. Many people have not used Linux and they only know what they hear and since some companies don’t want you to hear the truth they spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about Linux. Linux users know that it is all a crock, but many of them do not want the truth to get out either. They like it so much that they want to keep it all to themselves.

Linux, it’s okay, but you probably won’t like it.

Please feel free to add to my list.

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Desktop Linux, Where the Fun Begins

Posted on 2010/10/29. Filed under: Computing General, Fedora, Gnome, KDE, Kubuntu, Linux General, Mandriva, openSUSE, Ubuntu, Windows |

Linux is my sandbox. It is where I go to play. It is also where many people go to be productive. Desktop Linux has many millions of users. You probably have not heard much about it because of the way that it is developed and promoted.

The Linux community is very fragmented which is a plus and a minus. It is a plus because it spawns much innovation and  a minus because things get done, or not, in a very different way. Linux is divided into communities and projects and resources are not efficiently used. People go where their interest lies. That makes for happy workers, and some projects get lots of attention and develop quickly while others languish and die on the vine. It is all part of the process.

Linux for the most part does not have a big name behind it. Sure, it has Google, Red Hat, Novell and Canonical, but that is it. None is as big as Apple or Microsoft and more importantly it does not have a history of working closely with OEMs. Linux does not have an advertising budget and it does not come pre-installed which is problematic for many new users. They do not know where to begin. Linux is mostly spread by word of mouth which is why we may come across as evangelists. We know that without our work it would not be known at all.

Linux is divided into three main categories. There are very basic distributions, very easy to use distributions and those that lie somewhere between. You may wonder why anyone would want  a basic distribution. Some people like to fix their own car or  make a cake from scratch. It is all about choice. Using a basic distribution involves getting closer to understanding what is going on and how it works and many people like that hands on feeling. Others do not want to roll up there sleeves, but like a quick and easy approach. Fortunately there is no shortage of either.

If you like to learn the basics you could choose any of Arch, Gentoo, Slackware, or Linux From Scratch. There are others. If you want an easy to use distribution where you basically never need to type a command then you can opt for Linux Mint, one of the *buntus (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, etc.), PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, SimplyMEPIS, or openSuSE. You are by no means limited to these, but they are the biggies. Distrowatch maintains a top 100 list. In between these options are many fine distributions that are regarded as being harder to use, but still fine. This would include Debian which is the basis for Ubuntu and its derivatives and which will run an just about any architecture and Fedora which is the testing branch of Red Hat. Again there is no shortage of choice.

So, the first question is what kind of user are you and what do you want to do? If you want to learn how Linux works then opt for the first category. if you just want it to work out of the box, then go to the second category and if you want to get things done but still have some control then opt for category three.

Something else to consider is package management. Linux has two main package managers, but here are several others as well. The two main categories for package management are DEB short for Debian and RPM which is short form Red Hat Package Management. Packages are the way applications and libraries are bundled together and installed. The manager tracks the installation process, puts the parts in the right places and makes them available to you by making a menu item (for graphical applications). RPM and DEB are incompatible and different. Each Red Hat-based distribution has a different front end for managing the packages. SuSE uses Yast, Fedora uses Yum, Mandriva uses Urpmi for example. DEB is more unified. They all uses apt and dpkg. There are different package managers, but the commands work the same way whether you use Ubuntu, Debian, or MEPIS.

There are more distributions that use RPM, but DEB is the most common because the biggest distributions like Ubuntu use it. In general, there are many more applications available for Debian based systems. So if your software needs are more modest then RPM is fine, but if you need access to the biggest selection then you will likely be happier with DEB. Unlike Windows, you do not install Linux software by buying it or hunting for it on the internet. Software is stored in secure locations called repositories. Each distribution maintains its own repositories and they are incompatible with each other. In fact, a different version of the same distribution usually cannot manage the packages of a previous or later version. Repositories mean that everything is made to work with that distribution and version, they are checked and are free of viruses and malware, and you can get updates to each package as they become available.

The next thing to consider is support. Linux is developed, maintained and supported by the community. This includes developers and users. There are forums, wikis, online help, FAQs and more. The larger the community the more support there is. Some communities are huge and the amount of information available is also huge. That can be good and bad. The answer to your question is likely to be there, but finding it can be something else of a problem.

Some communities are more helpful and open than others because each community has a history and distinct character. Some distributions that are considered more geeky, may not seem as open because they function at a level that you may not relate to. They may seem to talk over your head and use lots of jargon and even seem elitist. Others may be more welcoming to new users. Some may even surprise you by taking you under their wing and mentoring you. The key to gaining friends in Linux is to embrace the new and get rid of old preconceptions. The worst thing that you can do is assume that the way that you have done things in the past is the best or only way. You are sure to get your chain yanked if you try this.

The thing to do is to join a forum and look around and see how people have responded to questions of people like you. If they seem terse and give solutions that would not be helpful to you then continue your search. To find a forum just type Linux forum in a search engine. Some forums are specific to a distribution or family of distributions and others are more general, like Make a test post and see how welcoming they are. Be prepared to move on.

In general forums are frequented by people who try to be helpful, but not all help is useful to you. Many experienced users are comfortable with typing commands into a terminal and some even pooh pooh the GUI. If you are uncomfortable with the commandline then say so., otherwise you cna expect the to advise you to open a terminal and type commands and remember syntax. Although cut and paste works well enough if the instructions are clear.

The other thing to do is to test a distribution out. Most distributions use Live CDs or DVDs. This means that you can insert them in your DVD drive and boot from the CD or DVD. Nothing is written to your hard drive. You can test them out to see how they work on your equipment. You cannot install applications to a CD since it is read only and it will run slowly. You may be able to install an application to RAM disk, but that depends on your RAM and the distribution. You can do the same thing with a usb stick and it will run a bit faster.

To get Linux you download a compresses image file called an ISO which is available from the distribution or a site such as Distrowatch which specialises in tracking distributions. Once you download the ISO you can burn it to CD or DVD (depending on the size of the ISO) or write it to a usb stick. Follow the instructions here:

Distrowatch for ISOs:

For a usb stick look here:

I really like Unetbootin for this. It works in Windows or Linux and it can even download the ISO for you.


Another good resource is

You can get a free Ubuntu CD:

Also works for Kubuntu and one of the other *buntus. For example:

Buy a cheap CD for most distributions:

Some distributions sell it pre-installed on a usb stick, but you will have to search around to find it.

Almost all distributions are free of charge. A few are commercial only. Some have both free and commercial versions. All Linux distributions are also free as in free speech if they follow the GPL or one of the other free software licenses. this means that you can fork it and release your own variant, which explains why there are some many distributions to begin with.

How do you know what is available and how popular they are? Check out which is not definitive, but it does keep track of page hits over time. The undisputed king of distributions is Ubuntu which is the flagship of Canonical, the company that backs it. They also make other distros (short for distributions) such as Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Edubuntu and Ubuntu Studio. They have the same basic inner workings, but have a different front end or GUI. Other distributions of note are Fedora, Mint, openSuSE, Debian, PCLinuxOS, and Mandriva.

Some distributions such as the *buntus come with a specific desktop environment while others give you a choice. Fedora comes with both GNOME and KDE for example. Many distributions have both 32-bit and 64-bit versions, but some only come with 32-bit which will run on both chipsets.

The desktop environments are the graphical user interfaces by which you interact with the computer. There are several choices. Some are very full and others spartan with the difference being more features at the cost of lower performance. The two full feature ones are KDE and GNOME. GNOME tends to be more popular by virtue of the fact that it is the interface for Ubuntu which is the most popular distribution. KDE has its share of distributions though and Canonical makes a KDE distro called Kubuntu.

The difference really comes down to personal preference. KDE is older, but has had the most recent face lift with KDE 4. GNOME is undergoing a facelift now and will come out with GNOME 3 next year. KDE is written in Qt and GNOME is written in GTK with a few Mono apps thrown in. Both include a desktop environment and applications covering the gamut that one would expect. KDE apps will work in GNOME and vice versa. Many people choose to run a hybrid system by installing apps for the other desktop environment in preference to the ones that came with it.

KDE is fuller in that it has a bigger stable of applications and it is more configurable. GNOME is more tightly controlled, but knowledgeable users can configure it as much as KDE. Where there is a will, there is a way. KDE has many things built in that you would have to add utilities to GNOME to do. For example, KDE allows for wallpaper rotation, but GNOME requires a third party app to do the same thing. KDE’s built in compositing is more robust than GNOME’s. KDE has more widgets and toys.  But some people like it simpler, so it all comes down to what you want.

Some people say KDE resembles Windows more, but that is a superficial comparison. Windows is more locked down like GNOME. KDE uses single click by default and GNOME sues double click like Windows XP. KDE has the panel at the bottom like Windows by default, but it can be moved anywhere. GNOME has two panels with the top one being the main one, more like the Mac.

And all of this comparison will soon be irrelevant because GNOME will release a new and very different interface with GNOME Shell in version 3 (which you can try out now in the repositories of many big distros or will come by default early next year).

I use KDE mostly, but use GNOME on my netbook. Both are from Canonical (Kubuntu and Ubuntu). I also have seven or eight other distros installed on various partitions at any given time. I like Fedora which I always have installed, Aptosid (formerly Sidux), MEPIS, PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, Sabayon, and Arch. I test the most recent versions of most big distros and test Ubuntu from alpha to final release. I like Kubuntu and Ubuntu because it works best for me, which is not to say that it will work best for you. I run lots of applications and like the size of the repositories and I have several years of working with the community. It makes it hard to leave.

If you don’t like either KDE or GNOME there is no shortage of options. XFCE is a relatively full desktop environment that is neither like KDE or GNOME. It offers less, but has somewhat better performance and you can run both KDE and GNOME apps to your heart’s content.  If you want even more performance bang, there is Fluxbox, LXDE, Openbox, Enlightenment, Sugar, IceWm and more.

Further reading:

Screenshots of desktop environments:

Comparison charts of DEs:

Comparison charts of Distros:

Linux Timelines:


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Linux Can Be Complicated … Or Not!

Posted on 2010/10/29. Filed under: Apple, Computing General, Embedded, Linux General, Operating Systems, Windows |

Windows and OS/X are fairly straightforward in comparison. Mac OS runs on Macs and that is about it. Windows runs on desktop PCs, servers and a few devices. There are several versions of Windows, XP, NT, Vista, Windows 7 and Window Phone 7 to name a few. Linux is quite a bit more complicated.

Linux runs on servers, desktops, and devices, just like Windows does, but that is just the beginning. Linux runs on just about any architecture from mainframes to TiVo. It supports the PowerPC, Intel, AMD, ARM, Atom on desktop computers alone. You will find it on the world’s fastest computer and on your Tom Tom. It runs many music players, TVs,  phones, tablets and most e-book readers. It is the backbone of the internet and you probably are using it without even realising it.

On the desktop, you can run over 300 distributions or varieties of Linux. On any given distribution you can be running any of several window managers and desktop environments.  Choice is the operative word when it comes to Linux. Second to that would be flexibility. In servers, the choice is more limited, but no less impressive. You could be running Ubuntu as Wikipedia does, Red Hat as many Fortune 500 companies do, or CENTOS, a free derivative of Red Hat, or SuSE from Novell in an enterprise environment. It is really up to you.

You can install Linux to run on a hard drive, of course, but you can run it inside Windows using something like andLinux, install it in Windows but run it outside of Windows without partitioning using WUBI, you can run it from a usb key or CD or even a floppy, or run it in a virtual machine. You can install it on an Xbox, PS3 or on many music players using Rockbox (oops, see correction in comments). You can see how flexible it is. This is because the kernel is relatively small and Linux is modular. People can do remarkable things with it and they are trying new things all of the time. They can do this because it is free and open. As long as you obey the license you can do whatever you can imagine and have the talent for.

At the heart of any operating system is the kernel. Linux is strictly speaking just the kernel. Many other projects add to Linux to make it a complete operating system. There are various modules, libraries, daemons and other things that are loaded to make it work. All of them share something in common with Linux; they are free and open sourced. GNU makes many of them and for this reason some people prefer to call it GNU/Linux. GNU is also responsible for some of the licensing that makes free software available. It is often called the GPL for short.

With complication, also comes confusion. New users can be confused, and even overwhelmed, when there is so much choice and everything is new. But it need not be as confusing, once you understand the basics. You need to know what you want to do, what you are willing to do to get it, and narrow down your choices.

The first decision is what are you going to use it for? If it is servers then that limits your choice. If it is the desktop then you have many more decisions to make. You can narrow that down if you have an unusual architecture because not all distributions work on all architectures. Then you look at your equipment. If it has limited RAM for example then this further narrows your choices. If you want to have an easy to use distribution then it narrows choice or if you want to do most of it by hand building then it reduces choice.

The most complicated it gets is if you have a relatively new PC and want to run a desktop distribution, so let’s start there next time.

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